Written by Nancy Dahlberg on April 19, 2019
While small businesses may have been spooked by the recent government shutdown, you should know that the federal government is the largest buyer in the U.S., spending billions of dollars annually on products and services in construction, R&D, manufacturing, logistics, IT and other industries. Federal agencies also have prime contracting goals for small businesses and set-asides in a variety of categories, such as for women-owned, minority-owned or veteran-owned small businesses.
Last year, the federal government met its small business federal contracting goal for the fifth consecutive year, awarding nearly 24% in federal contract dollars to small businesses totaling $105.7 billion, an annual increase of $5 billion and up more than $20 billion since 2013.
So how do small businesses get a piece of that pie? In a recent GrowBiz post, we gave you some advice on determining whether government contracting is right for you. You can find it here. Ready to pursue federal government contracting opportunities?
It’s a process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, says Brian Van Hook, associate director of Florida SBDC at FIU, a Florida Small Business Development Center within FIU’s College of Business. “You have to understand it is the federal government and there is paperwork involved, but the government has made a lot of effort to streamline processes and to make things more responsive. And that’s why programs like SBDC and PTAC are out there — we are here to help people to pursue these opportunities.”
PTACs, or Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, can provide no-cost assistance to small businesses looking to compete for government contracts. PTAC consultants work with a small business on researching opportunities – including through its BidMatch service — as well as provide feedback on the business’ capability statement, proposal and overall strategy. “We can help them work smarter not harder, basically coming up with a more tailored strategy,” said Van Hook.
SBDC consultants can also help small businesses seeking government contracting in a variety of ways. “Some businesses have a great game plan when it comes to contracting but they need working capital until they receive payment. We have other consultants who can help with the operations side or HR as businesses ramp up to service a big contract. That’s where PTAC and SBDC work hand-in-hand to help out the business owner.”
Van Hook, who previously worked for the U.S. Commerce Department and on Capitol Hill, said small businesses need to do their homework and be prepared to follow up. That includes developing your plan for entering the marketplace, completing the required registrations, developing marketing tools and securing relevant certifications.
Althea Harris, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s assistant district director for Marketing and Outreach Area 1 (Miami), agreed.
“Small businesses have to do their research and they have to strategize. It’s very important to be ready and part of that means being financially ready. You have to be able to afford the contract you want, you have to make payroll before the government or a prime contractor pays you. It means you have the right employees in the place or you know how to employ them quickly,” Harris said.
“Being ready also means understanding what value you bring to the proposition, and not everyone is able to articulate that in a way that is compelling. In what way are you distinctly different and better than your competitors? Be very targeted about the contracts you are going after. Understand what it will cost you to pursue the contract. It is a business proposition to pursue the federal money that will cost you time and money, which is money and money.”
TAKING THE FIRST STEPS
To start your search for opportunities, go to USASpending.gov and search for all the federal awards under each and every one of your NAICS codes. These are your potential federal contracting partners, says Van Hook.
Then, do your homework. Once you have your list of potential agency partners, learn what they buy and how much, how they buy it and how much. Are they hitting their small business goals?
Once you have duly registered in SAM.gov, completed an SBA Profile there and created a Capability Statement, you will then want to turn quickly to Capture Management, the function of identifying opportunities, says Luis Batista, a Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center consultant who specializes in government contracting.
As part of your Capture Management process within the federal system, you will first want to register on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website, which lists all open contracting opportunities over $25,000 across multiple federal government agencies. While on FedBizOpps, you can create an account and have your own custom “My FBO” home page with Quick Links and Quick Search, Batista says.
“What is important to understand here is that you do not need to respond to opportunities by yourself. If you are new to federal contracting, you can use the Interested Vendors section on any given opportunity (where available on FBO.gov) to both list yourself and find others that you may be able to work “with” as a Teaming Partner or “for” as a Subcontractor,” Batista says. “The key to finding Teaming partners is identifying what they have that you need and what you have that they need. This may be a Set-Aside and only one of you may have that certification, or it may be a question of capital, experience, geographical location, or other factors.”
FBO also offers the Vendor Collaboration Central Event Listing, which allows small businesses to find and participate in federal agency collaboration or engagement opportunities. The Small Business Events for Outreach and Training publishes events across the country from many agencies and organizations.
MORE ABOUT SUBCONTRACTING
Many vendors find subcontracting a preferable route to getting experience as a federal contractor. Large business prime contractors with contracts expected to exceed $700,000 (or exceeding $1.5M for construction) are required to subcontract some of the work to eligible small businesses. This is an excellent way to test the waters of federal business without suffering undue risk, Batista says.
Another advantage is that subcontracting doesn’t require a subcontractor to hold a Schedules contract. When a small business receives a subcontract from a larger prime contractor, the vetting process is done by the Prime, not the Agency.
In addition to small business set-aside subcontracting opportunities, qualified small businesses that meet various socioeconomic criteria are eligible to compete for additional set-aside opportunities, after obtaining certification from the Small Business Administration (SBA) where it is required. Set-aside categories include 8(a) Small Business, Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) Small Business; Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB); and Woman-Owned Small Business (WOSB). Read more about Set-Asides and Special Interest Groups for additional information here.
You can locate the PTAC closest to you at the Association for Procurement Technical Assistance Centers Website: http://www.aptac-us.org/contracting-assistance
Written by Nancy Dahlberg on October 30, 2018
Winning a government contract can be very rewarding, but getting there is an extremely complex process, especially if you’re not prepared beforehand.
