Beginning and running a successful small business is an admirable undertaking. Once your business has taken off, will you be satisfied with the status quo, of will you want to make plans to keep growing and expanding? When you look ahead to the future of your business, how do you see its story playing out? What will your business' growth look like and - perhaps more importantly - how will it get there?
Proven ways to expand a small business
The Small Business Administration suggests the following as means to expand your business:
Open another location. This is often the first way business owners approach growth. If you feel confident that your current business location is under control, consider expanding by opening a new location.
Offer your business as a franchise or business opportunity. Franchising your business will allow for growth without requiring you to manage the new location. This will help to maximize the time you spend improving your business in other ways, too.
License your product. This can be an effective, low-cost growth medium, particularly if you have a service product or branded product. Licensing also minimizes your risk and is low cost in comparison to the price of starting your own company to produce and sell your brand or product. To find a licensing partner, start by researching companies that provide products or services similar to yours.
Form an alliance. Aligning yourself with a similar type of business can be a powerful way to expand quickly.
Diversify. Diversifying is an excellent strategy for growth, because it allows you to have multiple streams of income that can often fill seasonal voids and, of course, increase sales and profit margins. Here are a few of the most common ways to diversify:
Sell complementary products or services
Teach adult education or other types of classes
Import or export yours or others' products
Become a paid speaker or columnist
Target other markets. Your current market is serving you well. Are there others? Probably. Use your imagination to determine what other markets could use your product.
Win a government contract. One of the best ways to grow your business is to win business from the government. Work with your local SBA and Small Business Development Center to help you determine the types of contracts available to you.
Merge with or acquire another business. Two is always bigger than one. Investigate companies that are similar to yours, or that have offerings that are complementary to yours, and consider the benefits of combining forces or acquiring the company.
Expand globally. To do this, you'll need a foreign distributor who can carry your product and resell it in their domestic markets. You can locate foreign distributors by scouring your city or state for a foreign company with a U.S. representative.
Expand to the Internet. Very often, customers discover a business through an online search engine. Be sure that your business has an online presence in order to maximize your exposure.
Those are exciting growth opportunities, to be sure. Whether your business is comfortably profitable or finds that it must grow to remain viable in the marketplace, how is such growth financed? The Small Business Association is dedicated to helping small businesses thrive and grow. One of the ways they accomplish that goal is to guarantee loans made to small businesses by private and other institutions, encouraging these loans to qualify more applicants for loan approval. Banks and other lending institutions offer a number of SBA-guaranteed loan programs to assist small businesses.
10 important questions to prepare for effectively approaching lenders
The SBA has developed a number of financial programs that address the various needs of small businesses. If you're seeking a loan to support your business' growth, it will behoove you to have your financial "ducks in a row" before seeking financial assistance. The organization suggests you conduct a self-evaluation of your business' financing needs before reaching out to lending institutions. They include the following:
Do you need more capital or can you manage existing cash flow more effectively?
How do you define your need? Do you need money to expand or as a cushion against risk?
How urgent is your need? You can obtain the best terms when you anticipate your needs rather than looking for money under pressure.
How great are your risks? All businesses carry risks, and the degree of risk will affect cost and available financing alternatives.
In what state of development is your business? Needs are most critical during transitional stages.
For what purposes will the capital be used? Any lender will require that capital be requested for very specific needs.
What is the state of your industry? Depressed, stable, or growth conditions require different approaches to money needs and sources. Businesses that prosper while others are in decline will often receive better funding terms.
Is your business seasonal or cyclical? Seasonal needs for financing generally are short term. Loans advanced for cyclical industries, such as construction, are designed to support a business through depressed periods.
How strong is your management team? Management is an important element assessed by lenders.
How does your need for financing mesh with your business plan? If you don't have a business plan, make writing one your first priority. All capital sources will want to see your business plan for the start-up and growth of your business.
Knowing how you want to expand and fully preparing yourself to address these questions will enable a lender to best help you obtain the financing you need for the growth you desire to make happen.
Getting customers to commit to a purchase - closing the sale - is a crucial element to your business' success. And around the holidays, with sales and promotions everywhere, it's even more of a challenge to drive business your way. How can you entice customers to spend their holiday dollars with you? The answer may be found in a blast from the past: layaway.
Yes, it seems that the formerly popular shopping option is enjoying a resurgence among retailers - and no wonder. It provides value to the customers by allowing them to lock in a price and pay for it over time, without incurring finance charges. Layaway also assures the customer that they will have particular merchandise once they fulfill the terms of the layaway agreement so they won't experience the disappointment of items being sold out due to the holiday sales rush. Those are significant benefits to be able to offer your customers; so let's explore how to institute a layaway program in your store.
Simply put, a layaway program is an agreement between you and the customer. You promise to "lay away" certain merchandise for him, removing it from stock; in exchange, he promises to pay you scheduled installments on the amount of that merchandise until it's paid for in full. If the terms of that agreement are kept, the customer gets the merchandise and you have made a sale, plus perhaps a layaway fee. If the terms of the agreement are not kept (the customer fails to make the scheduled payments) he forfeits the merchandise and incurs a cancellation fee.
There are some best practices you should follow when drawing up your official layaway policies to clarify the terms and protect both you and the customer. First of all, consult Federal Trade Commission's Truth in Lending Act and any state regulations that may impact your layaway policy. Then create your layaway policy bearing these guidelines in mind:
Write your layaway policy
Your layaway policy should be written in clear, straightforward and detailed terms in order to inform customers of the details of the program, explain their payment obligations, and standardize layaway policies for all customers. It should include the following information:
Terms of the payment plan - This should include such details as the total number of installment payments required, installment payment due dates and date by which the final payment must be made to complete the layaway terms.
Associated charges - These include any fees you charge, like a flat fee or percentage of the total layaway purchase. It should also explain any potential fees you will charge for cancellation of the layaway agreement or for restocking in the event the terms of the layaway agreement are broken.
Excluded items - Be certain to mention if certain items are not available for layaway so as not to mislead customers.
Cancellation and Refund Policy - Inform customers how far into the layaway agreement they can decide to cancel and if there is a fee to do so. Also explain how any refund will be returned, whether in cash or store credit.
Additional rewards or benefits of layaway offered - Explain how any discount or benefit will be applied to the customer's account upon completion of the layaway agreement. For example, some merchants offer a percentage discount on the layaway total to be applied upon the final payment.
Thoroughly disclose and publicize your layaway policy
Make your layaway policy known to customers, for their information and consideration. Posting it on large, easily-readable and conspicuous signs around your store will advertise your offering to customers, enticing them to layaway items for the holidays. Be certain to mention the benefits to customers on your signs, including the ability to get those "hot" items while they're still available, the convenience of paying in installments and any discounts or benefits you may offer those who use your layaway service.
All layaway terms should likewise be provided on the customer copy of the layaway sales receipt for their convenient reference.
Provide a layaway sales receipt which includes:
A detailed description of the merchandise and quantity of items on layaway
The total price of the purchase, including any layaway fee
The minimum amount of each payment due
A payment schedule showing the specific dates by which payments are due
The date by which the final payment must be made
Your cancellation and refund policy
Information about how refunds are calculated and returned
Information about discounts and benefits available upon completing the layaway agreement
Layaway is coming back around as consumers who are more cautious about using credit for purchases look for ways to afford the items they want. You as a merchant can give them an attractive purchasing option this holiday season by offering layaway. As long as you take care to diligently spell out all the details, it's an opportunity for you to ensure some early sales and offer a service that will attract shoppers.
Could offering layaway help boost your holiday sales?
Nearly every business has a natural ebb and flow. Sometimes you're bustling - working at (or above) capacity. Other times, it feels like you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for the phone to ring. This creates an overall sense of uncertainty about the success and viability of your business, keeping you from thoroughly enjoying the busy times for fear they won't last - or that they're only lining your coffers so you can weather the leaner times.
