Uncle Sam can help you Find Opportunity in Today’s Economy

Business.gov helps small businesses understand their legal requirements, and locate government services supporting the nation’s small business community. It is an official site of the U.S. Government. For resources specific to microbusinesses and home business owners, check out the Business.gov blog on Sparkplugging.

Whether your small business is feeling the economic pinch or not, it’s hard to avoid the bleakness and fear mongering that proliferates the news, the Web, and the streets of our country.

The goal for any business is to ride out the storm and plan for eventual economic recovery. In fact, riding out the storm – or, just plain old planning ahead – is an essential part of any entrepreneur’s tool kit. Still, preparing for the better times while in the midst of a recession can seem daunting, particularly from a financial perspective.

Whether you are upping the marketing ante to keep your brand visible, growing your business through acquisition, or building your skill base, you will need capital. For the “disciplined optimists” among you there is financial help available, not least of all from the U.S Government.

Helping Main Street

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has put together a one-stop-shop Web portal – Helping Main Street – that has a whole host of host of funding, training, and mentoring resources to help small businesses navigate the credit crunch and prepare for recovery.

Here are three areas in which the SBA can help you plan for an economic rebound:

1) Funding – Freeing Up Capital for Small Businesses

The SBA recently announced that it has enhanced its loan programs to help the agency’s lending partners (i.e. banks) increase access to capital for small businesses. With a new alternative base interest rate and improved flexibility in loan pool structures, the SBA hopes to re-energize the lenders and ease small business access to capital.

If you want to take advantage of these enhancements, refer to the SBA’s online training guide for a quick finance primer to determine which SBA loan program is right for you. You can also learn more about available small business loans and grants here.

2) Small Business In-Person Assistance

Navigating available loan options can be made easier just by talking to someone who knows their stuff. This is where free in-person training, counseling and advice from one of many nationwide SBA District Offices can come in handy. Alternatively you can seek out the services of SBA local resource partners who specialize in business counseling for small and women-owned businesses.

3) Online Training

If you need help preparing a loan package or putting a new marketing plan in place there are lots of government online training resources that can help you implement these growth strategies. From videos, to podcasts, to at-your-own-pace courses, you can also view lessons learned from other small business entrepreneurs with these online video case studies.

Other excellent resources are Entrepreneurship.gov and SCORE, which offer online tools, events and free mentoring for small business owners.

Finding new opportunity in a time of economic crisis is no easy feat. As blogger Thomas Nelson writes in his “10 Benefits of a Recession” post, recession can be brutal, but if you channel your mental focus you can find the benefits.

His musings on recession have an analogy in the process of natural selection, i.e. the tough times thin out the competition and make entrepreneurs more creative and resourceful, among other things.

So now is the time to put on your armor and channel that tough inner-entrepreneurial spirit. Keep knocking on doors, trimming the fat, and looking for smart, targeted ways to invest your capital that will keep you in the game for the long haul.

Be the lion not the dodo.

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Check out the Business.gov Small Business Toolkit Google Gadget

Business.gov helps small businesses understand their legal requirements, and locate government services supporting the nation’s small business community. It is an official site of the U.S. Government. For resources specific to microbusinesses and home business owners, check out the Business.gov blog on Sparkplugging.

One certainty about running a small business is that each day presents new challenges.

Market shifts, employee issues, competitive threats, and regulatory requirements all combine to keep the small business owner on his or her toes.

Getting access to the right tools and resources to help you proactively keep pace with change can be time consuming and costly. The good news is that the U.S. government has developed a handy little Web gadget – the Business.gov Toolkit – that connects your business directly with government services and information that can keep your operation running and growing.

If you enjoy customizing your Internet home page with useful tools and gadgets then this one is perfect for you.

The Business.gov Toolkit

The Business.gov Toolkit is a Web gadget (powered by Google and developed by government’s Business Gateway partnership) that can be easily added to your iGoogle homepage or other Web site, much like an RSS feed.

