If you visit the website of Boynton Beach, FL company, Lebolo Construction Management, you’ll find on its home page that the firm wears its minority business certifications proudly like badges of honor – State of Florida Minority Certified MBE, Palm Beach County Small Business Certified MBE, School Board of Palm Beach County Minority Certified MBE.
That’s because Randy Lebolo, the company’s president, understands that being a certified minority business enterprise allows him to be a client of federal, state and local governments. He embraces the importance of certifications in successfully obtaining government contracts – his primary revenue stream.
It wasn’t always that way.
Uprooting himself from his home country of Colombia in 1999 to land in Florida. Randy started from scratch but moved quickly. He obtained his construction license in 2000, and in 2003 he landed his first job building residential housing.
By 2004, he was a subcontractor in building Palm Beach County schools, as well as banks in Colombia, Puerto Rico, and throughout South America.
“The reason I came here was to work, so I haven’t wasted any minute of it,” he said. “Some people specialize in one particular type of work. I specialize in service. That happens to be in construction.”
But as the economic recession began to have an impact on all industries, Lebolo saw an opportunity to diversify his revenue streams. “Eighteen months ago I stopped pursuing commercial work and started becoming certified with the federal government,” said Lebolo.
In the summer of 2008, Lebolo obtained his 8a certification, which helps traditionally under-utilized businesses compete by offering them a chance to secure federal contracts. Eligible firms can be awarded federal government contracts on a sole-source basis – up to $3 million for goods and services and $5 million for manufacturing. Within four months of securing his 8a, Lebolo received his first sole-source contract.
“Currently, I’m negotiating four other 8a sole-source contracts,” he said. But, as Lebolo explains, contracts don’t fall onto his desk. “I’m on a plane every week,” he said of his aggressive marketing tactics. “I go anywhere and everywhere that I can, introducing my company to agencies.”
Not stopping there, Lebolo also became part of the GSA Schedule.
A GSA Schedule contract is an official federal contract, but it is not funded and it does not have products or services to deliver immediately. Funding occurs when an order is signed by a federal agency.
There are 62 categories of commercial products and services that vendors may apply for a GSA contract under. Known as Schedules, these categories cover everything from industrial products, vehicles, computers and office products, to most categories of professional services.
Today, GSA Schedules are the favored purchasing mechanism for most federal buyers and an ideal sales and closing vehicle for vendors. Large federal contractors can have GSA Schedule sales exceeding $100 million annually.
Today, his company is only one of two in a group of 100 construction management firms that are 8a certified and part of the GSA Schedule, making him a prime candidate for subcontracting opportunities. Many government contracts have set-aside contract percentages for large multi-million dollar awards.
“We are in a good position,” he said. “We invested heavily in this process.”
The process for government certifications is “paperwork intensive,” says Lebolo, and he recommends not going at it solo. Rather, surround yourself with the right advisors.
“I surrounded myself with the right consultant, counsel, attorneys, and accountants. If you’ve never done it before, you need someone to teach you.”
The investment in a consultant to walk you through an 8a or GSA Schedule process could range up to $15,000, but the potential return could be 10-fold with the right contact.
When it comes to potentially landing a multi-million dollar, multi-year contract, Lebolo advises to plan and grow carefully.
“There are two ways to build a company. Grow as jobs require you to grow, or you build a company, then look for the jobs. We built the infrastructure first.”
“We spent the money in quality assurance, building our safety program, having estimators in the office, hiring the right project managers. What we have is the capacity to do much more work than we’re currently doing. Make sure you are not getting a bigger chunk than you can bite.”
That’s having a good problem. The bad problem is having the certifications and being on the GSA Schedule and not being proactive in the marketing phase that follows. “
Jobs are not going to land in your lap. You need to market yourself. Sell yourself really, really hard. I’m getting contracts because I’m not sitting here in my office. On a daily basis, I’m sending five to 10 e-mails to contractors all over the nation, spending a lot of hours on researching who is who.”
“I didn’t change my livelihood by leaving Colombia to start a new life and fail,” he concluded.
Lebolo exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of Hispanic Americans in the small business community, and the opportunities available to Hispanic entrepreneurs in government procurement.
For resources to help you get started in government contracting, visit openforum.com/governmentcontracts.