Disaster Relief for Small Businesses Affected by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma

Did you know that SBA provides low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, as well as other organizations and individuals?

Check out this page for more information: https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance

What’s Stopping Women From Becoming Entrepreneurs?

Close up of businesswoman with arms crossed on chest on modern city background

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This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.

Women entrepreneurs own 10.6 million businesses in the U.S., and employ 19.1 million people, who account for $2.5 trillion in sales. But according to the Kauffman Foundation, women represent only 35 percent of startup business owners, even though they represent about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students.

So why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?

One study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (and reported by National Public Radio) looked at 90,000 entrepreneurial projects launched on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. The study found that men are much more likely to be overconfident than women. When their project failed, they were much more likely to keep trying, while women tended to give up. Also, when women succeeded, they were more likely to feel that they just got lucky, while men feel that they are “geniuses.”

There is help for women entrepreneurs just starting out. The SBA set up its 8(a) Business Development Program to assist economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts in industries where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented. Women and minority-owned businesses can get access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development. The SBA also offers guaranteed loans and bonding assistance for being involved in the program. SAMS has benefited from its SBA designation, and has also become part of the Mentor-Protégé Program which helps other women entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship.

Building a business is not easy, and many women cite the same characteristics as helping them to achieve their dream.

Gayle King of CBS news talks about persistence as a trait helped propel her to achieve her goal. She advises would-be entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with people that are better than you, because it forces you to up your game. Most importantly, never take no for an answer.”

When Staci Redmon founded SAMS, it was important to her to develop core values, which still remain at the heart of the company. These are commitment to employees, commitment to the client, and commitment to the community.

Staci started SAMS out of sheer frustration. As a veteran and a civil servant, she watched as vital equipment for our warfighters was denied funding. She used her determination and commitment to service members to fuel her drive to create an organization with the vision to measure impact not by the bottom line, but by the difference it could make. Since its founding, SAMS has won numerous awards and has been hailed repeatedly as one of the fastest growing companies in Virginia.

Another entrepreneur, JK Rowling, also relied on persistence to overcome adversity. Her literary agency sent the book to 12 different publishers before it was accepted. Rowling says, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. I was set free.”

As women entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams, the path to success, while never easy, becomes clearer and less uncertain by following in the footsteps of those who came before.

You can find more about SAMS and Staci’s 2020 Vision for the Future on our website http://www.getsamsnow.com.

This article originally appeared at http://getsamsnow.com/blog-post/whats-preventing-women-becoming-entrepreneurs/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.

Contract Management Professionals, the World Congress is Here!

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© W.Scott – Fotolia.com

NCMA has been holding its World Congress since 1996, and each year it gets better and better. TAPE has been an exhibitor there for the past several years, and it’s interesting to meet contracting folks in a very different environment from the usual locations, or with their small business folk, etc.

I asked NCMA Executive Director Michael Fischetti: What’s new for this year’s event, July 26-29, 2015 in Dallas, Texas?

This year you’ll see some changes in the “interactive” nature of the event. Along with education aligned with the Contract Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), attendees will have increased opportunities to provide solutions to problems of the day as well as meet new colleagues in the field.

What are you most excited about?

Our fantastic line-up of key leaders and practitioners in the field, most of whom are new to our podium!

I see World Congress has a mobile app (search “NCMA Events” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store) – what features does it offer for event participants?

The mobile app contains the A to Z of World Congress. It includes the full agenda (which attendees can customize based on what they plan to go to), speaker information, sponsors and exhibitors, social media tools, and more. There’s even a part of the app that provides detailed local information about Dallas, including local restaurants, directions, and airport information.

Who will benefit the most from attending the World Congress?

Anyone involved in contracting, whether they’re from industry or any level of government. Anyone who wants to network with others across the profession and the environment they work within.

Does the employee justification packet really work to convince employers to send people to the event?

Absolutely, and our attendees tell us they love it! World Congress is well worth the investment of time, and this packet provides answers to the questions that their training officers, leadership, or customers ask.

See you all in Dallas!

If you’re a contract management professional and you haven’t registered for the World Congress, click here to learn more. If you’re a business developer, this is a chance for you to meet contracting folks over a beer or soda between sessions. You’ll hear them discuss the issues relevant to you, like LPTA or small business. This year we’re sending our CFO, who’s also in charge of our contracts shop.

