2010 Outlook

Happy New Year! We made it out of 2009–whew! We’re battered and bruised perhaps,  but there is a pulse.  The post mortems on the past decade are already rolling in and as we suspected,  the 00s really were zeros for lots of us when it came to making money.

Not surprisingly, the data show that this past decade was the worst for the US economy since the 1930s.  In fact,  net job growth was zero from 1999 – 2009.   Full time employment at a professional level wage evaporated for so many (like your Diarist).   Maybe that explains why you, too, became a Freelancer? Already, that period has been named the Lost Decade for American workers.  Downward mobility has become all too common.

In the January 3  NY Times,  there is a front page story that tells the sad tale of a woman in Florida who had been a successful real estate agent,  regularly generating an income of $100,000 + per year.  Now her income is, literally, zero.   She and her two children are living only on a few hundred dollars of food stamps each month.

Long term economic  instability appears to be what we will face for several years into the future.  Maintaining a comfortable middle class life has become much more difficult,  if not impossible.  What can a Freelancer do to improve financial prospects?

Primarily,  we must recognize how the new economic  conditions have impacted our clients—financially and psychologically—and devise marketing strategies and business practices that integrate the realities of this  altered environment.   Every quarter may be a new adventure, as client priorities continue to shift.  Keep eyes and ears open,  connect the dots and become flexible and resourceful if you expect to survive.

No one knows when the purse strings will loosen.   However, business will be done, meaning that money will be spent.  Here are a few suggestions that may help you to remain solvent:

Keep it simple

Information overload is in full effect.  Many people feel overwhelmed and are too hassled and harried to pick through a plethora of choices,  or a complicated and/or grandiose marketing message.

Bring it back down to earth.  Have you noticed what has been going on in the restaurant business over the last few years? White table cloth restaurants with ultra formal service have been on the wane since the early 2000s.  Comfort food,  less glamorous cuts of meat and dining at the bar are in.  Take this as a cue for your business.

Distill your services down to what customers will desire, understand, value and pay for. Pay attention to their current spending patterns—they are likely to continue for the next 2 – 3 quarters.   Sell your services in easy to understand terms that tell clients what is in it for them.  Also,  make sure the price is right.

Green and sustainable

Clients have been willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly,  fair trade,  local, organic and  sustainable everything.  For some products at least, this trend looks to continue.

Remain visible, appear viable

The ad budget may be smaller, but continue to promote your business in cost-effective ways that reach your target customers.  If that means taking out print or web ads,  try your best to fit those into your budget.   Radical cuts in advertising and promotions can cause you to miss the boat on opportunities.   We all need even the small contracts in order to make it through the month.  Ask to stretch out the ad payments and the answer will probably be yes.  They want your business more than ever!

You will also be wise to continue membership in the chamber of commerce and other networking organizations where prospects and referral sources can be found. You may make fewer visits, but don’t disappear.   Do not cede ground to your competition.

Project hope and confidence

Everybody likes a winner and everyone gravitates to (realistic) optimists.   Don’t whine and moan about business to clients and prospects! That will be a turnoff.  So chin up and portray a reasonable level of self-confidence.  Remember that it is possible to make significant money in a recession:  Kraft introduced Miracle Whip in 1933;   Apple launched the iPod in 2001.

Good luck and thanks for reading,
Kim

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Be An Inspiration

Let’s end  this ugly year, this annus horribilis, on a high note!  I’d been looking for the right way to close 2009 and put us in the frame of mind to create a much better year in 2010.  I think I’ve found what I was looking for– maybe you will agree?

I recently read an excellent article by Alaina Love, writing for Business Week Magazine on December 22, 2009.  Ms. Love is a nationally known leadership expert and president of Purpose Linked  Consulting.  She is also co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (2009).

Ms. Love presented what she calls the Inspiration Continuum: 10 behaviors and characteristics that she feels identify a true leader.  Whether you are a Freelancer,  CEO of a company large or small,  or a senior manager I think you will find this information applicable to your circumstances.  I pass this string of pearls along to you and hope that you will be inspired to integrate this wisdom into your business practices:

1.   Authentic rather than phony

The words,  actions and beliefs of inspirational leaders are consistent.  These leaders are not phony or pretending to be someone they are not.

