Business

Federal Contracts for Women-Owned Businesses

Millions of women-owned businesses are missing out on selling their products and services to the world’s most lucrative customer.

Kallee Feuz Jul 28, 2020

The biggest customer of small businesses is named Sam — Uncle Sam, that is.

The federal government spends billions of dollars per year on products and services — in quantities large and small — from administrative and accounting assistance to legal and landscaping support. And about a quarter of those funds go to small businesses.

Small businesses received $131 billion in federal contracts in fiscal year 2019, about 23% of federal contact spending. Yet only a fraction of total spending — less than 5% — went to women-owned businesses.

The 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States account for 39% of all privately held firms, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. That means millions of women-owned firms are missing out on selling their products and services to the world’s most lucrative customer.

Here are three strategies that can help you capitalize on business opportunities with the federal government.

Women-owned business strategy #1: Get certified as a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB)

One way to boost your chances of procuring federal contracts is by becoming certified for the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program. As a certified WOSB or economically disadvantaged WOSB (EDWOSB), you can compete for some contracts that are set aside for women in underrepresented fields.

The government recently changed the certification rules to make it easier for contracting officers to designate and make awards to firms certified as WOSBs and EDWOSBs. As of July 15, eligible businesses — those that are 51% owned and controlled by women — may either apply through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new free online certification or certify through an approved third-party entity at a cost.

Additionally, firms certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Center of Verification and Evaluations may now participate, provided they meet all eligibility requirements. With the new changes, the self-certification option will not available after Oct. 15, 2020.

Women-owned business strategy #2: Research the marketplace

From office supplies to technical services, the government buys goods and services from businesses of all sizes and industries in every state. Government-run online tools and databases list opportunities for federal contracts.

Search for WOSB-specific and general government contract listings through the Contract Opportunities Search Tool, the federal database of contracting opportunities. Contracts are also posted through individual agencies’ Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

For businesses that haven’t worked with the government, subcontracting for government contractors may offer a chance to gain experience and build a reputation. Subcontracting opportunities are posted on a variety of government databases, including the Subcontracting Network Database.

Keep in mind that government websites, signified by domain names ending in .gov, will not charge a search fee.

Women-owned business strategy #3: Take advantage of additional resources

The SBA’s Federal Contracting Guide provides comprehensive information for small business owners looking to win a government contract. In addition, USA.gov, the official web portal of the U.S. federal government, offers an introduction to federal contacting for newcomers.

Are you an entrepreneur looking for help starting or growing a business? Zions Bank has a Business Resource Center in Boise and a Business Resource Center in Salt Lake City that offer virtual group workshops and trainings as well as customized one-on-one counseling. Services are complimentary and available to the public.

Sign up for the Business Resource Center Newsletter for Idaho or Utah, or register to attend a virtual workshop in Boise or Salt Lake City.

Kallee Feuz is a Public Relations officer with Zions Bank.

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