Unclear Language Burdens Small Business Owners
Even a simple request can lead to a confusing, frustrating, time-wasting process for a small-business owner. Recently, a consultant received a seemingly straightforward request from her publisher to complete two questionnaires certifying her status as a small or disadvantaged business so the publisher could report accurate vendor information. Because one blank requested an SBA certification number, the consultant was forced into the complexities of the government's contracting process. The main challenge —the seemingly complex process compounded exponentially by unclear language.
First, the consultant's status:
- Are you a small business? Yes
- Are you a woman-owned business? Yes
- All other categories? No
- Are you planning to contract with the federal government? Wasn't planning to.
- According to the publisher's letter, does the SBA require you to receive certification and list your firm in PRO-Net? Yes.
Thus the attempt to comply with the publisher and SBA began—at the PRO-Net/SBA website. There the consultant had to wade through the jargon and abbreviation-filled description of the IT project to integrate contracting databases.
After dutifully trying to discern the meaning—and relevance—of the text, the consultant reached this clear sentence: "For more information, please visit the CCR website at http://www.ccr.gov/." An hour of translation had passed.
Not knowing what CCR was but stymied by the SBA site, the consultant thought, "Might as well!" At CCR she finally found some plain language and specific instructions on where to go for the required information, such as the NAICS codes. Grateful to at least have some clear guidance but unsure about wanting to enter this morass, the consultant had two options:
- Do nothing. How would the SBA know she had a woman-owned business that had not registered? Of course, this choice does not help in the federal government's efforts to ensure equity in contracting practices.
- Complete the paperwork to receive SBA certification and be listed on PRO-Net. The question remains whether the potential of receiving federal contracts would justify the time required.
Unclear language imposes unnecessary burdens on small-business owners. Without an extensive staff to handle paperwork, any time required to wrestle with language demons keeps the owner from her primary business tasks—marketing her services, delivering products, or running the business. Unclear language—a high cost of doing business.
Examples of dense compared to plain style
DENSE - SBA, OMB, GSA and DOD Work Together to Integrate PRO-Net and CCR Database and Simplify Contracting Process for Small Businesses
PLAIN - CCR website Small Business Page