Starting and sustaining a small business can feel like building a fire. Tough to get going, tough to keep going.
When Gino Fina, owner of Valdosta Shared Office Space, was getting started in 2006, he turned to the Small Business Development Center for help.
“Valdosta is very lucky to have the SBDC,” said Fina. “They’re able to advise and encourage businesses.”
The SBDC operates out of Valdosta State University’s Langdale College of Business. Located in Thaxton Hall, the center offers help to all local small businesses, new and old. Part of the Georgia Small Business Development Network, the VSU SBDC is one of 17 locations throughout the state, offering help with writing business plans, applying for a loan, operating business software, and marketing services or product.
The center periodically offers seminars and one-day classes on business issues, and for its latest offering, the SBDC developed a six-class Procurement Academy, focusing on how businesses can procure government contracts. Spread out over six months with one class a month, the Procurement Academy aims to take a holistic approach to businesses.
“We hold a class focusing on government contracts about once every two years,” said Ruby Riesinger, VSU SBDC area director. “There’s been a lot of local business interest in procurement lately ... whenever the economy slows, everyone wants to work with the government.”
Bidding on government contracts can be a complicated endeavor. The application paperwork alone can get up to two-inches thick, and that’s after you’ve figured out how to get the information for the bidding.
“In the classes, we’re breaking down the door so that businesses can get in,” said Riesinger.
The classes are free and held every second Wednesday, but registration in advance is required. While Riesinger recommends that business owners come to every class, there’s still a lot participants can get out of the classes if they miss the first couple.
“There’s a lot of businesses that can benefit from government contracts,” said Terri Gerhardt. As the director of procurement for VSU, it’s something she’s well-versed in.
“There are the obvious ones, like construction, landscaping, that kind of thing,” said Gerhardt. “But they have government contracts for Human Resources, for insurance ... a public school still needs custodial services, paper products, repairs.”
The biggest problem Riesinger sees in procurement is businesses unsure of how they should bid themselves.
“As a business, you have to know your strengths, and you have to know how to put them together into a bid,” said Riesinger. “There’s a lot you have to consider when making a bid. Businesses don’t always see the big picture.”
For bids, businesses have to carefully consider a number of costs and possibilities.
“You need to be able to show how your bid was created.”
While calls for state bids are posted online, the process for local bids can vary from county to county. For Lowndes, the county posts calls for bids online and in The Valdosta Daily Times.
While the Procurement Academy is encouraging bidding, they caution businesses not to jump into it too quick.
“You can actually hurt yourself by going in unprepared, bidding before you know what you need to do,” said Gerhardt. “It’s much better for businesses to get the whole scope first.”
For each class in the Procurement Academy, VSU SBDC brings in speakers who are experts with various subject matters. The first speaker for the first class this past Wednesday was Lloyd Atkins. A consultant with the University of Georgia’s SBDC and the Office of Minority Development, Atkins talked about mapping out a business plan.
“The biggest things that decide procurements are past performance and potential for success,” said Atkins. “That has to start with being a good business, a better business. You can’t get a contract without being a good business, and when you get it, you have to be responsive and responsible.”
While the highly competitive marketplace for government contracts might not be for every business, Atkins stressed that that’s a decision for each individual business to make.
“Not all business is good business,” said Atkins. “But you have to be in touch with your own business. And that’s a tough lesson for some people to learn.”
On top of teaching classes, Atkins looks forward to learning from future speakers.
“We’re teaching businesses to improve generally, first, then about how procurement works and how they can position themselves in the marketplace.”
More information: VSU SBDC can be reached at (229) 245-3741.