The U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program helps small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. The Program provides mentoring, procurement assistance, business counseling, training, financial assistance, surety bonding, and other management and technical assistance to qualifying firms. The program targets firms that are owned and controlled at least 51% by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and aims to help these entrepreneurs gain access to the economic mainstream of American Society.
Like many of their programs, the SBA enforces strict eligibility requirements to prevent abuse. Principally, the business must be small according to the SBA’s size standards, which vary by industry and sector.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of the SBA 8(a) program is the preferential access to federal contracts. Participants can receive contracts up to a ceiling of $4 million for goods and services, and up to $6.5 million for manufacturing. Unfortunately, however, these contracts are not guaranteed upon qualification. So while 8(a) firms certainly have a leg up on the competition, their success in government contracting, like all firms, depends largely upon marketing.
So, once approved, what should an 8(a) certified firm do to capitalize on government business opportunities?
This is an often-asked question and, unsurprisingly, and many of the conventional and expected answers apply. Researching the market, developing a Federal marketing plan based on your firm's competencies and unique value proposition, and researching competitor sales and pricing are important ingredients to successful competition.
It also depends on whether your firm is inside the beltway or outside the beltway (the "beltway refers to the Interstate highways I-95 and I-495 that ring DC). That is, do you have offices located withing the greater Washington DC and have experience Federal developers on board? If so, then conventional marketing practices including networking and participation in area trade groups helps build relationships essential to gaining opportunities.
Federal Inbound Marketing
But if you are not an inside the beltway firm, then using Federal Inbound Marketing techniques is absolutely essential to effectively competing for federal business. I also suggest revamping your firm’s website, making sure that relevant information is present and accessible for any government purchasers investigating your firm. If they visit your website, make sure they leave convinced you are qualified and capable of providing the product or service they require. Be sure to emphasize your 8(a) certification.
While all of these are sound ideas, and certainly help your 8(a) firm’s chances, there is one indispensible tool that everyone agrees on: the GSA Schedule.
A GSA Schedule Contract is a 5-year contract that enables your firm to sell government wide to any agency or department interested in its product or service. The GSA Schedule Contract essentially pre-negotiates the terms of your contract, which helps prevent sales from stalling out during the bidding and negotiation processes inherent to conventional government contracting and having one can help move your firm to the front of the line.
As you might recall from my recent article on GSA Schedule Contracts, program managers, end users, and contracting and procurement officers government-wide prefer to do business with GSA Schedule firms. GSA Schedules make their jobs easier, and your firm more appealing. Simply put, they maximize opportunities and can help you win business.
So, if your small business is looking to realize the full benefit of the SBA’s 8(a) program, remember a key step should be getting a GSA Schedule Contract. And consider implementing a Federal Inbound Marketing Program.