Essentially, the gadget gives interactive fingertip access to government resources from the convenience of your home page.  The toolkit includes:

  • A search field for information, forms, and government contacts (administrative and support)
  • Access to topics of current interest to the small business community
  • Access to a listing of all the licenses and permits that apply to you
  • Videos featuring expert advice from successful entrepreneurs and small business owners

Download the gadget here.

More Gadgets to Come

The success of this toolkit should lead to more gadgets from Business.gov. If you have an idea for a gadget that you’d like to see, Business.gov is soliciting ideas here.

Other Small Business Online Productivity Tools

Other online applications from the government that can help you increase your business productivity include:

  • Grants and Loan ToolThis online tool matches your business to available government financing options.
  • Permit Me Tool – Find out which permits and licenses your business needs with this handy tool.
  • Business Search EngineConnect to the right government information easily, from regulatory forms to financial and technical assistance programs, without visiting multiple agency Web sites.

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A National Dialogue on Health Information Technology & Privacy

There’s a national dialogue going on right now on health information technology and privacy. Are you a part of the conversation? Maybe you should be.

If you are in the healthcare business, this conversation is going to be critical to how you do business in the coming years. If your business is not in the healthcare industry, you could still be effected. How? Well, do you have healthcare? Do you provide healthcare for your employees? This discussion is going to effect and inform healthcare policy as soon as next year, so jump in!

What is the National Dialogue?

In late October, just before a critical presidential election, citizens and stakeholders around the nation will join a unique experiment in 21st century democracy. The National Academy of Public Administration, on behalf of the Federal CIO Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and the General Services Administration, will host an online national dialogue that demonstrates a fundamentally different approach to the work of government.

This national discussion will engage a diverse group of voices in tackling one of the key issues confronting the nation’s health care system: How can we use information technology to improve the way patients interact with the healthcare system, while safeguarding their right to privacy? Participants will have an opportunity to discuss challenges, generate breakthrough ideas, and recommend principles that will be presented to the next Administration.

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How Small Businesses Can Get Government Contracts Part II: Getting Government Business

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

In my entry last week I talked about how to get your business registered to work with the Federal government – what forms you need to fill out, registration numbers you need to get, I’s to dot, T’s to cross, etc.

Once those things are done, there are only two more things you’ll need to get to know to get your first government contract: GSA and FedBizOpps.

The GSA Schedule Program

The U.S. General Services Administration runs the GSA Schedule Program. This is a way to provide centralized procurement for the Federal government. Under the GSA Schedules (also referred to as Multiple Award Schedules and Federal Supply Schedules) Program, GSA establishes long-term contracts with commercial companies so it can then provide access to these commercial supplies and products to government agencies.

So, you establish a GSA contract, and GSA connects you with agencies that need your products and services. In theory, the program serves a vetting process – companies that want to do business with the government get their products and services onto the GSA Schedule, which then provides a place where government agencies can go to ensure they’re buying the best quality products and services at the best prices.

While this may or may not actually be the case, the bottom line is that getting onto the GSA Schedule is the lowest cost of entry into the Federal government for any business – particular small businesses.

“The GSA Schedule is designed in part to help small businesses compete head-to-head on a level playing field for government business,” says Bill Gormley, president of Washington Management Group. Mr. Gormley was formerly Assistant Commissioner at GSA, and helped design and build what is today’s GSA Schedule Program. Today, he helps businesses – like yours – get onto the GSA Schedule and better understand the ins and outs of doing business with the government.

Once you establish a GSA Schedule contract, you may find that it provides additional advantages outside the government market. A GSA Schedule Contract number demonstrates that you’re trustworthy to do business with. It’s like a seal of approval from the government; it says a lot.

For more information on GSA Schedules, you can go directly to the GSA Schedules page on the GSA website, or the How to Find Contracting Opportunities page on the SBA’s Business.gov site.

FedBizOpps

Imagine entering a brand new market and starting out with a solid list of leads – of people actually looking for the products and services you offer. That is the beauty of Federal Business Opportunities, or FedBizOpps.

