Immigrant entrepreneurs, earn government contracts in this step-by-step plan from the experts and learn to take your business to the next level!
Immigrant entrepreneur Lloyd Hawthorne launched his Bronx-based Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery in New York City in 1989, turning it into a successful, nationwide franchisor selling popular Jamaican fare. But his first really big break came in the 1990s, when he won contracts to supply food to the prison at New York’s Rikers Island and the New York City public school system.
Of course, landing such deals with municipalities requires more than a good product. It calls for an understanding of how to navigate the system. To learn more about the intracacies of managing that process, writer Anne Field talked to Jean Kristensen, president of Jean Kristensen Associates, a New York City–based consulting firm that helps small businesses wend their way through the local bureaucracy and win contracts with city agencies.
The key is having a plan. The first part of that plan should involve finding out who’s buying what—pinpointing your target audience.
Immigrant Business: Most small businesses would love to strike the type of deals Golden Krust signed. But how do you even get started?
Kristensen: The first thing is to get certified with the right program. For example, most cities have programs for women- and minority-owned businesses. In New York, they’re offered through New York City Business Solutions. The programs help government buyers identify women and minority-owned companies they might want to do business with. But first you need to fill out an application to be certified, including a history of your business, references, and financial information.
Ultimately, it’s a very valuable marketing tool that can distinguish you from other, larger companies doing business with the city. Plus, most municipalities have significant amounts of money set aside specifically for minority and women-owned businesses.
If you’re not women or minority-owned, you may be eligible for other small business programs your city might have
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Immigrant Business: What’s the next step?
Kristensen: The key is having a plan. The first part of that plan should involve finding out who’s buying what—pinpointing your target audience. Look at your city’s website—in New York, it’snycity.gov—and find out who’s responsible for procurement, as well as what they’re buying. Municipalities are required to be transparent, so they all have such resources.
Say there are 50 buyers on the list. Some will include agencies that provide a lot of information about what they need and how to contact them; others will be less forthcoming, requiring more digging.
No matter what, it’s important to contact each one. You do that by making phone calls, sending e-mails, and following up with specific questions.
- Are they interested in buying the type of product you sell?
- Who is in charge of purchasing that category of product?
- If you are a woman- or minority-owned business, make sure to identify yourself that way.
For example, I’m working with a company selling baked goods that’s interested in supplying to Rikers Island, like Golden Krust has done. So, I contacted the procurement department for the New York City Department of Corrections and asked them to put us in touch with the person in charge of buying bakery supplies. We’re now in the process of negotiating with them.
You need to develop a sales plan for the next year with events you’re going to attend, how you’re going to communicate with buyers, and how you’re going to follow up.
Immigrant Business: What else should your plan include?
Kristensen: You need a communications component to your plan, with a blueprint for interacting with the appropriate agencies. It should include:
- An accountability statement
- Contact information
- A description of your business
- Codes the agency uses for your particular type of product.
So, if you call and leave a message with a buyer, who doesn’t return the call, the next course of action is to send an e-mail with an accountability statement.
But also, you need to identify ways to interact with buyers beyond sending e-mails. For example, make sure you go to events that buyers attend. In New York City, there are a number of procurement fairs each year where buyers from city agencies come to meet with small businesses. And you need a plan for following up. Often, businesses get busy and don’t do that.
The bottom line: You should develop a sales plan for the next year with events you’re going to attend, how you’re going to communicate with buyers, and how you’re going to follow up.
Before you get started, make sure you have a good basic website.
Immigrant Business: Anything else to consider?
Kristensen: Before you get started, make sure you have a good basic website. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But you need a good way for people to communicate with you. And you should have a professional-sounding domain name and business cards. All that can set you apart from other companies just starting out.