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Growing Strong

Growing your business doesn’t necessarily mean increasing space or staff. It could mean venturing into an area of business you hadn’t thought about before. Two potentially lucrative options to consider are: government contracting and exporting. So where do you see your business a year from now? In five years? 10 years? What steps will you take to get there? Now is the time to answer these questions and to explore new avenues for expansion.

Plan for Growth

Don’t wait until you’re running out of room or resources to think about growing your business. As soon as the dust settles on your grand opening, the time is right to start laying the foundation for your firm’s expansion following these five steps:

1. Revisit your business plan from time to time. Look carefully at the business plan you opened with. What do you know now you didn’t know then? What new goals/plans come to mind as a result? Have you realized your expectations and if not, why not? Which supporting documents need to be updated?

2. Fine tune your operations. Is your business operating at peak efficiency? Do you have the necessary tools/space to meet current and future needs? What else do you need and how will you pay for it?

3. Rate your team. Have you prepared written job descriptions for all positions? Do you have the right people in place? What types of training programs are you able to provide? Do you have a plan for attracting/hiring new personnel?

4. Enlarge your market. Are you reaching all possible markets for your product or service? Is your marketing budget adequate and are your promotional strategies working? If you answered no to either question, what adjustments will you make?

5. Assess your financial fitness. Have you reached your breakeven point? What’s your cash flow situation? Can you afford to expand now? If not, what measures will you take to make a future expansion financially possible?

4 signs you’re ready to expand
If you’ve kept up with your homework – i.e., followed the steps listed above – you’ll know when the time is right. To be absolutely certain, keep an eye out for these four sure signs that your business is ready to expand:

1. You are enjoying a steady stream of repeat customers. A sudden surge in customers may be due to the season or to increased demand for a short-term specialty product. But if you see an upward trend in visits by regulars over several months, the time may be right for expansion.

2. Your customers have encouraged you to expand. What do your customers say? Are they requesting products or services you don’t yet provide? Longer hours? A second location? These could be indications that it’s time to grow.

3. Your bottom line looks healthy. Take a good look at how much money your business is earning after you pay your bills. Have you made a profit for several months in a row? If so, why not consider investing some of that money to grow your business?

4. You have more business than you can handle. Are you turning business away? Working way too many hours? If this is not the result of poor management but of too much business instead, then it’s time to grow. Hire more workers and/or find a new space.

 

Don't Be Scammed

Don’t wait until a storm is bearing down to cultivate relationships with back-up suppliers; do it now! In the aftermath of a disaster, everyone is looking for help. To avoid being put on a wait list for repairs, become a “preferred customer” by building a network of reliable repair services and suppliers you can call on anytime.

Government contracting
Every level of government buys goods and services, and Florida currently ranks 7th among all U.S. states for procurement of government contracts. The market is there and the rewards can be substantial, but is government contracting the right choice for your business?

Selling to the U.S.
Landing a federal government contract takes time and effort. To have the best chance for success, pay attention to the following elements:

Evaluate Understand what, when and how much government agencies buy. Is your product/service in demand?

Plan Target government agencies and prime contractors that buy what you offer; develop a plan to reach them.

Register Complete the required/mandatory government database registrations including: System for Award Management and Dynamic Small Business Search.
Prepare Develop a corporate capability statement; create government-focused collateral 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. Monitor computerized bid matching services (daily searches and email alerts). Identify opportunities through government bid boards, posting databases and networking. Obtain a General Services Administration (GSA) schedule contract, if applicable.

Achieve Develop a government-accepted accounting system and be ready to handle possible contract audits, reports and modifications.

Ask for help Procurement Specialists at the Florida PTAC can help small businesses pursue government contracting opportunities at all levels.

Selling to Florida
One avenue to expansion is as close as your computer. MyFloridaMarketPlace, a division of the Florida Department of Management Services, has nearly 15,000 registered buyers who issue, on average, 5,000 purchase orders each month at three levels:

1. Term Contracts

2. Informal Purchases Less than $35,000. No requirement for competitive bidding.

3. Formal Purchases Greater than $35,000; require competitive bidding.

Determine which level best matches your business abilities, then register online as a vendor.

For details, visit www.dms.myflorida.com/business_operations/state_purchasing/.

 

Kristy Casillas
Kristy Casillas grows her business through government contacts. | Photo: Mark Wemple

Q

I’ve heard that government contracting can be a lucrative way to grow a business, but I don’t know how to get started or where to find contracting opportunities. Can you help me?

AYes, and you’re right — there is money to be made doing business with the government, but to succeed, you must know how to navigate the system and have the necessary infrastructure in place. Going after government contracts is not easy, but it’s doable. Just make sure you have a plan and understand how the procurement process works.

