Get Your Piece of the Pie

Federal government contracts aren't reserved just for large corporations; small businesses can succeed, too

With small businesses receiving a record 23 percent of federal government contract dollars last year, this year's forecast for small-business contracting couldn't be better. One of the Bush administration's goals has been to see that small businesses are able to compete for their share in the federal marketplace.

By reforming the way the government contracts, a wealth of information is available for small companies, and new programs have been developed to help them move toward securing more contracts. According to www.whitehouse.gov, the Business Matchmaking Initiative, launched last year, will connect small businesses with federal, state and local government agencies and large companies to allow them to discuss contracts and bidding processes.

The administration's support of growing small businesses is not the only reason that government contracting should be goal-worthy. The Small Business Administration (SBA) secured more than 45 percent of government contracting dollars put out for hurricanes Katrina and Rita cleanup and recovery.


With numerous resources and opportunities available, small businesses can get a bigger slice of the federal pie. And for first-time vendors, there's no time like the present to just dig in.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has updated its Web site to make it more efficient and user-friendly. And GSA's "Get it Right" campaign, implemented in 2004, addresses improper procurement practices.

With numerous resources and opportunities available, small businesses can get a bigger slice of the federal pie. And for first-time vendors, there's no time like the present to just dig in.

Where to Start
The more you know about government contracting, the easier it will be to move through the process and start making money. One of the best resources is the SBA.

Information about becoming a federal prime contactor and opportunities to subcontract with large businesses can be found on the SBA's Government Contracting homepage at www.sba.gov/GC. This is a good resource for federal prime contracting and subcontracting opportunities, as it also has links to small-business representatives located at federal agencies.

The SBA works on expanding contract opportunities for small businesses with procurement center representatives known as PCRs. They work with federal buying activities to review contracting actions and proposed bundled acquisitions. These representatives also recommend small-business sources, counsel small business firms and review subcontracting plans to ensure small-business participation. And they are there to help take you through the process, first by making sure you're ready.

"Small businesses should conduct thorough research of the federal marketplace before they enter it. Small businesses should also consider their business portfolio and only take on work they can manage," said Nancyellen Gentile, assistant administrator for contract assistance for the SBA. "Additionally, they should fully understand the technical requirements of procurement."

Uniform policies and procedures for government acquisition of products and services are established under the Federal Acquisition Regulations at Chapter 48 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The procurement process can hinge on factors as simple as an award to the lowest bidder. Other procurements can involve negotiations and trade-offs to ensure that the federal government is purchasing the best value, Gentile said.

With clear procurement opportunities, the actual process of securing a contract falls on the business and how well it prepares its offer.

"Before bidding on a contract, do your homework. Investigate the type of procurements to be bid. Download actual solicitations, and practice preparing proposals. Attend training workshops offered by the SBA. Introduce your business to the SBA PCR," Gentile said.

The businesses that succeed are the ones that have a clear understanding of their competition and are prepared to offer the government the best deal. If the process seems overwhelming, there is plenty of help out there.

The GSA Schedule
One of the best opportunities for government contracting is working with GSA. For Schedule 084 -- the GSA Federal Supply Service Multiple Award Schedule contract vehicle for security products and services -- sales were more than $2 billion in 2005. Of the 1,200 contacts awarded, 1,000 were small-business contracts.

To build opportunities for small businesses, GSA includes a statement actively seeking small-business vendors in its solicitation synopsis. And at industry shows, GSA asks vendors about their size status and offers encouragement of small businesses to consider submitting offers under the schedule program, said Kellie Stoker, a division director for GSA, Greater Southwest Acquisition Center.

Getting on schedule is a matter of following proper procedure and securing a contract. Before a business can enter into the government marketplace, it must complete an application online at www.ccr.gov. Additionally, many agencies require companies to complete the online Representations and Certification application (ORCA) and registration. Register online at orca.bpn.gov.

