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How to Get Federal Contracts: Tips for Women Business Owners

The federal government sets aside some of its federal contracts for women business owners. Is your business ready to compete for them?

For six years in a row, the federal government has achieved a goal set way back in the 1990s of awarding a minimum of 25% of all federal contracts to small businesses. That’s great news—but the federal government is still falling short of another long-time and equally important goal: awarding women-owned small businesses at least 5% of all federal contracts.

Women-owned small businesses received 4.75% of all federal contracts in fiscal 2018. So close to the goal! There is no good reason women business owners shouldn’t be playing a bigger role in federal government contracting. As of 2017, over 11.6 million women-owned firms across the U.S. employed nearly 9 million people and generated $1.7 trillion in revenues, NAWBO reports.

But in order to hit the 5% procurement goal, more women entrepreneurs will have to start competing for federal contracts. Could your small business be one of them? Keep reading to learn more about how women-owned businesses can get federal contracts.

How federal contracting opportunities for women work

Of course, women business owners can compete for any kind of federal government contract if they want to. But some contract opportunities are specifically limited to women-owned businesses. The goal is to help level the playing field for female entrepreneurs in industries that historically lack women-owned businesses.

The federal government sets aside a certain percentage of federal contracts for Women Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs). There are also some contracts that are set aside for Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Businesses (EDWOSBs).

In order to compete for these EDWOSB or WOSB set-asides, your company must get certified as a woman-owned business. This requires your company to be at least 51% owned and controlled by women, who must make the primary decisions for the business. You’ll also need to meet SBA size standards and other criteria to be certified.

There are two options for certification. You can self-certify your business at certify.SBA.gov or go through a third-party organization that is authorized to certify WOSBs and EDWOSBs. There are four of these organizations across the country, each of which handles a different geographic area. Learn more about the WOSB program.

Before getting certified, your need to register your business with the System for Award Management (SAM). This online registry is free; federal agencies use it to find potential contractors.

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Where to get help competing for federal contracts

After going through a lot of effort, my company was certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) several years ago. We’re proud of our certification and excited that we can compete for government contracts. But the certification process wasn’t easy, and we couldn’t have done it without expert guidance from outside resources.

Trying to decide if federal contracting is right for you, and wanting to know how to find contracting opportunities and what’s involved in the bidding process? Here are some resources to get you started:

The SBA has a federal contracting guide that provides a great overview.
The SBA offers an online course in government contracting.
The SBA hosts Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) nationwide that offer hands-on assistance to business owners seeking federal contracting opportunities.
The ChallengeHER program, sponsored by Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), American Express OPEN, and the SBA, offers events, educational tools, and webinars to help women business owners successfully learn about and compete for government contracts. ChallengeHER puts on events for both new and experienced contractors, at which small business owners have the chance to meet one-on-one with federal government buyers seeking contractors.
SCORE offers an eGuide on how to become a government contractor.
SCORE has a webinar on how to do business with the federal government.

(Disclosure: SCORE is a client of my company.)

RELATED: 5 Essential Steps for Women Who Want to Become Entrepreneurs

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