Landing a government contract on any level — federal, state, county, municipal — is not like pitching your product to a civilian buyer. A flashy brochure isn’t enough. Government agencies want to be assured that your business is capable of giving them what they need, when they need it and for the right price. To succeed, you must understand exactly what you’re bidding on and then provide a corporate capability statement as evidence that your company can deliver it.

If you’re just getting started as a government contractor, my advice is this: don’t try to go it alone. Find a Florida PTAC procurement specialist who can walk you through the procurement process — help you register as a vendor, acquire any necessary certifications, put together a plan, fine-tune your capability statement and more. That’s exactly what I did for Kristy Casillas three years ago. As CEO of FL Solutions, a brand management firm in Tarpon Springs, Kristy says she had tried to get into government contracting on her own, but wasn’t having much luck. “Yolanda explained the bid system and helped me formulate my capability statement —
I didn’t even know there was such a thing!” Now, three years later, 30% of Kristy’s business is government contracting and she’s on track to get more.

Answer provided by Yolanda Cowart
Procurement Specialist, Florida PTAC at the University of South Florida

Exporting
Florida is home to nearly 60,000 exporters — second highest number in the U.S. — and nearly all of them are small- and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Florida exporters here enjoy a multimodal system that ensures seamless movement of people and products between any two points on the planet as well as ready access to the nation’s second largest Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) network.

 

Q

I’d like to explore the possibility of becoming an exporter. Where do I go for help and what should I do first?

ABusinesses in Florida have a unique advantage over other states when it comes to exporting their products and services. With access to the state’s expansive infrastructure — including 15 deep-water ports and 20 commercial service airports — Florida businesses can reach their customers anywhere, anytime. And no other state provides access to the growing Latin American market like the Sunshine State.

If you are interested in expanding your business through trade, here are some steps you can take:

Evaluate your readiness for exporting with export counseling assistance or participate in educational seminars, conferences and webinars by contacting Enterprise Florida, U.S. Export Assistance Centers or a Florida SBDC office near you.

Create your export business plan and strategy by applying for an Export Marketing Plan through the Florida SBDC Network, Enterprise Florida or U.S. Export Assistance Centers.

Enter a new trade market and meet your buyers by attending international trade shows and missions with Enterprise Florida and the U.S. Commercial Service.

Take advantage of the USCS Gold Key Matchmaking Program during trade missions.

Work with one of Enterprise Florida’s 14 international offices in 13 countries.

Learn about funding programs for exporters of goods and services by contacting the Florida Export Finance Corporation and EXIM Bank.

Contact Enterprise Florida and the U.S. Export Assistance Center to learn about trade rules and agreements.

Get insight on intellectual property and copyright laws by contacting Enterprise Florida and the U.S. Export Assistance Center.

Answer provided by Manny Mencia
Senior Vice President, International Trade & Development, Enterprise Florida

 

International Trade Show Opportunities

Enterprise Florida’s international trade and development team organizes/hosts 20+ major trade shows and missions annually to help Florida businesses promote their products and services worldwide. One of the largest events — the annual MEDICA health care show in Düsseldorf — drew 142,000 visitors in 2018 and generated more than $143 million in actual and projected export sales for the 23 small and mid-sized businesses that exhibited in the Florida Pavilion. Another 26 Florida businesses made important contacts simply by attending the show.

 

Make it happen
Serious about becoming an exporter? Don’t go it alone; for best results, partner with:

U.S. Commercial Service With 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 general information on regulations, licensing, free trade agreements and other topics related to exporting, visit www.export.gov.

Florida SBDC Network In 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. Approximately 100 hours is spent preparing each customized plan, which includes target market recommendations, overseas trade opportunities and an action plan for market entry. Each plan costs $4,000; qualifying companies are eligible for a $3,500 scholarship, bringing your company’s cost to $500.

Should I go global?
Questions to ask before you take the plunge:

1. Is my business ready? Complete the free “Exporter Assessment” at www.export.gov/article?id=New-Exporter-Assessment to determine if your small business truly is in a position to expand internationally.

2. Do I have a plan? Before jumping into uncharted waters, take some time to put your plans on paper. Assemble facts, identify constraints and set specific goals to ensure positive outcomes.

3. Have I done my homework? You wouldn’t take a foreign vacation without researching your destination, so why take your company overseas with no prior knowledge? Study up on markets, trade barriers, regulations and other exporting details specific to wherever you’re headed.

4. Where do I even start? If you know absolutely nothing about exporting, but would like to learn, a good place to start is at www.sba.gov/learning-center. Scroll down to “Grow Your Business,” then click on “Take Your Business Global” for an easy-to-understand introduction to exporting.

5. Where can I find help? Contact Florida SBDC or Enterprise Florida.