As an in-demand video producer, Nashville-based Alba Gonzalez-Nylander is experienced at making others feel comfortable in front of the camera.
Although resistant to taking her own advice, Alba overcame her shyness on August 2 to join other women business owners to speak on a ChallengeHER panel in Nashville. Organized by Women Impacting Public Policy, the Small Business Administration and American Express OPEN, ChallengHER workshops throughout the U.S. are designed to connect women-owned businesses with the resources they need to successfully pursue federal contracts. The government, historically, has fallen short of targets set for contracting with women entrepreneurs—an issue ChallengHER seeks to address.
“It’s so funny—I’m very comfortable behind the camera telling folks what to do, but don’t put me in front of the camera,” said Alba, noting that her first experience speaking at a ChallengeHER event was nonetheless a great opportunity to share how she strategically grew her business through government contracting. “ChallengeHER is amazing. I wish I had been able to attend an event like this because there is so much to learn about becoming successful in government contracting. With the right tools, it can be a wonderful avenue for women to succeed in business.”
Born in Venezuela, Alba came to the U.S. in 1984 and attended UCLA before finishing her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Southern California’s Columbia College in television engineering and production. While at school, she worked for Univision, which sponsored her to stay in the U.S., where she eventually became a citizen.
She worked in broadcast television in Los Angeles for many years, including stints at Fox Sports, E!, Disney and Sony before moving to Nashville to work for TNN. In 2010, wanting to start her own business, she met Jennifer Fritz, an experienced wedding videographer, and after two years of researching niche markets, the duo realized the potential in government contracting.
An early government gig for AJ Media Services was with the Ft. Lauderdale Fire Department in Florida, a job that afforded them the opportunity to defy perceived limitations based on their gender by shooting a series of physically challenging fire-training videos.
“Being a woman business owner, especially in the kind of business we are in, mainly male-oriented, the expectation is that, as a woman, I cannot be going around with a camera and taking the shot,” she said. “But then they realized we work really hard and can do things like anybody else. I was on a balcony with firemen around me and very close to the fire.”
Repeat business with fire departments and universities became an important path toward building a portfolio of government work. But Alba said building a strong business in contracting involves constant researching of requests for proposals and staying nimble enough to respond to fluctuations in the market.
“It all depends on when governments decide to do video production,” Alba said. “At the end of the year, sometimes governments and universities realize they haven’t used certain pots of money so they decide to do a video. It isn’t every single year. Maybe they will wait five years before doing another video.”
To other women looking to enter federal contracting, Alba recommended getting certified with the Small Business Administration and their home state as a woman-owned enterprise. The next step is registering with the federal contract management system, establishing an interesting and up-to-date profile, and searching procurement forecasts.
“You can get ahead of the crowd and really be prepared when those things come in,” she said. “And attend government contracting events. That is huge. People need to get to know you and see your capabilities.”
Now the sole proprietor of AJ Media Services, Alba is seeking approval for the General Services Administration’s 8(a) Schedule so she can be even more competitive in the contracting marketplace. She’s ready to take her can-do work ethic and diversify her client base using what she called “the magic touch.”
“I have to work 12 to 15 hours a day sometimes to go the extra mile,” Alba said. “I know what the clients want—giving the human touch to everything. I don’t know if it’s the feminine side, but I always find a way to make people cry, in a good way.”