How the SBA 8(a) Business Development Is Helping Small Disadvantaged Businesses Become More Competitive in the Market

The Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program is a robust, nine-year program created to help firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and is a significant driver of small business success. On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, area director for the UGA Small Business Development Center, sits down with Donald Lamar, UGA SBDC area director at the new Morehouse College office.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome into The Playbook, Donald.

Donald Lamar:
Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me.

Mark Collier:
All right. The infrastructure bill that was passed recently has really put a renewed emphasis on government contracting, and in particular, in the 8(a) program as well.

Donald Lamar:
Yes, sir.

Mark Collier:
So before we dive into that, man, tell me a little bit about your background.

Donald Lamar:
Oh, definitely. Well, certainly very nice, again, for you to welcome me here in the studio. My background is somewhat varied, and in a little case, unusual how I ended up here. I am an electrical engineer by discipline. So I started my career, I won’t say how many years ago, but out on the West Coast. I worked for companies like McDonnell Douglas, aircraft company. As well as General Dynamics, aircraft company. So really, my desire was to be in aerospace. More or less, I was wanting to be one of those Top Gun pilots. So I went to school for engineering in that fashion, to really go into the armed forces and, more particularly, the air force in that arena.

But I decided I didn’t want to put gas in a plane, I wanted to fly one. So I kept going in engineering, and finally found another niche for myself in that space. I went from there all the way into getting into software design, software development. I was a great programmer back in the day, where I started getting the bug for entrepreneurship. And so I actually met my business partner, we’ll maybe talk a little bit more about that as it relates to my firm, in Augusta Georgia, when we worked for a defense contractor, actually out of Washington DC. And that started the pathway for me into entrepreneurship. So, coming from aerospace all the way to entrepreneurship is a little bit of my journey.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. So how’d you end up being a small business consultant and, now of course, area director with our organization, the SBDC.

Donald Lamar:
Well, I have done a lot of consulting work across the country. Again, my background stands anywhere from doing a lot of work with restaurants, used to be a restaurant owner, a franchisee for the franchise company called Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint.

Mark Collier:
I’m familiar with that.

Donald Lamar:
Definitely. Actually built the one right across the street from the Mall of Georgia, back in the day. Sold it in 2016. From there, I was a little, somewhat bored at just being on the road, especially for my current company at that time, which was Drayton, Drayton & Lamar Inc. who was, and what is a government contractor.

Mark Collier:
I’ve heard of them.

Donald Lamar:
And so what I decided to do is I wanted to step away and get into another area of business. And instead of traveling all the time like I was doing, not only for my company, but also as a private small business consultant, I saw an ad from SBDC that looked like me.

Mark Collier:
All right.

Donald Lamar:
And I actually, of course, sent in my information and gotten a call back from SBDC. And the moment that I spoke with the individual that was talking with me, as it relates to the process to working with SBDC, it was an instant connection. And just the role itself speaks to what I want to do, and very passion oriented, which is helping small businesses grow. So the mission over at UGA in terms of having an impact with small businesses was really pivotal to my decision to say, let’s really check this out. Of course, you know the process.

Mark Collier:
I do. It’s a lengthy one.

Donald Lamar:
Lengthy process. Had an opportunity to interview with some very smart individuals. And I was able to secure that position as a business consultant at Georgia State. But I do have a lot of relationships over at Morehouse. And ultimately, I knew that that was going to take shape and be a part of the SBDC network, and I thought it was a great platform for us to be able to not only get into a role like that, not just as a business consultant, but have some say in what we could do with small businesses within that community, have them be a part of the bigger picture.

Mark Collier:
All right. So I’d like to ask you a broad question. What’s the most important and most rewarding work that you do for the SBDC?

Donald Lamar:
Working directly with the clients within the community. I think you would know how the light shines when you are meeting that business for the first time. And they’re looking for some advice, some consulting experience so that they can improve what they’re doing in their operations or whatever that they’re seeking, whatever goals that they’re seeking to accomplish. Being a part of that solution, there’s no feeling like it. It’s a euphoric feeling.

Mark Collier:
I fully agree. I mean, sometimes I pinch myself and say, I get paid to help people. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Donald Lamar:
And you well know, in that process, is that you wear multiple hats. As a consultant, you’re not only just the person advising and giving guidance, but sometimes you’re just listening and have an empathetic personality. You could be a doctor, you could be a lawyer, you could be any of those roles at the moment, right there in front of your potential client. So that’s rewarding as well.

Mark Collier:
Yeah. It’s all about delivering value, man, to the client and meeting those needs.

Donald Lamar:
Definitely.

Mark Collier:
So where did your interest in becoming an entrepreneur come from? How was that sparked as you progressed through your professional career?

Donald Lamar:
I’ve always seen and heard of the stories of the economic difference that could be made at a personal level.

Mark Collier:
Yes, sir.

Donald Lamar:
And so, having worked with some boutique consulting companies. I worked for this boutique consulting company out of Chicago-

Mark Collier:
It’s my hometown.

