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Small Business Pursuit of Government Contracts

US Government awards billions of dollars every year to small businesses, so how do you differentiate and win your share of these lucrative contracts? As a small business you already have the passion and desire to deliver quality solutions to the US Government, which is an important characteristic to start with. To help you succeed, the following article discusses common pitfalls to avoid and how best to pursue the government as a small business.

Most large corporations assemble dedicated teams to go after an opportunity spanning several years, and hire specialized resources to directly approach the Hill on behalf of the organization. If your small business is capable of implementing that strategy, then by all means go ahead. However, most small business do not have deep resources to pull from and need a more focused and efficient strategy.

For a small business, the following strategy is more appropriate:

  1. Identify your core service or product to be offered before approaching the US government
  2. Identify new procurement opportunities posted by the government
  3. Establish relationships with the appropriate “buyer”
  4. Leverage your “buyer” relationship to guide your internal development process and/or influence the solicitation to better match what you can deliver
  5. Submit a complete and accurate proposal

I will assume you have already established step 1 when you wrote your business plan or similar document when forming your business. If not, search the web or seek out a mentor to help generate a business plan before proceeding.

Procurement opportunities are not difficult to find once you learn the basic steps, however, you want to avoid pursuing opportunities that are already allocated to the competition. When searching for new opportunities you want to pursue and submit a proposal for the following types, all of which are postings by the government seeking input from industry:

  • Pre-solicitation
  • Request for Information (RFI)
  • Sources Sought
  • Combined Synopsis/Solicitation
  • Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)

And avoid the following types:

  • Request for Proposal (RFP), government has already allocated funds based on an RFI or similar process and is in the final stages before awarding a contract. Since the funds are allocated, the government has already determined what and from whom to buy from
  • Intent to Award – government has determined that a sole source non-competitive award will be given to a specific company, and is formally announcing its intent for industry to protest. As a small business it is usually not worth your effort, but you will have to decide on a case by case if it is appropriate to protest and win back from a competitor

Now that you have determined what to offer and which basic types of opportunities to pursue, the following list will provide a means of locating the postings for you to evaluate and consider:

  • Federal Business Opportunities, is a free website managed by the Federal government, and is a central spot to monitor for postings. Visit the website and explore the Getting Started tab to learn how to setup an account to be auto notified when new postings match your criteria. http://www.fbo.gov
  • Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) BAA Information Delivery System (BIDS) is an agency setup to help small business develop and transition new technology into production. The programs focus on technology to counter terrorism at the Local, State, and Federal level. https://www.bids.tswg.gov
  • General Services Administration (GSA) Schedules. Managed by the Federal government, your small business can apply and get a contract to deliver your solution to Local, State, and Federal agencies. However, the GSA Schedule is only a contract vehicle, you still need to find the buyer and have them allocate funds to complete the purchase
  • GSA Advantage is the companion site to GSA Schedule, which lists all of the contracts in place with pricing information for potential buyers. You can review the website for information on your competitors and assess how your product or service would compare

Up to this point we have discussed how to identify new pursuits. Keep in mind, just because you have located the perfect opportunity and can deliver what the government wants, you are not the only company pursuing the opportunity. You next need to take steps to improve the odds in your favor by leveraging what is unique about your organization. The following list goes beyond the product or service you are offering, and explores contractual as well as business aspects that will improve your chances of contract award:

  • The most important thing you can do is build the relationship with the “buyer”. By using the FBO postings identified above, you can determine which program office or “buyer” is listed in the posting, or by inquiring from the contract officer. Note that the contract officer is the gatekeeper for the opportunity and is not your buyer
  • To demonstrate your ability to deliver prior to engaging the US Government, establish past performance by completing commercial contracts. This is not essential, but goes a long way to show you are a real company and are ready to do business
  • Visit the Small Business Administration website to determine if you are a disadvantaged small business, and if so get certified as Veteran Owned, 8(a) Business Development, Alaskan Owned, etc… In this case, more is better so get certified for all that apply
  • If your product or service is appropriate for the GSA Schedule, then get the contract vehicle in place. One of the major challenges on the government side is awarding new contracts with a company. However, if you have already established a contract vehicle through the GSA Schedule, you help ease the process for your buyer. But remember, GSA Schedule is only a contract vehicle, you still need to find the buyer and the buyer needs to allocate funding to complete the procurement

In summary, we have discussed how to efficiently locate new opportunities with the US Government and steps you can take to improve your odds of winning a contract. It is now up to you to execute the strategy and feedback your success or lessons learned.

