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 working for the government doesn’t have to be difficult. You have to get 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 with previous contracting experience.
So, let’s break this maze down into step-by-step directions that make sense and are manageable.
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 (PTAC) or Small Business Development Center (SBDC) government contracting workshop. Listen to experts explain the nuts and bolts and then focus your private questions during one-on-one counseling sessions. These services are offered for free or at a nominal cost. You can also obtain online training at the Web site at www.sba.gov/training.
If possible, invite an employee or two to also participate. You can share ideas and decide how best to map out a government contracting strategy.
Second, conduct some preliminary research to determine what the federal government is buying. You need to match your products and services with government purchasing demand. Remember, the federal government is huge and each department and agency has different needs.
Products can vary from super high-tech gadgets to ranch hay. Services are just as wide ranging and include installing aerospace technologies to clearing forest trails. The sky is the limit, so invest some time learning what’s really out there.
The best source for information is the federal business opportunities Web site at www.fbo.gov. This site lists all active government purchasing opportunities. Searches can be narrowed down by agency and product or service. More than 36,000 solicitations are listed. Browse the site to get a feel for who’s buying what and gather other information designed to help you navigate government contracting.
For many contracts, if you qualify for a specific code, then the bidding process is narrowed in your favor. For example, to qualify for the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone program, your business must be located in a zone, which includes many rural areas across the country.
The U.S. Small Business Administration Web offers information about how to qualify for various set-aside certifications. Go to www.sba.gov, then link to contracting. Many contracts contain set-aside clauses for women-, minority and disabled veteran-owned businesses.
Third, register with Central Contractor Registration online at www.bpn.gov/CCR. This official, free online registrant database for the 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. While working with CCR and other Web sites, feel free to contact a SBDC or Colorado PTAC counselor with any questions.
Included in the CCR is the dynamic small business search. Once you have saved your CCR profile, click on the SBA link to ensure your business information is accessed by SBA Procurement Center representatives and agency contracting officers — the individuals who decide who is awarded a contract.
Fourth, review the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). At over 1,000 pages, this can be intimidating. However, you only need to know the sections that affect 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 federal tax code to complete your 1040 or 1120 forms, 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. The Web site at www.fbo.gov lists almost all government solicitations. The content of each solicitation might vary, but often includes a synopsis of the requested product or service, specification details, capabilities, wage rates, experience and deadlines. It’s important to review the various solicitations from different agencies to get a good feel for your best fit.
Remember: There are many individuals working for different government agencies dedicated to ensuring a significant amount of government contracting is set aside for small businesses — more than $120 billion annually. These individuals are your advocates.
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. Martinez will provide you with a free marketing directory, including contact information for SBA government contracting personnel, SBDC counselors, Colorado PTAC counselors, federal agency small business specialists and prime contractor representatives.
In Grand Junction, contact Kathryn Lobdell, PTAC procurement counselor, by telephone at 245-2010 or e-mail at K.Lobdell@ColoradoPTAC.org.
Daniel Hannaher, the U.S. Small Business Administration Region VIII administrator, works out of Denver. Reach him at (303) 844-0505 or Daniel.Hannaher@sba.gov.