Friday, April 22, 2011
Dear SBA 8(a) certified business owner:
Over the last few months, VSBA has received many posts from 8(a) certified firms (some newly minted others having been in the program for some time; stating that they are unable to obtain any [substantive] support from the SBA Business Development Specialist (BDS) assigned to them… that, all they have received to date is an orientation, a schedule of generic & basic 7(j) business training, and a schedule of documents that need to be submitted with their annual review – and in many cases don’t hear from their BDS again until it is time to conduct their annual review. And, they are asking , “where is the supposed business development?”
Well, here is the absolute sober truth – the SBA 8(a) program has been reduced to hawking business loans (debt) and making sure you have filed your annual paperwork to stay in the program. In fact, because it is such a lucrative point of origination for some lenders; they have taken up lobbying to insure former banking personnel are in leadership positions in many of the regional and district level management positions (ask the management personnel at your district what they did prior to coming to the SBA). Although the SBA 8(a) program was the reason that all of the district offices were put in place, they no longer measure the success of the district by the number of successful firms in their portfolio; but rather, they measure success now by how me loans (debt) they can put on you books.
As far as the SBA Business Development Specialists goes, they are that now in name only. Many of them don’t have a business background to speak of and know nothing about running a business. That’s because they don’t have to anymore – they are hired to be administrative scorekeepers – to keep [you] the “heard” in line. Because you see, you are the lifeblood—without your firm doling around in the program, they wouldn’t have a job. In fact, many career folks in the government look at getting assigned to a district office as a means of completing there last few years in a manner that will require little effort on there part.
To be clear, you and your firm are by-and-large on your own.
From an accountability perspective, the SBA is 2 years behind in reporting to Congress how the district offices are performing, and this is by internal design. You see, by the time Congress gets the 408 Report it is so outdated that it is insubstantial anyway. Moreover, most of the people responsible for the lack-luster performance would have moved on to another post by then. To be fair, there are still some district offices who try to do what they were initially mandated for; but they are becoming more and more a rarity.
What does this mean for you? Since the SBA expects you to self-perform your business development – you need to be mindful of the following in order to maximize the utility of your tenure in the program:
- Make no assumptions about ANYTHING; verify everything you are told by [ALL] SBA personnel through objective sources (written if possible) e.g., FAR, US Code, etc.
- Make sure that your BDS and District Director are both aware that s/he ultimately works for you and that your time is valuable
- Make sure you understand clearly what services your district office is supposed to provide to you firm
- Make sure you understand the recourse your firm has if you do not receive a reasonable service level
- If you do not understand the federal landscape, hire someone who does to help you navigate it
- Take the time to, or hire someone to, develop a clear “realistic” market penetration strategy for your firm
In closing, Robert E. Wood, an Army general who led Sears in its heydey wrote this about the importance of having a sound strategy, “Business is like war in one respect. If its grand strategy is correct, any number of tactical errors can be made and yet the enterprise proves successful.”
As a small business trying to navigate the federal landscape, you will definitely need this implied insurance policy; in sum, make sure your strategy is sound.
If you would like to know what services your district office is supposed to provide you and your firm, you may drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org