Want to Win Government Contracts? Do Your Homework
One of the most common complaints that I hear from Contracting Officers in the federal government is the frustration with small businesses.
These frustrations often revolve around responses from small business, or lack thereof, to market research, especially responding to Requests for Information (RFI). These issues are also often exacerbated by small businesses that seemingly waste the time of government officials by not being focused in their business development strategies and outreach to government.
Why? The common denominator is often the lack of education about how federal government contracting works.
Here are some tips to ensure you are educated and ready to help build productive relationships with federal prospects:
It sounds rather self-explanatory, but there is noting worse that witnessing this train wreck, which regretfully I have seen all to often:
Federal prospect: “So what does your company do?”
Small business: ”Well, we do some cyber security. Combined with some project management. We are also a SVDOSB….”
After about 5 minutes of this, the federal prospect is looking at her watch, says thank you, and is thrilled to be heading out the door or going on to the next person.
You need to be able to describe your products and services very succinctly, and be able to demonstrate the value proposition of your offerings in a typical “Elevator Speech” of no more than 30 seconds.
Articulate what you do, discuss your differentiation, and stay focused.
Don’t get intimated
Going to events around Washington, D.C. can be a challenge. Not only is it hard enough to get access to procurement officials, but also you normally have to wait in line behind large business representatives that have easier access and the resources to get it.
Understand that outside of events, you have to focus your messaging to your target market. The government has a 23% goal of awarding government contracts to small businesses. Granted it is not reality, nonetheless it is an opportunity to use any socioeconomic designation to your advantage. Further, looking at opportunities where the government is doing simplified acquisition procedures, normally set aside for small businesses, is another avenue to help increase your chances without having to go against the large firms in open market bids.
Be good at paperwork and administrative hoops to jump through
Government contracting is not for the faint of heart, as the restrictions, regulations, and laws can be a minefield, and can potentially destroy companies who do not understand them.
The Small Business Administration has many resources available to set you on the right path to compliance and ensuring your company is setup for success.
Prime contracts are the ultimate goal, but another path to success is to work as a subcontractor for larger companies. Although large firms not only have small business databases and small business liaisons to find potential teaming partners, don't count on firms beating down your doors.
These big contractors have dozens of companies coming to them with hat in hand all the time, expecting to get business from them simply because they have some socioeconomic designation. This alone will not get you any interest.
Large businesses will be most receptive when you have identified opportunities for which the large business can see immediate potential for an award. With this potential, now the large business can bring to bear their influence, past performance, and market influence.
Research government databases and build your pipeline
Most small business advocates at agencies will tell small businesses to go to Federal Business Opportunities, commonly referred to as FedBizOpps, to look for contract opportunities at their agency. Although this is not particularly bad advice, firms that think they can simply use FedBizOpps to find opportunities will typically not be successful.
Small businesses mistakenly think that they can simply bid on opportunities posted on FedBizOpps, and they stand a chance. The reality is that firms spend months, if not years, in the capture management process marketing their goods,building good will, and the relationships and the brand awareness necessary to lower the risk to the government of selecting your firm for award.
One of the best tools available for pipeline and opportunity development is the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS-NG). The FPDS-NG system is a key open source for data related to the initial award and subsequent modification of agency contracts and contract vehicles. While it is the Government's primary repository for historical contracting data, FPDS-NG can be a key tool to analyze opportunities and develop your strategy to put you ahead of your competition, find teaming opportunities, build a pipeline, and expand your horizon to win contracts before they are posted on FedBizOpps.
It’s ultimately about the relationships
Although it is very difficult to get access to government officials, relationships are the ultimate successful factor for a winning small business government contractor. You can't just rely on cold calling and mailing brochures, since the government official probably will not get them anyway.
So while getting your firm compliant and doing paperwork is important, pounding the pavement and networking to meet the government decision makers, and those at large contractors, is what will ultimately lead to success. You should also be doing that in person, so pick the events you want to go to wisely. You could spend a fortune going to events literally every day in Washington, D.C. alone.
Lastly, focus your marketing on the two or three agencies where you have the best chance of success by aligning your goods and services with those of your target agency where you have the best chance of winning business.
Government contracting is extremely difficult, and has only become more challenging with budget cuts and sequestration. However, it can be extremely lucrative, and also very rewarding to work on some of the most important missions and challenges government faces.
Focus yourself and your marketing, do you homework, and the world of government contracting will be an exciting and rewarding opportunity to expand your business prospects and your company’s future.