Alternative Financing: How to Maximize Your Chances of Securing an SBA Loan

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© Sergey Nivens – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Richard Lewis, Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd.

Securing the financing you need to grow your small business can be a challenge. Over the past decade, banks have increased lending to big business by 36%, but over the same period, bank lending to small businesses has declined by almost 15%, and loans of less than $100,000 have dropped precipitously by more than 33%.

Fortunately, small businesses can find alternative financing sources, including a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. There are several different types of SBA loans, including:

Be sure to check which type of loan is right for your needs before beginning the application process.

SBA loans have been around for more than 60 years. These loans, which were established to promote small business growth, typically have lower interest rates and monthly loan payments.

Unfortunately, the process of applying for an SBA loan can be complicated and it can take a long time to complete the process. Once you do, there can also be an extended period of time before you actually obtain your funding. You can speed up the approval process by observing some simple guidelines. Here are five you need to be aware of:

  1. Your credit rating counts: Good credit is important for any loan, and that includes SBA loans. Follow good credit rules, like being sure to pay your bills before the deadlines. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid credit-killing actions like foreclosures and bankruptcies.
  2. Keep your financial documents up to date and organized: This includes all of your financial and accounting documents, as well as your tax records. You might consider using some good accounting software designed for small business if you don’t already to bring greater organization to your records. Having your financial records organized and accessible will move the process along more quickly.
  3. Spell out the purpose of the loan as clearly as possible: Lenders want to know that you’re a good loan risk, and that means they’ll be interested in what you plan to do with the money. Take the time to outline this in the clearest possible fashion, whether your loan is to add vehicles to your sales fleet or expand the size of your brick and mortar store.
  4. Explain how you’ll pay back the loan: You’ll need to demonstrate that you have good cash flow. You can do this through your most recent tax records. Lenders will also want to know how much other debt you have. If the loan is for a start-up business, you should pull together a smart financial plan and include credible projections which demonstrate your ability to make your monthly payments.
  5. Be prepared to describe your history: Lenders will want to know about your finances, but they’ll also be interested in whether you personally are a good risk. That has to do with your relevant experience, how much time you’ve been in business and the degree of professional success you’ve had.

Applying for any loan, whether traditional or through alternative financing, can be confusing. The good news is that there are experienced professionals who can walk you through the process, answer your questions and maximize your chances of success through long-standing partnerships with banks, finance companies and professional service firms.

This post originally appeared on the Financial Engineering Counselors website at http://www.fecltd.net/blog/?p=102 and was reprinted with permission.

Richard Lewis is a government contractor financing consultant. You can contact him at 703-992-8988.

A More ‘Simple’ Contracting Method With Perks for Government and Industry

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© Marzky Ragsac Jr. – Fotolia.com

This article originally appeared on The Chief Visionary’s Blog of The American Small Business Coalition, LLC, and was reprinted with permission.

(This is the first of six reports based on a conversation with Amy Morris, Morning Anchor at WNEW All News 99.1 (CBS Radio DC) These reports will also ‘air’ on All News 99.1.)

Once upon a time, the U.S. Government developed a way to streamline how it makes certain buys in a way that reduced the administrative burden for both agencies and vendors. But they didn’t stop there. Also built-in to this process was a way for agencies to increase business opportunities for small and disadvantaged business concerns in government contracting. Known as the ‘Simplified Acquisition Procedures,’ this procurement method accounts for billions of dollars in competitive and non-competitive obligations each fiscal year.

But while many in industry bid on and are awarded buys this way every day, most don’t realize it’s a different type of contracting when compared to how most dollars are obligated each fiscal year. “Simplified Acquisitions account for nearly $40B in obligations since the start of FY12,” says Guy Timberlake, chief visionary officer and CEO of The American Small Business Coalition. “It may be a drop in the bucket, but I never turned down an opportunity to engage agencies this way.”

That’s because according to Timberlake, his first million dollar deal in government contracting was the result of developing a relationship with a Navy customer via these smaller buys.

Another potential perk for some in industry is the fact most Simplified Acquisition buys are awarded via a purchase order, a standalone contract. “Purchase orders are not buys placed against an established contract vehicle so this eliminates some of the traditional upfront investment of pursuing and being awarded a GSA Schedule, Blanket Purchase Agreement or Indefinite Delivery Contract.”

