Making the Government Your Customer

Making the Government Your Customer

Regardless of the current political climate, the United States government does have an interest in supporting entrepreneurship and opportunities that favor its own citizens. There are Federal and, depending on where you live, State contracting programs that encourage partnership with small and minority owned businesses. Maryland offers an aggressive program administered through the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). It’s actually the oldest State administered program in the country, that in 2015, had procurement contracts awarding $2.3 billion to minority business owners.  Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at MDOT. I was both overwhelmed by the information yet excited for the prospects of new business avenues.

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There are four types of certification: Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE), and Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE). Eligibility for consideration requires that the business be small, that it be at least 51% owned by a socially and economically disadvantaged person(s), and that it not exceed specified net worth caps. Once you’ve successfully completed the application you become eligible for both government and private sector contracting opportunities. The application is a bit rigorous and the requirements vary depending on the type of business you operate under (i.e. C-Corp, LLC, or Partnership). Minority status falls under the following groups: women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Asian Pacific Americans, Subcontinent Asian Americans, and disabled persons.

I had the opportunity to chat with Michael D. Smith, the Public Relations and Outreach Manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation Office of Small & Minority Business Policy:

How/why is MDOT the official certification agency for MBE? What’s the connection, if any?

By statute, the Maryland General Assembly directed that the Board of Public Works designate, by regulation, one State agency to certify and decertify minority business enterprises for all State units through a single process that meets any applicable federal requirements.  Md. Code Ann., State Fin. & Proc. 14-303(b)(1)(i).  Pursuant to COMAR, the Board designated MDOT as the certification agency for the State.  As a recipient of federal funding from the United States Department Transportation, MDOT also serves as the Unified Certification Program for the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program under 49 C.F.R. 26.81.    

MDOT’s role as the official certification agency for both the MBE and DBE programs, allows the State to provide uniformity in application requirements and the ease of a “one stop shop” for firms seeking certification in both programs.     

What do you find is the biggest obstacle for many business owners in the successful completion of MBE certification?

The most common cause for delay in acquiring certification is the submission of an incomplete application package.  Applicants frequently do not provide all of the required documents with their initial submission.  Before an application package can is assigned to an MBE Officer for review, it must be accompanied by all the requested supporting documents.  Therefore, attendance at the free application assistance workshops held on the first Tuesday of every month at MDOT Headquarters in Hanover, MD. can be critical.  The workshop walks potential applicants through the entire application process and provides an opportunity for applicants to have a face-to-face meeting with a certification expert to ask questions that are specific to their company.   Please visit to register.

What sets Maryland’s MBE program apart from other state programs?

Maryland’s MBE program fosters open and equal access to State procurements for small, minority- and women-owned businesses, and is a source of great pride for the State of Maryland.  Contract by contract goal-setting and the availability of waivers demonstrate our commitment to implementing a fair and flexible program. Through our comprehensive certification process, MDOT ensures that only eligible firms are certified for participation.  The Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs (GOMA) oversees the statewide implementation of the MBE Program.  For additional information on the MBE program, please visit GOMA’s website at

What do you say to those who question the point of tax and State supported minority business contracting? (i.e. entrepreneurs should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”)

The Maryland MBE program was established to remedy racial and gender discrimination in the Maryland marketplace.  The goals of the program include ensuring non-discrimination in the award and administration of contracts and removing barriers for businesses owned by minority and women entrepreneurs.  The MBE program levels the playing field for minority- and women-owned businesses that might otherwise be unable to participate in State contracting because of discrimination.  

What’s the most rewarding “success” story you’ve come across where a small, minority owned business has grown out of their MBE?

To be certified as an MBE, a firm must be a “small business” based on size standards prescribed by the United States Small Business Administration.  One measure of success is when a firm exceeds the small business size standards.  When that occurs, a firm will graduate from the program or from a specific industry segment.    

The end goal for MBEs/DBEs/SBEs/ACDBEs is to not stay in the program but to essentially no longer qualify under the financial thresholds for eligibility. In other words, you’re making too much bank to need help! Unfortunately I’m only scratching the surface of not only Maryland’s programs but other programs that fall even under city and county jurisdictions. I really encourage those who fall under potential eligibility to join one of the monthly held workshops. At the conclusion you are even able to speak with contracting officers and ask questions specific to your business.

I’m not going to lie, the application is intense. But considering the opportunities, it’s definitely worthwhile. Endeavoring towards higher sights, it becomes so clear that regardless of industry, others have advantages of relationships and status not available to the rest. Programs like these try to level the playing field for those who before weren’t allowed to play. It’s pretty damn exciting!

For more information about Maryland’s MBE Program visit:


Beyond a Man: A Mensch, Anthony Kritt, Esq.

Beyond a Man: A Mensch, Anthony Kritt, Esq.

It’s seldom you know when a good friend’s time is coming near. Unfortunately, a friend and an uncle of mine has passed away. Anthony Kritt, was a man who had sewn and supported my father through a dream of his for many years. And, unfortunately on April 2nd, 2017, could no longer see it in person.

An advisor, a lawyer, an accountant, a friend, and a brother; Tony gave more than time; he become a part of our bloodline. He supported my father and never expected compensation beyond the chance to see a friend succeed. He was there through thick and thin. He actively supported and gave counsel. I’m so grateful for the patience he gave and the time he took to teach me the tools I needed to support the business. He was tough. But like any good teacher, he knew that to challenge meant to push someone to excel.

He had the chutzpah to be a Jew with an Italian name! Beyond brilliance, charisma, and confidence; he embodied love. He was love. Tony, I hope we make you proud. I hope through all the stupid mistakes I made, that you corrected, that we prevail. Most of all, I hope that possibly the most selfless soul I know, is at peace. You deserve peace; and may it extend to your beloved wife Sharon and your incredible children Erica and Jordan.

