However, selling to the federal government demands a completely different go-to-market approach than does the commercial sector. And because a certain amount of Uncle Sam’s budget is specifically set aside for small businesses, you’ll also need to meet a few regulatory formalities to make sure you’re qualified and registered to sell to the government.
Sounds like a time-consuming and daunting process? Well, yes it can be, particularly for resource-constrained small businesses. However, done right and with plenty of pre-planning and research, small business owners can successfully land their share of federal business.
To help you get started, here’s a five-step plan that summarizes the process of entering the federal marketplace, plus links to a myriad of government resources that can help.
Step 1 – Register as a Government Contractor
Getting certified and registered to do business with the federal government is actually a fairly simple process.
Once you are sure that you qualify to sell to the government as a small business, you’ll need to apply for a D-U-N-S number and register in the System for Award Managament (SAM) database. SAM is a database of all businesses that sell to the government. It is used by government employees and purchasing officials to search for services and products and the companies that sell them. Regulations require that you are registered in SAM before you can sell anything to “the Feds.” Read more about these steps here.
Step 2 – Get a Contract Vehicle
What is a contract vehicle? Some government contracts are put in place before any individual transactions occur. These agreements are a form of pre-authorization that lets government purchasers know you are an approved supplier. They also include pre-agreed pricing for your products and services.
Although there are many to choose from, the most common and favored contract vehicle is the General Services Administration’s GSA Schedules Program. Be warned, however, that the application process for a contract vehicle is complex and by GSA’s own admission, it can take many months. So think long and hard about whether you have the resources to commit to this and plan ahead. Read what GSA itself has to say about Getting Started with GSA Schedules.
An alternative to getting your own contract vehicle is to become a sub-contractor, meaning you partner with a “prime contractor” who already holds a government contract vehicle. Read more about this option in Five Tips for Becoming a Government Subcontractor.
Step 3 – Get Expert Advice from SBA Procurement Reps
SBA provides resources online and in the community to help small businesses get ready to do business with the government and navigate the process. For example, local Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) provide services that include training, counseling and business matchmaking events. Find the PCR in your area.
You can also participate in these free online courses designed for small business owners interested in doing business with the government.
In addition, SBA’s Office of Government Contracting and Business Development (GC/BD) manages a range of programs that support a statutory goal of getting 23 percent of the federal government’s spending budget into the hands of small businesses. These programs include small business assistance, opportunities and resources as well as support for groups such as women– and veteran-owned businesses, disadvantaged businesses, and those located in economically distressed areas.
Step 4 – Identify Your Target Market
The public sector is as vast and diverse as the private sector; it’s also highly competitive and hard to break into, so identifying your target market and defining a niche is critical. Agencies and departments have different goals, so aim your research at finding a potential fit. The good news is that all the information you need to research agency goals, missions and budgets is in the public domain. Sites likeUSA.gov, USAspending.gov, FedBizOpps.gov and the Federal Procurement Data System include information on agency profiles, government spending, and current opportunities.
It’s also essential to get out and network. Industry events hosted by media organizations and private sector contractors offer insights into trends by government officials and industry experts. Government market intelligence firms like GovWin, epipeline and ONVIA also offer information and resources to help you focus your strategy.
One you’ve identified your target market, you MUST line up reference customers and case studies that support your proof of performance as a trusted supplier in the marketplace. The government is very particular about past performance.
Step 5 – Get Bidding
Once you’re set, start researching government opportunities. The website FedBizOpps.gov lists all agency bid announcements. You can learn about the specifics of the bidding and contract awards process in this blog from former SBA guest blogger, Bill Gormley.
About the Author
Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley