A Small Business Enterprise Certification Can Mean Big Opportunities
It’s tough for a small business to land big contracts. Sometimes it seems as if you have to be one of the big guys to get the big gigs, but you need to get a big gig to be one of the big guys. One way to make it to the next level is by getting your Small Business Enterprise (SBE) certification.
Almost all major corporations and government entities have some sort of goal that a portion of the contracts they award must go to small or minority owned businesses. For example, in West Palm Beach County, Florida, 15% of the total government expenditure has to go to small or minority owned businesses. And sometimes they struggle to find companies that fit the bill! One small West Palm Beach business we know recently obtained SBE certification and used it to land a $200K commitment from a subcontractor to help remodel a Florida correctional facility.
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The catch is that it can be a little confusing getting your SBE certification, since there’s no single universal SBE application. Certification takes place on the municipal, county, state and federal levels and each entity will have its own version of the certification. In fact they may not even call it SBE in your area! And you’ll have to be certified in every area where you’d like to be considered.
OK, that’s the bad news. The good news is that because getting SBE certification can be an intense process, lots of small businesses won’t go through the hassle, making the certification that much more valuable for those who do.
Here’s what you do
First, visit your local and county area websites and search out their procurement departments. Call them up and ask about SBE opportunities. Go through the registration process with whichever entity seems to have the most opportunities for your business. Once you get registered with one entity, it will be easier to register with other departments within the same area.
Next, get registered as an SBE on the federal level. That will make you eligible for a myriad of subcontracting opportunities, since large contractors are usually required to hire SBE subcontractors. In fact, any company awarded a government project will have to have a Small Business Liaison Officer to ensure good standing with federal government requirements. You can find a list of SBE officers and subcontracting opportunities for SBEs by visiting the Small Business Administration (SBA) website at www.sba.gov. Simply search for subcontracting opportunities or use their subcontracting directory.
If you do want to contract or subcontract on the federal level, you’ll also want to get your CAGE (Commercial and Government Entity) code. You’ll need it even to be considered for most government projects. (“What’s your CAGE number?” is often the first question federal procurement officers ask.) It’s not too difficult. Complete the Department of Defense’s Central Contractor Registration (CCR), available at http://www.ccr.gov/Start.aspx.
Your state will probably also have agencies set up to help small businesses get government contracts. They can help you get registered and navigate through the red tape.
It’s not a snap, but…
There is a lot of business available at all levels of government, both for contractors and subcontractors. Going after it requires a real commitment. But it’s a commitment that can pay off.