For eight weeks, from January to March, approximately 2,000 SUCCESS readers challenged themselves and their small businesses by participating in the 2nd annual Start Small Win Big contest. In April they submitted their results to the judging panel of SUCCESS editors and small-business expert JJ Ramberg, who hosts MSNBC’s Your Business, a weekly show devoted to small-business issues. Now, it’s complete. The judges have handpicked five finalists who are moving one step closer to the grand prize and making their small business go big.

Eight weekly assignments were sent out and posted on the SUCCESS blog—steps designed by Ramberg to help small-business owners recognize and understand what makes their businesses work and grow, and how they can succeed. With step-by-step instructions, tips and SUCCESS expert-driven articles as resources, the weekly assignments ranged from refining an elevator pitch to tapping networks and polishing social media strategy. (Read all the steps on SUCCESS.com).

The Challenge posed, well, challenges to each person and his or her business, but every week, the contestants dedicated themselves to grow, both in their business and in personal development. As in starting a business or running with a big idea, it took motivation and purpose to really carry out the Challenge’s goals.

Now, one of our handpicked list of five finalists will meet two distinguished mentors, Darren Hardy and JJ Ramberg, who have entrepreneurial expertise and know how to reach success, and will be featured prominently in the August 2013 issue. Two runners-up also will be featured in the magazine and each finalist will take home a SUCCESS Personal Development Prize Pack valued at up to $1,000.

Meet the five Start Small Win Big finalists, who we think have unbeatable potential to grow and reach true success—all from starting small. Choose Traklight by “liking” our photo on SUCCESS magazine’s Facebook page.

Mary Juetten with Traklight.com

What a difference a year makes! I learned that progress is made with a second or third attempt. The notion that building a business is not a sprint but a marathon, and maybe even a triathlon, was wrapped up in my 2013 [Start Small Win Big Challenge] learning. Some of the challenge steps were new and created “aha” moments. In other words, these were things that I did not know that we should be doing when we launched.

Until recently, our team was focused on product, legal and finance without any digital marketing experience. Last fall, we successfully pitched to enter an incubator and have our pitches perfected—I can wake up from a dead sleep and say our mission and pitch! Also, being a recovering accountant, Steps 3 and 4 were no-brainers for me, but along the way I shifted to focus on value, not cost—and to look to customer metrics that matter. We are diving deeper into customer acquisition costs and meaningful social media metrics. “Likes” cannot pay the bills. We have set a goal of 1,000 customers and $1 million in sales by March 2014.

Surprisingly, the “customer talk” step is not new to us because we started product development by interviewing entrepreneurs and alpha testing more than a year before the launch of our product. We are committed to customer happiness and use follow-up surveys and phone calls to continue the customer conversation. I enjoy networking and go outside my comfort zone at least once a day in order to stalk (in a friendly manner) potential contacts.

I love process and hate routine. When Week 6’s step appeared, I realized I cannot do it all. I am proud to say that two amazing sales and marketing people joined us in March. We are working on Infusionsoft CRM implementation—creating a sales funnel, content (we educate and empower) and better website user experience. It’s exciting to have a team, but we are bootstrapping, so both are part-time.

Our first step is to validate our mission and values because culture is key to a strong foundation. Our primary goal this year is increased reach and customer eyeballs. We are first to market, a double-edged sword because we have to educate entrepreneurs on why they need our products to succeed. The four Cs in the social media strategy were timely and exposed our gaps. A social media strategy review led by our new marketing director at my request showed the glaring mistakes of not rebranding our social pages, a lack of consistency in communication and a missed opportunity leveraging our existing expert content to this community using social media. We have a newfound laser focus on delivering webinars with a sales call-to-action and using partners and Facebook ads for promotion. Simply put, the spotlight is now on building our community because 5 percent conversion of 100 leads is nothing compared to 5 percent of 100,000!

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