Government contracting 101: five winning tips

Posted Feb. 08, 2012, at 5:04 p.m.

Can you imagine your small business providing a key product or service to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Aviation Administration or the General Services Administration?

All of this can be a reality. The federal government spends more than $500 billion a year in contracts, making it the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world. Small businesses throughout the country can and should take advantage of contracting opportunities so that they can grow, innovate and create jobs. At the U.S. Small Business Administration we have a variety of resources to help small firms navigate government contracting opportunities.

Bangor businessman Philip Lander, founder and managing partner of The Lander Group, continues to benefit from SBA government contracting programs. He began his path with SBA’s Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business program, and has also received an SBA loan guaranty to help fund his business. These avenues opened the door to several government contracting opportunities. To date, he has secured contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Aviation Administration and the General Services Administration, and more are in the works.

I recently asked Philip about his company’s experience with government contracting. He told me, “Our experience in government contracting has been a real ‘game changer’ in our company’s business development. With the help of the SBA, we have been able to create a very solid presence with federal agencies, winning a number of government contracts. This has allowed us to build a very solid work force, and it lays a good foundation for growth.”

We want to help entrepreneurs such as Philip Lander navigate government contracting. Here are five winning tips:

• Get a counselor. You can get assistance with business planning, access to capital and government contracting matters by connecting with the Maine Small Business Development Centers at 780-4420, the SBA Maine District Office at 622-8551, the Women’s Business Center at 882-7552, the Maine Procurement Technical Assistance Center at 942-6389 or your local SCORE Chapter. These professionals are standing by to help you get in the contracting game, and most of their services are free. Or visit us online at www.SBA.gov/direct.

• Get certified. A number of certification programs can increase your chances of winning a contract. SBA’s 8(a) program provides counseling, mentoring and access to set-aside and sole-source contracts. Service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and small companies in Historically Underutilized Businesses Zones, or HUBZones, are also eligible for set-asides. SBA recently launched the Women’s Federal Contract Program which opens up contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses in more than 300 industries where they are underrepresented. Find out more at www.SBA.gov.

• Be targeted. The most successful contractors have a specific product or service that federal agencies need. Decide what you have to offer and target your efforts at the federal agencies that need it most.

• Market your business. Get your foot in the door by attending matchmaking events with agency contracting officers or by reaching out to agencies’ Offices of Small and Disadvantage Business Utilization, or OSDBUs. Visit www.osdbu.gov to find out more.

• Identify contracting opportunities. Be proactive. Once you’ve determined the agencies most likely to buy from you, you need to find contracts to bid on. Stay in close contact with the agency’s OSDBU and contracting officers you have met, and visit the Federal Business Opportunities website at www.fbo.gov, which has a list of all contracts available for bid. Also, look for new tools such as green.sba.gov, an online portal that houses all of the clean-energy small-business opportunities across the federal government.

Winning a government contract is hard work, but small business owners are not in it alone. Contact us today to learn how government contracting can benefit your small business.

Maurice L. Dube is the Maine district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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