Your First Five Steps in Government Contracting
by BillGormley, Former Guest Blogger
- Created: October 29, 2009, 9:41 am
- Updated: June 17, 2011, 12:07 pm
It’s amazing how many questions within the Business.gov Community focus on selling to the government. It seems as though every other post is from another small-business owner asking, “How do I get started?”.
It’s not surprising, given the shaky commercial economy, that small-business owners are looking for a way to tap into the steady flow of business the government provides to many thousands of companies every year.
And, this makes good business sense. The government spends nearly $589 billion each fiscal year on contracts. For the small-business owner, the government has set a goal such that 23 percent of those contracting dollars go to small businesses.
So with this blog post, I’ll get you started – I’ll explain the basic first steps, from registering your company within the appropriate government database to understanding the level of commitment you’ll need to make.
Step One: The CCR
To sell your services and products to the government, the first step you’ll need to take is relatively simple: get your company into the Central Contractor Registration database. This is a database that collects, validates, stores and disseminates information to government agencies as a way to let them know which companies are selling the services and products they may need.
Your company has to be registered within this database if you want government buyers to find you and for you to get paid.
Step Two: Getting a Contract Vehicle
Once you’re registered in the CCR, you’ll need to choose a “contract vehicle” – or, as the name suggests, a vehicle through which you can enter into a contract with the government.
A contract vehicle is a kind of pre-authorization that you – the supplier – get so the government can buy services and products from you. It’s like a seal of approval from the government telling them they can feel confident that you’re a legitimate supplier.
So, the government finds you through the CCR, and then buys your offerings through a contract vehicle.
There are a number of different contract vehicles you can choose from. I always recommend the General Services Administration’s GSA Schedules Program. It’s the broadest contract vehicle, and the lowest cost of entry into the government market for a commercial supplier.
GSA offers a good explanation on its Getting on Schedule page.
Step Three: Do Your Homework
One of the most common things companies forget to do when preparing to sell to the government is identifying their target audience.
The U.S. government is huge. It is far-and-away this country’s largest consumer. It includes many, many different audiences. Saying you’re going to sell to the government is like saying you’re going to sell to the entire United States.
Within the U.S. government, different types of agencies – defense, civilian, and intelligence – may have vastly different types of needs. The Department of Education, for example, is a civilian agency with priorities that will be very different than the U.S. Army.
Before you get started, do your homework. Take the time to understand the differences between these types of agencies. Understand which agencies are civilian agencies, which are defense, and which are intelligence. Learn about their “mission” (all agencies have a “mission”), and how your offerings can help them achieve that mission. USA.gov offers a complete list of government agencies (and much more) here.
Step Four: References
The first three steps, above, have focused on getting you to the right place and in front of the right people. Once you’re there, you still have to go through the sales process to compete for the business.
Unlike many commercial prospects, the government puts a very heavy emphasis on past performance. To achieve any level of success selling to the government, you must provide proof that you offer what you say you offer, and you must have customers willing to back you up.
So, before you walk in the door, make sure to prepare a solid history of satisfied customers who are willing to serve as references.
Step Five: Tie the Knot
Government buyers are long-term thinkers. Most government customers are looking to establish long-term relationships with solid, reliable businesses.
So, just like preparing to enter any new market, make a commitment to entering the government market. Tie the proverbial knot. Put together a business plan, including a go-to-market strategy. Business.gov offers advice and guidance on how to write a business plan here.
And, just as important, make sure you have a plan in place if your government prospect says “yes”.
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