BY NANCY DAHLBERG
While small businesses may have been discouraged 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.
In the last issue of Treasure Coast Business, we gave you some advice on determining whether government contracting is right for you. Ready to pursue federal government contracting opportunities?
It’s a process, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming, says Scotty Wilson, Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) consultant with the Florida Small Business Development center at Indian River State College (FSBDC at IRSC). “These small business operators must understand it is the federal government and there is paperwork and procedures to follow, but efforts have been made to streamline the processes. And that’s why programs like the FSBDC at IRSC and PTAC are out there — they are designed to help small business operators pursue these opportunities.”
PTAC, programs and consultants, can provide free 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, developing a more tailored and targeted strategy,” said Wilson.
FSBDC at IRSC 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 may require additional working capital until they receive payment. Other consultants 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.
According to Wilson, small businesses need to do their homework and be prepared to follow up. That includes developing a 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 Wilson.
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 Wilson.
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, Wilson 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,” Wilson 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, Wilson 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).
Your closest Treasure Coast PTAC center and consultant is located at Indian River State College. Call or email Scotty Wilson at 772.462.7631 or [email protected].
Once a company is ready for government contracting, FSBDC
at IRSC consultants can help small businesses with a series of
Treasure Coast Business is a news service and magazine published in print, via e-newsletter and online at tcbusiness.com by Indian River Magazine Inc. For more information or to report news email [email protected]