Should You Use a Consultant to Complete Your 8(a) Application?
You may have heard that the SBA rejects 70% and questions 90% of all 8(a) Applications. There are all types of companies that will tell you that you as a small business owner that you do not have the skill set to complete the application successfully. The main reason they tell you this is because they want you to pay them thousands of dollars to complete the application for you. The truth is you will still have to do the majority of the work gathering all the documents and telling or writing your narrative anyway. I suggest you learn how the program works and do the application yourself. Face it, if you are not capable of completing this application and responding to the requirements of the SBA you probably should not be doing Federal work. Don’t be insulted, read on.
Some business owners who apply on their own, actually do more harm than good by not knowing the 8(a) Program rules and regulations and therefore can cause themselves to be ineligible. Educate yourself, talk to your local SBA District and get advice when you are unsure about a situation (but be careful not to divulge too much information about your own company, ask generic questions.) Ask for help from your PTAC counselor and SBDC counselor and don’t forget the power of internet research. READ, READ, READ!
Not everyone can get 8(a) Certified. As of April 2015, there are less than 7,000 active SBA 8(a) Program participants. Submitting an 8(a) Application that has major problems that have been “fixed to meet SBA 8(a) Regulations” may possibly end up costing your business concern the ability to ever get 8(a) certified. The bottom line is that it is very important to get your 8(a) Application done right the first time it is submitted. If after reading this document, confiding in your PTAC or SBDC consultant and doing internet research, you do not fill qualified to complete your application perhaps you will want to hire a consultant. Below are some tips on finding a consultant that is a good fit for you and your company. Remember no matter what the consultant tells you, you will be doing the majority of the work.
No consultant can guarantee that your 8(a) Application will be approved by the SBA. The Small Business Administration (SBA) makes final determination on all 8(a) Applications and therefore no one other than the SBA can guarantee that your 8(a) Application will be approved. If any consultant guarantees that they can get your business concern 8(a) Certified, they are (1) Violating the SBA regulations, since the SBA regulations strictly prohibit any type of guarantee and (2) Flat out lying to you and will most likely just take your money, waste your time and cause you problems with your 8(a) Application. I have seen some consultants that provide a money back guarantee and if you don’t get approved for the 8(a) Program, they will give you your money back. I couldn’t tell you how many times I get calls from people who have been burned on a money back guarantee. I hear the consultant always finds a way to say the client violated the contract so they don’t have to give the money back. I believe in the old adage “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is”. When you consider hiring a consultant you should speak to the actual individual who will be preparing your 8(a) Application, not just the sales person. If you hire a consultant to assist in the completion of your 8(a) Application, make sure you have a written agreement and nothing is left to a verbal agreement.
Here is an excerpt taken from the SBA.gov website:
“Please be advised that no one can guarantee that an application for 8(a) program participation will be approved. The application process is intended to assure that each applicant receives a fair review. Any irregularities in the application review process should be immediately referred to the SBA Office of Inspector General.”
My advice is to follow your gut feeling. I have more tips below to assist you in considering which consultant to hire for assistance with your SBA 8(a) Application.
If you follow the SBA’s instructions for getting 8(a) Certified, you can get successfully 8(a) Certified on your own. Honestly, it will most likely take you more than a year, multiple submissions, and leave you completely frustrated. The SBA 8(a) application instructions provide a checklist of documents to submit with your 8(a) Application, but provide no advice whatsoever on the specific requirements of these documents. Additionally, the SBA’s checklist is not a catch-all list. There are other items that will be requested and any good consultant will know what these missing items are. So, if you don’t want the frustration of dealing with the SBA yourself and you have thousands of dollars available for someone to handle this aspect of the application process then maybe you do want to hire a consultant.
If you have decided to hire a consultant below is some advice on how to find a company that will be the best fit for you. Some people immediately look at price as a defining factor in choosing a consultant. While price should certainly be part of your selection strategy for a consultant, you should also consider the following:
1. Can you determine who the company actually is? Does the company list their physical address on their website? Does their website list information about who their principals and any affiliates they may have?
2. Ask for references of their certified clients and clients that did not get certified and actually place calls to these people. Ask their clients if they were charged more than the price originally quoted. Did the person who sold the service to them or pre-qualified them actually do the work or did they get passed to a junior analyst. Ask them how long it took to get the 8(a) application completed and the processes they used to collect and manage the data that you submitted. Finally, ask them how long it took to get 8(a) Certified.
3. When you initially call a consultant, did they answer all of your questions or just try to get you to sign up? If you have a potential problem that you think will prevent you or your business concern from getting 8(a) Certified, did they give you their honest and candid opinion, based upon their experience, is this problem fixable or not?
4. Finally, is the consultant someone who you feel you can work with and who you can trust since you will be providing tax returns, Social Security Numbers, etc. Does the agreement show that they protect your information?