Diane Lewis epitomizes the popular saying, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” and she credits the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for providing her the “opportunity” to succeed. Over the past decade Lewis has utilized the programs and resources offered by the SBA, including participation in the 8(a) Business Development program.
Lewis started Action Facilities Management in the basement of her home in 2001 as a sole proprietor, and incorporated the business in 2003. Initially the business was a two person operation, Lewis in the lead and her son Donald Hill, who was 17 at the time, as the secretary. The company received assistance from the SBA in developing a business plan and Lewis began taking advantage of educational workshops on government contracting. However, Lewis had greater plans of involvement with the SBA in mind; she was familiar with the SBA 8(a) Business Development program and knew it was the right direction for her business.
The 8(a) Business Development program is a nine-year program created to assist eligible socially and economically disadvantaged individuals in developing and growing their businesses. Through the program businesses receive assistance including counseling, training, and match-making opportunities with federal buyers.
A company must be in business for two years before they can enter the program; Lewis used this time wisely and fiercely prepared the business for entry into the program. AFM worked security sub-contracting jobs and used the income to purchase marketing materials and conduct outreach to government agencies. “This initial preparation and marketing to agencies really helped me stand out. I went back to them after entering the 8(a) program and already had my foot in the door,” stated Lewis.
Luck was right around the corner as Lewis was about to earn the opportunity she dreamed of. Lewis successfully completed the application and began the journey into the 8(a) Business Development program. During her nine years in the program Lewis took advantage of every resource that was offered. She attended match-making events and received one-on-one counseling that helped mold her company into what it is today. Lewis won contracts reserved for 8(a) companies with federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Navy, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Army Core of Engineers, Library of Congress, West Virginia High Technology Consortium and many others.
“If I could give small businesses one piece of advice, it would be to utilize the resources available through the West Virginia District Office of the SBA,” Lewis states. “They are there to help you, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Recently graduating the 8(a) Business Development program, AFM is thriving. Lewis now employees approximately 300 employees (almost half from West Virginia), has tripled revenue over the past three fiscal years, and provides services to over 20 clients in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Hill also received a promotion; he is now the chief operating officer and runs the company’s Washington D.C. location. Diane praises her hard working staff stating, “I give credit to my staff and employees that represent Action Facilities Management at the various federal facilities every day. They do their job with pride and in turn it allows us to grow the company.”
“Diane has worked very hard to get to where she is,” stated Judy McCauley, West Virginia district director of the SBA. “I am so happy that the 8(a) program gave her the opportunity to be so successful.”
Lewis is also the winner of the 2013 SBA West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year award. She received recognition in May during the Teaming to Win Conference.
McCauley concludes, saying “We are the lucky ones to have Diane represent the great state of West Virginia as the 2013 Small Business Person of the Year.”