Jose Martinez, SBA Government Contracting
For many small businesses, the process of trying to obtain a government contract is fraught with fears of red tape and endless reporting requirements. Yes, the process can be challenging, but doing work for the government doesn’t have to be difficult. You have to work through multiple steps with a certain amount of commitment, but eventually it will all come together. It’s also important to build partnerships with other small businesses which have previous contracting experience.
So, let’s break this ‘maze’ down in a way that makes sense and is doable.
First, educate yourself Don’t jump into doing business with the government without first knowing how the playing field works. You can begin by attending a Procurement Technical Assistance Center or Small Business Development Center government contracting workshop. Listen to the experts explain the nuts and bolts and then focus your private questions during scheduled one-on-one counseling sessions. These services are offered free or at a nominal cost. You can also obtain online training at sba.gov/training. If possible, invite employees to also participate. You can mutually share ideas and decide how best to map out a government contracting strategy.
Second, once you have the basics down, do some preliminary research to determine what the federal government is buying.
You need to match your products and/or services with current government purchasing demand. Remember, the government is huge and each department and agency has different needs. Products can vary from super high tech gadgets to ranch hay, and services are just as wide-ranging. The sky is the limit, so invest some time learning what’s really out there.
How? The best source is Federal Business Opportunities fbo.gov. This site lists all active government purchasing opportunities. The searches can be narrowed by agency and product or service. Currently over 36,000 solicitations were listed. Browse the site to get a feel for who is buying what and to gather information to help you navigate government contracting.
For many contracts, if you qualify for a specific code the bidding process is narrowed in your favor. For example, to qualify for the HUBZone program, your business must be located in an area designated as a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone, which includes many rural areas. The SBA website is an excellent source for gaining details about how to qualify for various set-aside certifications: sba.gov (then link to contracting). Many contracts contain set-aside clauses for Women Owned Business, disabled veterans, 8(a), and HUBZone.
Third, register with the Central Contractor Registration bpn.gov/CCR This official, FREE on-line registrant database for the U.S. Federal Government collects, validates, stores and disseminates data in support of agency acquisition and award missions. You don’t need to pay to register in CCR. Use simple, understandable language when writing your profile. Remember, while working with CCR and other websites, feel free to contact an SBDC or Colorado PTAC counselor with any questions. Included in the CCR is the Dynamic Small Business Search. Once you have saved your profile, click on the SBA link to ensure that your business information is accessed by SBA Procurement Center Representatives and agency contracting officers (the individuals that decide who is awarded a contract).
Fourth, review the Federal Acquisition Regulations or FAR. At over 1,000 pages, it can be intimidating. However, you only need to know the section(s) that impact your business relationship with the government. For most small businesses, this is Section 19. Just like you don’t need to know all of the tax code to complete your 1040 or 1120, you can leave most of the FAR on the bookshelf.
Fifth, prepare a bid in response to a government solicitation for a service or a product. As mentioned above fbo.gov lists almost all government solicitations. The content of each solicitation may vary, but often includes a synopsis of the requested product or service, specification details, capabilities, wage rates, experience, deadlines, etc. It’s important to review various solicitations from different agencies to get a good feel for your best fit.
Also, know that there are many individuals working for different government agencies dedicated to ensuring that a significant amount of government contracting is set-aside for small business. They are your advocates. SBA currently estimates this amount to be over $120 billion annually.
For a complete list of contracting resources, contact Jose Martinez at the SBA Colorado District Office at (303) 844-2607, or Jose.Martinez@sba.gov.
In Grand Junction, contact Kathryn Lobdell, PTAC Procurement Counselor; Phone: (970) 245-2010; K.Lobdell@ColoradoPTAC.org