Donald Lamar:
Definitely. And I’ll tell you, what was so striking about it was the fact that this boutique consulting company operated very much like the film you might have seen, called The Firm.

Mark Collier:
Oh yeah. I love that movie.

Donald Lamar:
If you ever saw The Firm. And I used to see a lot of these consultants, they would put on these suits, they would go in and out of these offices, they would be playing this role, and they were also really making a lot of money. So I’m not going to try to deny the fact that the monetary value was something that I was looking into at the time. And I wondered, if they could be doing that, and they can be driving that, and they can be living where they’re living doing this consulting, why wouldn’t I be able to do that, because I’m the one actually delivering a lot of the work? And so, when the light came on for me was to face the fear and just jump out there in my own confidence, in my own ability. And so when my business partner and I met, we took the leap.

Mark Collier:
All right. I love it, man. So I understand you currently own a business doing federal contracting. And how did you get into that space?

Donald Lamar:
Yes. Currently, as we speak, I’m more of a silent partner. My company was started back in 1993. It’s called Drayton, Drayton and Lamar. A lot of people thought we were a law firm. But in essence, we’re an IT firm. My background goes real solid in that space. My business partner, his name is Robert Drayton. He is an ex-military person, he used to be in the armed forces for the army. And so when we met, we decided that we could probably do this together. And so, I remember, the creation of the company was on the back of a napkin in downtown Atlanta when we were working as consultants for Georgia Pacific.

Mark Collier:
Many small business ideas begin right on the back of a napkin, Donald.

Donald Lamar:
We were going back and forth about what we were going to call this company. And he just looks up and he said, “You know what? It’s just Drayton and Lamar, isn’t it?” I said, “To be honest with you, you’re correct.” And he said, “Well, let me add my wife in the middle, then we can go.” So it was Drayton, Drayton and Lamar. Started then, and we’ve never stopped. And currently, right now, as a contractor, we’ve done anywhere from software development where we’ve been rated with SEI Institute’s CMMC level three and four as a software development firm, doing a lot of work with civilian agencies in DC. And we crossed over into the DoD space in recent times where we’re now in cyber security, doing a lot of work right down south in Augusta, Georgia.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well, fantastic. All right. I’m going to launch into the federal programs. So tell me what you know about federal programs, and particularly the SBA 8(a) program, which of which I know you are very well versed in that topic.

Donald Lamar:
The 8(a) program, of course from SBA, it’s got to be the paramount program that they are running because it comes with technical assistance that’s really delivered at a very high value. And the focus on that 7(J), is what they call it, is being able to provide socially disadvantaged businesses and economically disadvantages in a way to level the playing field. And so, there are a number of different programs at SBA, obviously, programs or certifications, you might want to call it, like Hub Zone, service disabled veteran owned, you have woman owned small business programs. And then all of these things go on and on.
But the high mark program is the SBA program. Of course, it is a nine-year program where inside that program, you start out in a developmental phase and you’re expected to progress. There is a transitionary phase that you go out. A lot of business owners or people who are interested in getting into this program don’t realize that it is not a program that’s designed for you to do a whole lot of federal work. It ultimately is designed for you to be more competitive at a commercial level. And so, it gives you access, or a better competitive arrangement around contracts that are 8(a), which could be competitive in a smaller pool of other 8(a) firms or sole source contracts that they can award to you if you’re able to identify the uniqueness in this service delivery or the product delivery that you may have.

Mark Collier:
Okay. That’s an important distinction because a lot of people are under the misinformation that the 8(a) program is a complete set aside program. It is not. I know there’s some sole source components.

Donald Lamar:
Yes, sir.

Mark Collier:
But it’s not solely a set aside program. It’s designed to help you become more competitive in the marketplace and, as you said earlier, level the playing field. Am I right about that?

Donald Lamar:
You’re absolutely correct. And that point really cannot be overstated, because as I am in consulting sessions with a number of businesses, they will come in with some sort of strategy that lends itself just for business development in the federal arena where, as I would always indicate and always share with them, when you walk into an 8(a) program, you’re looking at the end in mind, and you’re developing strategy and process to help you get there. So strategy and process isn’t just typical to the 8(a) or federal programs. If you are going through the right strategy and you are involving the best processes or best practices, then you are going to increase your odds of being more successful as a small business.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. Makes sense.

Donald Lamar:
The 8(a) program gives you those kind of tools and support to accelerate your growth. As I got into the 8(a) program, the thing that I was most interested in was building my infrastructure. I was already doing work commercially. And some of the guidelines for 8(a) are probably going to require that you have at least two years of business activity or history so that you can prove to the federal government that you can handle a federal contract because there are a lot of things that are involved with that. So it’s a great program.

Mark Collier:
All right. So for businesses who are seeking to enter into the 8(a) program, I know there’s probably some precursory steps that they need to be taking. But let’s go into detail. What are some of those steps businesses should be looking at or things they should be doing ahead of applying for that 8(a) program?