That's not the culture you want in your business. You want to feel that you're consistently productive and successful - not dramatically swinging between blue skies and crisis mode. It's important to find a workable way to even out your workload.
While there's no absolute method for keeping your work evenly spaced and steady, it's a good idea to take steps to keep your pipeline full. That is to say, make the effort of drumming up business a constant endeavor so there's always a "next thing" lined up once your existing project is completed.
How is this accomplished? Primarily through the continuous and consistent marketing. Don't wait until you need some work to seek it out. Here are some tips to help you keep that pipeline full and your business' income more consistent and dependable.
Follow up with previous clients - The solution to finding future business may lie in the past. Put a solid follow up plan in place to check in with your past customers. Is there an ancillary service you could offer them? Continuing maintenance? An update to the product or service you provided? Your satisfied customers are among your warmest leads because they already know and trust you. Remember that it's easier - and cheaper - to retain an existing customer than to win a new one.
Keep looking for new and better opportunities - Use the experiences gained from serving your clients to embolden you as you seek out bigger and better opportunities. As you gain experience, go for the bigger accounts and the more profitable deals rather than seeking out the same clients over and over again. Of course there's nothing wrong with serving your past and existing customers, but bigger clients will broaden your horizons and provide greater income opportunities. Additionally, they'll provide you with greater exposure which will in turn attract more business.
Keep pitching - In business you can never rest on your laurels. Marketing your business constantly to attract new customers is crucial. Be out there or be lost. Likewise, continue submitting proposals for work you'd like to gain. The rewards of marketing - like submitting proposals - can take a long time to come to fruition so make certain you are continuously making yourself available to be chosen.
Diversify - It's all well and good to have a specialty but remember that if your niche is too tightly constrained, you may not attract all the business you could gain. Be willing to branch out a bit to attract a wider clientele. Those jobs don't need to be the focus of your enterprise but they represent an alternative stream of income that will help you survive the times when things are slow on the homefront.
Keeping your pipeline full is the surest possible way to avoid experiencing those stress-inducing ebbs and flows in your business. Your efforts to gain new business are every bit as important as those to perform your business' day to day functions. Complacency is the enemy of a consistent workload; do all you can, constantly and consistently, to keep new business opportunities on your horizon.
The American Government has countless agencies which help run the government itself and the nation as a whole. Each of these agencies plays a crucial role in keeping the wheels of our country rolling along. One thing each of these agencies has in common is that it needs to contract with the public for the services and items necessary for it to carry out its appointed mission. One such agency is General Services Administration (GSA).
According to Wikipedia, the U.S. General Services Administration “is an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies. The GSA supplies products and communications for U.S. government offices, provides transportation and office space to federal employees, and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies, and other management tasks.” On its own website, GSA is defined as an agency,”providing centralized procurement for the federal government, offering products, services and facilities that federal agencies need to serve the public. GSA offers businesses the opportunity to sell billions of dollars worth of products and services to federal agencies.”
Your business may be able to contract with the government by working with the GSA. As with any government contracting opportunity, there is a very specific procedure you must go through in order to be considered as a contract recipient. Here’s what you should know about applying to receive government contracts through the General Services Administration:
Beginning the Contracting Process
It is suggested that your business conduct some due diligence in preparation for contracting with the GSA, such as:
Carefully consider whether your business is a good fit for the job, can provide competitive pricing and has the time and resources necessary to fulfill the contract.
Prepare a business plan which includes your marketing plan, expected personnel allocation and expected return on investment.
Do your homework by conducting market research about your company’s offerings in relation to the government: Which agencies utilize them, the rates paid and the forecasted trends in your field.
Align Yourself for Consideration
In order to be considered for a GSA contract, specific certifications are required. Get them before you apply so you’ll be poised to go once you begin the application process.
DUNS - (Data Universal Numbering System) provides a unique 9-digit identifier for your business.
CCR - (Central Contractor Registration) collects and disseminates data on behalf of agencies.
ORCA - (Online Representations and Certifications Application) is a certification process for all who solicit federal contracts.
Past Performance Evaluation - is a service which surveys your past customers to assess your company’s performance.
Refer to the Schedule Solicitations
Once your business is primed for the challenge, take a look at the GSA Schedule Solicitations, which is a downloadable listing and summary of the products/services for which contracting opportunities are currently available.
Should your business find something on the GSA Schedule Solicitations that suits its capabilities, you must submit an official offer. This process is referred to as responding to a solicitation. Their website offers all the information you need in order to reference the appropriate listing and explains how to apply electronically, which is the preferred method.
Be particularly diligent about submitting every required report and bit of documentation so as to give your submission the greatest chance of acceptance. Once you respond to a solicitation, the review process could take 30-120 days. According to the GSA website, it will be evaluated on the following criteria:
Responsibility - Your business is in good financial condition and have a positive record of past performance.
Responsiveness - You followed all submission instructions completely and to the letter.
Scope - Your business appears to match the requirements of the job.
Subcontracting plan (if applicable) - You submitted a plan to subcontract a percentage of the work if anticipated sales exceed $650,000.
Pricing Analysis and Review of Terms - Your prices are fair and reasonable and are supported by a sound pricing structure.
The General Services Administration is yet another government agency with which your business can do business. Take some time to find out if your company is a good fit for contracting with this agency. If it is, be thorough in your preparation and application process. Working with the GSA can be a beneficial business opportunity, well worth the effort to seek out.
Can your business provide a product or service to the GSA?
As a woman-owned company, you know that the government is a fertile source of business, consistently providing contracting opportunities to procure the goods and services they need to run the country - especially with minority-owned businesses like your own.
Your business, like countless others, however, is no doubt experiencing the rough seas of our stormy economy. While it’s diffucult doing business in this economic climate, it’s reassuring to know that the government is taking your financial woes seriously. The fact is, those same small, minority-owned companies with which the government often does business represent a significant part of its plan to turn these economic trends around.
How does the economy - and the government’s efforts to re-energize it - affect your small, minority-owned business? According to her remarks at the 29th Annual Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week Conference, held September 27-30, 2011, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank, they can increase your business while, in turn, stimulating the economy as a whole.
In her remarks to conference attendees, Ms Blank reported that, “According to our latest survey (Census Survey of Business Owners, 2002), in terms of both numbers and gross receipts, minority-owned firms have grown faster than other firms.” That fact places your business in a very important demographic - one who wields great power in an effective economic stimulus plan.
The theory is that, by increasing your working capital (by providing incentives and tax breaks), you’ll have more money to pay employees. Those employees then spend the money they earn at other businesses, pumping money into the faltering economy. Like concentric circles of waves emanating from a pebble tossed into a pond, these incentives will help spread the wealth outward throughout the entire economy.
Secretary Blank goes on to say, “That’s why earlier this month President Obama released his American Jobs Act. This plan, which we hope Congress passes without delay, would provide a significant new tax cut for small businesses – and that describes the vast majority of minority enterprises. It will cut the payroll tax in half on the first $5 million of wages paid by a company. And it provides a 100 percent payroll tax holiday on any new hiring or increased wages paid to existing employees. Additionally, the Jobs Act extends the 100 percent expensing for capital expenditures into 2012, continuing an historic incentive for new capital investments.”
“We know government can’t solve all the problems facing our country,” explains Secretary Blank. What we can do is help lay a foundation for growth and create smart incentives for minority entrepreneurs and all American businesses to build something special on top of that foundation.”
Detailing the government’s commitment to business and job growth and its efforts to stimulate the economy, Secretary Blank outlined the following programs this administration has created:
The Startup America Initiative, which connects established private sector mentors to innovative entrepreneurs;
The Small Business Jobs Act, which is providing billions of dollars in lending support and tax cuts for small businesses;
The $33 million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge to drive job growth through public-private partnerships in regions around the country, and we’re pleased to note that three MBDA centers were among the winners.