2.   Reliable rather than erratic

Employees know they can count on inspirational leaders to guide the organization to clearly defined goals on a well thought-out course.  They do not confuse an already struggling workforce with erratic behavior and constantly shifting priorities.

3.   Anchored rather than disconnected

These leaders are well positioned in the flow of the business and the organization’s culture.  They are clued in to contemporary trends and issues,  rather than disconnected from current realities.

4.   Optimistic rather than pessimistic

Inspirational leaders demonstrate a world view of possibility and abundance.  They are not unaware of the challenges and difficulties the organization may be facing, but they choose instead to focus on both how and why the organization will be successful.

5.   Self-aware rather than unconscious

They understand their strengths and passions as well as their vulnerabilities and blind spots and they work diligently to leverage the former and minimize the latter.

6.   Driven by purpose and passion rather than power and fear

Inspirational leaders understand the tremendous power of a well-articulated purpose and a passionate workforce that embraces it.  They get results not through wielding power and inculcating fear,  but rather by creating a vision in which others can become engaged.

7.   Inclusive rather than divisive

These leaders value the input of others and seek out opinions from a widely diverse base.  They recognize that divisiveness and exclusion do not lead to quality results or strengthen teamwork.

8.   Focused on others rather than self-focused

Inspirational leaders focus first on creating a positive environment for others and leaving a valued business legacy and only secondarily on their own needs.  They will make tough choices that benefit the business over the long term,  rather than trade the future for a short term gain.

9.   Respectful rather than manipulative

As the economic dust begins to settle and organizations reinvent themselves, inspirational leaders recognize that the business environment is dynamic and may require even more changes that affect jobs.  They appreciate the importance of treating employees at all levels with respect and insist that any implemented programs or processes are consistent with this core value.

10.  Able to foster other leaders rather than demanding followers

Inspirational leaders spend a significant chunk of time identifying and grooming leaders throughout the organization.  They are fully aware that the future of the business is directly related to developing individuals who are even better leaders than themselves and recognize that a business dependent on any one leader for its success puts itself in a vulnerable and tenuous position.

Thank you for taking the time to find and read my under-the-radar postings.  Please know that your interest, support and comments are much appreciated.  My objective for this blog is to present information that you can use to build a better business.

I am new to the blogging scene and still on the learning curve.  How am I doing?  Have I achieved my objective—or at least appear to be on track to do so?  What are the hits, what are the misses?  What topics have I covered that you especially enjoyed or found most useful?  What topics would you like to see addressed?

Thanks for reading and best wishes for a happy and prosperous New Year.

Kim

A 5 Step Value Proposition Plan, Steps 3, 4 & 5

We continue to build the value proposition that will convince clients and prospects that doing business with you helps to make them more successful in their own jobs or businesses.  Let the important customers know that they are important by soliciting their thoughts and opinions about your products and services;  let them tell you what you do that makes their work easier or more productive;  and let them tell you what else you might do that would make their work still more productive or less problematic.

Step Three is to motivate customers to sell for you.  When you demonstrate to customers that they’re on the VIP list,  they will love that feeling of importance.  They will feel even better about doing business with you and will be inclined to talk you up and make good referrals for you.  Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising,  make no mistake about it.  It will give your business tremendous credibility.

Bring your top clients behind the velvet rope and into the VIP section.  Oh, and make sure you devise a “rewards program”  for this advisory board.  Pass along a few perks to those who help you upgrade your game.  Perhaps you also can make a referral or two?

So Steps One and Two set the stage for Step Three,  when top customers deliver to you prospects who are ready to spend money.  Personally referred prospects are likely to be pleased with your services, because they will have heard about you from one whom they trust.  An expectation of success will be established.

