By Ina Paiva Cordle The Miami Herald.
Lourdes Martin-Rosa, founder and president of Government Business Solutions, splits her time between offices in South Miami and Washington, D.C.
She spends her days meeting with government employees who award contracts, coaching small business owners, holding workshops and advocating for the federal government's Women's Procurement Set-Aside Program.
Martin-Rosa began her career in advertising at the Miami Herald, hired in 1982 through a company-sponsored college recruitment program that paid for her to complete her degree in business administration at Florida International University.
She then worked as a federal government travel consultant for small travel agencies. That led, in 1999, to a position with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as a state of Florida representative.
In that job, she learned about the U.S. Small Business Administration's programs and began teaching entrepreneurs about the potential for government contracting. Contracts worth as much millions of dollars are available to sell the government everything from computers to office supplies, as well as to help build roads and handle building maintenance and janitorial services, she said.
In the late 1990s, Hispanic-owned businesses represented less than 5 percent of government contracting dollars, and Martin-Rosa helped such firms get certified from the SBA as minority-owned businesses to boost their share of contracts. It is a complicated and time-consuming certification process, she said.
"I saw that other businesses that had certifications from SBA were prospering," Martin-Rosa said. After several years of lobbying in Washington, D.C., for small businesses to receive a bigger share of government contracts, she opened Government Business Solutions, based in South Miami. The company provides human resources, event planning and small-business procurement-consulting services, she said.
For the past six years, Martin-Rosa has also served as the American Express OPEN Advisor on government contracting, helping small businesses get their accounting systems and marketing materials ready to win government contracts.
To learn more about how Martin-Rosa helps businesses gain access to government contracts, we emailed her these questions, to which she responded.
Q. What led you to open your own company and when was that?
A. Government Business Solutions was born in 2003. After helping many small businesses grow within the government sector, I decided to open my own firm as a way to continue sharing the knowledge I have that can help small businesses succeed in government contracting.
Q. How did SBA certification help you to expand your business?
A. As a small business, narrowing your competition is key. If you can find a way to maximize your capabilities towards helping you land a government contract, definitely get certified.
As a small disadvantaged woman-owned small business, my firm qualified for the SBA's 8(a) and Economically Disadvantaged Woman-owned Small Business programs. These programs have allowed me to propel my firm's sales by 120 percent.
[According to the SBA, a "disadvantaged" business must be 51 percent or more owned and controlled by one or more "disadvantaged" people. The disadvantaged person or persons must be a minority and meet certain financial requirements, and the firm must be small.]
I always knew the 8(a) program would be a valuable asset towards my success as a government contractor. Therefore, until my daughters were off to college in 2009, I didn't pursue my certification. As a business owner, you need to maximize the life of the 8(a) programs' nine-year time frame.
While certifications can certainly give you a competitive edge, you still have to develop a strong marketing plan and present your firm's capabilities to government agencies. It takes patience and persistence, as you'll need to tackle numerous emails and calls to land one appointment, but it is worth the hard work.
Q. Please tell me more about what your business does.
A. Government Business Solutions is a program management and event-planning consulting firm with offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Newport, Calif.
The GBS team offers more than 40 years of experience in dealing with the federal government. Since 2008, I've served as American Express OPEN's Advisor on Government Contracting, allowing me the opportunity to help develop several programs that provide small businesses with free information created by government industry experts like myself. In this role, I have the opportunity to teach and mentor small businesses looking to do business with the government about how to navigate through government agencies' contract requirements and how to grow their business through government contracts.
Q. How has your business grown and how have revenues grown?
A. We obtained our 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Business certification in 2010, and since then, my firm's revenue has grown by 120 percent. But growth does not come easy; you have to constantly market your firm's capabilities, attend networking sessions hosted by federal agencies, and make frequent trips to Washington to build relationships with key contracting personnel.
Q. Please tell me about the opportunities that exist today for small businesses in government contracting. What is the overall volume of government contracting?
A. The federal government is the world's largest procurer of products and services. Each year, the government spends approximately $500 billion, and the Small Business Act mandates [that] government agencies set aside 23 percent of all government expenditures with small businesses.
In 2012, the government awarded about $100 billion to small businesses, and according to Set Aside Alert, which pulled data from the White House's Small Business Dashboard, fiscal year 2013 could be the year that the federal government hits the 23 percent goal for the first time in eight years.
It's important to know that this 23 percent piece of the pie is sliced even thinner by offering certification and verification programs for socioeconomic categories, allowing these small businesses a greater competitive edge. Business owners should do some research to see if they are eligible for the following programs:
-- 8(a) -- SBA program designated for small disadvantaged businesses
-- Women-owned small business program
-- Service-disabled veteran-owned small business program
-- "Hubzone" [historically underutilized business zone ] small business program
There are many organizations and programs, many of which are free, that offer assistance to small businesses pursuing government contracting.
For example, I serve as a mentor for American Express OPEN's government contracting program for small businesses -- OPEN for Government Contracts -- which offers free workshops, one-on-one access to government buyers, online curriculum and mentoring. As a small-business government contractor, this national program allows me the opportunity to share the wealth of knowledge I've learned throughout my 18 years in government contracting. It's very gratifying to hear from small businesses I've worked with when they finally land that first government contract.
Q. What opportunities in particular exist for women and minority-owned businesses, and especially in South Florida?
A.Florida small businesses should consider obtaining local and state government certifications within their particular industry and geographical locations. Each government has a particular certification program offering small businesses an edge in government contracting. Take advantage of these programs.
There are also several certifications offered by municipalities and organizations such as Women Business Enterprise (WBE) with WBENC (Women's Business Enterprise National Council) and the National Minority Small Business Council (NMSBC). These certifications could open doors with large nationwide organizations allowing, small businesses owned by minorities and women an opportunity to land work with these giants.
Q. What is your forecast for small businesses for 2014?
A. The federal government contracting future for small businesses looks brighter than ever. Congress finally passed a budget and approved a $1.1 trillion in spending through 2015. The Department of Defense was allocated approximately $570 billion, where other civilian agencies will receive $480 billion in contract spending. Congress hasn't passed a budget in four years, which held up contracts, but now there will be an opportunity to award these agency requirements.
Although local and state government contracting may be lucrative, federal government contracting offers transparency, and each agency has a procurement forecast posted on each of their websites educating the public on what they need to procure for the fiscal year. This is a wonderful way for small businesses to create a strategic marketing plan towards landing some of these posted contracts.