Ladies, does your small business need a boost? New government program launches this week

Starting this week, some women entrepreneurs may be eligible for a much-needed lift from the Federal Government.

The new Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program, which launches on Friday, Feb. 4, will make it easier for small businesses owned by women to be awarded lucrative federal contracts.

"Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy," administrator Karen Mills said in a press release. "As we continue to look to small businesses to grow, create jobs, and lead America into the future, women-owned businesses will play a key role. That's why providing them with all the tools necessary to compete for and win federal contracts is so important."

"Women seem to have an almost self-imposed glass ceiling when it comes to expansion of their businesses," a senior official in the Obama administration said Monday, noting that, according to studies by the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, women tend to request-and receive-smaller business loans than men.

The first contracts will be awarded this fall. To qualify, the companies must be at least 51-percent owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens. A woman must also manage the day-to-day operations, hold the highest officer position, and work there full time; there are size standards, certification verification, and financial requirements to consider as well.

The goal is to have five percent of federal contracting money going to women-owned small businesses.

So, what does that really mean for women who own their own companies? It won't make much of a difference to mompreneurs who are trying to turn their crafts-making passion into cash, and freelancers who contract to write or edit for larger companies are still facing the same hurdles they always have. But if your company is in one of the many industries that the government says is under-served by women-owned businesses, you may be in luck. Some of those industries are:

  • Residential building construction
  • Apparel and accessories manufacturing
  • Wood product manufacturing
  • Movie production and distribution
  • Architectural services
  • Software publishing
  • Public relations and advertising agencies
  • Scientific and technical consulting services
  • Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing
  • General freight trucking companies
  • Legal services
  • Accounting and tax preparation
  • Book publishing

The complete list is 18 pages long; you can find it at the Small Business Administration's website.

Surprised by some of the industries on the list? Keep in mind that while women have made great gains in the workplace, they're still very much in the minority when it comes to owning and running the companies for which they work.

On Feb. 4, the Small Business Administration will offer full instructions on how to apply for in the Women-Owned Small Business Program; stay tuned to sba.gov/wosb for details.

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