In Step four,  incorporate what you’ve learned in the interviews done in Step Two. Implement those suggestions that make good business sense.  Make the necessary adjustments if  you get the heads up on competitive activity or changing conditions of some sort.  Don’t let your good  work go to waste.

In conversations with your customers,  what common themes emerge? Be sure to respect and value in your business practices what your customers respect and value.  For example,  let’s say you’re about ready to trim certain costs in order to stay within a particular price range—yet the VIP crowd indicates otherwise.

If leading customers crave a certain level of service,  quality of merchandise,  or style of packaging and they are willing to keep paying for it,  don’t take it away and disappoint them! Stay the course and give them what they want.  They will love you for it and show that love by handing over more money to you.

Lastly,  in Step Five acknowledge your strengths and apply them to running your business. View your strengths through the prism of a restaurant.   Are you front of the house—excelling at customer contact and relationship building,   making sales calls, networking and schmoozing,  forming strategic partnerships?  Or are you back of the house—most comfortable and effective while overseeing operations,  crunching numbers, devising long term strategies,  negotiating a lease?

Recognize where you excel.  If you work solo,  perhaps outsource what can be comfortably handed over to another party (like PR or bookkeeping).  If you are going into business with partners,  make sure that skill sets are complementary and not competing. This will make roles and  responsibilities  easier to delineate and ensure that the important bases are covered, thus improving the venture’s chances for success.

So there you have it,  5 easy pieces that will help you re-examine and re-focus your business practices,  optimize client loyalty and goodwill,  encourage referrals and the right kind of buzz and build up your bottom line.  If you can convince yourself to try the first two steps,  I guarantee that you will be impressed with the results and sold on working through the entire program.

Good luck to you,
Kim

A 5 Step Value Proposition Plan, Steps 1 & 2

No matter what,  human beings must do business.  In feudal societies and capitalist dictatorships;  in flush times and depressions;  in war and in peace;  there will always be traders,  sellers and buyers.  Where there is a need (real or perceived),  there will be a product or service available to provide some level of fulfillment.  Someone always makes money.

The most successful sellers present the most compelling case,  i.e. the strongest value proposition,  for their product or service and  they become  market leaders.  Maybe you’d like  to position your business for that kind of success?  There will be work involved,  but nothing that is insurmountable. The process can be broken down into 5 manageable steps and implemented according to a timetable convenient for you.

Getting started is easy— ask your customers! They may know more about your business than you do.  They certainly know the market place in which your business operates,  because they navigate those waters as purchasers and consumers of the products and services offered therein.  Your customers have done their homework and they have chosen you.

Above all,  we must  value our customers and communicate that to them.  Big spenders, the VIP customers,  deserve to receive the most value.  Important customers can benefit a business in more ways than one.  They are able to become our opinion leaders,  our advisory board. These customers can play a key role in helping to grow the business. Understanding this is Step One.  Next, demonstrate your trust and respect by implementing  Step Two:  interview the VIP customers.

Identify your three biggest billable hour clients and invite those with whom you interact the most out to eat at whatever meal you can afford to buy.  Client priorities can change as their organization and business environment changes.  Organizations will change in response to economic,  leadership,  competitive and consumer preference changes.

Stay on top of things by asking your VIPs what you can do to better serve them,  help them to do business better or make their jobs easier.  You can also ask what the competition is doing,  what changes may be on the drawing board within their company, etc.  You get the idea.  You may even find out about new markets for your services.

If you can access your competitors’ customers,  take them out to coffee,  too and see what you can find out about that scene as well.  What next big thing (or old school remix) is winning the hearts and wallets of customers?

Strengthen relationships,  make important customers feel even more so,  find new business opportunities,  tweak your business model or your advertising choices and maybe even get your foot in the door with a competitor’s client. Talk less,  listen more, take notes and be humble.

Next week,  we’ll examine the remaining three steps that will help you to create a winning  value proposition for your business.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

The ROI on 2.0 Part II

This week  we take a look at the corporate-style social networking tools.

