SAME’s Communities of Interest (COIs) provide opportunities for members to become involved nationally with other professionals focused on a particular technical field or demographic within the A/E/C industry. The Small Business COI serves as the premier platform where SAME’s small business members can collaborate and build teaming relationships, stay up-to-date on developments in the industry space, and promote the role and relevance of small business in the Society.

Bricks & Clicks recently chatted with Sally Clark, CPSM, Vice President and Director of Marketing and Communications, AFG Group, and Chair of the Small Business COI, on upcoming initiatives for her tenure, how the Small Business COI is looking to tackle the major challenges facing the small business community, and what keeps bringing her back to the SAME Federal Small Business Conference.

Bricks & Clicks: How is the Small Business COI providing value to its members?

Clark: The Small Business COI is a hub of information and resources for small business members that offers an opportunity for them to have their voices heard on the issues that are important to them. We have our Small Business Awards program, conduct webinars on a regular basis, and keep our members up to date on current events through our newsletter.

Along with these existent offerings, we’re looking to provide more value to our members by focusing on our industry-government engagement (IGE) and allowing members to have a dialogue with the government stakeholders that are really going to make a difference. We want to increase opportunities for our members to build networks with people who are going to really make a difference in the success of their companies.

Bricks & Clicks: What programs/initiatives do you plan to focus on during your term as COI Chair?

 Clark: This year, I’ve challenged the Steering Committee of the COI to take on three new initiatives. First, build out a certification program for our new and emerging small businesses and help them better understand the SAME path of doing business with the federal government. My vision is for this to be a structured program, built around a steeped certification process, that will get them ready to be successful with the federal government.

The second initiative is a mentoring program. While SAME does an excellent job of mentoring our Young Professionals, I find that small businesses don’t necessarily get the same amount of focus. This initiative would offer our small businesses a peer-to-peer network that is available to them on a regular basis. We have a plethora of resources and subject matter experts within the SAME community who are ready to step up and help with this mentorship program.

The third initiative, as I mentioned previously, is the focus on IGE. We have an extremely successful National-level Size Standard and Transition IGE that’s currently being led by Mercedes Enrique, but we would like to do more—not just at the National level, but at the Post level as well. I think that the robustness of the IGE program at the Post level can and should be stronger. By linking into the national program, I think it would really help set off the sort of regional IGE that will make a difference at the local level.

Bricks & Clicks: What do you see as the most pressing challenges facing the small business community in the near future?

 Clark: The challenges are many. For small, small businesses, the basics are just as much of a challenge as inflation, rising interest rates, and the labor market shortage. How do I pull together a capability statement? How can I meet and find a trusted partner? How do I even call on the government? This leads to not as many small businesses entering into the federal market space as before. Coupled with large businesses continuing to buy up small businesses, and we get the consolidation we’ve been seeing recently.

The beauty of SAME is that we have the resources to be able to tackle multiple issues all at once. We have IGE efforts, either ones already ongoing or can stand up more. We have the subject matter experts in each of the different fields that can assist small businesses. And then, as I mentioned before, we are planning a mentoring program to help small businesses understand government work and lead them through those challenges without it feeling so overwhelming.

Bricks & Clicks: How have you and your company, AFG Group, benefited from attending SBC?

Clark: SAME gathers everybody together in one place. It’s a one-stop shop and creates synergies across our industry. For AFG Group, that means we don’t need to go to 50 other conferences throughout the year. Instead, we can invest in SAME conferences (SBC, JETC, as well as Post and regional conferences) and hit the targets we need to hit. Our partners are here, our clients are here, our potential recruits are here—everybody is already here. So for us, we don’t need to go too far outside the SAME network to get what we need to succeed.

For myself, it’s all about professional development. I became an SAME member because I was asked to join the board, and through volunteering I learned so much more and met great mentors. My two mentors that I have right now, Cindy Lincicome and Heather Wishart-Smith, have provided me so much insight into how to grow. Cindy was a client of our company when I first joined SAME. To see her path within SAME and have her work with me and talk with me about what future possibilities is highly valuable. And the same goes for Heather, who’s been a mentor to so many. Those kinds of connections are incredibly unique to SAME and very important to me.

Bricks & Clicks: What are you most looking forward to at the 2022 SBC?

Clark: It’s hard to pinpoint one thing! What I’m looking forward to the most is the lead up to it—that is, the building of the program. It’s such an important feature for our attendees. We had our first in-person SBC after the pandemic back in November, and it’s really exciting to see this next one come together.

I think it’s going to feel really new for a lot of people who are coming back to the conference scene—just seeing those faces who are new to SAME and new to SBC, as well as bringing more IGE programs into the conference. It’s everyone’s favorite conference. So when it’s already people’s favorite conference, making it just that much more engaging is a real exciting point for me.

Bricks & Clicks: What’s unique about exhibiting at SBC/JETC?

What’s unique about SBC is the eagerness of all parties to make it work. It’s not just random wandering of the halls.

Clark: The number one thing about conferences for an exhibitor always comes down to networking. Networking, networking, networking. The second piece is relationships, and then the building of those relationships over time. Exhibiting offers a home base where their people and clients can center and potential interested parties can find them.

What’s unique about SBC is the eagerness of all parties to make it work. It’s not just random wandering of the halls. I had the pleasure of leading and standing up the Exhibitor Advisory Council through my work as an elected director, and the conversations I’ve had with exhibitors who represent large, medium, and small business across a number of NAICS codes about what it means to be an exhibitor and how SAME can improve that experience was eye opening. Through the Exhibitor Advisory Council, we set up additional market research capabilities through registration, matchmaking, and the virtual component that led people to understand who is exhibiting, who they want to meet with, and how to draw those people together. Our exhibitors represent a wide spectrum of the A/E/C world, so you get to see everything at once by being in the exhibit hall.

Bricks & Clicks: As a long-time attendee, why do you continue to return to SBC/JETC?

Clark: I truly enjoy connecting with SAME friends and meeting new ones—both government clients and industry partners alike. I cherish the ties I’ve built over the years while volunteering building programs, setting up initiatives, and smiling and laughing together. The longer I’ve been in SAME, the more relationships where before when we had nothing in common business-wise besides an interest in improving nationwide infrastructure, they increasingly start to click. SAME, SBC, and JETC are conduits for developing and fortifying long-term relationships that drive results. So for me, it’s always about the connections.

Bricks & Clicks: What’s your favorite part of being the COI Chair?

Clark: My favorite thing is the opportunity to bring solutions to small businesses, and to celebrate small businesses and the successes they have. Because for a small business, each day is another success.

SBC 2022: Where Opportunity Happens

SAME’s Small Business Conference is the ONLY event where small and large businesses and government agencies alike can meet market research needs and discover unlimited business opportunities. Opportunities to learn from experienced companies in education sessions. Opportunities to hear from and meet with government contracting officers about upcoming projects. Opportunities to meet with large companies that need subcontracting support.

Join us in Nashville, Tenn., November 2-4, for the 2022 Federal Small Business Conference. With business opportunity sessions presented by government agencies, over 40 education and training sessions, dynamic general sessions, one-on-one appointments between small businesses and government agencies, and an exhibit hall featuring leading A/E/C companies, SBC is where opportunity happens!

Faces of SBC

The Faces of SBC are a diverse and engaged community of professionals shaping the small business community and coming together for one purpose: Opportunity. Opportunities that ONLY SBC can provide!

Check out this extended interview with the SAME Small Business COI Chair Sally Clark on how the COI is meeting the major challenges facing federal small businesses, the personal and professional value of getting involved with the COI, and what she’s looking forward to most in the 2022 Federal Small Business Conference!