In 2005, I decided to expand my company into the “big contracting arena”. After researching, I determined the SBA 8(a) status was critical to my company’s future success. Here are tips to help you successfully apply for and receive SBA Certification on your own. FYI… The government does not charge you to apply for this program. So what’s keeping you from starting today?
Let me repeat… You don’t have to pay an “expert” to fill out this basic government application form. When I started this process, I was somewhat intimidated. by the SBA website. However, being a small business owner I did not have a lot of cash on-hand to pay someone else to fill out a form for me.
AND…. just think about this other aspect… you will be submitting your most personal information in this process. I can only imagine that companies you pay to submit this form for you maybe hiring low-wage people who are not bonded or even are outsourced in a third world country to fill out your form. Would you open your tax records or financial records open to complete strangers? I won’t. Save your dollars, save your privacy, complete your application on your own, do it yourself!
Also, knowing that government agencies are moving into a paperless mode, it did not make sense to download and submit the paperwork in hard copy. This adds weeks to the application process. Take the time, do it online. I made the commitment to myself that I would not rush the process but complete the application in chunks, taking it one step at a time, so it would be accurate and get through the screening process, the first time.
The online application is very straight forward and will cost you nothing to apply for. You can start / stop the application process at anytime to gather required documents or company references. While you can take your time in the application process, I would recommend you set a goal to get it completed in a week. I was very diligent and got mine done in a couple days.
If you have a question about the SBA application process you can always call the agency and get answers, another free access to advice.
Is there pain in the process? YES. This form will delve into the most personal aspects of your business … business references, income tax returns, personal credibility and finances. So be prepared for the pain! But keep focused on the goal you have set…to gain SBA 8(a) status for your company.
Upon submitting the application, you may receive an email from the SBA stating you need to provide additional information. If you are a caucasian woman like me, you may be asked to write a Social Disadvantaged Narrative. The bad news is…they don’t really give you much information or advice on this document. The good news is …that I was again able to write the narrative on my own (and not pay someone else $1000- $5000 to write my own story) and so can you.
What is the Social Disadvantage Narrative?
This is a story about your life, in your own words, that describes how your life circumstances caused you to have to struggle.
The SBA defines social disadvantage as:
“Socially disadvantaged individuals are those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias because of their identity as members of a group. Social disadvantage must stem from circumstances beyond their control.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, individuals who are members of the following designated groups are presumed to be socially disadvantaged:
o Black Americans
o Hispanic Americans
o Native Americans (American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians)
o Asian Pacific Americans
o Members of other groups designated by the SBA.”
Author’s note: Members of other groups includes Caucasian women.
When reading about evidence of social disadvantage, it is important to keep in mind this quote… “However, an individual’s statement of personal experiences in combination with the generalized evidence may be sufficient to demonstrate social disadvantage.” This is why you SHOULD NOT HIRE SOMEONE ELSE to write YOUR story.
What does the narrative include?
There are three areas the SBA wants to see evidence of discrimination: education, employment and business work history. You can put together a compelling argument, just like I did, by focusing on four areas in your life. They are:
o Family Background / Influence: Describe the influence your family exerted on your career decisions. What were you expected to do with your life / career? What types of careers did your parents, siblings, grandparents or extended family members pursue? How did this differ from what you wanted to achieve later in life?
o Educational Background / Opportunities: Educational experiences directly influence your ability to make career choices. Describe your educational background. Do you have a college degree? How long did it take you to complete your education?
o Career Experience / Earning capacity: Career experiences directly influence your earning capacity and overall quality of life. Can you give an example of when you were subjected to harassment in your work environment that had a dramatic negative affect on your overall job performance?
o Business Work History / Your experience as a small business owner and potential jobs you were not able to bid on or receive.
Be prepared to live through buried personal pain
If you are like me, deciding to become an entrepreneur was a decision that evolved from your life experiences. Perhaps you worked for many years in companies and were not satisfied with the people you reported to or the salary you were paid. Your decision to start your own business was built upon opportunities that came your way or that you were denied.
As you start to go through the writing process, you may feel a full range of emotions erupt including: Anger, Fear, Frustration, Mental Pain, Anguish, Sorrow, Doubt
Why do I mention this? Because I experienced these emotions when I wrote my narrative and I want you to be prepared. Creating this document is like opening old wounds, remembering “bad stuff” and reliving events you really don’t want to dwell on.
You have worked through these bad times to make a better life for yourself and your family. And it is so frustrating to recount times that you did not win, those times you were bypassed for promotions and this negativity dredges up anger and self-doubt. But it is only temporary pain and think of it as a positive reinforcement that you made the right choice to start your own business.
With that said…. Here is another tip… While you do need to set a time limit on getting this document prepared, give yourself a break and write on it until you start to feel too emotional. Stop and come back later to continue writing. Keep the tissues nearby and decide that when you complete this task you have earned a little personal reward for your efforts.
Two Key Points
Here are the two key points to remember as you prepare the narrative:
1. Think of this as a writing exercise: Plan on spending at least 3-4 hours writing, editing and preparing the final narrative. Keep it in perspective, this is just a paper, don’t stress!
2. Put on your Whiner Cap: This is the one time that it is OK to be a whiner. You have permission to whine and write about all of the people and events that “did you wrong”.
And finally…. be sure to add some quotes to your narrative to support your claims. I used eight quotes in my seven page narrative. The best way to locate quotes is to do a Google search on key words that you want to emphasize in your narrative. For example I used the following descriptors: women salaries, women education, Texas women careers
Getting certified as an SBA 8(a) firm is worth the pain. Remember that… You do not have to hire someone to apply for SBA 8(a) status or write your Social Disadvantage Narrative. You can do it yourself successfully. If you need some advice on writing the narrative, check out the Design2Train website http://www.design2train.com for information on our toolkit.