Plaxo began as an online address book for those who use Microsoft Outlook.  Plaxo Pulse is the social networking iteration—think Facebook added to LinkedIn.   On Plaxo you can create an extensive business related profile,  plus share videos and photos with professional colleagues,  personal friends and family. You can also add links to favorite websites  such as your blog,  YouTube,  Netflix,  Amazon and other social networking sites,  for easy access.

Zoominfo is an online listing service that provides comprehensive info on businesses and individuals.  It is likely that you are already in the Zoominfo database, with a nascent profile waiting to be “claimed”.

Information is compiled by scanning online listings,  press releases and websites,  which are searched and updated 24/7,  to provide the most current data on people and businesses.  You can scroll through the database,  find your name, create a profile and upload a photo.

Zoominfo power search can give a real boost to your ability to do business.  The very impressive PowerSell feature will help you prospect within just about any organization at any level, while the JobCast feature helps hiring managers ferret out qualified candidates. These services are not free,  but they just might pay for themselves when you are able to identify and contact the decision maker who can seal the deal for you.

LinkedIn is of course the big Kahuna for business networking, the gold standard against which all others are measured.  Professionals of every stripe are here, along with Freelancers and business owners.  I think of LinkedIn as an adjunct website.

You can create a profile and  make and receive recommendations that testify to your professional competency and that of your contacts. You can join networking peer groups within LinkedIn to trade info,  talk shop,  get to know people in a similar industry or with similar interests,  or re-connect with alumni from your alma mater.

You can link your blog to LinkedIn (as I have done), alert contacts to your speaking engagements and events you will attend,  research companies for prospecting and even demonstrate your expertise on a range of business topics in the Answers forum.

I’ve heard a lot about how referrals and introductions are made via LinkedIn, but I’ve yet to either meet or know of someone who has done this, nor have I experienced it myself. Still,  I find it sort of useful to participate,  although my ROI expectations are modest.

If you decide to delve into multiple 2.0 sites,  I recommend that you use Google Alert or a similar service, to let you know when someone has posted a comment to one of your profiles,  so that you can respond ASAP.   Quick response is key.  I also recommend that you use a service that will automatically post updates to all of your profiles.  You might like ping.fm.

So ROI can be derived from social networking, perhaps for some more than others.   We are in it now and there will be no turning back the clock,  so why not make the best of it?

Do what makes sense for your business,  but be mindful of the time you spend on the upkeep of this stuff.   At the end of the day,  I still say that there is no substitute for face to face networking.  It can be augmented, but not replaced, by 2.0.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

The ROI on 2.0 Part I

By this time,  nearly every Freelancer has hopped onto the social networking 2.0 bus.   As a matter of fact, a large cohort of Americans has established an online presence in some fashion, possibly even your grandparents.  Your loyal Diarist can be found on LinkedIn.

Still,  among Freelancers and other business owners, nagging little doubts about the meaning of all this will sometimes surface in our conversations.  What does social networking really do for business?   Have you ever gotten so much as a referral,  let alone an actual piece of business, through social networking? Do you know anyone who has? What is the ROI on 2.0?

It appears that much depends upon the business you are in.   Are 12-25 year olds your target market? Are you an athlete or a rock musician looking to build and connect with a fan base? Are you an author of books aimed at the teen and young adult market,  trying to grow your book sales? Do you operate a retail business that sells clothing,  anime or video games to the teen and ‘tween crowd? Then MySpace is where you want to be,  because this is where your target market hangs out.

Visual and performing artists of all types,  plus restaurants and nightclubs,  most often gravitate to Facebook. This site is also popular for personal networking,  providing a nice way to stay connected to family and friends.   Facebook is about the visual.  Here you can post photos of your latest group of paintings or sculptures;  display the bar scene on Tuesday nights at your establishment;  or show off pix of your new haircut,  the baby,  or your new puppy.  Maybe you sent out Thanksgiving greetings to those you have “friended” and will do the same at Christmas and the New Year.

