Women-Owned Firms Making Their Mark in Federal Procurement

As a firm grows and seeks new markets for its products and services, public sector clients can prove to be a winning avenue for expansion. That’s what many women business owners in the U.S. are finding, according to a series of recent surveys conducted among active small business contractors.

Puzzling Elements.The groundbreaking research – conducted for American Express OPEN’s Open for Government Contracts initiative by Womenable – queried business owners who are registered on the U.S. federal government’s System for Award Management (SAM) and who had performed on a contract within the previous five years. Surveys were conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and – in addition to overall analysis among all small firms – special reports focusing on trends among women-owned firms were published.

According to these reports (which are listed and hyperlinked below), women-owned firms that are involved in contracting are every bit as accomplished in terms of employment and revenue size as their male counterparts. Specifically, over the past three surveys, we have learned that:

  • It takes time and money: In 2012, active small business contractors invested an average of $128,628 in time and money during the course of the year seeking federal procurement opportunities. This includes the time spent attending meetings and seminars, investigating opportunities online or in person, and preparing and submitting bids. Women business owners invested somewhat less – $112,112 – but were every bit as successful. On average, it took women-owned firms an average of 20 months and 4.3 bids before winning their first contract; very similar to the 25 months and 5 bids that it took men-owned firms.
  • Perseverance pays off: Once small firms are actively engaged in federal contracting, women-owned firms are every bit as accomplished in terms of business size as are their male colleagues. While in general, among all firms, women-owned firms are smaller than average, among active small business contractors, 31% of women and 30% of men employ 50 or more workers in their firms, and 42% and 48%, respectively, generate $1 million or more in revenue. Selling to the federal government can lead to substantial business growth!
  • Policies matter: Back in 1994, the federal government established a 5% spending goal for federal agencies to encourage contracting with women-owned small businesses. That goal has never been met, but in fiscal year 2012 it reached 4%. There’s hope that the goal will finally be reached by virtue of a recently-established WOSB Procurement Program, which gives federal agency procurement personnel more flexibility in letting out contracts for bids (including lifting prior caps on the value of contracts that could be awarded to women-owned firms). From the perspective of active women business owner contractors, the program is starting to find its footing. Back in the 2011 survey, when the program was just launched, just over one-third (37%) of women surveyed said they found the program useful in seeking federal contracting opportunities. Now, in the 2013 survey, the view has improved considerably – fully 61% find the program useful, including 28% who find it very or extremely useful. With this playing field-leveling policy, more and more women are finding federal procurement success.

Click on the links below to download and read these reports. You may also wish to read more about the American Express OPEN/SBA/WIPP ChallengeHer program or learn more about the status of the newly-strengthened Women-Owned Small Business Procurement program. According to recent procurement statistics, even though the overall 23% small business procurement goal was recently met, the 5% goal for federal spending with women-owned small businesses was not – nor has it ever – been met. A sure sign, if there ever was one, that more needs to be done to increase access for women-owned small businesses to this important avenue for growth.

2013 – Women-Owned Small Businesses in Federal Procurement: Building Momentum, Reaping Rewards

2011 – Women and Minority Small Business Contractors: Divergent Paths for Equal Success

2010 – Women and Minority Federal Small Business Contractors: Greater Challenges, Deeper Motivations, Different Strategies, and Equal Success

Woman to Woman: Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship Through the Power of the Purse

There’s a well-known saying that if you truly wish to support a cause you should “put your money where your mouth is” – meaning not only that talk means little without action to back it up, but that supporting a cause financially beats verbal praise alone.

So it is as well with women’s entrepreneurship: one of the best ways that women-owned firms can be supported is by purchasing their products and services.
pink purse
This pursuit is becoming easier for women-owned purveyors of consumer products through a growing number of online marketplaces focused solely or predominantly on products made by women-owned firms. Perhaps the most well-known is etsy.com, geared toward smaller scale handmade goods, but there are others recently coming online:

  • ananasa.com, an online marketplace based in the Middle East,
  • farandwidecollective.com, a site that sources products from developing economies,
  • pink51.com, which exhorts visitors to “shop with a purpose” – meaning that a portion of all sales are donated to women-focused causes,
  • shop.plumalley.co, sister site of plumalley.co, which invests in women-owned and -led businesses and is based in New York City, and
  • rosiemade.com, which offers goods made by women-owned firms in the USA, and which is meant to remind us of Rosie “We Can Do It” the Riveter.