So which agencies are buying this way and what are they buying? Timberlake says “Nearly all of them and pretty much anything they want to buy that is considered goods and services.”

Note from Bill: As Guy points out, this is a way to build a relationship. These small purchase items represent “starter” contracts, requiring no vehicle, and can be a way to prove yourself or your solution. Part of the reason for reaching out to ASBC is because they have really focused on the simplified acquisition process, and have made this a way of business to be reckoned with. And since we were members of ASBC back when it started, it’s always good to see more of our small business advocates succeeding.

Guy Timberlake is Chief Visionary and Chief Executive Officer of The American Small Business Coalition (The ASBC). Under Guy’s leadership, The American Small Business Coalition is credited with enhancing the knowledge, skills and confidence of small government contractors, facilitating hundreds of productive partnerships between small, mid-tier and large companies, and contributing to the successful award and capture of contracts and subcontracts valued at more than $10 billion dollars.

How a Good Business Plan is a Key Messaging Tool

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© Minerva Studio – Fotolia.com

In a previous post, Cheree Warrick shared her expert tips for how to write a bankable business plan. These types of business plans are not just necessary to raise capital, but to attract people to your company.

I asked Cheree for her thoughts about how a business plan is such a key messaging tool.

An investable business plan can articulate your competitive advantage to three important audiences:

  1. Customers – No matter what the size of your business, you must be able to  communicate the value of your company to customers and prospective customers. It’s important to know who you’re serving and not serving – to niche yourself and dominate that niche. Too many business owners want to include everyone as potential customers rather than really targeting their message to a distinct group. A lot of times you can make more money in smaller niches than larger, more general niches.
  1. Employees – To get and retain the best talent, you must be able to express your vision and ensure everyone working together towards that vision. The more chaos in a company, the less profits it earns.
  1. Shareholders – If you’re a solopreneur, you’re the only shareholder, but for a Fortune 500 this might be an enormous group. This category also includes advisory board members who may be able to open doors for you in your industry.

Your message must always balance between making sure each of these three groups get what they want and need to be satisfied. The way you deliver the plan, or portions of the plan, may be different for each group.

Note from Bill: A good business plan is the strategic blueprint that tells you what are you focusing on, so you’re not trying to imitate another company or market to every place in the government.

Thank you again to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises by writing business plans that banks approve. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.

How to Write a Bankable Business Plan

happy banker businessman with arms crossed - isolated on white

© Romario Ien – Fotolia.com

In 2012, banks and angel investors gave 5.9 million small businesses, start-ups and early-stage companies over $228 billion in funding to grow their companies. The money is flowing. Is it flowing your way?

Cheree Warrick helps businesses create bankable business plans. She explains that there are five parts to a bankable business plan:

1. Market opportunity, where you tell them the problem you’re solving in the marketplace, how many people have that problem, and how many your company could service.

2. Customer acquisition and retention, where you describe how you will: Attract prospects, convert those prospects into customers, service those customers, upsell new products/services to those customers, retain those customers, and get referrals to new customers.

3. Team, where you illustrate that your company has great leadership and a cohesive team that can not only attract and serve customers but also take care of operational issues including accounting, legal and technology.

4. Competitive advantage, where you explain what sets you apart.

5. Financial projections including an Income Statement and Cash Flow Statement

What may be the most intimidating parts of the business plan is also one of the most important. The #1 item that a bank is looking for is cash flow. You have to show that you can pay all your business expenses (payroll comes first, then rent for office space, etc.) plus your home bills (housing costs, food, etc.), plus be prepared to handle an emergency or two. On top of all that a lender wants to see that you can pay back that commercial loan, month after month, year after year.

When reviewing your financial statements and considering your request, investors must answer yes to all of these questions:

  1. Is this investment something that would go well in our portfolio?
  2. Are they asking for enough money? Too much money?
  3. Do we believe there’s truly a market opportunity?
  4. Do we believe the marketing plan will attract, convert, and retain paying customers?
  5. Do we believe this team can take advantage of the market opportunity and earn the cash flows and margins they state?
  6. Do we believe we’ll get our money back?

Seems fairly straightforward, Cheree. So how do people fall short when they’re trying to apply these recommendations?

