If you’ve been putting off learning about government contracting and applying for certifications, this entrepreneur has a message for you: Just do it.
Fabiola Fleuranvil is the owner and CEO of Blueprint Creative Group, a strategic communications company based in Miami. With Blueprint Creative, over the years she has successfully landed state and local contracts with Visit Florida, the Cities of North Miami and Miami Gardens and Miami-Dade County agencies, as well as out of state with Nashville, Naperville and others. But she had never pursued federal government contracts – until this year.
“I was one of those business owners who said I don’t need the certifications because it has never kept me from getting work. And it wasn’t until I hosted a session with the SBA and I sat through it, that I ended up getting schooled. I left that saying ‘OK, now is the time.’ “
After that seminar earlier this year in which she learned about marketing strategy, Fleuranvil met with a specialist at the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), located in the Florida SBDC at FIU office, and came up with a game plan for bidding and winning federal contracts. She applied for and received the women-owned business certification and the small disadvantaged business certification and is in the process of applying for the SBA’s 8(a), a nine-year business development program offering significant set-aside opportunities on government contracts.
Then she attended a seminar in Washington DC about federal procurement opportunities this fall, and kept seeing the same thing: Contracts with set-asides for women-owned businesses were going untapped. That motivated her even more. Now it is all about getting her foot in the door.
“My goal for 2020 is to largely focus on the federal sector. I had been focusing on state and local government and corporate, but in terms of how to scale my operations, it’s really from a federal perspective.” Fleuranvil has already applied for three contracts and is working for another one now.
“From a marketing strategy it is really about getting ahead of the contracts and getting to the procurement buyers and really positioning the company in front of it. And that is what I am executing on in the next 60 to 90 days.”
Why is this small business owner going for the 8(a), even though it is a lot of paperwork that takes so much time, something no small business has nearly enough of? Let’s ask her.
“The 8(a) is a business development initiative. You have nine years to use it and after 9 years you age out of it. The goal is to use this opportunity to take advantage of 8(a0 set-asides. The 8(a) also has a good mentor-protégé program so you have large primes that you can sign a JV or protégé agreement to be a sub-prime or sun-contractor.”
“In the meantime, I’m going to use my current certifications as a training ground to perfect my federal marketing strategy because I want to jump right into the 8a and just go crazy with it,” she continued. “I don’t want to be learning when I get my 8(a), I want to have already perfected it, and just exponentially grow my business. That’s the goal.”
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
In 2018, small businesses across the nation won $120.8 billion in federal contracts. Here are some more of Fleuranvil’s tips for leveraging opportunities in federal contracting, as she is in the trenches right now:
- Teaming is key. Small businesses often miss out on is the opportunity to team, she said. With almost all the opportunities Blueprint pursues, it has teaming partners. That makes the proposal more competitive. Part of her strategy for winning federal contracts is she is looking for complementary companies that have aged out of the 8a program that her company could team with. “They have performance history that could be useful for me.”
- Take advantage of educational and networking opportunities. That contracting fair in Washington DC she attended had representatives from h 46 agencies in the room, with opportunities to sit down one on one with them. “If you had done your homework before the event you would have known exactly which contracts you wanted to discuss with them.”
- You have to get in and start networking even before the solicitation comes out, “All the contracts are public information. If you know your codes you can find prior contract history, when they are expiring, the procurement buyers are attached to it, 6 to 9 months before they expire. That is the time to get in front of them. Find out what type of buying will they do, will they do set-asides and which one, is there an opportunity to meet?”
For small businesses that could benefit from government contracting, she tells them: “Just do it. I have encouraged other small businesses and they give up in the middle of it. It is lengthy, it is cumbersome, it can be very discouraging, but it’s worth it,” she said. “Once I get my 8(a), I’m having a party.”
Ready to learn more about contracting? The SBA offers a rich resource page here, and the agency as well as SBDC at FIU and the PTAC office periodically team up to provide free seminars on contracting basics. If you think contracting is right for your business and decide it’s time want to pursue it, you can meet with a PTAC specialist, like Fleuranvil did, to create your game plan. PTAC offers high-value confidential one-on-one consulting, at no cost, to help Florida businesses prepare, research, and bid on government contracts.
SBDC at FIU and PTAC are offering a webinar on doing business with the DOD on Nov. 20 at 9 am. It will also be available on demand. FIND IT HERE.
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