The National Export Initiative, which Commerce leads, is aimed at connecting small and medium sized enterprises with the 95 percent of the world’s consumer who live outside our border and doubling U.S. exports by 2015; and,
New aggressive steps by federal agencies, which are the nation’s largest purchaser of goods and services, to improve contracting with small businesses, including minority-owned firms.
Ms Blank summed up her remarks by stating, “Our goal is to improve the overall competitiveness of American business at home and abroad. I’m confident the initiatives I mentioned are going to pay off for American businesses and their workers. At MBDA, the Commerce Department and throughout the administration, we are doing everything we can to help minority businesses and all American businesses reach their full potential. That's how we put more people to work. That’s how we help business grow. That’s how we ensure that American workers, American companies and American communities compete and win in the global economy.”
As you can see, your small, minority-owned business does fit - in a very significant way - into the big picture of our economic recovery as a nation. The government is supporting your efforts to keep more businesses viable with these plans and programs. Your business may be small but its importance of - and potential impact upon - the economy is huge.
How has your small, minority-owned business benefited from economic stimulus plans and programs?
Operating a small business these days is a challenge, to say the least. It seems the big fish are more and more frequently swallowing up the little guys, providing goods and services to their market cheaper and more efficiently. How are small businesses to survive in such an unfriendly economic climate?
The government is aware, thankfully, that an economy isn’t only comprised of giant retailers. It doesn’t want to see small business, which is the backbone of our economy, go under, so it is offering incentives of its own to encourage small business to pursue government contracting opportunities. As far as a client, small businesses couldn’t do better than the government, which is the largest purchaser of goods and services around, spending $425 billion per year, with 23% of that substantial budget earmarked for contracts with small business.
As a way to stimulate our economy, the government has taken action on behalf of small business. To quote the SBA website verbatim, “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) was signed into law by President Obama on February 17, 2009. It is an unprecedented effort to jumpstart our economy, create or save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st century.”
The SBA website provides a myriad of resources for those interested in taking advantage of these opportunities to contract with the government. Those resources include an online course, entitled, Recovery Act Opportunities: How to Win Federal Contracts, a slew of e-newsletters on a wide variety of topics representing every region of the U.S., and SBA Direct Resource Packets.
According to their website, the SBA Direct Resource Packets provide small businesses direct access to capital and banks that are making loans. Additionally, they provide resources, including counseling, that can help them meet the challenges of owning and operating a small business. In order to more quickly connect small businesses with these resources, SBA has prepared SBA Direct Resource Packets for every region of the country with up-to-date contact information for SBA field offices, lenders making SBA loans, and counseling services, including:
Not only is the government doing good for small business - small business is proving good for the government. According to Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting, government agencies are realizing huge savings from contracting with small businesses. For instance, Lourdes reports, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) achieved a savings of $43 million from the previous year’s budget through its set-aside small business program. Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saved $5.2 million – a 65% reduction of what it would have cost to acquire these services on a cost-reimbursement basis – when it awarded its Superfund Cleanup contract to a service-disabled veteran-owned small business.
Lourdes explains that because of the Obama Administration’s Small Business Task Force, more and more agencies are beginning to realize the potential savings from procuring with small businesses. In 2010, the federal government awarded $98 billion in contracts to small businesses.
Lourdes discusses the steps small businesses need to take to get a leg up on government contracting opportunities. She offers the following shortcuts to start:
Get your business certified. Visit www.sba.gov to determine if your business qualifies for various Small Business Certifications and set aside contracting programs, including Small Business, the 8(a), Women-Owned, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned, and HUBZone Small Business.
Get your business noticed. Register in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) national database and add your business to the Dynamic Small Business Search.
Know the agency you are targeting. Before responding to any government solicitation, check out the history of the agency’s product/service awards at www.fpds.gov.
Consider teaming to gain experience. Teaming up with an experienced contractor is an effective way to gain past performance. Visit www.teamingusa.com to find potential partners.
Being a small firm is not a handicap - especially when the government recognizes your value to the overall economy and takes steps to ensure business opportunities for you. When you can procure profitable contracts for your business while stimulating the economy, that’s a win-win!
What does your small business have to offer the government? What does the government have to offer your small business?
While the process of winning federal contracts is never a walk in the park, the path to government procurement may be more complicated in FY2011 than ever. The late approval of the federal budget has potential contractors champing at the bit to take their bite out of the $500 billion annual federal contracting pie. How can you help ensure that you have a fighting chance to obtain government contracting business for your company?
Fortunately, there’s a guiding presence with knowledge and experience to lead the way toward making the connections that lead to winning those contracts! That guide through the complicated waters of government procurement is Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight LLC, author of the book, Government Contracts Made Easier, and its newly published companion – a 64-page Strategy Workbook to the original guide. Judy boasts over 23 years working with her clients on business strategies to win government contracts.
In addition to her informative books, Judy recently offered these five valuable tips for successful government contracting on her blog, Government Contracts Made Easier - with Judy Bradt. Judy advises the following:
Revisit Your Forecasting
Take one more look at your target agencies' forecasts and bid boards. Anything new?
Look hard at your own forecast, and pick out the projects that best match your capabilities.
Identify relevant small business specialists -- and call on them for updates on your hot projects.
Ask for Referrals from Your Best Customers
Ask your best customers for introductions! It's the least expensive -- and most powerful -- source of leads you have.
Ask for leads within their agency.
Ask who they know in another agency who might value your expertise or products.
When did you last check in with your best clients, partners, current and past contacts?
Call long-time, one-time and former government clients to remind them of your value. Offer something useful -- an article, a link...
Ask if they'd like fresh information, or need to reorder from you.
Call on marginal accounts. Often the company to get the order is the last one the agency spoke with!
If the box of cookies or treats is worth less than $25, ask the contracting officer or the OSDBU if you can bring in some refreshments for the team.(True story: At fiscal year end, when I worked at the Canadian Embassy, I'd bring a batch of cookies into the Administration section. You have no IDEA how much faster my paperwork got processed.)
Use Multiple Touches, Tactics, Channels
Use multiple tactics (PR, events, email, direct mail, web, telemarketing).
What channels are others not using? Have you looked into...
Federal News Radio? See what co-anchors Amy Morris and Tom Temin are covering, and ask them if they'd like to interview your federal client's recent success (and your contribution...) Catch Amy on Twitter -- @amorris_wfed
Twitter -- check out http://www.blog.govtwit.com/ and discover how you can reach hundreds of influential government buyers that your competitors are overlooking!
Visit GSA Sales Query, even if you don't have a schedule. How are the leaders in your GSA Schedule category, reaching THEIR clients, through ads and online?
Promote year-end offers to government customers through telemarketing or emails.
Update & Share Your Capability Statement
Add in your latest contract wins and vehicles, update your contact information, product information, certifications, keywords and NAICS codes.
Most contracting officers and small business specialists appreciate getting your latest capability statement. Ask your best contacts if they prefer email or hardcopy or a link.
Ask if they've got a few minutes to critique your latest draft capability statement -- What's missing? What else would they like to see? Helpful to you, AND keeps you top of mind.
Courting the government is similar to - if not exactly like - courting any other business prospect. You need to: keep informed of industry trends, distinguish yourself from the competition, be proactive, provide value, get to know the right people, stay on the radar and show imitative. Judy’s tips will help you to easily stand out from the crowd and gain an advantage in winning those lucrative government contracts, this year and every year.
What new strategy will you implement this year to win government contracts?
It’s not only well-intentioned citizens of planet Earth who are making strides toward conserving her precious resources for future generations. As awareness of environmental issues and the desire to do more while reducing impact increases, the U.S. Government itself has put its policies where it’s budget is by issuing an Executive Order 135145 —Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, in October, 2009. This order requires ninety-five percent of new contract actions, including task orders, to be green. That number represents a significant number of contracts and therefore significant opportunity for businesses willing and able to provide environmentally-friendly solutions, services and products.