They don’t have anyone to talk with or strategize with or review their plan. OR they bring it to the banker and expect the banker to review it and tell them what’s right or wrong. Bankers don’t have the time to do this extensive strategizing to take this information and apply it to their business. Bankers tell me they want to lend money, but entrepreneurs come to them so unprepared, they don’t believe the entrepreneur will take the capital the bank gives them and do the right things with it – or make their business grow.

Second, people want to use a fill-in-the-blank template and get bankable results. It doesn’t work that way. You must be able to speak about your business in such a way that it causes the bank to say, “Wow! What this person is doing is dynamic.” And you won’t get that from a fill-in-the-blank template. You get it from being able to speak or write about your business in a unique way that draws people in.

The final point I have is this: People only lend to you when you don’t need the money. If you’re desperate for money, there are alternate sources of funding. If you’re keeping up with your bookkeeping, you should know that a cash crunch is coming. Keep your head out of the sand. A great business owner pays attention to every part of the business, not just the new customer who’s coming through the door.

When you’re doing well and you know you could grow your business 10X with a more aggressive budget, that is the time for a bankable business plan.

Thank you to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. Cheree writes business plans that banks approve. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.

BusinessUSA.gov – One Year Later

Looking for answers

In January 2013, I introduced you to an online resource from the federal government that was designed to equip businesses with the best tools and information available to support innovation and job growth in the 21st century.

Recently I contacted Matt Falls of http://BusinessUSA.gov to find out how the site has evolved since then, and what small business owners need to know about using it effectively.

How has the site been doing? (How many users, visits, etc.) 

Users, visits and content subscribers have all grown over 100% in the past fiscal year. See table below for more detailed info.

BusinessUSA.gov performance snapshot

What response have you had from the people who have used the site? 

End users are very enthusiastic, as well as state and local economic development organizations (EDOs). We have had a substantial increases in inbound links from local EDOs over the past year, which has helped in terms of our search rankings.

How are small business owners using the site, and can you share any success stories? 

Many small business owners use the site and we have an overwhelming interest from people who want to start a business. As of now, we have no way of tracking success stories. We are working with Presidential Innovation Fellows to develop My USA, which will allow for personalization of BusinessUSA, and, among many other things, will give us the ability to track the progress and successes of end users. 

BusinessUSA does publish success stories of its partners, which you can browse here: http://business.usa.gov/search/site/*?f%5B0%5D=bundle%3Asuccess_story

How has the site evolved based on feedback from users and/or new goals or initiatives? 

BusinessUSA uses an agile development methodology, which allows the site to evolve based on user feedback. Our technology approach includes the commitments to evolve project priorities based on customer needs and feedback, schedule rapid releases to deliver features and evaluate results, and track issues actively to triage appropriately within resource constraints.

Is there anything else you want small business owners to know about how to use the site? 

We have added a direct support feature to BusinessUSA. Businesses can submit a question to BusinessUSA here: http://help.business.usa.gov/ics/support/ticketnewwizard.asp?style=classic&deptID=30030& and it will be answered within two business days.

Businesses can also speak directly to me (Matt Falls) by calling 202-276-3703. I’m happy to discuss any business situation and provide ideas for consideration.

Thanks for the update, Matt! I encourage people to check out the http://BusinessUSA.gov site and make use of its rich collection of resources and direct guidance. You can also follow them on Twitter for news, updates and other tools for your business success.

Not Small Anymore – TAPE Presents at the NCMA Small Business Virtual Conference 2013

Photo of a team of people attending a virtual business conferenceOn December 19, 2013, the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) will bring together experts to cover small business topics in a four-hour virtual conference. I am co-presenting with my wife Louisa Jaffe, CEO of TAPE, LLC, and we invite you to join us.

Our presentation is called: Not Small Anymore—Beyond the 8(a) and Small Business Size Standards.

We’ll discuss how a small business can ensure they remain successful upon graduation from the 8(a) program and small business size standards, and present tools and tips to guarantee business success over the long term. We’ll answer questions such as:

  • What are the steps to be taken now to prepare for the time when the competition from other small businesses and open competition becomes more challenging?
  • How do you keep and develop new customers during this crucial time?

Because this is such a unique format, I recently interviewed Michael Fischetti, J.D. CPCM, Fellow, Executive Director, National Contract Management Association, about what attendees can expect from this virtual event.

