Government contracting involves a vast arena of spending to secure the diverse array of goods and services sought by the world’s largest government. For an entrepreneur who has successfully worked with that giant customer, it’s natural to think about how to grow a contracting business.
A business owner has many opportunities to consider. Two main avenues, however, present themselves. You could grow by doing more of what you have been doing. Or, you could grow by adding new products or services. Growth in either direction can come organically or by acquiring other businesses.
One place a business owner can start is looking at the company’s capabilities. What are they now, especially in terms of growth as a government contractor, and what could they become? What could the company do better? What isn’t being done by others, either at all or very efficiently?
This might kick up some specific ideas that match your company’s expertise and/or aspirations. Many small business contractors, and entrepreneurs in general, have more ideas than they have the resources to bring them to life. For this exercise to bear fruit, however, it needs to be structured.
The view from the customer’s side
As customers, government agencies value flexibility, speed, accuracy, dependability, service, new and better ways to use technology, and “tried and true” methods entwined with breakthrough tech. Rethink your business by viewing it from the government contracting agent’s perspective.
In many cases, private sector innovations have not crossed over to the government. What innovations might you highlight as you seek your next contract? What government tasks or needs might be markedly improved by implementation of your plans?
Bearing in mind the capabilities you have just reviewed, see how they match up to the government’s needs. If you have supplied one agency with a product or service, might there be other agencies with the same needs?
The goal here is to identify your novelty. What do you have to offer that sets you apart? Itemize a list that encompasses all that your company can offer in specific ways. What are your strengths? Emphasize specific capabilities in terms that include flexibility, response time, services and product innovations.
Do a deep dive into research
There’s a common government term used to describe an amount of knowledge deemed minimally necessary to be able to justify moving forward with a plan. It’s called becoming “questions deep in your knowledge.” When you can easily answer at least seven questions on a subject, with specific details, you become “questions deep.” Let’s look at information sources available to a person who wants to know how to grow a contracting business. The sources fall into two categories: person-to-person and internet-based.
This is about finding information, but also making connections. Reach out to potential customers and ask them to describe their needs as they relate to your business. You might have to do a little internet sleuthing to find out the respected organization leaders, the decision makers, and the people who generate the requests for bids and proposals.
Frame your request for communication around the genuine possibility that it will be mutually beneficial. Ask questions and wait for answers. Listen. Resist “pitching” your business, no matter how tempting it is. Pitching your ideas instantly changes the tenor of the conversation. It can severely restrict the amount of information you will receive.
Listen for their pain points, the moments when they say they could be doing their job better “if they only had …” Note the jargon they use while describing their needs. Take notes. Master that language and use it in your conversations, correspondence and bids.
Information on the web
You want to know how to grow a government contracting business? The government pours out the answers in buckets through a variety of websites.
The Small Business Administration dedicates a great deal of its resources to helping small businesses win contracts with the federal government. In fact, it is the lead dog in helping Uncle Sam reach or exceed its goal that small businesses receive 23 percent of the total value of all eligible contract awards.
One site it runs is SubNet. The agency designed the Subcontracting Network System to connect small businesses with contracting opportunities. It includes lists of large businesses calling out to subcontractors. The lists include detailed descriptions of projects and contact information. Gaining experience as a subcontractor is a good way to grow a government contracting business.
Another great source is Sam.gov. This is the main entry point to doing business with the federal government through its System for Award Management. It includes a search engine for government contracts. Look up profiles of similar companies and your closest competitors. What factors are common among the strongest competitors? What keywords and catch phrases do they use that might apply to your business? You can use this language to update your SAM profile, for one thing.
Similar government sites for research include FPDS.gov, the Federal Procurement Data System; eSRS.gov, the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System; and FSRS.gov , the FFATA Subaward Reporting System. These sites include user guides, FAQs, videos, and glossaries, but also much deeper levels of information on possible contracts and your competition. The Federal Service Desk, https://www.fsd.gov, also is a good research tool.
The Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, or PTAC, offer guidance both online and through more than 300 offices around the country. Its services include determination of suitability for contracting work, research for procurement data, finding bidding opportunities and preparing proposals. After you win a contract, PTAC will help with production and quality issues, accounting, payment issues, how to prepare for audits, and other things.
Ways to find projects
After you have updated your SAM profile and adjusted your sights, consider working with a bid matching service to stir up some new business and grow your company. Some of these internet services provide market analysis with respect to your industry and searching keywords applicable to your plans. Among these services are: www.findrfp.com, www.governmentbids.com, https://rfp.bidnet.com, www.bidsusa.net.
The General Services Administration (GSA) has added information under the promising heading of www.usa.gov/expand-business. The site has links to contract possibilities with state and local governments, programs designed for veterans who are contractors, each branch of the military, and 29 federal agencies. You might not recognize some of those agencies, but each one has both common needs and specific ones. Numerous government contracts are awarded across the board for items like office equipment, training materials and routine services for all sorts of needs. If you make logo-emblazoned coffee cups – or welcome mats or T-shirts – for one agency, you might be able to make them for any or all of them.
Be sure to see if your company qualifies for one of the government’s small, disadvantaged business programs.
Also consider searching directly for opportunities with state and local governments. Sites like www.fairfaxcounty.gov, for example, with links to the Economic Development Authority of Fairfax County, Virginia, might be a good source for local government projects.
Rewrite your profile
Update your SAM profile to reflect changes in your business and new goals. Make sure your profile includes the results of your research, including jargon learned in personal research. Keep descriptive data accurate and current.
As outlined above, a growing small business contractor should begin with some specific areas of expertise and have some general applications supporting these specific proposals. Write an active, specific “Introduction Headline.” Stress what makes you unique and uniquely situated to fulfill the government’s needs.
An RFI, or Request for Information, is an invitation from a federal agency and procurement officer that plans to buy products or services. The purpose is to find out more about the market, what companies might be interested in doing the work, and how they might go about it.
An RFQ, RFT or RFP (Request for Quote, Tender or Proposal) represents the next step in the solicitation process. The contract officer has reviewed the RFI responses, consulted with the agency involved and written the RFQ, RFT or RFP accordingly. These documents provide more specifics about the project and, particularly in the case of the RFQ, emphasize the price the supplier would charge.
The importance of the proper response to an RFI is vital. It should be treated with all the seriousness of the latter stages. Sometimes, an agency will look at the responses to an RFI and write an RFP or RFQ with a preferred company in mind.
Companies that are serious about growing their government contracting work will mine an RFI for information about the agency and the project, use it as an opportunity to begin or deepen a relationship with the agency or contract officer, and treat it as the end stage in a procurement decision rather than the beginning.
The business lifecycle
GovCon Wealth is a division of Cope Corrales that provides professional assistance to government contracting businesses. The GovCon Wealth planning team strives to support sound business strategy from the initial growth stages all the way to the selling of the company.