Leveling the Federal Contracting Playing Field – The New SBA Woman-Owned Small Business Program Explained

by Caron Beesley, Moderator

Congress has set goals to help woman-owned small businesses (WOSBs) gain their share of the federal contracting market.

However, without a specific set-aside contract program for WOSBs, such as those in place for small disadvantaged businesses (e.g., the 8(a) program), service-disabled veterans and historically underutilized business zones (HUBZone), WOSBs only received 4% of the $400+ billion contracts awarded annually well shy of the 5% statutory goal.

In an effort to address this shortfall and create a more level contracting playing field for women-owned small businesses, in late 2010 the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the final rule that would implement the  WOSB program. Formally known as the Woman-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, the goals of the program were outlined by SBA Administrator, Karen Mills, in the agency’s press release:

Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy…That’s why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important. Federal contracts can provide women-owned small businesses with the oxygen they need to take their business to the next level.”

While the WOSB Program was formally launched by the SBA in February 2011, it wasn’t until April 2011 that the federal procurement officials were able to set-aside contracts under the program.

So what is the WOSB Program and how can you take advantage of it? Here’s what you need to know and the steps you need to take to get your business certified to participate!

What is the WOSB Program?

The WOSB Program is a win-win for WOSBs and EDWOSBs (Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Businesses) and the federal government.  WOSBs now have an opportunity to compete for and win contracts specifically set aside for WOSBs.

There are over 300 industries (PDF) (in the contracting world these are known as NAICS codes) where WOSBs and EDWOSBs have been deemed “underrepresented” or “substantially underrepresented”. Contracting officers can do a WOSB or EDWOSB set-aside contracts in these industries if:

  • There is reasonable expectation that two or more WOSBs/EDWOSBs will submit offers.
  • The anticipated award price of the contract does not exceed $6.5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $4 million in the case of all other contracts.
  • In the estimation of the contracting officer, the contract can be awarded at a fair and reasonable price.

Interested bidders can look on the Federal Business Opportunities web site to find federal government solicitations that may be set aside for WOSB or EDWOSBs

Are you Eligible for WOSB/EDWOSB Set-Asides?

To help determine your eligibility for the WOSB program you’ll need to be ask yourself a few eligibility questions:

  1. Are you a small business as defined by SBA standards for your industry? – Read “Am I a small business concern?” from the SBA to determine if you are. If you are not eligible you can still consider teaming with a small business prime contractor who is.
  2. Are you a woman-owned small business (WOSB)? – Your business must beat least 51% directly or unconditionally owned by one or more women. In addition, the management and daily business operations must be controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens.
  3. Does your business function within one of the over 300 industries (known as NAICS codes) for the WOSB program?
  4. Are you an economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business (EDWOSB)? You don’t have to be to qualify for the WOSB program, although you do for the EDWOSB portion. Here are the requirements:

Be a WOSB that is at least 51% owned by one or more women who are “economically disadvantaged”.  A woman is presumed economically disadvantaged if she:

      • Has a personal net worth of less than $750,000 (please note items that may be excluded)
      • Average annual income of less than  $350,000 for the three years  (please note items that may be excluded)
      • Value of total assets is less than $6 million (please note items that may be excluded)

How to Get Certified for the WOSB Program

If you meet the eligibility requirements above, you’ll then need to either self-certify or obtain third party certification (read more about the certification process here).

To ensure you can compete for these WOSB set-aside contracts as soon as possible, take the time to review all the program requirements on the SBA website and ensure your required documents are uploaded to the WOSB Program Repository. WOSBs also will need to update their status in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) and the Online Representation and Certification Application (ORCA) to indicate to contracting officers that they are eligible to participate.

Training and Education on the WOSB Program

The SBA is engaging in a number of training and outreach activities to help small business owners understand the program – contact your local SBA Office for more information. The agency has also put together this easy-to-read handbook (PDF) for small businesses interested in learning about the WOSB Program, including eligibility requirements, federal contracting opportunities, and how the program works in general. 

Additional Resources

If you are new to the government contracting market or have questions about the process, take a look at these guides and resources on the SBA website:

Entrepreneurship – the Loneliest Adventure

A recent blog article by one of my fellow Michigan entrepreneurs,  Nancy Sherman of southwest Michigan-based Business Success Unlimited, caught my attention recently as she pointed out some of the pros and cons of going into business for yourself. As any of those who’ve done it know, the costs (not including financial) can be very high – but so can the rewards.

In her article she pointed out one of the issues I hear about most often from entrepreneurs, the isolation.  They don’t have anyone else they can talk things over with to help make the decisions they need to make.  In previous corporate lives, they had co-workers, bosses, or employees – now they have themselves, especially when they’re just starting out or if they’re running a virtual business. And that can be difficult. Not that they’re depending on others to give them the answers, but we all know, sometimes it can help just to talk it thru with an impartial party.  Nancy’s article pointed out an interesting solution that I would recommend all small business owners explore for themselves. Learn about it below, and if you’d like a referral to a co-working center, I bet Nancy would be happy to help you out, just reach out to her at Nancy@thessbi.com .

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In my 30 years of being an entrepreneur, I have spent time in my home office, in my brick and mortar office and in the coffee shops and restaurants around my town. Each has their own good points and bad, but I think the thing that I like least about any of it, is that I have no one to share with, no one to talk to except the cats.

I was married for 22 years to a really great guy (we’ve probably got the best divorce ever — we’re still great friends), but he just didn’t get it. He would tell me, why don’t you get a real job. You’re home all day, why don’t you do the housework, or cook or clean or whatever. I couldn’t talk to him about the isolation, about the needs for others to be around. When the office phone would ring at 11 at night, he’d complain because I didn’t answer it, and when people showed up at my front door at 7 am on Sunday morning, there would be more complaining. Then when I got a “Real” office and had monthly rent to pay (to the tune of $5000), he’d shake his head and say things like “here we go again. You’re just playing dress up”.

It was not easy. And he was not alone in saying — and thinking — such things. My best friend was right there with him. She works for the government and has tried since the ’90s, to get me to apply for a job there as well. “But what about the benefits? The health insurance? The regular schedule? The paycheck? These are all valid questions, but when you’re an entrepreneur, someone who wants to do it for him or herself, these are really irritating comments.

If you’re like me, you get the frustration of being alone and want to find someone else who also “gets it” to talk to, to share with, to be close to. But how do you do this? You can go hang out at the coffee shops, spend money on drinks and pastries, and maybe talk with someone else for a few minutes, but you don’t really find friendship or business collaboration there. The same is true for a library or restaurant. And how comfortable is it to hold meetings in your home office?

Well, now there’s a great new way to work on your own business while being in the company of like-minded individuals who are also working on their own businesses. It’s a place to rejuvenate your thoughts and ideas, a place to work on the Internet, to get help and support from administrative professionals, a place to sit and chat in the lounge, meeting rooms, private conference rooms, kitchens — all the amenities of an office space without the cost and politics of businesses. It’s a co-work center and they’re springing up all over the world; not just this country but literally around the world. If you’re a homebased business, a freelancer, or travel for your company, find one and check it out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Last-minute Emergency Tips for Small Businesses

Here are a few last-minute emergency reminders:

  • Take seriously the evacuation orders issued by local officials.  If they say evacuate, please follow and leave immediately.
  • Extensive power outages are predicted.  There’s still time to assemble an emergency supply kit, which includes items like non-perishable food, water, cash, a battery-powered radio, flashlights and batteries. 
  • Visit www.ready.gov for tips on creating a plan to protect your family before the storm hits.
  • Business owners can visit www.readybusiness.gov for useful tips on how to reopen quickly and lessen the economic blow of the disaster. The Department of Labor has information on how to take care of your employees when an emergency strikes. Visit www.osha.gov/hurricane
  • After the storm passes and if you’re in need of shelter or other resources, visit the Red Cross atwww.redcross.org.   You can also donate to the recovery efforts at the Red Cross site.
  • For information on SBA’s disaster assistance programs, visit www.sba.gov/disaster, or call the Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955.

SBA Small Business Outreach Tour Travels Michigan to Meet Small Business Owners

Don’t miss the first ever statewide SBA Small Business Outreach Tour! 

Are you a small business owner looking for tools to take your business to the next level?  Do you need information, contacts, and resources to start your business?  

Get connected to experts in lending, government contracting, business growth, financial management, exporting and much more! 

Get inspired by stories of successful small business owners in your region.

Get informed about what’s happening in your community from local economic development resources. 

Get to the SBA Small Business Outreach Tour! It’s FREE, and coming to a city near you!

Learn more about the SBA’s Michigan Small Business Tour

5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness For Small Business CEOs Planned For Fall

MICHIGAN- The Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) will present financial tools workshops in metro Detroit in during the fall.  “5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness,” a workshop to help the non-financial manager business owner achieve Fiscal Fitness is a state-wide training program designed to strengthen financial literacy and improve the ability to access capital businesses need to grow. The program is sponsored by Fifth Third Bank and events will be held in Waterford, Livonia and Detroit.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • Identifying problems using your balance sheet and income statement
  • Providing ways to increase your company’s cash flow
  •  Using breakeven analysis to improve decision-making
  • Planning the working capital to support your growth
  • How to keep your banker on your side

“5 Keys to Achieving Fiscal Fitness” will cost $25 per participant (Fifth Third clients can attend at no cost.) Classes will be held: 

  • September 28         Oakland County Business Center in Waterford
  • October 4                Schoolcraft College in Livonia
  • November 3            TechTown in Detroit

Networking and continental breakfast start at 8 a.m. and the seminar is from 8:30 a.m. until 12 p.m.  Register online or call (734) 487-0355 for more information.

 “In these trying financial times, Fifth Third bank recognized how important it is to reach out to business owners and help them become savvier in managing their business finances. Fifth Third Bank is proud to support the MI-SBTDC is these efforts.”  Dolores Sturdivant – Fifth Third Bank.

The Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) is a statewide business assistance program that provides one-on-one counseling, training and research support for Michigan small businesses. The Southeast Michigan Region serves Wayne, Oakland and Monroe counties is headquartered at the Eastern Michigan University College of Business in the Center for Entrepreneurship with full service locations at TechTown in Detroit, Schoolcraft College in Livonia, the Monroe Industrial Development Corporation and Oakland County Business Center.

Fifth Third Bancorp is a diversified financial services company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fifth Third operates five main businesses: Commercial Banking, Branch Banking, Consumer Lending, Investment Advisors and Fifth Third Processing Solutions.  http://www.misbtdc.net/events.aspx