Dana Pittman would tell any firm looking to enter into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8 (a) Business Development Program that it’s not about the number of sole-source federal government contracts the company can obtain, it’s the relationships that will develop and the high-level training that marks the program’s many benefits.
The 8(a) Business Development Program is an important resource for small businesses seeking business-development assistance. Named for Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, this program was created to help small and disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It also helps these companies gain access to federal and private procurement markets. The 8 (a) program allows businesses many opportunities, including mentoring, counseling, training, financial assistance and surety bonding. Businesses can stay in the 8 (a) program for up to nine years.
The 8(a) program offers a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Pittman is an African-American female Veteran who is the controlling shareholder for her commercial flooring firm Sustainable Floors (doing business as Sustainable Interiors) located in Fife, Washington.
The company furnishes and installs all types of flooring, and has expanded its services to include installation of interior fixtures and furniture. The key component to the business, though, Pittman said, is that her company only uses materials that are environmentally safe and incorporates a sustainability culture into her company. Ten percent of the company’s profits are donated to local and foreign non-profits. “Holistic sustainability is meeting basic environmental, economic and social needs now and in the future without undermining the natural systems upon which life depends,” according to the company’s website.
The sustainable message seems to be resonating with federal, state and local governments and private sector businesses that contract with Pittman. From starting out of her Lakewood, Washington home with fellow owner Colin Higginbottom seven years ago, Sustainable Floors generates more than $7 million in revenues each year, and has hired 27 employees. Including sub-contractors, she may have up to 100 individuals employed. She has had contracted several jobs at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, remodeling one of the bases’ movie theaters, Madigan Healthcare System and several barracks.
Pittman said she has a mantra that she lives by in the business world: When it comes to getting contracts, your previous work is important, but it is also about who you know. “It’s not about getting the contract, but about getting to know that contract officer or the people involved in the decision-making process,” Pittman said. “Relationships are way more important than the deal; if you show passion in what you are doing, the deals will come.”
Providing business advice like this is one of Pittman’s newfound passions. After 15 years in the Army, six years in health care, and approaching eight years as a small business owner, she is devoting more time to counseling and mentoring others. She is on the Board of Directors for an entrepreneurship non-profit that teaches construction-based small business owners about the many different aspects to running a small business. She said one of the biggest downfalls to small businesses trying to get government or private business contracts is not catering your sales pitch to that agency or company. “If you haven’t taken two seconds to figure out what (you are trying to contract for), you aren’t interested in the relationship, but the bottom dollar, and that’s not going to get you very far anymore,” Pittman said.
One relationship Pittman bends over backwards to maintain is with the SBA Seattle District Office’s 8 (a) Program staff. Business Opportunity Specialist Linda Laws provides oversight, training and any other assistance Sustainable Floors needs while it is in the 8 (a) Program. The Seattle District Office currently manages about 100 8 (a) clients. “I can tell the 8 (a) clients who love what they do, and that defines Dana Pittman perfectly,” Laws said. “We love to see her passion, her perseverance, and have really enjoyed watching her grow and excel.”
For more information about Sustainable Floors, visit their website at www.sustainableint.com, and for more information about SBA’s 8 (a) Program, visit http://www.sba.gov/content/8a-business-development.