This column originally ran in The Washington Post Capital Business.
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, which can be a crucial source of revenue to help them grow, innovate and create jobs.
President Obama has made small business contracting a top priority. He created an inter-agency task force which developed recommendations to increase small business contracting. The president also signed the Small Business Jobs Act, which levels the playing field and increases small businesses’ access to contracting opportunities. These initiatives have made a real difference. The number of contracts going to small businesses has steadily risen in the last two years. Last year, almost 23 percent of federal contracting dollars went to small businesses.
The world of government contracting can be difficult to navigate, but small business owners have a resource in the Small Business Administration (SBA). If you’re a small business owner or thinking of becoming one, here are five ways to increase your chances of winning that contract:
- Get a counselor. You can find counselors in 68 SBA district offices, 885 Small Business Development Centers, 110 Women’s Business Centers, 350 SCORE chapters, and 300 Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) across the country. These professionals are standing by to help you get in the contracting game, and most of their services are free. Go to www.SBA.gov/direct, enter some basic information about your business, and you’ll be presented with a list of nearby resources.
- 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 (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 (OSDBUs). Visit www.osdbu.gov to find out more.
- Identify contracting opportunities. Don’t just sit and wait for a contract — 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 Web site (www.fbo.gov), which has a list of all contracts available for bid. Also, look for new tools like green.sba.gov, an online portal that houses all of the clean-energy small-business opportunities across the federal government.
Small businesses are the engine of job creation and economic growth in this country. The SBA is committed to helping small businesses grow through contracting. Winning a contract is hard work, but small business owners are not in it alone.