"Businesses really need to become familiar with the rules and regulations," said Gambarbella. "You have to be certain that you understand and can deal with them. I've seen more businesses getting in trouble by getting contracts they had no right to bid on than businesses that did not get contracts. You need to get into this with your eyes wide open and do your homework to avoid getting into trouble."
Gambarbella also counseled that you know your customers' priorities. "Businesses that do their homework understand the regulations, understand the rules, and know how the process works will be successful," he said.
Now that you have gathered all this information you can start registering with a variety of groups. One of the most important is the Centralized Contractor Registration System. You must be registered with this group to be awarded a contract from any Federal Civilian or Military Agency. The CCR serves as a database. It holds information on potential contractors that is required to obtain federal contracts and to participate in financial transactions. You need to also register in the Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA). This is a federal government repository for all of your company's required representations and certifications you need to do your business. This information can be easily accessed by the federal procuring agencies.
You may also want to consider registering with the "Getting on the GSA Schedule." There are Government-wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) and General Services Administration's (GSA) Federal Supply Service (FSS) contracts through which federal agencies make purchases. Basically, these are pre-approved contracts that are used to buy commonly used products, services and solutions needed to perform day-to-day operations. These opportunities for business are normally competed among pre-qualified vendors who are already under contract. These pre-qualified businesses appear on this database, which is accessible by procuring agencies. Agencies can select a number of vendors that provide the product or service that they need and then shop the vendors for the best price or other criteria.
Then you can do a little research to prepare yourself for entry into the government contract market. For example, you can familiarize yourself with the Federal Civilian and Department of Defense contracting legal procedures. This provides you with information on the legal requirements and regulations involved in seeking federal contracts.
Next, you can seek information that will assist you in deciding whether you would want to bid for a particular contract. Knowing an agency's procurement forecasts can help you target that agency early on. Each federal agency offers an annual procurement forecast. You can contact the agency's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) or an equivalent office to obtain the forecasts.
Michael Balsam of Onvia suggests researching past contracts. He explained that term contracts and service contracts may be set for a year with perhaps an option for another year. By studying these types of contracts, you can determine when the contract runs out and when a new solicitation will be created. By studying these types of contracts, you can get an early jump on a bid. "You know early on who your prospects are, what they are buying, who to call and familiarize yourself with and allow them to familiarize them with you, and who your competition is," said Balsam.
Perhaps your business is more suited for subcontracting, or perhaps you can use it as a means to get yourself known by the decision makers.
"If you have difficulty winning contracts on your own, then partnering with or subcontracting for a larger company gives you an opportunity for getting government personnel familiar with you," said Gambarbella.
You can consult with the Small Business Administration (SBA) on whether subcontracting is the way to go for your business and you can get information on subcontracting opportunities from prime contractors, the government, commercial and educational entities from the SBA SUB-Net. You can also seek subcontract opportunities from the Department of Defense Office of Small Business Programs. This group lists all major Department of Defense prime contractors by state and provides contact information for each contractor.
In addition, the Department of Defense has a host of programs that may assist you in getting contracts. These programs include the Mentor-Protege Program, the Small Business Innovation Research Program, Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions Program.
Finally, the Small Business Administration has a number of programs including the 8(a) Business Development Mentor-Protege Program, the Small Business Innovation Research Program, the Small Business Technology Transfer Research Program and the Technology Resources Network.
Balsam added that you need to know your customers.
"Research the last three, six, 18 months to find out who buys what you sell and who is the person doing the buying," he said. "If you sell commodities like office supplies, laptop computers, and similar, it will not call for a command and control decision. So people further down the procurement chain will be making the decisions. However, if you are selling more sophisticated goods you will deal with people further up the organization. Once you know who you will be dealing with, you can familiarize yourself with them and them with you."
Gambarbella concluded, You need to know what you can do and what you can't do; you need to know your customer and competition and you need to know yourself."
Digest part one, and be back next week for part two, where we'll discuss the bidding process.
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