The Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program went into effect February 2011.
What does this mean for women-owned small businesses? A lot.
After 11 years of trying, there is finally a set-aside program to ensure women businesses get their fair share of government contracts. In 2010, women businesses received less than the allocated 5%, which would have meant nearly $22 billion in contracts for women entrepreneurs. This program was implemented to fix that and expand federal contracting opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
Recent reports, however, show that the program is ramping up slowly.
Federal agencies have awarded 35 contracts to-date. Women business owners need to step up to the plate now more than ever to take advantage of these set-asides. According to American Express OPEN’s survey of small business contractors, two-thirds of women whose firms do business with the federal government generate more than $1 million in sales.
So how do you get started?
As with any client, the first step in seeking a federal contract is to make your business known. That means registering your company’s information on the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) – the primary vendor database for the federal government. Registration is free. Currently, there are less than 100,000 women-owned small businesses registered to do business with the government.
Also, explore if your business qualifies as a small business on the SBA websites. If your business is at least 51% owned by a woman with U.S. citizenship, make sure you register for the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program. And while you’re there, see if your business qualifies for other SBA programs like the 8(a) Business Development or HUB-Zone. You may have an edge in government contracting.
Know your customer
The next step is to learn about the government as a customer. Successful government contractors routinely peruse Fed Biz Opps, an online listing of government contracts that detail all contracts with a value exceeding $25,000. Business owners can search for contracts that are designated as small business set-asides and review all contracts to better understand what the government is buying.
Once you have identified the agencies that are buying your services or products, learn their mission and objectives before any communications or solicitations go out. An educated contractor is a successful contractor.
Seek out friends in the federal government
The OSDBU (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) and the SBA are small business advocates so get to know them. Every federal agency has a small business specialist in the OSDBU. For a list of the OSDBU offices, visit www.osdbu.gov.
Look for experienced partners
An effective way many first-timers gain entry into government contracting is to work as a subcontractor for a company that has been awarded a federal contract. To learn about opportunities with these companies, keep an eye out when perusing Fed Biz Opps. Any contract over $550,000 in products and services and $1 million in construction should have a small business subcontracting plan.
Business owners can search for teaming partners by visiting www.usaspending.gov and www.fpds.gov. These two websites offer past performance information that lets you see who your buyers and competitors are. Think of your competitors as potential teaming partners.
Business owners that team or subcontract to procure federal contracts are far more likely to win those dollars – in fact, 50% more likely according to American Express OPEN’s study.
Learn from those who preceded you
Use available resources to find information that will save you time and money. For instance, visit OPEN Forum for comprehensive information on landing government contracts.
About the author:
Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the American Express OPEN Adviser on Government Contracting and has over two decades of experience in helping small businesses navigate the procurement landscape.