New Amex Survey Shows Small Biz Gov’t Contractors are Spending More, Bidding Less and Maintaining Success Rates by Julie Weeks

Women business owners who are interested in exploring new avenues for business growth would do well to consider this country’s largest purchaser of goods and services: the federal government. The U.S. government purchased $517 billion in goods and services in fiscal year 2012 – and $16.2 billion went to women-owned small businesses. And even though, on average, women business owners who are active federal contactors have been seeking contracts for less time than their male counterparts, they are every bit as successful in terms of overall revenue and employment, and are rapidly catching up in terms of federal contract award value.

So finds a new survey conducted among men and women business owners who are already active in the federal procurement marketplace. For example:

In each of three surveys conducted among small business owners who are actively selling goods and services to federal government agencies, for the American Express OPEN for Government Contracts program, women-owned firms have been found to invest less time and money researching opportunities and submitting proposals for federal contracts. In 2012, women-owned firms spent $112,112 pursuing federal contracts, compared to the $137,040 investment made by men-owned firms.

The average investment made by small businesses in seeking federal contracts has, however, risen dramatically over the past three years, with a greater than average increase seen among women-owned firms (up 59% compared to a 49% increase among all small contractors).

While women invest less time and money seeking federal contracts, their prime and sub-contracting bidding activity and success rates match the average for all active small firm contractors.

On average, it takes a small business new to the federal procurement marketplace about two years (24 months) and 4.7 unsuccessful bids before winning that all-important first contract. It took women business owners less time and effort (20 months and 4.3 unsuccessful bids) to land their first contract compared to their male counterparts (25 months and 5.0 unsuccessful bids).

Another important finding from the survey is that the U.S. government’s Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) procurement program , established in 2011, may finally be gaining some traction. Two years ago, just over one-third (37%) of women business owners who had self-certified as a woman-owned small business (WOSB) found that designation to be useful in seeking contracting opportunities. Now, a 67% majority of WOSBs find the designation useful, including 28% who find it very or extremely useful.

Is a federal agency a potential customer for your business? Here are a number of resources to explore to help you answer that question:


The Small Business Administration’s WOSB Procurement Program page contains a brief overview of the steps required to get into the program, including a PowerPoint presentation which, though directed to agency procurement officials, contains useful information;

American Express OPEN’s OPEN for Government Contracting web portal contains a wealth of knowledge and resources for women and men business owners to access to increase their knowledge of the steps involved;

Women Impacting Public Policy, with the support of American Express OPEN, launched the “Give Me 5%” initiative several years ago. (The title refers to the 5% federal spending goal with women-owned small businesses). The portal provides tips and tools, as well as news about upcoming webinars and other educational opportunities;

The SBA, along with American Express OPEN and Women Impacting Public Policy earlier this year announced a series of seminars and other support for women interested in gaining access to the federal procurement marketplace. Learn more about the ChallengeHER program at this link;

Many local communities may find they have a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) near them. While focused primarily on accessing Department of Defense procurement opportunities, there is a wealth of information to be explored, and support that can be proffered at little or no cost.


The survey report, “Women-Owned Small Businesses in Federal Procurement: Building Momentum, Reaping Rewards ,” may be downloaded free of charge at the preceding hyperlink. The first report in the series, “Trends in Federal Contracting for Small Businesses ,” is also available. Look for the remaining two reports – on trends in federal contracting among minority-owned firms, and how small businesses are leveraging subcontracting and teaming to gain federal contracts – in the coming weeks.



~ Julie R. Weeks is President and CEO of Womenable , a for-profit social enterprise focused on enabling women’s entrepreneurship by working with governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations and others on understanding and addressing the challenges facing women seeking to start or grow their enterprises. Weeks is also American Express OPEN’s research advisor on women’s enterprise issues and is the author of the aforementioned report.