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When Associations Matter: Deep Pockets For Small Business Change

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Senate Hearing, July 2014, on Women Owned Small Business

As the year wraps up, we business owners often comb through our budgets to see what to cut, what to add, in the year ahead. Association memberships often get a close look – and they should, every year.

Successful federal contractors quickly figure out that every aspect of doing business with the government is about the long game. And that’s not just business development, proposals and contracting – it also applies to the essential advocacy to make the acquisition system work better. Deep pockets and persistence win the day. Very few individual small businesses have the time and resources it takes to be constantly visible (and invisible) in the right places on Capitol Hill, pushing for change.

That’s one reason why you need to take a close look at what your association memberships are delivering for you.

A case in point: the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program passed in 2000, but not actually implemented until 2011…and that wouldn’t have happened without over a decade of steady effort (including the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce lawsuit against the Small Business Administration). And the original program still fell short of the three other small business programs – for HUBZone, Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned, or Small Disadvantaged businesses, as it lacked authority for sole source contract awards and limited the value of contract that could be awarded.

The partial victory made the program’s advocates, most particularly Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and its coalition partners, as well as the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, even more determined to push for parity. Here’s a snapshot of the effort led by Ann Sullivan, WIPP’s Government Relations chief.

WIPP is a coalition of groups and individuals representing over 4.7 million businesswomen. They were lead advocate for the program’s initial implementation. WIPP kept its members engaged with legislators, staffers, and policymakers in the White House and the Administration.

Between 2011 and 2014, articles and briefings from Ann and her team readied WIPP’s members for more than 300 individual visits and 1000 letters to lawmakers. Add to that over a hundred office meetings between WIPP staff and Congressional members and staffers. Capitol Hill responded by holding several dozen public hearings, many filled beyond capacity by women business owners from across the country whose presence spoke as powerfully as their voices.

And so finally, on December 13th, 2014, Congress passed long-sought changes to give the WOSB Program equal footing with the other three small business programs as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Implementation will still take many months of regulation and rulemaking…and WIPP and like-minded advocates will be staying on top of it every step of the way.

Success like that makes clear how critical it is for small businesses to join and take an active part in  associations that push for changes that make federal procurement work better for them.

So when you look at the value you got from your association memberships this year, ask yourself this: how effectively did those associations advocate your interests on Capitol Hill? Did they do as well as WIPP? How well-informed did they keep you on the issues that affect your business? And, perhaps most importantly, how do they invite your involvement – which they really need to be truly effective?

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 8:57am

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