1. What are you most excited about in presenting this event?

The opportunity to help our small business community with an event tailored just for them. We’ve designed an online event that will provide regulatory and legislative guidance, review proposal evaluation models used by the government, look at audit preparation, and discuss open competition beyond the 8(a) status.

2. What advice do you have for people attending their first virtual conference?

We recommend that attendees bring together their colleagues and participate as a team. We find that virtual training lends itself to a collaborative learning environment. After the session is over, many teams will hold wrap-up sessions to discuss lessons learned. After the seminar, everyone is on the same page and willing to work toward these new ideas.

3. The NCMA puts on many events, both live and virtual. What are some of the benefits of virtual events?

Besides the obvious ease of signing up and becoming astute on the biggest issues in our community, NCMA is able to obtain just the right presenter for the goals of a particular event, since the available pool of experts increases in a virtual environment.

For our attendees (and their employers), it’s being able to participate in training without having to leave the office. Since members can participate as a group, the lowered cost per person makes the format really reasonable.

4. What has been your experience with past virtual events?

That our members like them and are motivated  to attend a live event (e.g., the NCMA Government Contract Management Symposium or World Congress) next time to meet more of their peers, mentors, customers and clients in person.

5. What do you hear from NCMA members about the value of continuing education through attending events like this?

That it can’t be beat in terms of cost and time efficiency for meeting their CPE requirements and again, encourages them to attend a local chapter or other “in-person” event, or at least read up and become more proficient in their profession.

Thanks for sharing these insights, Michael!

NOTE: Early bird pricing ends next week! Please use this link to register now, and share with anyone in your network who might benefit. http://www.ncmahq.org/SBVC13_spkr

New Research About Federal Contracting for Small Business

The American Express OPEN for Government Contracts Program recently released their third survey of small business owners who are active federal contractors. You can read a summary of the report here or download the report here.

The report notes that in FY2011, the federal government spent 21.7% of their budget on small business contractors, less than the 23% procurement goal. It’s important to keep calling attention to how some major government agencies are not meeting their small business spending goals, but what I found really interesting was the fact that newer federal contractors reported that it was easier and quicker to win their first government contract than those who’ve been in federal contracting longer.

There are two different things going on here – one is that people who’ve been involved in contracting for a long time tend to go after bigger opportunities and therefore have more competition. Anyone in this situation has experienced the phenomenon that because of budget problems, sequestration, and the lack of a published budget, these projects keep getting resolutions; everything gets pushed to the right and it takes longer to get contracts awarded than it has in the past.

So while it may seem that newer contractors are doing better than experienced contractors, if you look at it from a monetary standpoint I’d bet the conclusion would be different. In longer-term contracts you can be in the procurement phase for 10 years and it can take three years to get anywhere. Those numbers don’t surprise me at all, especially when you consider a central theme we’ve pointed out many times on this blog:

Business is about relationships. And relationships take time.

This is especially important when you’re building a project that represents bigger contract dollars, if only because the bigger the revenue, the harder it is for the government to contract with you. A small contract can be issued as a purchase order, while a large contract must be issued as some kind of competition.

This leads right into the next finding in the report – small business contractors are investing more time and money on federal contracting opportunities – 49% more in 2013 than in the three previous years. It is definitely true that winning federal contracts takes a lot of time, and time equals money. A high level of investment is necessary no matter how small your firm.

It’s important to understand that the numbers thrown around in this report represent averages of people who happened to respond to a survey. Take the actual numbers with a grain of salt, but you can clearly make the link that it costs money and time to get to the stage of having contracts.

The last thing I’ll point out today from this report is that federal subcontracting is clearly relatively more successful in priming (working as a subcontractor to a larger business). I say relatively because the data shows that the number of bids to success rates is holding at a steady pace, but that successful bids are much higher for a lower cost to the companies bidding as subcontractors.

Basically, it’s less cost for more return, but with no difference in relative marketing or cost incurred for that increased result. Even though subcontractors lose a bit of their revenue to handling fees paid to their prime contractor, the prime takes on more of the marketing expenses. I wrote about other aspects of the prime versus sub debate in an earlier article.

In a follow-up post, I’ll comment on more of the data included in the American Express OPEN for Government Contracts report; we’ll look at trends for particular types of small businesses such as minority contractors and women-owned contractors.