Key Steps to Federal Procurement Success

Getting new business is an ongoing challenge for every small company.  To succeed, you have to know the best way to use your limited resources to target your best prospects.  If you choose to market and sell to the federal government and its prime contractors, it is essential to understand (1) how purchasing decisions are made, and (2) how to navigate the government’s resources, opportunities, rules and regulations.  Since the federal government spends more than $350 billion on goods and services, you may decide that it’s worth the effort!

Perhaps the biggest procurement challenge facing most small businesses is identifying their best prospects within governments and corporations.  The federal government has hundreds of agencies, administrations and bureaus, and it might not be obvious which of them have a need for your products or services.  These key steps can help you start on your way to federal contracting success:

Know Your Market.
Do your homework to identify your best government prospects.  Start by visiting the FedBizOpps site to find out which agencies have purchased the types of products and services you sell, and how much they spend.  Also, do research to determine if contracts typically go to large companies; what type of ‘set-aside’ goals specific projects have; the names of key contractors, etc.  The objective is to find out as much as possible about the agency and/or projects so that you can make informed decisions.

Find out how the agency contracts.  Approaches include:
• Purchase Orders/Blanket Purchase Agreements
• Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity
• GSA (General Services Administration) Federal Supply Schedules
• Best Value

Know where to get practical help.
At the WBDC, we have a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) that helps small businesses to find opportunities, avoid pitfalls and guides them through the mechanics of the procurement process.  PTACs are available throughout the United States…to find one in your area go to http://www.asbdc-us.org.  Other great sources for businesses are the Small Business Administration (SBA) and Agency Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) which lists major federal agencies and can direct you to their Small Business Specialist at your local federal agency.  These resources can also help you interpret rules and regulations from the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) that govern federal procurement.

Take care of the basics.
• Obtain a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) from DUN & Bradstreet.  You will need this number to register in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database.
• Determine the best NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System) codes for your industry.  The NAICS codes are the key to researching opportunities, award history, competitive awards…and more.

Register everywhere you can.
You must register your business with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database after you receive your DUNS number in order to do business with the federal government.  The database was created to capture vital company information for award and payment purposes.  As you come across other resources and sites that encourage registration…do it!

Determine if You Qualify for Special Procurement Programs for Small Businesses
The Small Business Act 15(g)(1) establishes contracting goals to ensure that small and economically and socially disadvantaged companies have the opportunity to do business with the government.  Federal agencies (and, often prime contractors) have to abide by these goals which are negotiated annually with the SBA.  Visit the SBA site to determine if you fit in any of the small business categories (Woman-Owned, HUBZone, Service Disabled Veteran-Owned, or 8(a).)

Develop Personal Relationships.
Network!  Network!  Network!  Knowing the right people is important when you are dealing with a bureaucracy.  Each federal agency’s Small Business Specialist can point you to new opportunities, troubleshoot problems for you and help you make sure you are in the right place at the right time in order to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Also, look for opportunities to form partnerships and sub-contracting relationships with prime contractors.

Start small.
Seek out contract opportunities where you know you can perform well.  A track record of excellent performance can lead to progressively larger awards and even more business.  Large contracts are rarely awarded to businesses with no track record.  Failing to perform well may become a barrier to future government business.  Subcontracting with a federal prime contractor is another avenue to pursue.

Freida Curry is Procurement Technical Assistance Center Director at the Women’s Business Development Center.

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