Donald Lamar:
Absolutely. Great question, Mark. I appreciate you asking it. As I alluded a couple of minutes earlier, certainly making sure that you have a past performance history. I would recommend at least two years in business, or be able to have a complete set of financials that can be representative, because it will be called upon as a part of the requirements in the program.

Mark Collier:
And it’s a robust application process.

Donald Lamar:
It’s robust. I remember, I went through the process, and it was actually back that time during fax. But now there is, of course, an online portal that you can make application to. So the recommendations I would make is make sure that you check out the 8(a) checklist that you can readily find online. And so, if you go through that checklist, then you will be able to at least assemble the right kind of documentation that you’re going to need, because the more work that you do up front in gathering the proper information, the documentation and understanding what this program is all about, then at the time of application, it will decrease the time for them to process it and ultimately either approve or disapprove your application status.

Mark Collier:
That makes sense, man. So for companies who are looking to, particularly once they’re in the program. Give me some strategies, once you’re in the program, to maximize the value of that nine year, I guess, life cycle of the 8(a) program.

Donald Lamar:
Great question again. You’re hitting all of the right points here for any potential 8(a) pursuers. Business developments. The application process is one thing.

Mark Collier:
That just gets you in the door.

Donald Lamar:
That just gets you in the door. Really, a license to hunt, is what I call it.

Mark Collier:
I like that. I like that term. All right.

Donald Lamar:
So it gives you a license to hunt. So you’re fishing in the pond of federal contract dollars, 8(a) or 9 8(a) or whatever you can to build your resume with business. So it shifts to business development. So business development itself is a unique process set up. It’s repeatable. Again, goes back to my theory, strategy and process improves. So, as far as the federal government is concerned, when you’re seeking to grow your business in that way, there are just some precursor things that you need to do. Obviously you need to get all of your marketing material together, things like your capability statements that detail the services that you have, all of your codes, we call them SIC codes, NAIC codes, that really translates to the product or the service that you happen to be delivering.

You need to do your research. In other words, there are a number of different, very popular websites you can go to, like Fedspend.gov, where you can go and find out how the federal government is actually spending their dollars and who they’re spending it on. And those gives you the kind of strategies who you might either want to partner with, maybe team with, possibly joint venture with. So all of those are three or four different types of strategies. But understanding what the federal government’s buying schedule is like, and how they operate on the calendar year. And what I would say is called, the term that most people use is throwing me for a minute, but what it is, is how are you going to engage with the buying, procurement professionals that are on the federal government side?

Mark Collier:
Now, those procurement professionals, same as contracting officers or different?

Donald Lamar:
They vary. The way that I would look at it, there is a program area office. In other words, the unique problems that exist within an agency are being addressed at the program level. Below that, they will coordinate with the procurement officials for that particular agency, which are contract officers. So they’ll say, “I have this need and this problem. So I’m going to work with the procurement professionals within my agency to contract to these vendors that can come in and meet my need.” So obviously, you need to build a rapport with both those audiences. Now, each of those audiences are different and have different characteristics. So you must adapt to that characteristics as you’re marketing to them.

Mark Collier:
All right. Makes sense, man. So let’s talk a little bit more about you personally, man. Tell me about some of your hobbies, and give me one word that would best describe you.

Donald Lamar:
Well, the one word, multifaceted.

Mark Collier:
I like that. All right.

Donald Lamar:
So I’m able to, as they say, chew gum and rub my stomach at the same time. At least I think I can do it. No one has told me anything different. My hobbies though. They are the ones that de-stress me, get me going, and keeps life for me as well as my family. I’m a cruiser. So I’m a motorcyclist. So I ride the big boys.

Mark Collier:
There you go. All right.

Donald Lamar:
I do that on the weekends, and kind of hook up with my friends and we’ll just take a drive here and there. So I love that. But my hidden talent, so to speak, but the one that I really get a thrill for is in hang gliding.

Mark Collier:
Interesting. At my age, I don’t think the risk reward ratio pencils out on that one for me. But I’m glad you enjoy it.

Donald Lamar:
Well, I just make sure my insurance papers are signed up. I’ve got the go ahead as long as the-is signed up.

Mark Collier:
Fantastic. Donald Lamar, area director at the UGA SBDC office in Morehouse College. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to come in and discuss important information around federal contracting, specifically the 8(a) program. For any businesses who are looking to take advantage of that. I’m going to encourage them to reach out to you at our Morehouse office. You are our resident subject matter expert, and I’m sure you’ll be able to guide them in the right direction.

Donald Lamar:
Absolutely. I was in their program for nine years, and graduated some many years ago. So thank you for the invitation. It was great having this conversation with you, Mark. And again, just want to congratulate you on what you’re doing with SBDC, and the fine work that you do for this organization.

Mark Collier:
I appreciate it, man.


The Atlanta Small Business Network, from start-up to success, we are your go-to resource for small business news, expert advice, information, and event coverage.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest business news know-how from Atlanta Small Business Network.