All Federal contract solicitations with a value of $25,000 or more are listed on FedBizOpps. Federal agencies publish their solicitations, and provide detailed information on how and when vendors should respond. You do not need to register or sign-up to use FedBizOpps – you can simply go and look around.

Good Start

There is obviously a lot more information you can gather about doing business with the government. Business.gov, for example, provides information on:

Companies that specialize in government contracting, such as the Washington Management Group, are excellent resources as well.

And, conveniently, this is an excellent time to start the process. With a new administration on the way, “transition teams” will be looking for a range of products and services to put in place for the new leadership.

More posts on landing Federal contract work:

How Small Businesses Can Get Government Contracts Part I: Getting Started

Tap into the Biggest Spender :: Doing Business with the Federal Government.

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How Small Businesses Can Get Government Contracts Part I: Getting Started

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

The U.S. government is the largest consumer in the country, spending nearly $589 billion each fiscal year on contracts. The government is also an omnivorous consumer, spending that money on everything from office furniture to food services to medical personnel to highly advanced technologies.

For an entrepreneur or small-business owner, the thought of entering such a large market with potentially complex rules and regulations may be too daunting.

My advice: Don’t let that fear get the better of you. It is well worth whatever time you invest. Remember – regardless of whether we’re in an up economy or a down economy, the government still must run. The government will not go out of business. The government can be your customer for life.

In fact, as a small business you have an advantage over other businesses when working with the government. The Federal government has set a goal that at least 23 percent of Federal dollars go to small businesses. Government agencies get “small business credits” for contracting with small businesses.

In the government market, being a small business can provide a significant competitive advantage.

Step One: Education

Before making any changes to your business model, read up – get educated on the government market in general. The Small Business Administration’s Business.gov provides a one-stop-shop of information on doing business with the government within its “Small Business Guide to Federal Contracting” pages.

Another comprehensive source is an eight-page downloadable guide, provided by the SBA, titled “Opening Doors to Federal Government Contracting Opportunities”. This guide debunks myths and provides real-world advice on how to get started selling your goods and services into the Federal government.

SBA also provides a free on-line course titled: “Business Opportunities: A Guide to Winning Federal Contracts”. You’ll have to register for this course, but it will be worth the time invested.

Beyond basic information, the Business.gov site also provides guidance and program information for women-owned, veteran-owned, and small and disadvantaged businesses. Fitting within one of these categories provides additional business advantages beyond simply being a small business.

Step Two: Registration

Once you’ve done your homework, the next step is the proverbial paperwork – registering your business as a potential Federal contractor. The Federal government must buy goods and services from only those companies that are officially registered as Federal contractors. There is no harm, or commitment, in registering. It simply opens the door between your company and the government.

One of the best places to get step-by-step registration instructions is the How to Register as a Federal Contractor page on the Business.gov site. Here, you’ll find you must:

1.      Obtain a D-U-N-S number: A Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number is a unique nine-digit identification number for each physical location of your business. Getting a D-U-N-S number is free for businesses interested in working with the Federal government for contracts or grants. This process is as simple as going to the Online Web Form Process page, which directs you to an online form and also provides a phone number, if you prefer to work with an actual person.

2.      Register your business with CCR: Once you’ve gotten your D-U-N-S Number, you must register your business with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). This is simply a database of companies working with the Federal government. Your company must be in this database in order to do business with the government.

3.      Fill out the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA). Here is where you provide additional information about your company and its business activities (what you sell, how you sell it, etc.)

Step Three: Getting in the Game

Once you’ve gotten through all the forms and registrations, you are – technically – able to do business with the government.

In my next entry, “Government Contracting Part II: Getting Government Business”, I’ll cover the two most important steps in actually getting your first Federal government customer: Getting onto the GSA Schedule, and finding your way to FedBizOpps.

Stay tuned … and in the meantime, read my post Tap into the Biggest Spender :: Doing Business with the Federal Government.