More than a fashionable, politically-correct social trend, going green has become big business, and government contracting firms are cashing in on the greening trend, led in part by sustainability initiatives backed by the Obama administration. It’s not merely insignificant or splinter segments of government that are seeking suppliers of green products and services. One example of the government’s commitment toward this environmentally-friendly goal is evidenced by their efforts to submit its formidable Internet Technology buying power (to the tune of an $80 billion annual budget) to the marketplace, encouraging IT vendors to go green.)
Can your business leverage this commitment to the environment to sell (or sell more) to the government? Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting, explains that federal purchasers look for two primary things when evaluating green services for consideration as vendors. First, they look for services that directly address environmental issues, such as waste management or energy metering services. Second, they look for any service preformed in an environmentally friendly manner.
In determining where to focus your business’ procurement efforts for its green products and services, why should you look to contracting with the government? In today’s economy, explains Lourdes, the federal government is one of the few organizations spending large amounts of money – $500 billion spent annually in procurement to be exact. Of those funds, 23% of federal contracts should go to small business owners like you. However, she explains, there are billions of dollars in opportunities left on the table by small businesses because they are not aware that these opportunities are available.
So what do small business owners need to know to take advantage of the government’s green initiative? Lourdes offers the following best practices to begin the process of procuring government contracts, leveraging their desire to go green:
Explore the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Green Contracting Opportunities to become familiar with how the federal government purchases green products and services.
Get your business noticed by registering in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) national database and add your business to the Dynamic Small Business Search.
Broaden your NAICS codes to open up green contracting opportunities: Visit www.naics.com/search.htm to determine your NAICS codes.
Develop a green-specific capability statement: A capability statement is a necessity when doing business with the government. A successful capability statement includes, but is not limited to, company overview, core competencies, past performance, differentiators, company data and contact information.
Work with green government contractors: Register on TeamingUSA.com to find potential teaming partners that can help you compete for green contracts.
Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website to learn about the 5 Guiding Principles providing a framework for GREEN federal purchases at http://www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/guidance/index.htm
Use the resources and advice Lourdes highlights to identify what - in the opinion of the government - makes a product or service green. All the requirements are spelled out for you so that you can be certain to meet all the criteria necessary for the government to consider your business as a green vendor. As with any government contracting opportunity, a willingness to prepare, receive any certifications necessary, do your due diligence, be patient and thorough and follow through are the ultimate keys to success.
Lourdes’ advice can point you in the right direction toward selling your green products and/or services to the government. This is the time when you can make a huge impact on the way government carries out its many and sundry functions. Going green is good for the environment and definitely good business.
How can your business leverage the government’s green initiatives to provide environmentally sound and beneficial products and/or services?
The Small Busiess Administration (SBA) has announced revisions to its rules governing the 8(a) federal contracting program, the initiative designed to create procurement opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged businesses. These revisions are being enacted in order to improve compliance and clarity, as well as to ensure that the benefits are available for distribution to the intended recipients by preventing waste, fraud and abuse. These revisions will become effective on March 14, 2011.
The revisions include clarification as to such elements as definitions, qualifying factors, reporting requirements and consequences for non-compliance. Their intention is to make becoming involved in the program easier and participation more equitable and straightforward for all.
According to Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting, these changes represent an enormous opportunity for Certified Women-Owned Businesses, as a subset of the 8(a) certified workforce. Even for firms that don’t qualify, says Lourdes, these changes open the door to possibilities, such as teaming with a qualifying firm to increase your business’ chances of securing federal government contracts.
Lourdes explains that business owners can leverage these new regulations to get a leg-up on the billions of dollars worth of contracts that are set aside for 8(a) certified firms (which, of course, include Certified Women-Owned Busineses). This is significant to individual businesses because, as Lourdes reports, according to American Express OPEN’s government contracting survey, two thirds of minority business owners who do business with the government generate more than $1 million in sales each.
Lourdes offers the following tips to use these changes to the 8(a) Program to your best advantage in winning a piece of the government contracting pie:
Explore the 8(a) certification to see if you qualify: The 8(a) certification is for small firms that are socially and economically disadvantaged. To qualify, a firm can’t exceed a certain size limit, which varies by industry; has to be able to meet certain economic criteria; and show that it is socially disadvantaged, meaning minority-owned or disadvantaged.
If you qualify, make sure that your financial house is in order: The SBA requires a huge quantity of documentation on every aspect of the business and its owners. They want to see everything, so make sure that your business is being run very cleanly.
If you don’t qualify, learn about other SBA certifications: The government recognizes a number of small business certifications including Small Business, Small Disadvantaged Business, Service-disabled Veteran-Owned Business and HUBZone Business.
Team to help win government contracts: If you are new to government contracting, teaming can help you gain the experience and credibility you need to be awarded more government contracts. With various set-aside contracting programs for small businesses, partnering with an 8(a) or another women-owned firm can help increase your chances of winning contracts.
These are the first changes to this program in over 10 years. It’s encouraging to know that the Small Business Administration is taking a critical look at the administration of this program. It indicates a willingness to see the program succeed at its goal to award a $30 billion contracting budget to these minority, 8(a) certified businesses. Is your business going to be among them?
How will these changes to the 8(a) federal contracting program affect your willingness to seek out government contracting opportunities?
There is some huge help to women-owned small businesses on the horizon, courtesy of the Small Business Administration. Come February 1, 2011, their Women’s Procurement Program – also known as the 8(m) program - will take effect, impacting the 79,800 women-owned small businesses registered to do business with the federal government.
The goal of this program is to provide a boost to the federal government’s efforts to finally reach its procurement goal to award 5% of all contracts to women-owned small businesses (WOSBs). To put that percentage into a dollar perspective, that 5% represents $30 billion; in 2009, while significant, only $16 billion of the earmarked amount was awarded to WOSBs.
What does the SBA’s Women’s Procurement Program mean for women-owned businesses? Lourdes Martin-Rosa has over two decades of experience in helping small businesses navigate the government procurement landscape and serves as American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting. Lourdes says the program will permit an increase in contracting opportunities and fair competition allowing WOSBs to capture the full $30 billion of the federal procurement pie. She goes on to say that women can expect some significant advantages once the program takes effect.
Specifically, what advantages can women expect come February 2011 when the program takes effect? Lourdes reports that when the program takes effect in early February, it will allocate contracts to WOSBs within 83 NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes, giving WOSBs within these industries a significant edge in government contracting.
They also anticipate a “trickle-down effect” that will benefit both WOSBs and other businesses as well: As the federal government begins seeking WOSBs to fulfill their federal procurement goal, WOSBs will become an attractive commodity for teaming and subcontracting opportunities with other non-WOSB firms.
Lourdes offers the following example of how the program will provide greater opportunities for the industry-mates of WOSBs: If a large Advertising Agency (Advertising, Public Relations and Marketing are among the 83 NAICS codes) wanted to tap into the federal procurement market for the first time, they could team with a WOSB within the same industry. Both companies would share the contracting opportunity creating a win - win situation for everyone.
In this example, Lourdes points out, the WOSB wins because they have the backing and guidance of a large corporation. The federal agency wins because they’ve met their WOSB procurement goal and have a larger firm mentoring the smaller firm. Since in most NAICS categories, the WOSB must self perform at least 51% of the contract’s value, the prime contractor is the WOSB, so she will be handling all of the finances and submitting payments to the larger firm.
Why is government contracting a significant issue to WOSBs? Lourdes does the math for us, explaining that, were the $30 billion earmarked for contracting with WOSBs divided equally among the 79,800 registered businesses, each business would receive approximately $380,000 in contracting opportunities. That’s a pretty convincing reason to take note!
