The Hester Group opened a small office in Alexandria, Virginia, where Clark commuted between the business’s headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Washington, D.C., area.Â “There is a whole vernacular and process you have to teach yourself,â€ says Clark. Three or four times a week, Clark would attend small business learning opportunities, such as SBA seminars, networking groups, and webinars. She also attended events for small businesses that were hosted by federal agencies. “That became my day job. I would work on [current projects] at night,â€ she says. The tenacious work paid off as Clark’s firm secured federal contracts during the economic downturn despite the fact that bidding activity has decreased in recent years.
Indeed, there are fewer opportunities as many agencies have cut spending. Agencies are also bundling more procurements into larger contracts, “which sometimes puts a contract out of reach for small businesses unless they band together,â€ says Julie Weeks, American Express OPEN research adviser and president of the Empire, Michigan-based business research company Womenable. Although all small businesses are bidding less, minorities have had a higher success rate on contracts they have bid on in recent years. Overall prime contracting success rates dropped 8% between the 2007—2009 and 2008—2010 periods. However, minority-owned firms have seen a 10% improvement in their success rate during that same time, reports American Express OPEN. From 2008 to 2010, small minority contractors submitted an average of 12.7 bids for prime federal contracts compared to the average 10.3 bids submitted by all small-business owners.
Clark has learned to keep an eye on current contracts that her company is interested in. “Every federal contract has an end date, so you begin watching that contract and seeing what they’re doing and you prepare yourself,â€ Clark says. “If you’re weak in one area you begin to strengthen yourself.â€ This way you have two or three years to prepare rather than three or four weeks after the request for proposals (RFPs) is posted, she adds.
“There will always be good opportunities for businesses in the federal procurement market because agencies continue to have to get outside help to buy goods and services,â€ says Weeks.