3 ways the federal government can better communicate to small businesses

3 ways the federal government can better communicate to small businesses

By Paul Lester

There’s no doubt small businesses drive the American economy. In fact, small businesses represent 99 percent of U.S. employer firms and generate more than 60 percent of all new private sector jobs.

Small business owners exhibit all the qualities that make this country great. Through entrepreneurship, innovation, resiliency, passion and determination, they achieve incredible success despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

But what role does the federal government play in this success? Last year, the federal government awarded more than $91 billion in contracts to small businesses. These contracts help small businesses grow revenues and create jobs, and also enable federal agencies to achieve goals while saving taxpayer dollars.

Also, small businesses and federal agencies work hand-in-hand to tackle our greatest challenges and develop cutting-edge technology. Through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program, 11 federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, provide small businesses funding to research and develop groundbreaking products, which can then be introduced to the commercial sector. For instance, NASA partnered with Kelly Aerospace to develop an aircraft anti-icing system called Thermawing that is now used on small Cessna planes.

With this in mind, now more than ever, it is critical that agencies communicate how they are helping small business owners develop healthy, sustainable businesses that contribute ideas and energy to feed our country’s economic machine. For example, SBA’s nationwide network of resource partners such as SCORE, Small Business Development Centers and Women’s Business Centers provide free mentoring and training to help small business owners start, manage and grow their companies.

SBA also helps disadvantaged businesses such as those enrolled in the 8(a), Historically Underutilized Business Zones, women-owned and service-disabled veteran programs sell their products and services to federal agencies. These agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Department of Interior and many others, all have their own programs that serve disadvantaged businesses.

Using a customer-centric approach, as described in the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, agencies can improve communication with small businesses, and therefore provide better service to constituents if they:

  1. Communicate in plain language. Using standard plain language principles, explain complex processes in an easy-to-understand way and make government small business programs more approachable.
  2. Develop tools to help small business owners accomplish everyday tasks. Small business owners are incredibly passionate about what they do but have limited time and resources. Agencies should find ways to help small business owners enhance their abilities and engage with each agency with limited effort. For instance, the Small Business Administration has launched an easy-to-use business plan tool that walks small business owners through the steps of developing a roadmap for success. The tool is currently in beta. Try the tool now.
  3. Create cost-effective and measurable digital outreach campaigns. It’s important for agencies to clearly explain what they do to support small businesses. One way to do this is through digital outreach campaigns that use targeted online communication outlets such as social media channels, email newsletters and blogs. These programs are repeatable, measurable and can significantly increase awareness for each agency’s programs and services. ENC has partnered with the SBA to develop several initiatives that describe how the agency helps small businesses start up, grow and succeed. One campaign on government contracting fueled a 72-percent increase in traffic to target pages.

With these tactics and other digital communication best practices, government can explain the value it provides not only to small businesses, but also to the American public.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Newman through Creative Commons. 

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