(This is the second of a two-part series on working with the government. To read our first installment on how to qualify for a government contract, click here .)
FOR LYNN SUTTON , the founder of Chicago-based management consulting firm, Kairos Consulting Worldwide , landing a $1.26 million one-year contract with the U.S. Department of Defense last September was a cause for celebration — and exhaustion. To land the deal, she spent three years courting the government and doing everything she could to get the win.
To make her firm a higher priority in the government’s eyes, she had it certified as a women- and minority-owned business. She joined trade groups to pick the brains of members who often work with the government and even sought out the advice of a competitor who had done some federal contracting work.
Landing a government contract can typically take 12 to 18 months — an eternity for businesses that need cash fast, says Jennifer Bisceglie, president of InTEROS Solutions , a McLean, Va., supply chain management consultancy which has subcontracted with the government for eight years.
There are, however, a few ways to expedite the process. Here are five ways to improve your chances of landing a gig with the government:
Take advantage of special programs
Thanks to federally-mandated procurement goals minority-owned or economically-disadvantaged businesses have a leading edge when it comes to landing contracts, says Debra B. Libow, a Small Business Administration procurement center representative. Through the SBA’s HUBZone program , for instance, businesses that maintain their principal offices in so-called historically underutilized business zones are able to vie for dedicated government contracts (3% of all government spending is allocated for these contracts). To receive the SBA’s HUBZone certification, owners need to be U.S. citizens and ensure that at least 35% of their work force resides in the economically-depressed area. Qualifying firms also receive favored status when bidding on other contracts. Or, if they’re the only HUBZone firm around, they don’t have to compete at all, says Libow. To locate HUBZones in your area, click here .
Also, the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, which awards contracts worth 5% of all government spending to qualifying businesses, provides minority-business owners and economically-disadvantaged small businesses favored access to federal prime and subcontracting opportunities for a period of nine years after their initial contract begins. To apply online, click here .
Businesses that are at least 51%-owned by women, veteran or service-disabled veterans gain preferential treatment from the government as well, says Libow. To get certified, reach out to organizations such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council . Additionally, each state operates a Minority Business Enterprise and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise certifying body. You can also self-certify by simply declaring that your business is 51% veteran- or women-owned on individual contract proposals.
Exploit all programs possible
To boost your business’s chances of winning a government job, apply for multiple certifications. For instance, if a small firm is already participating in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program, they can relocate to a HUBZone area. That way, they may be eligible to receive both types of contracting opportunities, according to the SBA.
Become a subcontractor
Federal agencies like to give contracts to firms with previous government experience, says Libow. To help your firm establish a track record, seek out work as a subcontractor to a firm that is working on a prime government contract. Big companies such as Northrop Grumman ( NOC ) and Unisys ( UIS ) are generally required to award subcontracting opportunities to small businesses, businesses that are minority-owned or those that are HUBZone certified. To link up with prime contractors, attend an SBA ” business matchmaking ” event, which seeks to connect businesses with various government and corporate procurement officers. For upcoming events in your area, click here . For the SBA’s directory of subcontracting opportunities, click here .
Get a mentor
Become a protégé to a larger firm that’s already working with the government. Often, these relationships can lead to subcontracting opportunities or even primary contracts, says Bisceglie whose company is mentored by Accenture . The SBA offers a mentor/protégé program . There’s also Give Me Five , a national program launched by WIPP and American Express OPEN that offers to broker similar relationships among female business owners. You can also inquire at big federal contractors directly, says Bisceglie.
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