Graduation Day From 8(a)

Here are the steps you need to follow to survive the SBA program

have increased to 5 5%75%. If not, the SBA will begin removing these contracts from their portfolio. Another new rule will cap the amount of 8(a) sole-source awards firms can win while in the program. “This is one way to ensure that firms put forth more than just a good-faith effort to achieve the goals in their business plans,” says Dennis.

After eight years, Barry Baszile, owner of Baszile Metal Service in Los Angeles, is preparing to graduate. While in the program, he consciously avoided doing more than 20% in government-related work because he didn’t believe it was a reliable source of income. Instead, Baszile focused heavily on bidding on general contracts and currently has a client base that includes corporations such as Reynolds, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. He says entrepreneurs will win more competitive contracts if they are also on an agency’s open bid list. “Don’t make your 8(a) status the primary reason for approaching an agency. If you’ve got a product that can meet industry standards, get on the bidders list,” Baszile suggests. “And if, for whatever reason, the agency doesn’t provide any set-asides, you still have opportunities to bid.”

Not all black business owners who’ve gone through 8(a) have had negative experiences. When Bill Davis, president and CEO of Lanham, Maryland-based Pulsar Data Systems, entered the program nine years ago, his firm, which does computer systems integration and network design, was struggling. But Davis says he used the program to develop a base that would allow him to participate In open competition for non8(a) business. Today, Pulsar is No. 4 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $166 million in revenues. “Entrepreneurs have to see their 8(a) certification as one tool they have in their marketing bag of tricks when they go to an agency,” says Davis. “They’re looking for you to bring them a value that they can’t get anywhere else.”

STEP 5 — TRACK DOWN CONTRACTS.
Entrepreneurs can track procurement activity through an agency’s program office to find out which opportunities large and small businesses are pursuing. Dennis advises entrepreneurs to “find out who the potential bidders are and evaluate their likelihood of success.” This can be done by filing a Freedom of Information Act request to learn who the incumbents are and to receive copies of their proposals and contracts. According to the SBA, an FOIA request sent to any federal agency must be acknowledged within 10 working days. Knowing what projects are on the horizon and what a company is looking for in terms of contracts will likely bolster your chances for becoming part of a prime contractor’s bid team. “This is critical information that anyone interested in doing business in the federal marketplace should spend time gathering,” he says.

STEP 6 — FIND A MENTOR.
The Department of Defense has a mentor-protege program that teams small businesses with large companies. It’s a program Handy regrets not learning about earlier. “When we first heard about it, we didn’t participate and that was a big mistake because it can really be

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