Would you like to become a government contractor or subcontractor? Government contracts can be very lucrative for a small business. The following are 6 tips from Inc.com magazine:
1. Really, truly know your business.
There are currently at least 31,000 federal contracting opportunities listed on the government’s clearinghouse website (more on that in a minute). But, in a way, 31,000 is worse than zero—at least if it’s your role to comb through them all and figure out which ones you might actually want to compete for.
Well, the No. 1 bit of advice heard at the SBA training was to make sure you know your own company inside and out, and understand exactly what it is you have to offer. That can narrow scope of your search considerably.
“Own your own destiny,” said Diane Marsden, manager of the small business office at Booz Allen Hamilton. “You have to get down to a level of granularity. You have to articulate what you do.”
2. Be aware of your advantages before stepping into competition.
Small businesses can feel like they’re at a disadvantage when competing against larger entities. Sure, you might be more nimble or customer-focused than a big organization with a matching bureaucracy, but playing with big boys can feel like a real fight.
In government contracting, however, that model can be turned on its head. For one thing, the government formally sets aside opportunities run by women, members of economically or socially disadvantaged groups, service-connected disabled veterans, and businesses located in certain underprivileged geographic areas. (Of course, there are a lot of restrictions; see each program for more details.)
Beyond that, the government tries to set aside about a quarter of its contracts for small businesses. That’s a goal, not a reality—but it sets the tone.
3. Get comfy with all the paperwork.
If you want to do business directly with the U.S. Government, your company needs to be registered with the Central Contractor Registration database. CCR can also be a great tool for you, as well, because it lets you look at how many competitors in your industry are already doing business with the government. Maybe it will clue you into what makes a business attractive to the feds, or even give you an idea about subcontractor opportunities.
4. And we mean all the paperwork.
For all the government contracts out there, landing them isn’t easy. Another way to get federal is to work as a subcontractor for larger companies. These big contractors usually maintain their own databases of potential subcontractor partners, and you have to register with them separately from the government’s site. Check out the big firms’ AP diversity websites including AT&T, Bank of America, Facebook, IBM, John Deere, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Kelloggs, UPS, and others.
5. Check the government database.
In theory, every single government contract going out for bid is supposed to be listed on www.fbo.gov, known colloquially as “Fed Biz Opps.” Again, besides bidding for contracts yourself, keep in mind that this might clue you in on contracts that larger entities might go after. That might mean opportunities to latch on as a subcontractor.
6. Build lasting human relationships.
Sure, a government can seem impersonal, but relationships are very important. It’s easy to lean too hard on cold calls and databases. So while filling out the forms is a prerequisite, get out of the office, network, and try to meet the decision makers both in the government and in the large contractors. And do it in person, if possible.
“Choose two or three agencies where you think you can do work,” suggested Bill Polizos, director of the small business program at AT& T Government Solutions. “Go to the events they hold so you can learn as much as you can about opportunities. As you do that, you’ll bump into us.”