After trying for two decades, the federal government has finally met its goal of awarding five percent, or $17.8 billion, of all contracts to women-owned small businesses. This means five percent is no longer the ceiling but the foundation to build up from moving forward. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has added 36 new industry categories where women can now compete for sole-source awards and set-aside contracts. While there is still a ways to go to award the underrepresentation of women-owned businesses in government contracting, now is a great time to get involved.
This milestone was met in 2017 after years of initiatives to boost opportunities for women-owned small businesses. Two such initiatives of note are the ChallengeHER and Give Me 5 programs.
Initiated in 2013 by Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), the ChallengeHER Campaign was designed to engage women-owned small businesses in federal procurement. The program leveraged resources from WIPP, SBA, and American Express OPEN to bring more women-owned business into the federal government’s supply chain. From webinars to Matchmaking Events, the campaign was designed to assist women in competing for contracts by reducing competition using WOSB set-aside programs.
The Give Me 5 Program takes its name for the five percent goal for women-owned business receiving government contracts. It was also a combined effort between WIPP and American Express OPEN, to educate women on how to apply for and win federal contracting opportunities.
There are many resources online to utilize to begin the process of tackling government contracting, from women-specific tools to general contracting guidance, just take the time to educate yourself on the process to improve your chances.
10 Tips For Women-Owned Businesses to Succeed in Government Contracting
With renewed momentum in supporting women-owned business in the public market, and the opportunities specifically meant for women, now is a great time for women business owners to consider entering the realm of government contracting. The process is complicated and requires determination, so we’ve compiled a list of insider tips on ways to improve your chances at success in this competitive field.
Determine if Your Business Can Service the Federal Government as a Customer
While government contracting isn’t for just any business, it’s important to remember every government agency needs to buy their materials, supplies, and services from somewhere. The only thing the government makes in money, so whether it’s paper or furniture, they’re going to be purchasing from private entities, preferably a U.S. business.
Ask yourself if your product or services might be a need for any government agency. If the answer is yes, or even maybe, explore the process further to decide if it’s realistic for your business.
Register Your Business with the System for Award Management
If you decide to move forward with entering the government contracting domain the first thing you will need to do to apply for a contract is to register your business with the System for Award Management (SAM). You must create a profile and then complete the entire process so that government agencies can find your business when they are looking for vendors.
Determine if Your Business is Eligible for Set-Asides
To level the playing field for small businesses, the government limits the competition for certain contracts. These contracts are called set-asides and there are some specifically held for women-owned businesses to get priority. Set-asides are not available for every industry. Review the lists of set-asides for women-owned businesses to ascertain if your business may qualify in one of the areas. It can give you a significant advantage when applying for contracts in those industries if you qualify.
Certify Your Business with the SBA as a Woman-Owned Business
If you qualify for any set-asides, you’ll need to register as a women-owned business with the SBA. You can register online with the self-certification process. The primary requirement is that 51 percent or more is directly owned and managed by one or more women who are U.S. citizens.
Sign Up for Bid Notifications
The first step in winning a specific contract is submitting a bid. Different agencies accept bids at different times. You should be diligent in researching bid opportunities that are relevant to your business. You can even sign up for bid notifications online, so you can be the first to know if opportunities are available in your industry.
Research Procurement Forecasts
Don’t wait around until bids are posted. Each federal agency will share a procurement forecast on their website. It will contain a list of services and products that they plan to use in the near future. Research the procurement forecast of the agencies you’d like to do business with so that you can be fully prepared when the bids are ready.
Network at Government Contracting Events
As with many things, building strong relationships and networking with the right contacts is fundamental to succeeding in government contracting. There are many events to choose from, from educational events to expos and seminars. You can gain valuable resources from these events to learn more about the procurement process and network with actual government buyers.
Choose a Strategic Teaming Partner
Set-aside contracts only need to go to women-owned business if at least two such businesses apply. So even if you qualify for a set-asides, if you’re the only women-owned business applying you won’t benefit. Consider networking with other women-owned businesses in your industry so you can plan to both apply to specific set-asides and increase your chances of winning.
Analyze the Agency’s Mission
Every government agency has its own mission and goals. Be sure to tailor your bid to the specific agency versus a one-size-fits-all approach, when applying for a contract. Before you turn your bid in, assure it appeals to the agency’s mission as much as possible.
The world of government contracting is a challenging process. You may have to bounce back from a lot of rejection before you start securing bids. It’s important to not get defeated, stay determined, and keep applying. You’ll learn something from each missed opportunity and once you start winning bids you can curtail that success into future opportunities.