The biggest potential impact may come through a new initiative spearheaded by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, in partnership with WEConnect International and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). In 2012 Walmart debuted an online marketplace for women-owned products under the “Empowering Women Together” moniker as a part of their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative launched in 2011. Now, they are expanding that effort to include a “woman-owned” label on products not only online but in stores. (See this recent Bloomberg Businessweek article for more information.) This could take the Power of the Purse to a whole new level.

State of Women-Owned Businesses Report Published

Hey, fellow womenablers, your long wait is over! The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses report has now been published. You can view the American Express OPEN web summary HERE, or click HERE to simply download the full report.women_racing

We now have the most up-to-date accounting of the number and growth trends among women-owned businesses in the United States. As of 2014, we (Womenable authored the report, American Express OPEN underwrote and published it) estimate that there are 9,087,200 majority-owned and privately-held women-owned firms, employing 7,854,200 employees in addition to the owner, and generating over $1.4 trillion ($1,410,940,800,000) in revenues. What are some of the other key trends uncovered in this year’s report? Among them:

  • Between 1997 and 2014, when the number of businesses in the United States increased by 47%, the number of women-owned firms increased by 68% – a rate 1-1/2 times the national average. Indeed, the growth in the number (up 68%), employment (up 11%) and revenues (up 72%) of women-owned firms over the past 17 years exceeds the growth rates of all but the largest, publicly-traded firms – topping growth rates among all other privately-held businesses over this period.
  • Nationally, the number of women-owned firms has increased by 68% since 1997. The states with the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms over the past 17 years are: Georgia (up 118%), Texas (98%), North Carolina (91%), Nevada (91%) and Mississippi (81%). In terms of growth in combined economic clout, however – meaning averaging together the rankings in growth in the number, revenues and employment of women-owned firms – the states in which all of these measures combined place women-owned firms in a much better than average position over the 1997 to 2014 period are: North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.
  • In 1997, there were just under 1 million (929,445) firms owned by women of color, accounting for one in six (17%) women-owned firms. That number has skyrocketed to an estimated 2,934,500 as of 2014, now comprising one in three (32%) women-owned firms. Firms owned by African American women number an estimated 1,237,900 as of 2014. These 1.2 million firms employ 287,100 workers in addition to the owner and generate an estimated $49.5 billion in revenue. Firms owned by Latinas number an estimated 1,033,100 as of 2014. These firms employ 433,600 workers in addition to the owner and generate an estimated $71.1 billion in revenue. Firms owned by Asian American women number an estimated 675,900 as of 2014. These firms employ 699,200 workers in addition to the owner and generate an estimated $115 billion in revenue.
  • While firms owned by women of color are smaller than non-minority women-owned businesses both in terms of average employment and revenues, their growth in number and economic clout is generally far outpacing that of all women-owned firms. Indeed, the growth in the number of African American (up 296% from 1997 to 2014), Asian American (+179%), Latina (+206%), Native American/ Alaska Native (124%), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (+247%) women-owned firms all top the growth in the number of non-minority women-owned firms (+37%) over the past 17 years.

New this year is a look at business start-up activity, which shows that there are an increasing number of women business owners at the starting gate. On average over the past 17 years, there has been a net increase* of 591 women-owned businesses each and every day. The number of net new women-owned firms has fallen in the wake of the recession – there was a net increase of 714 women-owned firms per day from 2002 to 2007, and a lesser 506 per day between 2007 and 2014 – but start-up activity is increasing. Just in the past year, there have been an estimated 1,288 net new women-owned firms launched each and every day.

What’s the bottom line? Women business owners are not only here to stay, they are moving into entrepreneurship in equal numbers. The challenge that remains is moving women-owned firms up the growth continuum, and gaining a greater understanding of impediments to growth and how best to follow a woman’s path from a start-up with promise to a successful business that moves beyond the “majority-owned, privately-held” category to being woman-led and perhaps publicly-traded.

* “Net increase” takes into account all of the new women-owned firms minus the number of women-owned firms that either ceased operations or ceased to be majority women-owned.