To create in the moment on the ground buzz,  go to Twitter. You can put the word out about performances at your nightclub,   special events at your store,  book signings,  the waves in Perth, Australia or skateboarding at the Xtreme Games.   Wine shops can announce tastings and let customers know that Beaujolais Nouveau c’est arrive.

I even read about a woman in Belfast, Ireland who tweets these great recipes.  In 140 characters,  she will hook you up with good ideas for dinner! Twitter is best used to augment the connections you’ve made on MySpace and Facebook with microblogging. Here’s how to keep your young, short attention span crowd in the loop about interesting happenings at your business that will keep your business at top of mind.

More 2.0 next week,
Kim

Mind Your Budget

As you brainstorm survival strategies for yourself and your business, creating a budget may be a good item for the to-do list.  A good budget can help you manage costs, understand where your profit centers are (and are not) and most of all,  let you know if you’re really making money and if so, how much.

For Freelancers, the temptation is to simply add up the 1099s at the end of a quarter or year and assume that tells the story. Yet there are always costs of doing business and it is very important that we know where, how and for what purpose we are spending our money.

Do you really need to rent office space?  Is it necessary for clients to visit your office, or might it be perfectly acceptable for you to go to them?  What is the ROI on the networking events that you attend?  Be strategic and selective about the rooms you pay to enter and go to events where you get the most bang for the bucks.

After you’ve been a few times and met a few people, try cutting back to bi-monthly or even quarterly appearances.  If you want to keep in touch with colleagues in between, invite them for a coffee.

Tally your gross revenues and cast a cold eye on expenses. These are the foundation of any budget for any business, or household for that matter.  Managing expenses has a huge impact on the bottom line.  It is possible to lose money overall even if sales are strong, because you either spent too much (money or time) to make the sale or overspent on other operating and production costs.

So if you make and sell jewelry, for example, watch how you buy the raw materials.   Do you have the best available sources?  Should you buy more and stockpile inventory in order to get a better price? Pay attention to market fluctuations and buy big when prices drop.   Managing the cost of goods sold adds to your profit margin.

On the expenses side, be sure to divide fixed expenses (rent, salaries, utilities, long term payment obligations, etc.) from variable expenses (sales commissions, advertising, travel, etc.).  Make note of seasonal fluctuations.  Does business slow down in July and August—or pick up? Identify where you can trim expenses or negotiate a better deal.

Once you’ve figured out the money coming in and money going out over the past 2 or 3 years and assessed where you are,  you can then decide what financial targets you’d like to reach.   Maybe you want a certain overall profit margin on goods sold, or perhaps you’d like to have average net quarterly earnings of a certain amount?

While you’re analyzing gross revenue,  you may even discover that spending a little money will make it possible for you to make much more.  For instance, hiring an assistant at $18/hour to answer the phone,  send invoices,  deposit checks,  post transactions into a ledger or help make jewelry in preparation for Christmas or Valentine’s Day can give you more time to network,  prospect,  make sales calls or double your output of jewelry available for sale.

Especially for Freelancers and other sole proprietors,  how you spend your time can be factored into the budgeting process.  Digging into your company finances may just turn up some buried treasure.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Kim

Squeezed

It is difficult to be in business these days.  Billable hours and revenue are down for most, especially for those who offer intangible services.  Unless a clear and visible link to a sale can be demonstrated, many decision makers are reluctant to sign a contract.

Sometimes that link to a  sale is  fantasy, especially when the transaction results in a tangible product.  This phenomenon may explain how videographers have been making so much money. The desperate and the naive seek to drive traffic to their websites in the hope that customers will spend some dollars.  Unfortunately, the video produced may not communicate the right message to target customers.  Furthermore, sticking a video onto the website is  often not the best  solution to the client outreach objective. Traffic to the website may actually increase—but will that expensive little film clip also increase revenue? Not if the message is wrong.

Paula Harris, owner and co–founder of WH Cornerstone Investments, says that one of the biggest mistakes that an entrepreneur can make is thinking that the phone will just ring when you spruce up your website.  She says it’s all about networking (source: Boston Business Journal Nov. 6-12, 2009).

