No one starts a business with the intention of closing its doors five years later. Sadly, however, 50% of small businesses do exactly that. To avoid becoming one of them, here’s a thought: Begin to expand your firm’s footprint right now. Plan for expansion by exploring the many opportunities for growth that are available to your Florida-based business through the public sector and international markets.
Planning to Expand
1. Revisit your business plan Take a good look at the business plan you created before opening day. What do you know now that you didn’t know then and what new goals/plans come to mind as a result? Which supporting documents need to be updated? If you followed the recommendations for packaging your initial business plan in a loose-leaf binder, revisions should be easy to make.
2. Assess your operations Is your business operating as efficiently as it could be? Do you have all the necessary tools and space to meet current needs? What about the future — will you need additional square footage and/or equipment to accommodate new directions?
3. Evaluate your team Have you defined the duties, responsibilities, skills and experience needed for all positions and have you hired the right person to fill each one? In what areas of your business could you use more or better help? Do you have a plan for attracting new personnel? What types of training programs are you able to provide?
4. Grow your market Are you reaching the right markets for your product or service? What markets are you missing and what plans do you have for reaching them? Is your marketing budget adequate and are your current promotional strategies effective? If not, what adjustments will you make?
5. Rate your financial situation Have you reached your break-even point? What’s your cash flow situation? How much capital would it take for you to expand? Can you afford to expand now and, if not, what measures will you take to make a future expansion financially possible?
Government contracting can be a lucrative and long-term expansion strategy. Every level of government must buy goods and services, even during times of economic uncertainty. And here’s another bit of good news: At a total value of $13.6 billion, Florida ranked 7th among all U.S. states for government contracts awarded in 2015. The market is there; could this be your time to pursue it?
Selling to the U.S
Is federal government contracting right for you, right now? Determine your readiness for government contracting and better position your firm for success by following these suggestions from business consultants at the Florida SBDC Network:
Evaluate Understand what, when and how much government agencies buy to assess the level of demand for your product or service.
Plan Target government agencies and prime contractors that are buying what you offer and develop a written plan to reach them.
Register Complete the required/mandatory federal government database registrations including: System for Award Management (SAM); and Dynamic Small Business Search.
Prepare Develop a government-focused capability statement for your firm, collateral materials and e-marketing resources; secure preferred small business certifications such as: 8(a), Woman-Owned Small Business, HUBZone, Veteran-Owned and applicable state and local certifications?
Pursue Be aggressive. Regularly monitor computerized Bid Matching Services (daily searches and email alerts); identify contracting/sub-contracting opportunities through government bid boards, posting databases and networking; obtain a GSA Schedule contract, if applicable.
Achieve Develop a government-accepted accounting system and be ready to handle any possible contract audits, required reports and modifications.
Ask for Help The Florida SBDC Network helps small businesses at the federal, state and local levels pursue contracting opportunities.
Selling to Florida
One avenue to expansion is as close as your computer. Dozens of bureaus, departments and agencies in Florida’s state government purchase a variety of goods and services, and you can learn about them online.
MyFloridaMarketPlace, which is part of the Florida Department of Management Services, has nearly 15,000 registered buyers who issue, on average, 5,000 purchase orders each month. In operation for more than 10 years, this system streamlines interactions between vendors and state government entities and provides the tools to support procurement for the state of Florida.
Florida agencies have three levels of purchasing:
1. Term contracts
2. Informal purchases (less than $35,000; no requirement for competitive bidding)
3. Formal purchases (greater than $35,000; requires competitive bidding)
Determine which level best matches your business abilities, then register in the MyFloridaMarketPlace system. For details, visit www.dms.myflorida.com/myfloridamarketplace.
Don’t Be Fooled
The minute you begin an online search for “selling to the government,” you become the target of for-profit companies that want to “help” (translation: “charge”) you to become a vendor. Do not fall for this scam. You can easily sign up on your own, and there is never a fee to register as a government contractor at any level. And if you have questions along the way, contact your local Florida SBDC office for assistance at no cost.
Have you considered broadening your company’s reach to include international markets? Does your product or service lend itself to export? If you answered “yes” to either question, your geographic positioning could not be more ideal.
Florida is home to more than 61,000 exporters — the second highest number in the United States — and nearly all of them are small- and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 500 employees.
Florida boasts a multimodal system that ensures people and products move seamlessly between any two points on the planet. Moreover, Florida businesses enjoy access to the nation’s second largest Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) network, where value can be added to foreign goods tariff free before shipping them on to another country.
Do you find the idea of expanding into international markets an appealing growth strategy for your business but aren’t certain how to make it happen? Read on for information about exporting programs, resources and one-on-one counseling available from:
For companies seeking to enter or expand into the international marketplace, Enterprise Florida offers these programs/services:
Export Counseling Free evaluation of a company’s market readiness plus suggested target markets and introduction to EFI’s international offices.
Overseas Missions and Trade Shows Opportunities to showcase your products and services and meet one-on-one with potential customers worldwide.
International Trade leads Available from EFI’s international offices to companies that have registered through their local trade office. See the list of EFI local trade offices and regions served.
Gold Key/Matchmaker Grants Available to eligible small- and medium-sized companies for the purpose of generating/increasing export sales overseas by providing infrequent exporters with opportunities to meet with pre-screened, interested buyers, agents, importers and representatives.
Educational Events Workshops, seminars and conferences on export fundamentals throughout the state on topics such as researching markets, developing an export strategy and logistics.
Florida SBDC Network
Through a partnership with Enterprise Florida and the U.S. Commercial Service, Florida SBDC International Trade Specialists prepare Export Marketing Plans for qualifying Florida-based manufacturers and service providers. Specialists spend approximately 100 hours on each plan, creating a customized report with target market recommendations, overseas trade opportunities and an action plan for market entry. The cost to prepare an Export Marketing Plan is $4,000. Qualifying companies are eligible for a $3,500 scholarship, making the cost to your company $500.
U.S. Commercial ServiceAs the federal government’s lead trade promotion agency, the U.S. Commercial Service has trade professionals in six Florida offices to help companies get started in exporting or increase sales to new global markets by identifying and evaluating international partners, creating market-entry strategies and navigating documentation challenges. For information on regulations and licensing, free trade agreements and other topics related to exporting, visit www.export.gov.
Sign up for Enterprise Florida’s biweekly “International Trade Events” newsletter containing news about international trade events around the state and overseas at www.enterpriseflorida.com/trade-events-newsletter-sign-up.
Should You Export?
1. Is my business ready to export? Complete the free “Export Readiness Self-Assessment” available at www.business.usa.gov/begin-exporting to determine if your small business truly is in a position to expand internationally.
2. Do I have a plan? A written export business plan will help you define your company’s current status and commitment to global marketing by forcing you to assemble facts, identify constraints and set specific goals and objectives for exporting success.
3. Have I done my homework? You wouldn’t take a foreign vacation without some advance research, so why send your products or services overseas without similar preparation? Know what you’re getting into by researching potential markets, trade barriers, regulations and other exporting details that are specific to the country you have in mind.
4. Can I afford this? Numerous export loan programs, grants and other financing opportunities are available at the state and federal levels to help your company finance its global marketing activities, ensure foreign payment and manage risk. The SBA’s customizable “Export Business Planner” has a full chapter devoted to this topic. Download the complete planner for free at www.sba.gov/exportbusinessplanner.