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.
  • 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.
  • 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.