To begin the process of becoming a schedule vendor, businesses should be prepared to complete the solicitation documents, providing accurate and complete disclosures of how they do business. Solicitation documents can be downloaded at www.fedbizopps.gov. Businesses also should review the FSS Clause Manual accessed through the Fedbizopps search engine. Other helpful information is available through the GSA Vendor Support Center at vsc.gsa.gov.

How to Succeed as a Small Business

Developing a clear plan of action works best for a first-time vendor. To ensure success, Gentile offers the following advice. A small business should:

  • Become familiar with the SBA Government Contracting homepage.
  • Determine if its firm qualifies for one of SBA's certification programs.
  • Identify its product or service under the Federal Supply Classification Code and North American Industry Classification System.
  • Obtain a DUNS number.
  • Register in the Central Contractor Registration system.
  • Identify current federal procurement opportunities.
  • Become familiar with the federal government's contracting procedures.
  • Investigate the federal supply schedules.
  • Seek additional procurement assistance through SBA PCRs, commercial market representatives and procurement technical assistance centers.
  • Explore subcontracting opportunities, and accept credit cards.
  • Investigate other federal procurement programs such as the Small Business Innovation Research program.
  • Market, market, market!

Businesses also must be prepared to explain their proposal being made to the government. More information can be found at www.gsa.gov. Once you're prepared, you can draft and submit your solicitation package.

MAS contracts can take awhile. GSA's goal is to make contract awards within 100 days from the receipt of the offer. This process can be drawn out because of the volume, the need for clarification before evaluation and the complexity of the offer. Getting turned down initially shouldn't be a deterrent. Many offers that get turned down are revised and resubmitted to eventually gain a contract.

Once in, be prepared to market your business.

"Of the vendors whose contracts generate significant sales, they aggressively market their products or services to the federal market and attend industry tradeshows," Stoker said.

Many of those contactors are small businesses.

The GSA Advantage! Web site is becoming the main entry point for federal customers seeking information on vendors with current schedule contracts, as well as for locating specific products and services. Since its introduction in 1996, the Web site has undergone improvements several times and continues to get feedback from vendors and customers. E-tools also help customers and vendors learn more about the products and services offered.

Looking ahead, GSA will continue its "Get it Right" campaign to keep improving the acquisition process. An ongoing project is the development of the Federal Acquisition Service that will replace both the Federal Technology Service and the Federal Supply Service. Both programs will improve GSA's efficiency and ability to offer the best possible value for federal customers.

Set Up For Success
Sometimes hiring an expert can be the best way to approach GSA. Consulting services already know to sell to federal customers.

"Companies can greatly benefit from working with a well-established consulting company," said Lynn A. de Seve, president of GSA Schedules Inc. "A seasoned consultant can successfully lead a potential government contractor through the entire process, from business plan through implementation, training and compliance."

A consulting service can help a company understand the terms of the GSA Schedule and offer advice about whether your products and services are even a fit. Certain regulations can prohibit you from offering the same products or services to the government that you do to your commercial customers, de Seve said. And getting that information up front can save you from a lot of wasted time and effort.

Consulting firms also help their customers keep the contract current and in compliance. GSA Schedules Inc. conducts yearly GSA checkup visits and GSA IG audits. The firm also provides monitoring of its clients' quoting and booking processes to track sales and review out-of-scope orders, de Seve said.

Another advantage to hiring a consultant is that many are industry-specific. This allows for clear understanding of who among a business' competition has a current GSA contract, how the competition is priced and how a business can prepare a comparable program. Also, consultants can help companies find subcontracting opportunities with larger companies.

Once You've Secured the Contract
The government could potentially become your largest customer and a great new source of income. The security industry has seen huge growth, in particular. The best way to keep your contract profitable is to stand out on the Web site and continue to market your product or service. That way, you're guaranteed to keep getting your slice of the federal pie.

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Security Products, pgs. 65-67.

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