P.S. I still want to write you e-mails about my successful tax deposits and call you about new changes in tax laws. I always trusted you like an uncle. Your legacy lives on and I hope your children reap what love you’ve sewn.

Payroll for Employers Who Remedial Math Was Enuf

Payroll for Employers Who Remedial Math Was Enuf

Admittedly, I skirted taking the more challenging mathematics courses throughout high school, undergrad, and grad school. I think I shot myself in the foot because basic math gets me feeling like “the big one is coming”.  (#FredSanford) It becomes a whole ordeal and I become moody and dramatic. It’s just stressful as hell! 

So, when we hired our first employee, and then a contractor, and then another employee, and so on, I found myself having mini panic attacks when it came time to filing taxes and payroll. It got to the point where our tax lawyer had to break things down like I never learned how to count beyond ten. We currently use QuickBooks, but when you’ve got only a couple employees (or yourself), that can be expensive. And, honestly, not necessary. I got away with not using QB for years using some free tools and maintaining a diligent schedule that allowed for me to check, re-check, then check the numbers one last time.

This website came in pretty hand, and free:

QB has their own free tool, as well.

See attached for an excel sheet that our tax lawyer provided to calculate payroll. It’ll also help with tax filing as well. This spreadsheet is not specific to Maryland, as it only has the current rates for Social Security (6.2%) & Medicare (1.45%). So you will need to have the numbers for Federal & State taxes. That’s where the above links will come in handy.

Always make sure that you are maintaining the most current exemptions for your employees, as these can change (by their request) at any time. I keep my state’s (MW507) & the Federal (W4) forms handy. It’s not uncommon for a person to change their filing. It’s also not uncommon to make mistakes, so I often reference those documents to confirm if someone is filing married, single, and the number of exemptions or allowances. And, depending on your State, income tax may not be collected. Do confirm your State’s guidelines to avoid any filing mistakes. 

All of this changes if you have hired a contractor or freelancer. They file as a 1099, so while you don’t have to worry about calculations for each pay period, the headache will come at the end of the year. This is a good option for hiring those who don’t necessarily keep hours and have a bit of autonomy with their schedule and day-to-day tasks. For an example, when hiring a salesperson, you may offer payment per referral or sale. It may not necessarily be feasible to maintain an hourly or salaried rate, especially if their work isn’t best quantified by hours put in.

For keeping record of contractor payments, a simple spreadsheet with the date paid, amount, and check number should be sufficient.

Even if you are not involved with payroll, it’s incredibly helpful to have some cognizance of calculations and method as your employer may make mistakes on calculations that could result in owing taxes. Ultimately it is your responsibility to pay the government what it is due, and while your employer is liable, they won’t be helping you pay the IRS for a few miscalculations.

I may make this a two part post because monthly federal, quarterly withholding, sales & use, unemployment, etc all give me hypertension and I felt so incompetent (and still do) filing them all. I should also warn that I’m not an expert, so do check and double check with an accountant, any methodology you employ for payroll and tax preparation.  

I’ll leave you with a bit of word (Matthew 22:19-2, NIV):

“Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

My point is even Jesus said to pay the Man what’s his, so do it right and stay encouraged!

In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) a master leaves his three servants for a journey; and with them he entrusts his wealth. He leaves one with five talents, the second with two, and the last with one. A talent was an ancient Greek unit of measure used for gold. Upon the master’s return he asks each servant what they have each done with the talents given to them.  

The servant given five talents, doubles his money. The servant who was given two talents, also doubles his to four talents. When the master asks the servant given one talent what he has done with it, he tells him that he was too scared to do anything so hid the talent. He presents him with the same talent that was left with him. The master chastises him for not in the very least leaving the talent in a bank to collect interest.

It’s no coincidence the word talent comes from this unit of currency. This parable, even beyond its biblical facets begs the question: what are you doing with your talent? Whether God-given, genetic, or by chance; what are you doing with what only you have? In the story, the master was not more excited by the servant who was able to make the larger profit, because he knew what he gave to each and each held their own measure. The only one who was a disappointment was the one who hid the talent and did nothing with it.

In around 2011 my father started to explore a talent of his own, that he had dreamed of exploring easily almost two decades prior. He has been a practicing respiratory therapist for about as long as I’ve been alive; and always working for someone else. He loved it, though, because he enjoyed helping and treating people. He hated working for them, too. So he decided to finally pursue building his own durable medical equipment company; one where he’d continue to practice care but also be his own boss. By 2013 he was fully operational, but business grew at a glacial speed. So he continued to work full-time as an RT at a local hospital, while simultaneously trying to build his business.

By this time I had moved back home to Baltimore from a stint at NBC in New York City, and faced an inquiry of what I was doing with my talents. My father needed help, and I had the capacity to do it. I had worked doing sleep studies back in undergrad and grad school; so I had the clinical understanding of respiratory care. I decided to pray about whether this was a talent within my capacity to grow and so for the last three years or so  I’ve sown, and sown, and sown. And things are growing. Through my own mistakes, pitfalls, and stumbles; business has more than quadrupled, we’ve hired staff, and are looking to move to a bigger office. Business is good.       

My father and I at a Ravens game.

Are there times where I wish I had hid my talents like that third servant? Yes. Every day. In fact, there are some days where it happens several times within a single hour. I’ve cried at my desk and have been very tempted to quit often. But through this process, I continue to grow and I believe I have some talents to show for it.         

And so here is a space to grow talents; both for our small, family business and for my own ambitions. A POTT (see what I did there?) with which to share stories of other small businesses, lessons, and information on entrepreneurship.

Here’s to prosperity and the growth of many, many talents.