Working with the federal government is seen by many small businesses as “the land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3). I, like many of my small business bothers and sister, want that milk and honey! We have all heard the stories of small companies landing $5 million contracts with renewals every year for 4 years. However, there is a lot of work behind the curtain that many people don’t see.
I have come to realize that if you sit around waiting on that government cheese, you will starve. Nothing is immediate. I recently attended a pre-meeting for a possible contract that may or may not take place in 6 – 9 months. WOW! The big international consulting firms and small boutique marketing agencies were in the meeting with little ole Scientifically Speaking. After attending a number of these meetings, I have learned if you want a government contract, this is what you need to remember:
- Get In the System – The federal government has various systems that vendors must register with before they can start doing business with them. Companies must have a DUNS number and know what NAICS codes they want to be associated with. Once you have this, get registered with sam.gov and look for opportunities in FEDBIZOPPS (Federal Business Opportunities). Before any agency works with a company, they will ask if they have followed these steps. No matter how small / large the company, everyone must do follow these rules.
- Patience – Some people think once they get registered, the money will automatically start rolling in. NOT TRUE! Once an opportunity has been identified, submit the associated RFI (request for information), RFP (request for proposal) or RFQ (request for quotation). Even if you don’t get it, try again. Most people will apply for years before they actually get a contract.
- Don’t Be Intimidated – The last networking event I attended was like a bunch of high school boys trying to impress the new girl in science class. All of the big companies kept casually dropping the names of the people they’ve worked with: athletes, actors, other corporations, etc. Are their stories true? It doesn’t matter! A lot of government agencies are looking for small businesses. Have a story to tell them about the results you’ve achieved. That’s what matters.
- Business Cards – Companies who work with government agencies have distinct business cards. Companies who do work with the federal government have “busier” business cards. They list their NAICS codes on the back. They list their all certifications: 8(a), SMB, veteran, minority and / or woman owned. Finally, they list 3 – 4 bullet points about what they do. The first time I saw it, it seemed excessive. Then I noticed everyone was doing it! When you go to a 4 – 5 conferences per year for people trying to do work with the federal government, you do what it takes to help them remember you.
- Relationships Do Matter – I just spent $250 going to a presentation that lasted 30 minutes! The most valuable part of the day was the 2 hours afterward talking to other vendors and the federal government employees. As with any other aspect of business, relationships are the most valuable tool a company / vendor possesses. Go to workshops and conferences. The federal fiscal year ends in October, so “prime hunting season” is the Summer and Fall.
- Size Doesn’t Matter – Seeing big consulting companies like Deloitte and Touche at the meeting was intimidating at first, but my REAL competition is the smaller, boutique agencies. They will, like me, slip in under the radar with a lower price than the big boys. They are also more likely to partner with other agencies to help meet demand. Small companies are not bound by the bureaucracy that large companies have. They are like the Navy Seals of contracting.
Approximately $500 million of the government budget goes to small businesses. WOW! The waters of federal contracts are tricky to navigate, but if you know how to sail them, the pay off can be BIG. Remember that preparation and patience will be your best friends.
Scientifically Speaking, of course.