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Five Tips for Finding Federal Contracting Opportunities

Getting started in federal government contracting - from understanding how the government buys, to registering to do business with the government - can be complex, but there are many in-depth resources you can explore. Here are five tips to help small businesses find federal contracting opportunities.

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According to recent INPUT analysis, President Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package will deliver billions of dollars to federal agencies and state and local governments to create new jobs, retain existing jobs, and jump start spending by investing in infrastructure projects.
 
Small businesses are already taking notice.

As Ken Larson reports in his Small Business Federal Government Contracting blog, there has been a dramatic increase in SCORE counseling requests from small businesses inquiring about entering federal government contracting.

So if you have ever contemplated government contracting as a way to grow your small business, now is the time to start thinking about how you can position yourself to win a share of these opportunities when they emerge. 

Getting started in federal government contracting - from understanding how the government buys, to registering to do business with the government - can be complex, but there are many in-depth resources you can explore.

My colleague, Tracy Johnson - over on Sparkplugging.com - has some great advice on getting started with government contracts. You can also get help from the government directly with this Small Business Guide to Government Contracting that can help you understand the federal government procurement process and what you can expect as a federal contractor.
 
Here are five additional tips to help small businesses find federal contracting opportunities.
 
1) Get Your Foot in the Door - Become a Subcontractor
This is a great way to break in to federal government contracting. Larger enterprises often bid out portions of their direct government contracts to smaller providers.  If you're new to federal contracting, teaming with another business as a subcontractor is a great way to get your foot in the door.

You can find out about potential subcontracting opportunities through the GSA Subcontracting Directory.

Another variant of subcontracting is to form what is known as a teaming arrangement. However, you’ll need to get a GSA Schedule for this, since Contractor Team Arrangements (CTA) involve two or more GSA Schedule holders coming together with complementary solutions or services to meet an agency’s particular requirements.  Find out more about teaming arrangements here.

2) Use the Government’s Virtual Marketplace and other Procurement Data Resources
Many organizations, both public and private, provide access to Web-based government procurement listings services. These typically feature the latest contract opportunities as well as bidding tools to help you submit your interest.

The best place to start is FedBizOpps. This is the government’s one-stop virtual marketplace; from here you can search, monitor and retrieve all opportunities solicited by the entire federal contracting community with a value of $25,000 or more.

Other sites, operated by private companies, are fee-based, and include INPUT, Onvia, FedSources, etc. These services also include market intelligence, procurement resources as well as events and tutorials to help businesses market to the government.

3) Write a Capabilities Statement
Now that you are plugged into FedBizOpps or other procurement sites, you’ll need to have a capability statement (CAPE). A CAPE will help you respond to government postings that request industry interest in forthcoming procurements. It’s also a useful way of advertising your expertise to potential teaming partners or prime contractors that might want to "sub" with your small business.

Check out this post from the Small Business Federal Government Contracting blog to see an example of what your CAPE should look like.
 
4) Locate your Procurement Center Representative
The SBA operates a Procurement Center Representatives (PCR) program to help small businesses get federal contracts.  PCRs are located at various SBA procurement area offices and federal buying centers around the country.  Find one near you here.  

5) Know Your 8(a)s and Other Set-Aside Programs
Some government agencies require that a percentage of their procurements be set-aside for small business. This creates a unique advantage for small business owners, and has no parallel in the commercial business sector.

If you qualify for set-aside status, it also makes you a very attractive teaming partner. Prime contractors often look to team with small businesses that fall under these programs to help support their eligibility to bid on certain contracts. 

 One of the most common "set-asides" is the 8(a) program. Developed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the 8(a) program helps small disadvantaged businesses compete in the American economy and access the federal procurement market. AskJim.biz has a short and sweet summary on what the 8(a) program is here. For more detail as well as information on how to apply for 8(a) status refer to the SBA’s 8(a) program page.

Another set-aside is the HUBZone program. This provides federal contracting preferences to business located in, or have employees in, areas delegated as "historically underprivileged". The SBA has more information here, and you can also search for HUBZone specific opportunities on FedBizOpps here.

At the end of the day, all these tools and resources provide an infrastructure for doing business with the federal government, but as with the commercial sector, there is no substitute for ensuring that networking and relationship building is central to your business plan.

To quote inspirational speaker, Bob Burg, "It isn't just what you know, and it isn't just who you know. It's actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living."

The businesses that cultivate connections with people inside the government have the opportunity to create awareness of their business, build credibility, and establish themselves as serious players in the marketplace. Read 7 Steps to Finding the Right People to Talk to when Bidding on Government Contracts for networking tips.

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