5 Outstanding Tips in Getting Government Contracts
The SBA brought together government contractors and entrepreneurs for
nearly four hours of instruction in how small businesses can go to work for
Uncle Sam. Here’s what we learned.
Federal spending is up. No matter how you might feel
about that politically, it means great opportunity for
government contractors. And that in turn means
unprecedented opportunity for small and emerging
Here at National Small Business Week, the SBA set up a
total of nearly four hours of training on how to compete
for federal government contracts—with panelists
including top SBA officials, contractors, and those who
recruit subcontractors for the country’s largest
companies—companies that do a lot of government
Granted, there’s something a bit meta about the U.S.
government running classes on how to sell stuff to the
U.S. government. But setting that aside, whether you
want to contract directly with the government or carve
out a niche as a subcontractor, we learned six key things
about getting on the government payroll.
1. Really, truly know your business.
There are currently at least 31,000 federal contacting opportunities listed on the government’s clearinghouse
website (more on that in a minute). But, in a way, 31,000 is worse than zero—at
least if it’s your role to comb through them all and figure out which ones you might
actually want to compete for.
Well, the No. 1 bit of advice heard at the SBA training was to make sure you know
your own company inside and out, and understand exactly what it is you have to
offer. That can narrow scope of your search considerably.
“Own your own destiny,” said Diane Marsden, manager of the small business office
at Booz Allen Hamilton. “You have to get down to a level of granularity. You have to
articulate what you do.”
2. Be aware of your advantages before stepping into competition.
Small businesses can feel like they’re at a disadvantage when competing against
larger entities. Sure, you might be more nimble or customer-focused than a big
organization with a matching bureaucracy, but playing with big boys can feel like a
In government contracting, however, that model can be turned on its head. For one
thing, the government formally sets aside opportunities run by women, members of
economically or socially disadvantaged groups, service-connected disabled veterans,
and businesses located in certain underprivileged geographic areas. (Of course, there
are a lot of restrictions; see each program for more details.)
Beyond that, the government tries to set aside about a quarter of its contracts for
small businesses. That’s a goal, not a reality—but it sets the tone.
3. Get comfy with all the paperwork.
If you want to do business directly with the U.S. Government, your company needs
to be registered with the Central Contractor Registration database. CCR can also be a
great tool for you, as well, because it lets you look at how many competitors in your
industry are already doing business with the government. Maybe it will clue you in to
what makes a business attractive to the feds, or even give you an idea about
4. And we mean all the paperwork.
For all the government contracts out there, landing them isn’t easy. Another way to
get federal is to work as a subcontractor for larger companies. These big contractors
usually maintain their own databases of potential subcontractor partners, and you
have to register with them separately from the government’s site. Check out the big
firms’ websites of course, but also keep in mind Supplier Connection, a shared
database that connects potential subcontractors to 16 major contractors. Included are
AT&T, Bank of America, Facebook, IBM, John Deere, JP Morgan Chase & Co.,
Kelloggs, UPS, and others.
5. Check the government database.
In theory, every single government contract going out for bid is supposed to be listed
on www.fbo.gov, known colloquially as “Fed Biz Opps.” Again, besides bidding for
contracts yourself, keep in mind that this might clue you in on contracts that larger
entities might go after. That might mean opportunities to latch on as a subcontractor.
6. Build lasting human relationships
Sure, government can seem impersonal, but relationships are very important. It’s
easy to lean too hard on cold calls and databases. So while filling out the forms is a
prerequisite, get out of the office, network, and try to meet the decision makers both.
“Choose two or three agencies where you think you can do work,” suggested Bill
Polizos, director of the small business program at AT&T Government Solutions. “Go
to the events they hold so you can learn as much as you can about opportunities. As
you do that, you’ll bump into us.”