Here are two important reasons you may want to consider government contracting as a source of income for your business:
The federal government is a solid business partner, for any company wanting to secure a stable long-term customer. The chances of the federal government bouncing a check, paying late and/or not paying at all are very unlikely.
Most government contracts are one year contracts with 4 year options to renew, meaning woman-owned businesses will have the opportunity to win a 5-year contract. In today’s economy, a 5-year contract represents stability, constant cash flow and an opportunity to plan and grow for any small business.
Clearly, the opportunities for successful government contracting as a women-owned small business have never been brighter. Once the Women’s Procurement Program is launched on February 1, 2011, contracting officers will be able to set aside specific federal contract requirements to be competed only among WOSBs, opening the door to new contracting opportunities.
Lourdes’ advice: “The business opportunities are enormous and WOSBs can not let this one pass them by!”
Are you planning to take advantage of the Women’s Procurement Program to claim your piece of the federal procurement pie?
Were you aware that the U.S. Congress has set forth a goal that 5% of all government contracts to provide goods and services are awarded to women-owned businesses? In dollars and cents, that 5% of government contracts translates to $5 billion in annual revenues! When seeking avenues for growing your women-owned business, it would behoove you to explore opportunities to count the government among your clients. How can you find out more about conducting business with the government?
It’s good to know that you’re not on your own when it comes to navigating the waters of contracting with the government. One organization dedicated to offering the resources and information you need to seek out, apply for and win government contracts is, Give Me 5: Education and Access for Women in Federal Contracts. Their name, Give Me 5, is derived from that 5% goal Congress has earmarked to be awarded to women-owned businesses mentioned previously. According to their website, the organization represents “a partnership between Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), the nation’s largest nonpartisan women’s business group, and American Express OPEN, the nation’s leading issuer of payment card products and lines of credit for small business owners.”
Give Me 5 assists women-owned businesses in procuring those potentially lucrative government contracts by providing information and resources. They provide assistance to women-owned businesses to become listed on the Central Contractor Registry (CCR), a database of all businesses which currently contract with or are seeking to contract with the federal government. Being listed on the CCR is required to be eligible to apply for government contacts.
One of the people who help direct you through the labyrinth that is the government contracting process is Lourdes Martin-Rosa. She serves as the American Express OPEN Advisor on Government Contracting. In this role, she mentors and coaches small business owners to get contract-ready and/or find contract success. Lourdes says, “Small Businesses may explore opportunities to learn more about government contracting as well as educational events via the American Express OPEN website (www.openforum.com/governmentcontracts), where I participate as an Advisor on Government Contracting, speaker and mentor – coaching small businesses on how to navigate through the federal government’s portals and helping them create effective marketing programs. They may also follow along on my website (www.govbizsolutions.com) for any upcoming workshops we may be offering in their particular state. I also provide FREE webinars via the Give Me 5 program.”
As American Express OPEN’s Advisor in Government Contracting and as an active government contractor herself, Lourdes is proud to offer “mainstreet” shortcuts to the novice small business owner on how to actively become a successful government contractor. In partnership with American Express OPEN, Lourdes says that they have created valuable and very useful Insight Guides. In addition, they sponsor educational events around the country, providing a wealth of information for all government contractors, ranging from the new small business to the more successful government contractor wanting to explore other methods of winning government contracts. “We are the “Cliffs Notes” of the federal procurement industry,” Lourdes declares.
In her role as government contractor in her own woman-owned business, Lourdes serves as President of Government Business Solutions (an 8(a) 100% Women-owned small business), providing management consulting and technical assistance services to the federal government. She also offers services to the active government contractor on how to obtain an edge in government contracting, using the SBA’s small business programs, such as, the 8(a) & Hubzone certification programs & the GSA Schedule purchasing vehicle. She offers one on one workshops aimed at helping small businesses in a myriad of fields to properly register in CCR, ORCA (Office of Rural Community Affairs) and FBO (Federal Business Opportunities), making sure they know how to navigate and use the federal government’s portals to their advantage, helping them create strategic marketing plans for success. Her business also provides strategic marketing services where they actively search and seek contracts and present an effective method towards winning that specific future contract.
As a woman-owned business that you have a couple factors operating in your favor where government contracting is concerned. First of all, the government wants to award contracts - 5%, in fact - to a woman-owned company. Secondly, there are legitimate sources of information and assistance from which to choose making a potentially confounding processes easier and more successful. Give Me 5, which offers the combined resources of WIPP and American Express OPEN and dedicated consultants like Lourdes create a favorable landscape for pursuing the possibility of contracting with the government.
What’s preventing you from going after your share of 5% of the government’s contracts?
A new year is fast approaching. Do you know where your clients will come from in 2011? In addition to private companies, the government is fertile ground for establishing lucrative relationships, proving well worth your time to investigate as a source of business contracts.
When it comes to contracting with the government, where are the top opportunities for your business in 2011?? According to Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, Strategic Advisors for Government Contracts, “Because the federal government buys everything ? from lipstick to linchpins, the question is not whether government buys what you?’ve got, but whether you can focus in on, and persist in marketing to, the people in your sweet spot who represent the best prospects for you. Take a look at www.usaspending.gov to find out which government agencies buy the most of what you sell? and then sort by geography to find buyers near you! Sort by year to see whether spending on your kind of products/services is expanding or sliding.”
Are there hot fields for the upcoming year? Judy says that, in no particular order, business owners seeking government contracts in 2011 might look into opportunities like:
Commercial everyday items - Check out www.gsaadvantage.gov to see the 53 categories of contracts for vendors already offering such things ?and then see who? is buying on www.USASPENDING.gov.
Exhibits and graphical design
Coaching and training
Information technology - always huge and growing, at an over $70 billion federal market. Within that:
Services/solutions to heal and improve life for returning wounded warriors
Environmental and energy saving products, services and green building design. (See GSA?s commitment to zero environmental footprint!)
Smart grid/energy management
What can you do to align yourself/your business to partake of these opportunites in the upcoming year? Judy says that the companies who succeed will do seven things:
Ensure strong strategy. Ensure that your plans to win a government contract are well aligned with overall plans for business growth. The average small business invests $86,124 and over 20 months to win their first contract. If you want in, plan to be persistent and start small.
Focus! Or go broke. Look first for opportunities most similar to the ideal, happiest clients and best contracts you have now. Which government agencies have problems/needs most similar to that? Then you’?ll look at those agencies' forecasts and ? public information.
Learn the process ?of how government buys what you offer. For instance, starting small is easier if you know the rules for simplified acquisition. Did you know the threshold for these simpler procedures will rise on October 1st, to $150,000? So you could win a pretty decent contract without a full nasty RFP process if you know the rules!
Pinpoint the competition and figure out your unique value proposition - what makes you different. Based on that UVP, you'?ll create a capability statement that will form the core of your successful marketing effort.
Seek out teaming partners? because so many of the contracts are so big and because buyers want to see you have a track record. Teaming and subcontracting is how you build credibility!
Build relationships.? There are five people you need to meet in government agencies ?and seven in industry. Find out who they are, how they help and what they want.
Market. There are a lot of options and you?’ve got to pick cost effective ones that are tied to ?your strategy and focus.
The moral of the story is to prepare now for opportunities to contract with the government in 2011! While there are some hot fields, as Judy says, the most important factor is to investigate what your existing company has to offer the government - and capitalize on that. In addition, follow her sound strategic advice in your business practices. It makes for a powerful combination of factors that will keep you in government contracts into the new year and beyond.
What does your business offer that the government could use in 2011? What strategy will you deploy to win those contracts?
So your business wants to contract with the government on some projects. You’re certified as an International Women’s Business Enterprise (IWBE) - that’s a great first step. That certification will assure those agencies with set-asides designated for small businesses and woman/minority-owned businesses that you are a company that will help them fulfill their requirements.