On the other side, we’ve got the credit card companies squeezing us.  Need $10,000 from AmEx to finance a contract? Fuhgeddaboudit! Two or three years ago a reasonable account holder could call them up and request a credit line increase for a legitimate reason.  If you paid on time and your credit rating was decent, you could almost guarantee that increase, especially when a contract representing the pay-back money was involved.

Try making that call today (if you dare).  Not only will there be no credit line increase, but for good measure they’re liable to claw back a couple of thousand from the line you’ve got now! Oh, and let us not forget about the inflated interest rates.  I worry about small retailers who tried to purchase inventory for the all-important 4th quarter. What was that like this year?

The credit card companies and big banks—many of whom brazenly took our tax money in the form of bailouts—have turned around and are working overtime to kill our cash flow. With business down, we need to float expenses more than ever, just to pay the phone bill and eat! Big business has denied us our bailout.  As we all know, it takes money to make money and their actions are preventing small business people from making the money we need to survive.

As a result of these disturbing trends, both business and personal bankruptcies have increased nationally.   Cash flow is tragic.  Many have run out of options. Why has this been allowed to happen in the United States? How can we manage to hang on and ride out this awful storm that will last for God knows how long?

No one knows what to do exactly. There are defensive measures to take:  some may have an immediate benefit,  others that only in hindsight will the effects be revealed.  If you’re still in business and still  living in your house next year at this time, well then you did something right (or you got lucky).

I respectfully suggest a few defensive measures.  Increase your visibility through networking:  do some speaking, teaching, volunteering and attend selected business events,  so that good relationships can be made or renewed.  Whatever business you manage to  get is likely to come in through a referral source.  Remember also to make referrals and facilitate introductions for colleagues, when possible.

Refine and hone your elevator pitch and sales pitch repertoire.  Make sure that your verbal package contains the hooks that prospects and clients want to hear.  Prospecting will likewise be essential,  as you must identify all credible sales opportunities.

Negotiations  and compromises  are likely to be necessary and perhaps advantageous.  Consider offering discounts for invoices paid within 15 days.  Consider also trades and barters.  Make sure that you’re trading equivalents.

Short term employment or an under the radar type part time job (maybe in the evening) will ease your cash crunch.  If you can be certain that colleagues and clients will not encounter you,  particularly as you labor in a low wage gig for $12.00/hour,  this can  help to pay a bill or two each month.

Times of adversity demand a special resolve and resourcefulness.  I wish you good luck.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Business Certifications Part II

Women owned businesses have grown at one and one half times the rate of all businesses  created in the US (1997-2002) and contribute nearly $2 trillion to the nation’s GDP.  One in 11 women are self-employed or business owners (source: Center for Women’s Business Research cited in The Boston Globe January 25, 2004).

Women are now outright or majority owners of 40% of all privately held businesses registered with the IRS, representing 10.1 million business entities (source: Center for Women’s Business Research 2008 report).

Nevertheless, a January 2008  CWBR report stated that women owned businesses receive less than 3.3% of federal contracts awarded.  Perhaps the following certification program will help the ladies  reach a few more paying customers?

WBENC

The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council is where we women go to get ours.  To be awarded a certificate as a Women’s Business Enterprise, the company must be at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by a woman (or group of women).

Evidently, the assumption is that women have money; the WBENC certification fee is about $350.00 (varies by location).  Certifications are for one year only,  so there is a yearly recert. process,  reportedly simpler than the maiden voyage.  Certification is handled by Regional Partner Organizations which seem to be SBA affiliated Women’s Business Centers (see wbenc.org).

As always, you’ll need to hand over business financial statements plus your tax returns (will somebody please tell me how surrendering your tax returns and your social security number got to be routine in this country? It is all too intrusive. Is there any wonder why  identity theft occurs? Every frigging body knows the intimate details of your life!).

WBENC claims not to evaluate the profitability and viability of a business. The objective is to know who owns and controls the company.  I do not understand how delving into your P & L and balance sheets will verify that information but hey, it’s their game.  It’s just that ownership issues are more accurately revealed on incorporation and LLC documents.  As for  sole proprietorships, they are a  one person shop.  If necessary, a gynecologist can verify the gender question!

