Fast forward eight months, and Sharon is at our offices once again, as a featured panelist for the first in our series of small business panel discussions, “Insights from OPEN Forum: A Roadmap for the New SBA,” hosted by John Battelle.
This time, she wasn’t talking about challenges – she was offering her perspective on what the recent leadership change at the Small Business Administration could mean for entrepreneurs, and how to grow in a difficult economy! She was incredible – inspirational, insightful, with plenty of first-hand practical advice. Her business was thriving. She’d turned things around and then some.
I had to pull Sharon aside afterwards and ask her how she did it. “Two words,” she told me: “Government Contracting.”
What power in those two words! Of course, there was a lot more to it – like Sharon’s incredible determination, fortitude, resilience of spirit, deep rooted values and strong family support system. But she successfully pooled her resources to unearth the potential of Government Contracting as a growth vehicle.
I asked her to help us understand how she did it. She told me; first, develop a strategy for moving forward. Here are a few of the steps she suggests:
- Make sure your financial house is in order. For Sharon, this meant cutting costs, reducing debt, cleaning up any issues on her credit report, and making sure her company was in good standing financially.
- Research and apply for certifications that apply to your business. (These include HUBZone, Veteran-owned, Women-owned, and others. Check out www.sba.gov for a complete list.)
- Enter your business in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database (www.ccr.gov). Agencies and prime contractors turn to this government-maintained database first when looking for potential vendors. No firm can receive a Federal contract without being registered in the CCR.
- Think about what government agencies may need what you offer. Think in terms of B2B – if your product/service is relevant to another business, then it most likely will be relevant to a sector of the government.
- Get to know each of the entities you’re interested in selling to. Research what they do. In Sharon’s case, she familiarized herself with agency procurement forecasts and reviewed contracting periodicals concerning policy positions and funding levels of various agencies. Additionally, she looked at organizational charts and identified the names and numbers of her three must-know groups: Contracts, Agency Small Business Advocates, and Project Management. She reached out to them all, she was determined!
- Consider timing. Sharon worked overtime during the summer and early fall to check in with the contacts she’d made on projects that might ensue before the end of their fiscal year (usually September). Government agencies often will “obligate” remaining funds in the last month or two prior to fiscal close.
- Plan for success. What steps could you take to better prepare your company to compete for Federal contracts? Sharon scheduled a family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard to coincide with a site visit for a project at a Federal agency in Massachusetts. She also interviewed someone for a position with her firm during this trip. Additionally, she joined the US Green Building Council and had her staffers receive the appropriate certification to give her firm a competitive advantage for procurements related to Federal “green” initiatives.
There’s much more OPEN has compiled on Government Contracting with Women in Public Policy (WIPP) through our Give Me 5 initiative, and at our website, www.openforum.com/procurement.
Sharon – thank you for letting me share your story and advice. And thank you for your continued support of OPEN Forum. The participation of business owners like you allows us to continue our commitment to providing valuable information and content to help business owners grow.
Please share your stories with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and take a moment to tell us what you think about our web site by completing our brief survey.
Photo: Moderator John Battelle (right) with panelists (right to left): Sharon Brown, EOSS, Inc., Barbara Kasoff, Founder and CEO of WIPP, Jeffrey Carr, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at NYU and Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE.