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Recently, I participated in a small business roundtable with the Asian-American Pacific Islander community in Philadelphia. The event was co-hosted by the National Association of Asian American Professionals and the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs, and we were joined by 40 small business owners for a lively discussion on how to do business with the Federal Government.
Part of our mission at the General Services Administration (GSA) is to make sure that small firms across the country have the opportunity to do business with the government, and we were able to pass on several strategies that small businesses can use to successfully compete in the Federal market.
First, FedBizOpps is an online tool to help businesses learn about upcoming opportunities with the government. Small businesses can use this tool to preview what the government is looking to buy in the near future. GSA also posts a Forecast of Contracting Opportunities, informing vendors of anticipated contracts offered by GSA for the current fiscal year.
Expanded Tax Credit for Hiring Unemployed Veterans
The work opportunity credit has been expanded to provide employers with new incentives to hire certain unemployed veterans.
On November 21, 2011, the President signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. This new law provides an expanded work opportunity tax credit to businesses that hire eligible unemployed veterans and for the first time also makes part of the credit available to tax-exempt organizations.
As we close out 2011 and prepare to enter 2012, one cannot help but reflect on the year that was and look ahead to the year to come. 2011 proved to be a productive and exciting year for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA). MBDA took bold steps and explored new markets all in an effort to enhance our ability to empower the minority business community and create jobs for all Americans.
During 2011, MBDA committed nearly $14 million over five years to the MBDA Business Center program. The redesigned program eliminates geographic boundaries of the centers so they can assist minority entrepreneurs nationwide with access to markets, contracts and capital and offer strategic business consulting services. The Agency also expanded its footprint with new center locations in Denver, CO, Cleveland, OH, Boston, MA, and Minneapolis, MN and a satellite presence in Anchorage, AK.
As part of the nearly $14 million commitment, MBDA dedicated $1.75 million to open the Federal Procurement Center in Washington, DC with a sole focus of increasing the accessibility of the federal marketplace to minority-owned firms nationwide.
I know it’s tough to build a business and keep it growing through the years, because I’ve done it. Don’t forget that good business planning can help a growing business stay focused and efficient, even as you manage the daily routine and changing markets. Here are my three favorite easy ways to get back on track with business planning. These are all things I’ve done myself.
Listen actively to a few of your customers
I mean this as exactly what it says. I’m not saying you do a market survey or a focus group. I’m saying you really talk to a few (aim for 10 or 15) customers. Get on the phone, tell them you’re the owner or manager, make an appointment, and talk to them about what they think about your business. Make it interesting for them. Ask them interesting questions. Ask them what you do well and what you do poorly. Ask them what else you could be doing. Ask them about other businesses they like and don’t like, even if not related. Ask them what they think about trends, social media, organic food, green technology … make it a real conversation.
And the talk isn’t what’s important here – it’s the listening that matters. You spark conversation, and then you shut up and listen. And have the good sense to listen well to criticism, not block it out, and learn from it. And do it as the owner of the business, or trusted top managers only. Don’t pay somebody else to do it. You need to see people’s faces, or at least (if you’re on the phone) hear voice inflection. You need to do the listening. The goal is to refresh your sense of what your business is really doing for whom, and why they care.
We always hear about doing customer surveys or focus groups, which can be valuable when done right, or if they are taken with healthy skepticism. Unfortunately, they are rarely done right and are almost always given too much importance.
Here are a few things your can do – at no cost – to jump-start your business continuity plan:
Determine your greatest risk potential. It might come from loss of heat, frozen pipes (which can burst, causing water damage), or loss of access caused by icy conditions. What would happen if you had to shut down your business for several days? Look at the building where you do business and assess the property damage risks. If you do this early enough, you’ll have time to make structural upgrades that can prevent possible future storm, wind, water or earthquake damage.
Calculate the cost of business interruptions for one week, one month and six months. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able investigate insurance options or build a cash reserve that will allow your company to function during the post-disaster recovery phase. It’s also a good idea to develop professional relationships with alternative vendors, in case your primary contractor can’t service your needs. Place occasional orders with them so they regard you as an active customer when you need them.
Review your insurance coverage. Contact your agent to find out if your policy is adequate for your needs. Consult with a business insurance expert to advise you on the right coverage for your situation. When buying insurance, ask “How much can I afford to lose?” It’s a good idea to know the value of your property.