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Get Federal Government Answers From a Real Person

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

Do you ever have an issue regarding your small business that you have grappled with? Silly question, huh?  Of course you have.  You seek out advice.  You search on Google, read blogs, reach out to other small business owners, family and friends.  Sometimes, when the issue has to do with the law or regulations, the advice from the average Joe is nice, but you need to be certain.  You need advice from a real person who works for the government and knows the answers to your questions.  But where do you turn?  Who can you call?  Will you get a real person?

Believe it or not there are real people that work for the U.S. Government.  For some, their main responsibility is being there to answer your questions.  To make sure you get the right person for your question, Business.gov has pulled together a guide.  Because sometimes, it us just nice to speak with a real person.

Below is a short list of helpful contacts.  For a full list by topic area, visit www.business.gov/contacts.

Complying with Laws and Regulations

File a Complaint – Unfair Regulatory Enforcement

  • Is the Government Regulating Your Unfairly? Contact Your Ombudsman
    This article describes the role of an Ombudsman, and how s/he can help small businesses that are experiencing unfair or excessive regulatory enforcement actions. Includes a list of Federal and State Ombudsman contacts.
  • Small Business National Ombudsman
    The National Ombudsman assists small businesses when they experience excessive or unfair federal regulatory enforcement actions, such as repetitive audits or investigations, excessive fines, penalties, threats, retaliation or other unfair enforcement action by a federal agency.

Starting a Business

  • Small Business Answer Desk
    A national toll-free telephone service operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration that provides information to the public on small business problems and concerns.
  • SBA District Offices
    Local SBA offices provide counseling, training and business development specialists offering free and low-cost services in your area.
  • Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Locator
    Contact your local SBDC to get free information on starting, running, and managing a business in your area.
  • SCORE – Local Offices
    Find your local SCORE office to obtain free and confidential small business advice for entrepreneurs.
  • Minority Business Development Centers
    Local and regional programs assisting minority-owned enterprises with start-up advice, business planning, and financial assistance.
  • Women’s Business Centers [PDF]
    Listing of more than 100 educational resource centers in the U.S. designed to assist women start and grow small businesses.

Contact Elected Officials

Contact Business.gov

If you have questions about Business.gov or about any other government program, please feel free to contact us.

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Small Business and Disabilities, Part II

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

Tracy Johnson for Business.gov

A little while ago, we explored Federal Resources for Disabled Entrepreneurs for individuals with disabilities that want to start their own business.  What if you are a small business owner considering hiring a disabled person?  What things do you need to know?  What risks must you consider?  And what advantages may you be eligible for because of this hiring choice?

Regulations

The U.S. Department of Justice has a Guide to Disability Rights Law which provides a nice overview of Federal civil rights laws for people with disabilities.  Business owners should be especially familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlines frequently asked questions and gives do’s and don’ts for what to do before and after giving a job offer.  The EEOC also defines what qualifies as “reasonable accommodation” and helps the small business owner determine what measures need to be taken to meet this requirement.  Similarly, the Department of Labor has their version of Myth Busters regarding employee persons with disabilities.

HR Tools

After you have hired a person with a disability, there are government resources you can lean on for ongoing human resource assistance such as:

U.S. Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy

This office also has the JAN- Job Accommodation Network

Cornell Employment and Disability Institute

DisabilityInfo.gov Employer Resources

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program

Incentives

So, we’ve provided a lot of resources for how to stay in compliance, how to hire and manage people with disabilities, and where business owners can go for help, but now for one of the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities- tax incentives!

There are tax incentives available to help employers cover accommodation costs for employees and/or customers with disabilities, making your business accessible for everyone.  The IRS also has disability-related provisions and even tax incentives for complying with the ADA-Wow! A tax incentive for complying with the law? Aren’t we supposed to do that anyway?  Don’t complain.  Know the rules and make sure you get the credits and incentives your business is eligible for!

Additional Resources

Business.gov

EarnWorks

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