For many business owners, the challenge to their public policy education is not a lack of interest but of time. Given the breadth and complexity of the available information, it’s difficult for anyone to sort through the latest legislation, much less a busy entrepreneur. But Laurie Simon, CEO of Ombrella Inc, found the answers she needed through a not-so-surprising resource: a network of other business owners.
Laurie founded her IT and business consulting firm in 2004 and quickly became active in organizations that could help her build her business. Through her networking, she was referred to Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). “I’ve always been very passionate about business policies, especially how they affect women and minority business owners,” she told me. “And I found that WIPP aligned with my values. They take a bipartisan approach to getting the right policies in place to support business owners.”
Among benefits of her WIPP involvement Laurie outlined were:
- Streamlined information on government policies. WIPP distills new policies down to the top points of how they are going to affect small business
- Advocacy on behalf of small business. “WIPP is a watchdog on bills affecting small business, but we also proactively advocate for new policies and make sure our proposals are communicated to the right people.”
- Networking and opportunities. “Any time I’ve had any kind of business challenge, I’ve been able to leverage the women I’ve met through WIPP. Everyone is open to making connections and learning more about each other’s businesses and supporting and making referrals.”
- Access to decision makers. “The level of influence among the membership has helped me open quite a few doors. I now have other business leaders asking me for my opinion on new bills.”
Today, Laurie sits on both the WIPP Communications Committee and the committee for their Give Me 5 program, focused on helping women business owners obtain their share of the $500 billion in government contracting. “There is a government mandate that 5 percent of that should go to women-owned businesses,” Laurie said. “Currently, we’re only getting 3.4 percent. The Give Me 5 program was started to bring awareness to both women business owners and policymakers to help reach that goal – and beyond.” Launched as a partnership between WIPP and American Express OPEN, the Give Me 5 program has educated 200,000 women on federal contracting opportunities and increased the number of women-owned businesses register on the CCR (Central Contractor Registry) by 36 percent. A requirement for obtaining government contracts, the CCR is a database for government agencies to search prospective vendors based on abilities, size, and other parameters.
A strong proponent for small businesses going after government contracts, Laurie is currently completing a mentoring program led by Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN’s advisor on government contracting, that coaches a select number of women business owners on to help her get on the GSA (General Services Administration) Schedule. Many agencies prefer to purchase from vendors who are also on the GSA Schedule, which lists the government’s agreed-upon fees for a vendor’s products and services, thereby eliminating much of the hassle associated with the government procurement process.
“I’ve learned a lot of the ins and outs of the process, especially in how we position ourselves and to look for opportunities sooner rather than later. It’s also opened my eyes to different teaming opportunities.” Laurie said, referring to how businesses can combine their experience and assets in some form of partnership in order to secure contracts that individually they would not be able to. “We’re now positioning ourselves for teaming with larger contractors, and I can’t wait to get my first contract.”
You can learn more about WIPP by visiting www.wipp.org or reading this article by my colleague Marcy Shinder: “Partnering for Growth: Women-Owned Businesses as the 5th Largest GDP in World.”
If you are interested in learning more about government contracting opportunities, visit OPEN for Government Contracts: Victory in Procurement (VIP) for Small Business, a program American Express OPEN launched with WIPP, Business Matchmaking, and SCORE. Through mentoring, networking, and online resources, this program helps businesses owners prepare for and register on the CCR and obtain the proper certification(s).
For more information on Laurie Simon (Cardmember since 2009) or Ombrella Consulting, visit www.ombrellausa.com.