Where can those agencies with contracting opportunities be found? Here’s how one newly- IWBE-certified company is going about it: Lynda Barckert, president of Chicago graphic design agency, Studiosatellite, says, “We have begun to check the Fedbizopps.gov website for current bid opportunities. The best way to use this government site is to first identify the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes most appropriate to the goods/services your firm has to offer.” “Often,” Lynda says, “more than one of these code numbers will fit a particular company,” so there’s a lot of opportunities available to match Studiosatellite’s complete array of offerings.
Lynda goes on to say, “The Fedbizopps website offers other search options as well, including locating opportunities that offer set-asides for minority companies, economically disadvantaged companies, etc. Once we identify a bid opportunity that matches-up well with Studiosatellite’s services, we will prepare and submit the bid application. Then we will cross our fingers and wait, while continuing to search the site for new postings.”
How will Studiosatellite choose those opportunities it wishes to pursue? Lynda says her company has four criteria in mind for matching opportunities with her company’s offerings. These questions will guide their actions:
Do the services described in the contract match well to our business? Some contracts ask for a broad range of services. If we don’t offer all of these services, can we partner up with another company that specializes in those areas?
Do we have sufficient staff to service the contract efficiently?
Can we realistically meet the deadlines?
How can we monitor the contract to make sure we are in compliance at all times?
What resources are available for a company new to the world of government procurement? Lynda explains that the process is at first daunting and time-consuming until you find some resources that are helpful - and affordable. She is currently in the process of scouring the Internet for the most useful websites to equip her company with the knowledge they need to untangle the process.
While she is aware that there are consultants who specialize in helping companies navigate the labyrinth that is the procurement process, Lynda is currently employing a more do-it-yourself approach. She says, “it seems that a whole industry has popped up, centered around offering to either help companies pursue government contracts, or do it for them. Some of these consultants are very expensive, some less so. As the president of a small business, I need to be very careful about making cost-effective decisions, so I am holding off on this resource for the time-being. Lynda is looking forward to networking with those who have successfully won government contracts and learn from their experiences. Those first-hand accounts from the trenches should prove invaluable, helping Studiosatellite gain insight and perspective on government procurement.
The overall consensus appears to be not to fear the red tape: to get out there and give it your best shot. Should one opportunity fall through, another will come along and you will bring more experience to the table with each subsequent attempt at securing a contract. Lynda shares a suggestion she received from a procurement representative, who advised new contract seekers to get their feet wet by choosing a contract to bid on and filling out the bid proposal paperwork, even if they didn’t actually submit it. Lynda says, “I think this was good advice, because it is the best way to see what is really involved, and if this revenue stream is a good fit for our company.”
Thorough research, a solid, personalized plan and the conviction to persevere make up the recipe for a successful government procurement strategy. Studiosatellite seems well on their way to exploring this whole new revenue stream.
What factors do you think are most important to consider when embarking on a government procurement course?
Government agencies offer a myriad of contracting opportunities. Whatever your field, you can be certain there’s a need for your goods or services somewhere, at some level, within the government. While any business can pursue the government’s business, there are often steps you can take proactively that will align your business for serious consideration.
Studiosatellite, an image creation and pre-press studio in Chicago, IL has recently received its International Women-owned Business Enterprise (IWBE) Certification. This certification means that the company completed the United States Women's Chamber of Commerce certification process and is now officially recognized as a women-owned business.
What does this mean for Studiosatellite? This certification is a pre-requisite for the process of competing for government contracts as a certified women-owned enterprise, which is considered a minority. The government has quotas to fulfill with regard to minorities and now its IWBE certification makes Studiosatellite eligible to compete against other certified women-owned businesses for government contracts.
According to Lynda Barckert, female majority owner and President of Studiosatellite, “We recognize that government on all levels has mandated that agencies and corporations alike hire women-and minority-owned companies for a percentage of contracts. We feel that our IWBE certification puts us in a position to pursue these opportunities.”
Based upon its owners and their ultimate mission, Studiosatellite proved to be a natural candidate for IWBE certification. Lynda explains, “Studiosatellite is unique in that we are currently the only certified woman-owned commercial retouching studio in Chicago. Most studios have about a 4:1 ratio of male to female employees. With retouchers, it is even less. Yet, I feel this is an industry women can excel in, if made aware of the skills and training necessary. Part of our vision involves hiring other women and helping them break into this industry or continuing to work at ever-higher levels within it. We believe that receiving our IWBE certification shows the industry, and those women hoping to break into it, our commitment to this vision."
Studiosatellite is poised, prepared and eager to pursue their first government contracting opportunities. Says Lynda, “We understand that it can be an arduous process, but in our industry, as in many others, it has become increasingly necessary to pursue other revenue streams. We are hopeful that our pricing structure—which eliminates out-of-date extra fees still charged by most studios—will attract contracts from government agencies that are also feeling the financial pinch of a challenging economy. We also stress the idea of Service, meaning we are very attentive in that arena throughout each project. This approach should work well in dealing with the many important details involved in fulfilling government contracts promptly and accurately.”
Lynda and her team are making the best possible use of the government’s contracting policies which are designed to provide opportunities for minority groups, such as women in the business world. One important key to successful government contracting is finding what unique qualities your business can offer and leveraging them to your advantage in the marketplace.
Creating opportunities for women within their industry and gaining more business - those are the goals behind Studiosatellite’s decision to pursue their IWBE certification - and ultimately government contracts. Those goals combined with smart business practices and a strong commitment to customer service will make Studiosatellite a strong contender for the contracts they go after. While IWBE certification offers no guarantees that government contracts will be awarded Studiosatellite, it represents their commitment and their first crucial step toward doing business with the government.
What factors make your business uniquely equipped to contract with the government?
Any company can acknowledge the benefits of repeat business. The advantages to you are that once you are a known entity to your customer, you needn't go through the effort of selling yourself again. When you've created a satisfied customer, it is far more likely that they will prefer doing business with you again in the future. An added bonus of repeat business is that you don't need to go to the effort and expense to acquire new business - it's already done. As long as you keep up the quality of your offerings, you may well have a customer for life.
Is this always true, no matter your client? When your customer is the government, do these same customer-retention benefits hold true? Once you've done business with the government, it is more likely they will contract with you again in the future. According to Mary Scott Nabers, President/CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., a 15 year old business development and research firm specializing in public sector marketplaces. "Government decision makers throughout the country talk to each other," she says. "Good performance on a public sector contract (as well as a reference account) can result in numerous similar opportunities throughout the U.S."
Once you have gone through the process of obtaining a contract to provide goods or services to the government, you are acutely aware of the process, which can be complex and lengthy but well worth it in the long run. When you've done business with the government in the past, you know that they pay competitively and reliably. That is a strong feature in their favor - the truth is, the government makes a good client. They also offer very large, high-profile contracts which will not only favorably increase your bank account but your portfolio.
There are differences, however, between gaining repeat business in the private sector as opposed to the public sector. While past favorable performance on a government contract can give you the confidence, stamina and good reputation to pursue future contracting opportunities, it is wise to refrain from becoming complacent. The government is a great customer to have but be aware that there can be significantly different requirements you'll need to fulfill in order to continue doing business with them.
Jeswald W. Salacuse, author of, Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government -- How to Deal with Local, State, National or Foreign Government and Come Out Ahead, provides the following tips to help you stay competitive and insure repeat business with governments:
Stay aware of political developments in the community, state or country where you do business. Politics at all levels drives government purchasing decisions at all levels. Economic tells only part of the story.
Build relationships with support staff in the offices of agencies that make purchasing decisions and pay occasional visits to them to stay in touch. The decision makers in those offices come and go, but the support staff is usually is more stable and they generally know more about what is going on.
Keep abreast of the rules on procurement. Government procurement is a rule-driven process. The rules you mastered to sell your product last year may not be the same rules you will have to satisfy to make a contract this year. The rules are constantly changing. In understanding and meeting those rules, remember that one of their primary purposes is not just to secure a good product at a fair price but also -- and particularly -- to protect the government office or agency from criticism by others of its procurement decisions.
A key difference, then, in dealing with government agencies is that there is more for a government to consider than just business when determining with whom to contract for their goods and services. Governments are in the uniquely strategic position of needing to satisfy many diverse desires and opinions in the granting of their contracts. It may serve you well to cultivate relationships with those who work "in the trenches" who can really be your allies in keeping up with and navigating the contracting process.
So while it easier to get repeat business from your previously satisfied customers, it is not necessarily a given when dealing with the government. Consider those things that make the government a unique client when pursuing repeat business from them. You'll be repeatedly glad that you did.
Have you contracted with the government on numerous occasions? How did you incorporate their special requirements into your procurement strategy?
Who are your clients? Sometimes you don't have the luxury of choosing with whom you work. You hope you can count on your clients to be easy to work with, pay you in a timely fashion, appreciate your efforts and offer repeat business. In many cases, however, you take on work without a lot of guarantees as to the amount of respect with which you'll be treated.
The way your clients treat you has a lot to do with the corporate culture of their company. You may assume that the larger a company is, the less considerate it would be toward the "little people" who provide them their goods and services. But what about THE biggest corporation...The United States government? As an enormous consumer of goods and services, chances are the government needs what your business sells. How is the government as a client? Perhaps surprisingly, the U.S government makes an ideal client, should you be willing and able to do the work involved to position yourself for their consideration as a vendor.
Mary Scott Nabers, President/CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., a 15 year old business development and research firm specializing in public sector marketplaces says, "We help companies find and capture government contracts." In her capacity as a facilitator who assists companies seeking government contracts, Mary says, "The government is a great client because you know there is never any doubt about whether or not you'll get paid. And, if firms perform well on a government contract there is always follow-on work. Government decision makers throughout the country talk to each other. Good performance on a public sector contract (as well as a reference account) can result in numerous similar opportunities throughout the U.S."
Mary suggests the following guidelines when pursuing government contracts:
Sell a solution. If you have a product or service, tie it to a problem the governmental entity needs to solve.
Do your homework. Know as much about the public entity as possible. It is especially important to know the governing structure. In other words, who has budget control and is there an elected official who will be the ultimate sign off on all contracts.
Always leave a meeting with a plan for "next steps."
Ask the government entity how they like to make purchases. Many prefer cooperative purchasing programs so they don't have to go through a formal bid process. If that is the case, it is imperative to try to get involved with the appropriate program.
Have patience. Government does not move quickly but the contracts are large and usually last for years.
Should you consider seeking out government contracts for your business? Dana Marlowe, Principal Partner and President of Accessibility Partners, a small, woman-owned IT consulting services company in the Washington, DC metro region suggests that indeed you should. According to Dana, the government is a very desirable client to have. Dana explains, "Our core focus is to assist Federal Agencies and Fortune 500 corporations in making their information technology accessible to people with disabilities."
Dana sees these four benefits to having a federal agency as her client:
Esteemed and credible client
Pay on time, thereby expectancy aids with cash flow in a small business
Friendly federal employees committed to their position
Once you have a contract, future procurement with that agency is sometimes easier
Accessibility Partners isn't the only company who is aware of the benefits of government contracts. Lisa Bell, President of Macell Incorporated says, "Our company did a computer system for our state's crime lab. The process was lenthly but we did get paid fairly quickly. They don't complain at all; in fact they are happy with the improvement and it is good to have that to use a reference."
These sources all agree that the U.S. government offers many qualities, including prestige, reliability and recognition of achievement that make it a desirable customer with which to conduct business. Follow the suggested guidelines to maximize your chances of winning the contract. When you fulfill your obligations and establish a good reputation with them, you'll enjoy the benefits of an appreciative, influential and responsive customer. What more can you ask of any client?
How do you define a great client? How could your business benefit from contracting with the government?
The U.S. Government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year purchasing goods and services. It is good to know, then, that in these times when most everyone is trying to be more conscious of protecting the environment that our government is making that effort as well.
According to Enesta Jones with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Press Office, there is a growing effort to take the environment under consideration when the government seeks to procure those goods and services. Ms Jones reports, "President Obama signed Executive Order 13514 in October 2009 which defines a number of attributes that federal agencies must consider in buying green products and services." She continues, "This Executive Order states that federal agencies must consider that 95 percent of new contract actions for products and services are: energy efficient, water-efficient, biobased, environmentally preferable, non-ozone deleting, contain recycled content, or are non-toxic or less-toxic alternatives." For our information, Ms Jones defines 'environmentally preferable' as products or services that "have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose." She concludes, "This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance or disposal of the product or service. EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program works to develop standards and provide guidance to federal agencies which look across the life cycle of products and services, considering multiple environmental attributes."
President Obama's executive order was not the first governmental initiative promoting greener choices. Since as early as 1976,the EPA has been required to designate products that are or can be made with recovered materials and to recommend practices for buying these products. Once a product is designated, procuring agencies are required to purchase it with the highest recovered material content level practicable. Obama's executive order, however, puts some teeth into the plan.
How does "green procurement" actually benefit the environment? Jones responds, "An excellent example of environmental benefits of a “greener” product is with electronics, specifically those desktops, laptops and monitors that are EPEAT-registered. EPEAT is the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool which has set criteria for what constitutes a green computer and assists purchasers in procuring those products."
Jones boasts that 2008 US purchases of EPEAT registered laptops, desktops, and monitors over conventional products will:
Reduce use of toxic materials, including mercury, by 1021 metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 510,949 bricks
Eliminate use of enough mercury to fill 149,685 household fever thermometers
Preclude the disposal of 43 thousand metric tons of hazardous waste, equivalent to the weight of almost 22 million bricks.
Eliminate 14,353 Metric Tons of solid waste, equivalent to the amount 7202 U.S. households generate in a year
In addition, due to EPEAT’s requirement that registered products meet ENERGY STAR’s energy efficiency specifications, these products will consume less energy throughout their useful life, resulting in:
Savings of over 8.39 billion kWh of electricity — enough to power over 700,000 US homes for a year
Reduction in use of 14.8 million metric tons of primary materials, equivalent to the weight of more than 114 million refrigerators
Avoidance of 34.2 million metric tons of air emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) and over 71,000 metric tons of water pollutant emissions
Reduction of over 1.57 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to taking over one million US passenger cars off the road for a year
In addition to these benefits, reported global sales demonstrate EPEAT’s potential for reducing the environmental costs of computing worldwide. Despite only 27% of participating manufacturers reporting their Canadian EPEAT sales and only 20% reporting their Rest of World sales, the estimated benefit of EPEAT sales to these regions is still significant:
Reduction of 2.8 million metric tons of primary materials
Elimination of over a million kilograms of toxic materials, including enough mercury to fill 157,311 household fever thermometers
16,297 Metric Tons of solid waste eliminated
Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 2.3 million US cars from the road for a year
Putting our money where their mouth is, the government has established the following guideline in their procurement practices:
Guiding Principle 1: Environment + Price + Performance = Environmentally Preferable Purchasing "Environmental considerations should become part of normal purchasing practice, consistent with such traditional factors as product safety, price, performance, and availability."
Because the government factors these initiatives into their equation, a company offering greener options enjoys a market advantage in the procurement procedure. Let's keep things green by following these guidelines to offer environmentally friendly products and services. It's a win-win proposition.
What "green" options can your company offer the government?
Ann Farrell is a procurement success story. She has parlayed the experience she gained in the first phase of her career working for a company who provided equipment for the government into her own business which also does business supplying the government.
In "Phase I," Ann was VP, Purchasing and Logistics, for a 150-year-old major Original Equipment Manufacturer, which, throughout most of its history, it has been a supplier to government. Her previous employer provided the government with transport equipment (heavy and medium trucks and school buses) for municipal, state and federal purposes as well as for troops both in battle zones and for home security.
