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Selling to the government: A guide to small business contracting strategy

Government contracting is a business with great rewards… and great confusion.

The government is unlike any other customer. Its rules, laid out in the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR (sometimes called the contractor’s Bible) cover a whopping 1,925 pages. Its needs are opaque, complex, and sometimes classified. Gathering intelligence on potential bids can leave you either digging fruitlessly for information or drowning in endless solicitation appendices.

Between contract hunting, bidding and compliance, there’s not a lot of time for a small business contractor to focus on strategy. That’s a shame. Contracting is a tough business to break into, and when it comes to challenges there’s no cure like a solid plan.

Small businesses especially can’t afford to simply throw things at the wall and see what sticks. With limited resources, you have to target your bids and direct your energy toward opportunities you can win. And then, of course, you have to win them.

To help busy small businesses take a step back and look at the big picture, EZGovOpps assembled a series of steps to small business contracting strategy that will help you stay ahead of the competition and break into the business.

 

1. Find your niche.

This cannot be overstated. Figure out exactly what your business is good at, and become great.

If you are considering breaking into federal contracting, your business probably already has a specialty. But as a small business, you’ll need to narrow even further: you need to be able to do what other businesses can’t. You need to do one thing better than everyone else.

Don’t just pick your niche at random. Use market intelligence (like EZGovOpps) and research past contracting opportunities to figure out what needs the government has in your field that aren’t being met. If you see contract deadlines extended to solicit more competition, take notice: that means there aren’t enough contractors in that field for the government’s taste. For example, OASIS SB’s Pool 2 on-ramp was extended last week, indicating an unmet need for small business contractors providing accounting services.

Though past contract history is vital to understand, don’t forget about emerging technologies and increased needs. Pay attention to hot new fields, especially in sectors like cybersecurity that are getting increasing attention. Small businesses are more flexible than large ones, giving you a distinct advantage: you can be first.

Remember that in government contracting, a niche is not just about the field of work. It is also about who you are. If your business qualifies to be certified as a women-owned small business, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, a minority-owned business, or any other special designation, do not hesitate to register.  Your business may not be the only one in your field, but if you can be the only one in your field with a particular set-aside designation, you offer the procurement officer extra value.

 

2. Set up your contract opportunity radar.

Your business is small; you have to be efficient. You cannot, and should not, be reading through every solicitation that passes through FedBizOpps, or bidding on every opportunity. Instead, think narrow, targeted opportunity hunting.

Remember that niche you developed? Use it. Set up email alerts with very specific criteria, targeting opportunities that your business is not only qualified for but can win. In EZGovOpps, you can use the “Save Search/Create Agent” function to sign up for email alerts with active opportunities, pushed right to your inbox.

Pay special attention to agencies you have a history with; contracting expert Mark Amtower suggests nourishing these relationships before branching out into other agencies.

Using EZGovOpps to plan your small business contracting strategy

Using the EZGovOpps “Save Search/Create Agent” function, you can get automatic email updates with new opportunities in your specific niche.

 

3. Don’t just compete for federal contracts– instead, connect.

A great proposal is only the first step. What gets you noticed is your relationship with the customer. Building a real connection takes three things:

1) Knowledge. When it comes to selling to the government, knowledge really is power. Use a market intelligence service like EZGovOpps to know everything there is to know about the contract you’re competing for, about the agency’s procurement history, and about your competitors and contract incumbents. Make sure you have a clear idea about what the customer is looking for, and then gather information so you can make sure your proposal meets their needs better than anyone else’s.

2) Networking. Pay attention to personal relationships. Stay compliant with contracting rules and regulations, but do not underestimate the trust that communication can foster. Attend industry days and meet with procurement officials. Ask questions. Be engaged.

3) Building trust. As a small business, you have an extra hurdle: you have to prove your expertise. Leverage social media like LinkedIn, your company website, and other avenues for creating online content. The more you show that you know your stuff, the more procurement officials will trust you to manage their contracts.

 

Small Business Contracting Strategy

Attendees visiting the National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo on July 20, 2010. Photo courtesy of JaxStrong via Flickr.

4. Stay proactive – don’t neglect small business contracting strategy.

Be proactive, not reactive. Though nothing is ever 100 percent clear, the government offers a lot of data that can help government contractors peek into the future. The bureaucracy of government, with its long paper trail, gives businesses who plan ahead an advantage. The only trick is to use a tool, like EZGovOpps, to sort through the stacks of paperwork and create concrete predictions.

Not only can EZGovOpps help you forecast prime contracting opportunities – you can also identify upcoming subcontract opportunities on recompetes (keeping in mind changing SBA subcontracting regulations). When a new prime contractor wins a contract, they will need a whole host of subcontractors to support the effort. Make sure one of those subcontractors is you. Like in the prime contracts module, EZGovOpps allows you to search for subcontracting opportunities by specialized NAICS codes and keywords.

With a little work and the right tools, your business can predict where contracting dollars will go in the coming months and years, and then target the most lucrative opportunities. To find out how EZGovOpps can help you forecast opportunities and plan for the future, sign up for a free trial or schedule a demo today.

Don’t forget to view our full GovCon News section for more intel.

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