Luis Batista, a Procurement Technical Assistance Center consultant who specializes in government contracting, helps businesses assess whether they are ready for government contracting by looking at five key areas of a business. They are:
- Past Performance. Past performance, defined by the accumulation of work completed by a business with customers in the public and private sectors, is an essential component in determining a firm’s readiness for government contracting because it is a quantifiable metric, like revenue or years in business. Equally important, many government proposal requests utilize past performance as an evaluation criteria. Therefore, the more relevant past performance a firm has, the more ready they are for government contracting. Typically, the government requires two years of steady past performance.
- Strong Financials. Strong financials are defined by positive cash flow and year-over-year increases in revenue. Therefore, the stronger the financials a firm has, the more ready they are for government contracting.
- Access to Capital. The more access to capital a firm has, the more ready they are for government contracting. Is your company able to access a line of credit or capital in order to support the costs to perform on a contract?
- Strategic Partnerships. These are the professional relationships maintained by a business with other businesses that offer the same or complementary services in order to support their pursuit of government contracts or performance on government contracts. Therefore, the more strategic partnerships a firm has, the more ready they are for government contracting. In Batista’s experience, the most effective method for identifying and creating business relationships is by attending outreach events and networking events.
- An Orderly Office or Operations. A business with an orderly office is efficiently operated in terms of its administrative, operational and accounting activities, making it better able to perform as a government contractor.
Now that you have a better understanding of what is required to be ready for government contracting, ask yourself: Are you ready?
Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) can provide no-cost assistance to small businesses looking to compete for government contracts. You can locate the PTAC closest to you at the Association for Procurement Technical Assistance Centers Website: http://www.aptac-us.org/contracting-assistance
Prime Contractor Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, LLC (GLDD LLC) is co-hosting an outreach webinar with the Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) on October 1, 2019, from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM CST / 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST (Eastern Standard Time).
The webinar will include the following presentations:
- Brief summary of the free resources provided online by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) by Norma Alberts, GLDD LLC | email@example.com
- GLDD’s specific project needs: Tugboat & towing services, endangered species observers, diesel fuel (#2 low sulfur-marine diesel), safety products, rental equipment, welding machining, rental apartments, and marine hardware and supply
- Special Guest Speaker: Marc Violante, Director, Federal Market Strategies Specialist at WPI, will speak on the topic of “Innovation – Trends, Programs, and Technology in the Federal Marketplace” | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Question and answer period
This webinar is free to attend; however registration via email is required in advance.
Please fill out the attached Supplier Size Business form and email it to email@example.com along with your capabilities statement. Your company name, address, capabilities/brief description, and business size is required on the attached form. You will receive the access link for the webinar after submitting the form.
Social rules and etiquette are changing as quickly as technology changes. Keeping up with social etiquette is vital as you want to make the right first impression.
In the past, you’d exchange business cards with a new contact during the initial introductions sealed with a friendly handshake. However, times have changed.
Let’s think about the use of business cards for your next PTAC networking event.
- Do not expect your business card to speak for you. Instead, project yourself as the leader of your company without being pretentious.
- Don’t rush to hand out your business card – especially to someone you’ve just met. This action can make people feel you’re desperate to sell to them, particularly if you’re networking at a conference.
- Giving out 100 business cards does not mean you’ve made 100 contacts. In fact, you may have lost many of those potential contacts. Wait until there is a reason to give your card and ask for the other individual’s card at the same time. This will help to establish the beginning of the relationship. Agree to the method of follow up (phone call, email, or meeting) and make sure you honor the commitment.
- Keep your cards in a cardholder to ensure they look neat and are easy to retrieve. Such remarks as “Sorry, it’s wrinkled,” “It’s the last one I have,” and “Let me clean that little bit of gum off of it” do not represent you or your company well.
Did you know your PTAC consultant can help you review your marketing content such as Capability Statements, business cards, and your website? Before you go to a tradeshow, it’s a good idea to schedule a marketing review meeting with your consultant well before the event. This will provide you with enough time to act on their suggestions, make edits, and have all your marketing collateral ready to go in time for your next networking event. And remember, your PTAC classes are not only a source of valuable information but also an opportunity to work on your marketing skills with other PTAC clients in a safe environment.
On July 18, 2019, the SBA Administrator posted a notice to the Federal Register announcing changes to the small business size standards to adjust for inflation. Though this is an interim rule, the changes will take effect on August 19, 2019, and will allow small businesses to remain “small” longer. They will also help some companies, which are currently just outside the small-business range, to move back within the range thus making them eligible to compete for small business set-aside contracts if the proposal due date is on or after August 19, 2019.
If you’re an agricultural firm, you’ll be pleased to know that the SBA has increased size standards for agricultural industries. But that’s not all! The NAICS codes relevant to agricultural industries are now included in the SBA’s rolling review for inflation, which occurs every five years. Before this change, the size standards for these NAICS codes were set by statute.
For more information about this interim rule, including the comment period that ends on September 16, 2019, or to review the new size standards table, click here to read the full notice in the Federal Register. If you have questions about the new size standards, whether they impact your business, how to certify your eligibility as a small business, or just want to gain a better understanding of these changes, contact your local PTAC consultant for further guidance.