In a future article I will cover how to generate an accurate and complete proposal for submission.

Small Business Financing Advice – Best Places To Find Real Advice On The Internet

There are so many websites out there that try to give small business financing advice it is hard to judge who to believe and who not to believe. However, there are three sources that I believe you cannot go wrong with when you are looking for small business financing advice:

1. Business Association Websites - The SBA is one of the best places for small business financing advice. As a matter of fact, it is one of the sites I like to use for brand new information. The SBA often releases breaking news when a new type of financing has become available, a lender has made the news, or new options for owners looking to build a new business are available.

Plus, the SBA website is a government website so you can trust that the information is factual. There are many other business associations that give out small business financing advice, but the SBA is my favorite. There is a link button on their site for other associations if you need more information.

2. Lender Blogs - Many banks and other financial institutions are starting to contain blogs with small business financing advice on the blogs. Lenders understand that not every business owner knows everything they need to effectively start a business.

They also know that sometimes new ways of financing are released, and their customers may not be aware. The advice given on lenders’ websites are full of real, authentic, quality information. Check out your lender’s website today to see if they have a blog.

3. Previous or Current Business Owner Blogs/Websites – Often the best small business financing advice sites are those of people that have actually lived the life of starting a business. They can give you tips from their own experiences. The ‘ins and outs’ through the eyes of a real business man or woman.

The relevance of small business financing advice is especially real when you feel you can relate to the author of the blog. Perhaps their advice is being given towards the type of business you have because they currently own a business similar to yours.

These are the three types of sites I visit often when I am looking for small business financing advice for my own business. I suggest you stay clear of sites that are written by people not associated with owning a business at all.

Many people ‘on the outside looking in’ want to give their advice to you. Stick with the professionals. You can feel confident you are getting advice from people within the business.

Social Media Networks and the Impact on Small Business

There’s been an interesting debate of recent times about social media networks and their impact on the search process. With the increasing number of people using social media sites to communicate with other users, research brands and receive advice via their social network, forum or blog sites, have they abandoned the traditional search process in favour of social networks.

That’s looking from the consumer side, and I’ve not doubt that in the future, we might well see some movement in current searching trends, given the amount of advertising now appearing on Facebook and the other social networks, but what has been the impact of social network sites on small business and owners?

I’ve been monitoring this for some time now and whilst the social networks do have an influence on consumers, they don’t appear to have any real impact on business. In a new survey released by the Citibank/Gfk Roper group, over 76% of small business owners have not found social networks to be helpful in generating business leads or for expanding their business, during the past year. 86% of the business owners surveyed also responded that they had not used social networking sites to get business advice or information.

The survey of 500 small business owners across the US, found that despite widespread consumer use and the increase in marketing efforts by larger corporations into sites such as Facebook,MySpave and Linkedin, small business appears to have largely ignored the social networks.

The survey found that general search engine sites such as Google and Yahoo trump social networks, small-business-focused sites and general business destinations where business owners go to seek business advice or information. Some 61% of respondents say they still rely on search-engine sites to get business information.

Additional survey findings:

  • 42% of small business owners and managers reported that in the past year they have made greater use of their company’s website to generate business leads and sales.
  • Among companies with 20-99 employees, this percentage rises to 57% reporting they have made greater use of their website.
  • Survey respondents are using email marketing (28%) and online advertising (25%) to generate business leads and sales.

One interesting result from this survey, is small business has finally realised the need to inject funds into their web sites, making them both SEO and consumer friendly.

The survey suggests that small business owners are still finding their way with social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their business. This  might be all about to change though, with marketing advisers to small business now cutting the more traditional forms of marketing and advertising and using lower cost, on line marketing to save money.

In my observations working with business, social media’s growth in the past 12 months has completely overwhelmed them, and combined with a lack of knowledge on how to use this medium in their business, they have ignored it, hoping it might go away. The problem for small business with this, is if you don’t start to adopt social networks, you do face the prospect of becoming irrelevant to your customers.

They are moving faster than you are, so at some stage they will be so far ahead, they won’t need you anymore as they will impacted by advertising and consumer advice and reviews on brands and purchases, via their social network.