Ann's personal experience includes more than 12 years altogether in Purchasing, meeting the needs of government and ensuring that the company maintained a supply base that did the same. Her peers and counterparts were directly engaged in the sale and in relationship with the government. Ann's role over the years included developing the products that would meet the government specifications.
Ann has retired from that position; she's now entered "Phase II" where she opoerates her own business. The tremendous knowledge base and experience Ann possesses has allowed her to branch out on her own to supply the government. While Ann's new business has yet to do business with military, she is in essence providing the same types of heavy equipment to the government as her previous employer.
How has she done it? Ann says she has taken the necessary steps to align her business for contracting with the government. "My own business is a Certified Women-Owned Business so that I may qualify as a Diverse Supplier to the government and other companies that do business with the government," Ann says. "As a client, working with the government does require more work in terms of paperwork, meeting specification and evidencing compliance with all of the government compliance requirements including doing business with Diverse suppliers."
Ann offers these tips for successfully navigating the seas of government procurement:
Invest the time to understand the requirements of the government agencies that you are seeking to do business with as they vary greatly. Selling products or services to municipalities requires an entirely different set of processes and procedures than selling to the military, for example.
Take the paper work seriously! It is a key element of the quality, delivery and cost of the experience of doing business with you and them.
Many recommend that you have resources that specialize in “government” versus commercial or b2b so that you can successfully participate in this substantial market ($518 billion in government contracts in 2008).
Get the support that is available to you through SCORE, Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and other services that specialize in supporting small businesses in the world of government contracting.
Ann had a lot going for her in terms of knowledge and experience when she headed into the world of contracting with the government as an independent entity. She has, however taken the prudent steps of becoming a Certified Women-Owned Business and following the stringent government guidelines to the letter. Knowing her field inside and out and complying with the regulations to the letter has made Ann Farrell a success at getting a healthy share of the vast and lucrative government market.
How does Ann's success in government procurement inspire you?
A daunting part of the process of pursuing a government contract is writing a proposal. In response to the agency's RFP (Request for Proposal), those businesses interested in competing for the contract must prepare and submit a proposal. The requirements of proposal writing are stringent and the paperwork can be overwhelming, It's best to consult those who've navigated the process for their advice on doing it right and sealing the deal.
Lee Moon is President of Iona Moon, LLC, who works in management and business development for companies seeking government businesses. Lee says, "My TOP tip for winning government proposals is: Write fewer proposals! I write many government proposals and I have a 96% win rate. Your best investment of your business development budget is in the capture stage – the effort you put toward learning about and marketing the government customer PRIOR to beginning the proposal phase. Churning out proposal after proposal is the least-effective business development strategy you can employ. Streamline your pipeline so you are only writing to those opportunities with the highest likelihood of a win."
Alan Byrd, Owner of Alan Byrd & Associates agrees: "Currently I own a marketing and public relations company in Orlando, FL. My prior job was VP of sales, marketing and public relations for a local construction firm in Orlando. We averaged 5-6 proposals for state, county, local and educational proposals per month. We were shortlisted for a project approximately 65% of the time."
Alan reveals, "My number one tip in proposal preparation is: meet with the proposing agency before the Request for Proposal comes out. To be successful, you have to target the agencies you want to do business with, then cold call to ask for a meeting."
Alan suggests asking the following questions of the agency:
What is the process they use to procure goods or services?
What do they like to see in any proposal?
Are there any advantages that a company has over another?
What do they like about their current vendors?
Why are they ending the relationship with the current vendors?
Are there any projects coming up that they think might be a good fit for your company?
Submitting a proposal without putting a face to the name significantly lowers the chance of you winning the job, he warns.
Once they know you at the proposing agency and you are fully clued-in on what they're specifically looking for, it's time to get down to writing the proposal.
Alex Gramling, VP of Marketing for Locum Leaders, shares the following advice:
"A simple but critically important tip is to follow the RFP instructions to the letter. To ensure fairness and competitive bidding, government agencies have exacting requirements about RFP preparation. In most cases, failure to follow the RFP instructions can disqualify you from winning the business. Oftentimes, these instructions can seem mundane—requirements about the specific number of copies that must be printed or a specific deadline for in-hand receipt of your submission. But if you gloss over or ignore one of these minor details, you risk losing out on a technicality, regardless of the strength of your proposal."
Alex continues, "Another tip if you’re pursuing a contract that has been won previously is to benchmark your planned proposal against the winning proposal that was accepted last time around. Oftentimes, government business comes down to price, so it’s helpful to know what price was accepted last time. This information is often a matter of public record. Many times all you have to do is ask the procurement agent or agency in charge of the RFP to provide you with details about the last winning bid."
Al Scott, Principal of NSD Bio Group, LLC, whose firm was awarded two federal contracts in 2008 and 2009 sums up winning proposal preparation with these tips:
Be sure of your core competencies and determine if they align with the RFP.
Give yourself ample time, especially if you're incorporating subcontractors' input and qualifications for the submission.
If not sure of RFP, ask questions of Contractor Officer for client, as sometimes what you believe is to be important may not be important to client/agency; It always helps to clarify if any doubts.
Allow some time to step back and review proposed submission to catch any inconsistencies, typos, etc.
Include Table of Contents/Make it easy for reviewers.
When enlightened by the practical wisdom of those who've successfully won these contracts, preparing government proposals seems like an accomplishable goal. Planning and attention to detail are clearly the most important aspects to writing a proposal that will get you the contract. If it's work you can and want to do, it's worth taking the effort to put your best foot forward at every step of the process.
Are you willing to try your hand at preparing a government proposal?
Government contracts are a profitable prospect for a business. As more are made available as a means to stimulate the economy, you may be hearing about even more opportunities to provide products and services to the government. It sounds like a win-win situation - help your business grow while helping the economy as a whole get back on its feet.
A quick overview of the process for government contracting includes preparatory steps such as thorough research. Look for resources for information on government contracting opportunities through the Small Business Administration or a Procurement Technical Assistance Center. These places will help you assess whether your business is prepared - ready, willing and able - to go after government contracts in the first place. If it is, they can help you receive beneficial certifications and generally prepare you for the lucrative yet rigorous demands of identifying, winning and fulfilling a government contract.
As enticing as government contracting sounds, the question remains, "Are these opportunities as straightforward to obtain as it sounds or are there some stumbling blocks of which you should be aware?"
Virginia A. McAllister, AIA, LEED AP, of Iron Horse Architects, says, "We are a women owned business and have been going after government contracts for over a year." Virginia says that it is important to be aware of the following facts which she has discovered throughout her company's journey through the government contract procurement process:
The runway to take off is long. It can be 2-3 years before getting a contract.
The government uses prior experience as an evaluating factor. They say that private sector work is weighted equally with public sector work but there is no way to tell if this is followed.
There are no women owned business set asides. The Law that was passed in 2003 was shelved earlier this year so they can start over again.
My advice to get into government contracting is to work with prime contractors to sub contract. Get the previous experience record and get to know the specific contractors.
The small business representatives of the individual offices/agencies are not contracting officers and cannot help you get work. You need to get through them and into the contracting officer or project manager to find out what is going and coming down the pike.
The Small Business Administration offices are good places for information but again, they do not help you in marketing or getting contracts or contacts in government. A local PTAC office, not all states have them, is a good place to get more information on contracting.
As Virginia points out, it is wise to do your homework before putting all your eggs in the government contract basket. The process is arduous, lengthly and can be confusiing and even frustrating. The onus is completely on you to seek out the necessary information and resources - they're out there for the finding. The important thing is to prepare yourself with a strong knowledge base and your eyes wide open. Proceed with caution to avoid discouragement and you just may land yourself a big fish!
Do you have the fortitude to go after government contracts?