A chance encounter in 2009 with a Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) presentation inspired Lois Rodriguez to start her own business. In 2006, her family planted a tree farm, their main market being street tree development in Kansas City. The recession of 2008 squandered her family’s ability to sell the plants, and they suddenly had a huge debt to pay. While attempting to attend an unrelated seminar, Rodriguez and her mother stumbled upon Bill Stuby speaking on behalf of PTAC, and one month later, Better by Design, LLC was formed.

Before they could accomplish government contracting, vertical construction, and heavy civil jobs, Rodriguez needed to start small. With her experience as a farmer, things like seeding, fertilizing and mulching were second nature to her. She reached out to her brother, who at the time owned a landscaping company, to increase her knowledge of construction-based responsibilities. On days off from her full-time job, Rodriguez started looking for opportunities to sell trees her family had planted before the 2008 recession. Through the connections she was making, she found some seeding jobs and landed her first big contract to do a four-mile barbwire fence. After that, she was able to quit her full-time job and hire an engineer. It was time to start growing Better by Design.

Rodriguez sought Stuby’s help through it all. He assisted her with establishing a business plan, organizing finances, and other building blocks needed to get her feet on the ground. He walked her through the process of applying for her Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and 8(a) certifications, among others. She received guidance on developing relationships, attending meetings, and how to know what is best to register for or avoid. Rodriguez also learned how to fill out bids for government contracts and how to operate PTAC’s bid matching service.

“They were really helpful with advising me on how to set up our company and how to protect it,” she said. “[Stuby] helped me think about how something could affect my ownership and eligibility later on. Every decision I made affected five years from now and I couldn’t see it at the time, but they could. They didn’t make me do it all their way, but they made me aware of how my actions could affect what I wanted to do later.”

A woman-owned construction business brings about many challenges, including stereotypes and prejudices. She found that many companies already have solid relationships with contractors, which can make it hard to break in and get her name out there. Once she started working with and using PTAC’s bid matching service, she was able to find jobs perfect for her team. She has hired new employees with different experiences and expertise to grow the services Better by Design can offer. “Every brick wall I hit, they were like, ‘okay let’s do it this way,’” Rodriguez explained.

After 10 years in operation, Rodriguez has had her fair share of trials, but she has been able to overcome them. Better by Design has grown from being a home-based business that made $30,000 in year one to a thriving company with three construction divisions.

Rodriguez is open about Better by Design’s future, and she continues to work hard to develop her company. She still works closely with PTAC and takes advantage of their services. Her strong relationship with Stuby makes it easier to trust his judgment and know that he has the business’ best interest in mind. He’s able to tell her when she’s about to make a poor decision and helps her figure out how to do things differently. “You can’t put a price on the amount of information and direction [PTAC] can give you,” she said. “I’m sure there are those who are great business people that have never used them, I just don’t think we could have survived.”