Government, like all other business, is built on relationships. Cost (of course) is also of primary concern, but not the only criteria for bids to be awarded. Knowing how to negotiate the myriad rules that enable the federal procurement process to operate in a fair and transparent fashion has the downside of being difficult and slow to navigate. To ensure your SDVOSB’s place as a player, you need to follow some important steps, from the basics, to those contacts your have built relationships with.
Some of these steps will make the government a lucrative client for your business. Learning what the government wants, finding the key people that make purchasing decisions and make it easy for Uncle Sam to buy from you (sounds easy right?).
You need to be completely accurate in your attention to detail – Your application can be rejected for the simplest things, like wrong font size! Visit http://www.business.gov for examples on proposals that will help guide you through the maze of rules and regulations and access resources to help you succeed in your business.
You have to have patience and realize that the government can work at what seems like a turtles pace, taking a couple of months to 2 years or more to make decisions.
You need to spend a significant amount of time searching the internet – this time will pay off because you will find tons of useful government market information at no cost to you.
Along with the very important SDVOSB networking events, conference attendance, and submitting proposals, also be aware of the government’s use of acronyms in their procurement process, if you learn their meanings you will boost your legitimacy.
No, the Government Does Not Operate Like Other Businesses.
Private companies use many different criteria for purchase decisions, from seat of the pants, to textbook precision. Government on the other hand, must follow rules found in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) document – 1 book with no less than 1,600 pages. Obviously this will complicate the process, but set a standard the make procurement decisions fair, transparent, and of value to taxpayers.
Because of their huge buying power, government also has the ability to make your business margins very tight, including having profits on some of their contracts capped by law. The reason that buyers are willing to sell at these often extreme margins is VOLUME. If you deal with a company whose typical contract is $10 to $20 million dollars, you can still make a tidy profit at a small margin.
What Do You Have that the Government Wants?
You may want to start with Procurement Technical Assistance Centers: PTA Centers are local resources that provide assistance to business firms, at little or no cost, on marketing products and services to all levels of government.
Next, become familiar with fedbizopps (www.fbo.gov) , the government listing source for proposals (RFP’s) for most competitive bids over $25,000. Also on the site are forecasts for all governmental agencies, detailing what they plan to buy, when to buy, and how much they plan to spend.
Other good sources for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses are SBA/Government Contract and Business Development, which list key people at the SBA who are involved with government contracting; Firstgov.gov, where you can search millions of web pages from federal and state governments, D.C., and US> territories, many of which are not available on commercial Web sites; and GovWorks, which maintains a vendor registration database that government officials can search. GovWorks is a service-for-fee acquisition center under the US Department of the Interior Franchise Fund/
As you do searches, focus on procurement officers and key purchasing agents long term goals. For example, see what problems they are having and bring them solutions that your company can provide; anticipate future business opportunities by watching bills working their way through Congress to find what their priorities are, and if your expertise will help; and again, use your relationships to talk about forward thinking ideas that will help the government run better, budget better, or make processes go smoother a key to making the government want to buy from you, instead of the competition.
Learn about the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Schedules Program.
After you have procured a contract from the government, you will be introduced to the world of GSA, the governments purchasing agent, also referred to as Multiple award Schedules (MAS and Federal Supply Schedules. GSA Schedules help realize cost savings, save time, and control the procurement.
Note: GSA has delegated authority to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to procure medical supplies under the VA Federal Supply Schedules Program.
The GSA can make long-term agreements to buy from a business at “most favored customer” rates. This lets the government buy quickly without going through competitive bidding, and can be very profitable, and just as important, prequalifies you for whatever type of work you are interested in doing, including competitive bids.
Profit and prequalification aside, the process of getting the schedule contracts is a difficult road; it can take months to process because you will be vetted for finances, operation quality and references. They will do a very thorough examination of your business; so you need to be prepared. Study the criteria on the GSA site to avoid surprises.
The schedules program is not a guarantee that you will get any contracts. It just gives you a head start. You may not receive any sales orders, and if no business is generated over some time, you can even be canceled.
The Devil is in the Details.
Remember the above referenced attention to detail? If you want to win contracts from the government, you need to understand that federal agencies are very detailed and precise in what they need and you have to follow the rules carefully. 11 point font does not mean 10 point font, no phone calls to the procurement agent, means just that. Read all of the fine print and find out how they want to be contacted.
Government Business is Based on Relationships, Just Like Other Businesses
Cultivating connections with people inside the government is very important a number of key ways; you build credibility, create awareness of what you have to offer, and let them know that you are a serious contender in the marketplace. Ultimately, your connections will allow you to be prepared before Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Quotes (RFQ) are issued, so the process of preparing bids will have already begun. Having those connections, you will have a better understanding about the agency or department’s mission and requirements. How do you cultivate these connections? Lots of networking, such as trade-shows, hosted events, even cold calls/cold emails to key personnel.
Why Didn’t Your Proposal Win the Bid?
Finally, an advantage to you as a potential, but losing bidder is that the government, unlike the private sector, has to be much more transparent for their reason in choosing another company. If you lose a contract in a private endeavor, you may never know if it was due to a lower bid, a golfing friend getting the job, or just bad timing, but with Uncle Sam, you have the right to a debriefing to find out exactly why you lost the bid. The agency has to let you know what areas you may have been weak in, and what areas showed up your strengths.
Debriefing requests to the federal government are actually quite common; can be helpful for your next bid, and are even useful if you are the winner of a particular bid, so its always helpful to request one, in either case, to keep you apprised of the thinking process that went on, and what strengths you led with, or weaknesses that held you back.
Obama Calls for More Small Business Contracting.
More and more attention is being focused at this time in making SDVOSB’s and VOSB a larger part of the procurement process since President Obama’s Executive Order on the Interagency Task Force on Veterans Small Business Development Act of 2008.
“In recent years, the federal government has not consistently reached its small business contracting goals,” Obama wrote in the executive order. He went on to say “I am committed to ensuring that small businesses, including firms owned by women, minorities, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and service-disabled veterans, have fair access to federal government contracting. Indeed, ….we should strive to exceed the statutory goals.”
A Verified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business
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