by Karen Krymski, MPH, CVE | September 8, 2020
Each year, the federal government awards billions of dollars in contracts to small businesses. For this reason, securing a government contract can often be found at the top of many business owners’ list of goals.
Business owners should understand that when it comes to federal contracts, one size does not fit all. In the federal system, there are more than 500 agencies and bureaus. Owners must conduct research to find out what contracts are available for their type of industry and how much the government entities are willing to pay for a particular product or service as well as how they buy it.
Where do I start?
One of the biggest challenges that business owners face when entering the world of federal contracting is that they do not know where to begin. There are many resources out there that can help business owners research which federal entity is right for their business, but many require a subscription that can oftentimes be very expensive.
There is one resource available that is not only reliable and thorough, but is also a free tool – fpds.gov (moving over to beta.sam.gov). This tool is open source and doesn’t require a subscription. Anybody can access the information on the website.
It is very user friendly and one may notice a similarity between its search function to any other search engine platform such as Google, Bing or Yahoo.
What kind of information should I research?
The researcher doesn’t have to use government jargon to conduct a search. A few examples of common searches are:
- Names of companies who have secured contracts – The search will render results regarding what kind of prime contracts they have.
- NAICS or PSC Codes – Results will show the various contracts awarded to businesses with a similar NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) or PSC (Product or Service) code.
- Industries – One does not need the NAICS code to conduct a search on a particular industry.
- Locations – Results will show how many and which contracts were awarded in a particular area.
- Keywords – What would someone Google if they were looking for your business?
The business owner should also not neglect to research the government agencies with which they would like to conduct business. Research on these agencies should include:
- How they buy – do they purchase through an open market or by pre-negotiated contracts, such as a GSA?
- What has the agency spent money on in the past, and how much?
- What is the agency’s mission, and does it align with the mission of the business conducting the research?
- Have they chosen minority, woman or veteran-owned companies in the past?
These are important elements to consider because the federal government tends to follow a historically predictive trend. If the agency has purchased a lot in the past, they are likely to purchase a lot in the future.
After I have done the research, now what do I do?
It is important to understand that the fpds.gov website is strictly a research tool that helps business owners understand the historical buying habits of the various agencies and it is not a tool that discloses current open contract opportunities. To find those opportunities, a business owner would have to search on beta.sam.gov.
Once the owner finds an opportunity that the business qualifies for, they need to make sure they have a complete capability statement. Then they should identify the small business officer for the particular agency that has posted the acquisition or that has the greatest need, and email that capability statement to them.
It is important to note that a business owner should try to develop a relationship with the small business officer to become more than a faceless name in a pile of bidders.
After submitting a capability statement, it is important to make a few phone calls to check in on the process. Persistence is key. Don’t stop at one call. Keep calling until you can have an engaging dialog with the officer so that you can not only find out more information about the current opportunity, but also possible future opportunities. This may give the business owner a leg up to prepare for a future bid before it is even posted publicly anywhere.
Business owners must understand that because securing a federal contract is such a lofty goal for many businesses, it is not an easy mission to complete. The owner must be dedicated and willing to conduct as much research as possible to make sure their efforts are not in vain. Conducting research allows clarity of what the agencies are looking for and if the business is the right fit. That is only step one. The owner also needs to be engaged and persistent with the process in order to become successful.