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The progress and opportunities for women-owned small businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has released the FY17 Procurement Scorecard, which provides an important pulse check on how the federal government fared in reaching its small business contracting goals. The latest scorecard shows that the government exceeded its 23 percent small business contracting goal in FY17, awarding 23.88 percent, or $105 billion, to small businesses.

Awarding more than $100 billion in small business contracts for the first time is an exciting accomplishment and one worth celebrating, especially because it’s the fifth consecutive year that the 23 percent goal has been met. However, the scorecard also sheds light on areas of opportunity. One such area is contracts awarded to women-owned small businesses (WOSBs). As an active WOSB contractor, I hope that the latest results will spark action to help women-owned firms pursuing federal contracts.

The contracting landscape for WOSBs

Two years ago, I celebrated alongside the SBA and partners in Congress the small business community and the private sector when the government exceeded the 5 percent WOSB contracting goal (spending 5.05 percent in FY15) for the first time in history.

The latest scorecard shows that momentum has decreased. Last year, the government fell short of the 5 percent goal, awarding 4.71 percent of contracts to WOSBs. That equates to $20.8 billion spent with women-owned firms — up from $19.7 billion in FY16 and $17.8 in FY15. The growing spend is a positive sign for WOSBs, but the declining percentage of overall prime contracts means there is room for improvement.

How do we move forward?

One step toward a solution may be to ensure more women-owned firms are certified to compete for WOSB and EDWOSB (economically disadvantaged women-owned small business) set-asides. The SBA and organizations like the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council work to make the certification process turnkey and provide counsel along the way.

WOSBs should also research all eligible NAICS codes. In 2017, the SBA updated NAICS codes for industry categories under the SBA’s WOSB Federal Contract Program for set-asides and sole source procurements. Contracting officers may set aside contracts for WOSBs as long as certain requirements are met (e.g., the acquisition falls within an industry where WOSBs are underrepresented). For WOSBs in male-dominated industries, such as construction, having the proper NAICS codes can open up doors.

Leverage available resources

Once certified, WOSBs need to be proactive in capturing contract opportunities. One way to do so is exploring the valuable training resources available through the SBA and its resource partners, such as the network of Small Business Development Centers across the country.

There is also programming geared specifically toward helping WOSBs compete in the federal marketplace, such as ChallengeHER and Give Me 5. Federal agencies also often host Agency Industry Day events specifically designed for WOSB contractors, which are listed on Federal Business Opportunities.

Additionally, national organizations like Women Impacting Public Policy and the WOSB National Council play an important role in connecting members with mentors and public and private sector contacts that can open up key opportunities.

Budget accordingly

Like anything in business, pursuing government contracts will require time, personnel and other hidden costs. Carve out an appropriate portion of budget for bidding activity.

A 2016 American Express survey found WOSB federal contractors, on average, are investing less time and money in pursuing contracting opportunities than they did roughly three years ago — an estimated $107,774 in 2016 compared to $112,112 in 2013. This is also just 58 percent of the amount invested by their male counterparts during the same time.

Stay positive and motivated

With four more months to go before the federal fiscal year ends on September 30, this is a great time to ramp up government contracting efforts. Agencies that still haven’t hit their budget levels and small business goals will be looking to spend any remaining money and find qualified candidates. Use the summer to build relationships with agencies that have shown support for small business contractors and update your marketing materials.

Much progress has been made, but there is plenty of work to be done!

Lourdes Martin-Rosa is the president of Government Business Solutions and the American Express Advisor on Government Contracting. Since winning its first contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2009, GBS has worked with numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, Department of State and Department of Defense.

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