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SBA 8(a) Program Helps Business Grow

Photo of Strategic Communications Founder Kathy Mills (center) with SBA staff.

Brief description of the business: Strategic Communications is a value-added reseller of IT products and services, providing fully integrated voice, video and data solutions to healthcare, commercial, education and government sectors.

SBA Assistance: In business since 1994, the company received 8(a) certification in 2004. At that time, 95% of its business was in the private sector, so CEO and Founder Kathy Mills immediately assigned a dedicated person to pursue government 8(a) contract opportunities. Unfortunately, Ms. Mills did not have an 8(a) mentor and was unaware of the correct path to follow to be successful in obtaining awards. She did not engage with the SBA Kentucky District Office and was unaware of how SBA personnel could assist her business, so it took the company three years before obtaining a contract. Ms. Mills eventually contacted the Kentucky District Office 8(a) Business Development Specialist, Robert Coffey, who introduced Ms. Mills to a recent 8(a) graduate looking for an 8(a) partner for a contract opportunity. Fortunately, they won the award and began their venture in government contracting. Mr. Coffey provided Strategic Communications with advice and contacts over a five-year period and helped the company manage exponential growth. Ms. Mills stated that the SBA 8(a) program was a crucial component of that growth.

Number of employees: There are currently 38 full-time and 2 part-time employees.

Staying power: The company has received numerous awards for rapid growth and superior service during its 20 year history, particularly over the past five years. Kathy Mills stated, “The 8(a) program provides an excellent business development strategy that, if executed properly, allows a small business to grow immensely, create jobs and stimulate the economy. The true benefit of the program is in adopting the ‘pay it forward’ attitude, where the 8(a) graduate is committed to assisting an 8(a) newcomer for three years, allowing that young company to succeed. The newcomer then begins the cycle over again, becoming the mentor to new 8(a) protégé companies entering in the program.” From 2008 – 2014, the company’s government revenues grew from $800,000 to over $50 million, and Strategic Communications recently graduated from the 8(a) program.

Response to adversity or problems: In addition to the challenges every business experiences in early years, Strategic Communications struggled to learn how the contracting world worked and the importance of finding a mentor. During the deep recession of 2008 – 2010, Strategic Communications focused on growth and leveraging relationships despite the very challenging economic conditions during that period.

Community Involvement: Strategic Communications is one of the fastest growing woman owned technology companies in the U.S., and Ms. Mills has made giving back to her employees and the community a focal point of the company. Every other month, Strategic showcases its support for the community by encouraging employees to volunteer with a charity of the employees’ choice. The company also donates a percent of net profits to charities, recently supporting charitable organizations such as G.O. Ministries, Service for Peace, Kosair Charities, Crusade for Children, Salvation Army, Family and Children’s Place, Wounded Warrior Project, St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, and Volunteers of America. Hiring veterans is also a focal point for the organization. Strategic received recognition as a finalist for CivilianJobs.com Most Valuable Employers for Military in 2013, and in 2014 they were recognized as one of the winners for the award.

Others recognize Strategic Communications’ commitment to its employees and community. The company received recognition as an Inc. 500/5000 member four years in a row, was a recipient of the 10 Best Companies for Employees as well as Best Places to Work in Kentucky, and has received 11 other local, regional and national awards in the past three years alone. Ms. Mills also believes in giving back by mentoring businesses and is doing so with a new 8(a) firm. The two companies formed a Joint Venture, and Ms. Mills stated that the new 8(a) company has already obtained six contracts, added over $100,000 in profit and hired two employees to focus on more contracting opportunities.

Learn more about SBA’s loan programs, free counseling services and other small business programs at http://www.sba.gov/, your lender, and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE Chapter or Women’s Business Center.