By Cindy Bates
On my way home from the office late last week I heard an interesting story on NPR about why women lag in winning government contracts. I paused to turn up the volume because the host was speaking about two of my favorite topics – successful women in business and unique business opportunities. While listening, I found one statistic particularly jarring: In the 20 years since the government set a goal of awarding five percent of federal contracts to women-owned small businesses, it has never met that goal.
I’ve met with countless SMB owners who have earned federal contracts and I know the impact it can give a business – opening doors, building connections and fast-tracking growth. The question is how can we help level the playing field for women who now comprise a third of all U.S. small business owners? Below, I’ve listed five practical tips to offer women a jumpstart on taking their businesses to the next level.
• Start locally – Find the military bases and government agencies in your area and ask what products they’ve purchased before and who does the purchasing. Once you’ve made that determination, PTACs (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers) as well as SBDCs (Small Business Development Centers) are the best resources locally for all of the “How–Tos”.
• Find a mentor – I’m a big proponent of seeking out a mentor and have been fortunate to learn from some great mentors throughout my life. There are 13 mentor-protégé programs in major agencies throughout the federal government which have a goal of promoting the development of qualified small business contractors by pairing them with experienced prime contractors. Entrepreneurs.org also has a great mentorship program that can help business owners navigate the often complex and confusing procurement process.
• Leverage the right technology – According to the U.S. Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, the U.S. government instituted the Cloud First policy to accelerate the pace of cloud adoption. Your business should do the same. Cloud technology, like Office365, plays an essential role in ensuring compliance with governmental and large corporations’ requirements for privacy and security.
• Seek certifications – SMB owners can apply for any or all of the government certifications available through federal, state, county or city governments. Certifications are offered to minority-owned, woman-owned and veteran-owned businesses, those owned by someone with a physical disability, or those located in areas with high unemployment.
• Be persistent – An American Express OPEN study showed that in 2013 it took both men and women about two years and at least four bids before they succeeded in winning their first contract. Rejection can be disheartening for even the most weathered business, but there are a few steps to make you more likely to win the next time around. First, ask for a debrief to find out why you did not win the contract. Also keep a few copies of the materials from your original application to streamline the process for later ones.
Don’t think your small business is a match for the federal government? Think again. The government is the largest buyer of products and services in the country. It spends 23 percent of its contracting budget with American SMBs. For additional inside tips on winning government contracts, download Braddock’s The Winning Edge, which was sponsored by Microsoft.
Microsoft U.S. SMB group
Cindy Bates leads the company’s efforts to help SMBs realize their full potential through the use of technology. This blog is where she shares SMB stories, technology insights, and business strategies for SMBs.
We have received permission to repost this blog from the Microsoft SMB Blog.