One of the greatest historical challenges faced by women business owners, large and small, is access to the federal marketplace.
In February 2011, a woman-owned small business (WOSB) set-aside program was launched, validating the obstacles that women-owned small businesses have faced in getting access to contracting opportunities. However, with every opportunity comes challenges.
In the case of the WOSB set-aside program, one challenge is that because of budget shortfalls in the federal government, there have been limited resources for training the younger, less experienced federal acquisition workforce. That lack of experience coupled with limited training opportunities creates a contracting workforce that is more risk-adverse and less likely to consider new set-aside solutions.
Although boosting their WOSB procurement numbers may be a priority for agencies, their acquisition workforce is also understaffed. The WOSB set-aside program has tremendous potential to reach its full impact — particularly when all of the necessary factors fall into place, such as increased knowledge of the program among the acquisition workforce and more women-owned businesses stepping up to the plate to take advantage of these set-asides.
Based on my own experience in the federal marketplace, the women who take advantage of the WOSB program and go after opportunities under this set-aside develop an invaluable business skill set that will allow them to market and land larger government and commercial contracts. These new skills sharpen their ability to find customers, compete against more established competitors, negotiate based on a sound understanding of federal marketplace regulations and grow a stronger brand for their businesses.
How do I know this? From my own experiences.
I was able to use that knowledge in both the federal and commercial sectors to great advantage. I have since taken that “know-how” and trained and mentored women business owners across the country and worked with corporate clients who are trying to increase their contracting numbers with WOSBs and other certified small businesses.
Fortunately, there are a number of great resources to help women business owners learn how to access and secure procurement opportunities — including the Give Me 5 program as well as the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers across the country. The key to success is asking for help and learning from those who preceded you.
Doña Storey is president and CEO of Quality Technical Services, Inc. , a woman-owned small business that is active in government and corporate procurement work.