Do businesses that are not making money, but are going for the certification as a strategy to bring in much needed clients, actually get certified? WBENC committee members side step that question (I asked). Once your documents are received,  the review committee will certify (or not) in 60–90 days.  Expect a site visit to your business.

On the plus side, WBENC is a widely accepted certification. Prime Contractors love it.  I don’t believe there are any revenue restrictions involved, so WBENC is not exclusively for small businesses.  Certificate holders must be US citizens or legal resident aliens.

CHECK OUT THE SBA

Regardless of your gender or ethnicity, a visit to sba.gov is worth your while,  if for no other reason than to find out what resources are available for free. The information is good and reliable. There are also special business development programs for Native Americans, those over 50 years, veterans, Spanish speakers and of course, small businesses in general. There is a place at the table for everyone, including white non-Hispanic males!

If you can visit a district office, check out the monthly calendar and see what workshops are offered.   If you’d like info about stimulus loans (what stimulus loans?), micro–lending and other local business initiatives, the SBA will point you in the right direction. Your tax dollars in motion!

More next week,
Kim

Business Certifications Part I

As you weigh strategies that could  help to better market your services,  you might happen upon  special category certifications.  In fact,  some large corporations are less willing to do business with small business vendors unless a particular certification is in hand.

If a Fortune 1000 company has government contracts,  it is necessary to demonstrate that business is being done with small businesses, women owned businesses and minority owned businesses.  Hence, these companies need a certain percentage of  their small business vendors to  have a certification in one of these categories.  The Fortune 1000s can then report to the feds that they are in compliance.

HUB ZONES

If your physical business address lies within an historically underutilized business (HUB) zone, then your business may qualify for set-asides in the contract bidding process.  In general, HUB zones are disadvantaged areas in urban, suburban and rural locales.  To find out if you can apply,  go to sba.gov, click on services,  then opportunity gaps and  HUB zone.  Type in your business address.  If  in a HUB zone,  you can apply on line—but first  ask the SBA how to get the log in password.  Be prepared for a site visit at your business location by someone from the SBA about 2-3 months after you apply.  It may also be necessary to hand over certain financial records.  There is no fee.

8a CERTIFICATION

To obtain 8a certification,  it is necessary to officially state that you are disadvantaged economically because of your race or ethnicity.  The application process is a bear.  Start by calling up Dun & Bradstreet and obtaining a DUNS number.  Next, look up your business specialty codes,  sign up and create a business profile on the federal Central Contractor Registration  ccr.gov.  Then you can do the online 8a application.

At sba.gov, click on services, opportunity gaps and 8a to find good basic info that will get you started.  Furthermore,  SBA offers free workshops nearly every month at its district offices on what one needs to know about doing business with the government and special certifications.  Preparing to do business with the feds is a  Byzantine process, but government agencies will pay in 30 days and thus will not wreck your  fragile cash flow.

In the application there will be much supporting data to supply and there are restrictions.   As always, they want your tax returns, 2 years in this case. You must  have been in business for minimum two years,  you cannot have more than $250,000 in assets, you cannot be employed full time in a job outside of your business and your credit has to be good enough to finance a contract.  There is no application fee.

It’s a royal pain to get this certification and of course there is no guarantee that your efforts will yield any business.  You must still sell yourself to prospective clients.  SBA Small Business Development Centers  have on staff a Procurement Specialist who will speak with you about useful strategies to promote your business and win contracts.  It’s all about  relationship building and it takes time.

However,  the  Fortune 1000s  with the government contracts, called Prime Contractors,  like the 8a certification.  They have forms to fill out, boxes to check.   Ask  SBA who the primes are in your locale,  speak with the local procurement specialist and try to meet people.  There are trade shows to pay for and attend so you can make contact.  Also, visit fbo.gov and view available contracts.

Next week,  the spotlight will  be on the ladies.

Kim