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Top Tips for Finding Federal Contracts

By: Sherri Komrosky, Deputy District Director
North Dakota District Office

Government contracting can be great for small business, and researching these opportunities online can be a great place to start. However, searching the internet for government opportunities can also be extremely frustrating.  If you are not familiar with the process, a simple search can present a list of solicitations that can take days to review. How can you simplify the effort while still keeping it effective? We have a few tips:

Tip 1: Make sure you are registered in the System for Award Management (SAM) at  https://www.sam.gov. You cannot bid on federal solicitations unless you are registered in this database. This mandatory registration is FREE of charge. Make sure you are on the official site as there are many commercial website designs that appear similar to the official government site but they charge fees.

Your SAM.gov registration must be updated to stay active. I recommend you do so at least every 6 months. You will receive emails from SAM.gov to remind you your password expires (180 days) and automated emails at 60, 30 and 10 days before your SAM profile expires. If you don’t update your profile it becomes inactive and is no longer listed.

Tip 2: Complete registration in the Dynamic Small Business Search database. The Small Business Administration maintains the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS) database. It is tied to your SAM registration, so once you have completed your SAM registration you will be asked to update your small business profile. The information provided in SAM populates the DSBS. It is another tool contracting officers use to identify small businesses. 

You can also use DSBS to view information about your competitors, therefore make sure your profile corresponds with the profile of your competition. 

Tip 3: Research Government spending on USA Spending and the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS). USA Spending and the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) track federal spending to ensure taxpayers can see how their money is being used. In 2019, the government spent $4.45 trillion dollars! These are great websites to search for procurement information: who's buying, what they are buying, and how they are purchasing. There are many drop-down boxes and search options, but well worth a deep dive to find valuable information.

Tip 4: Check out government agencies “Wish Lists”. The “Wish List,” or forecast, is just that, a list of projects/contracts that, if the money is available, government agencies would like to purchase. The items on the wish list may or may not ever be let for bid, but by watching this list you can maintain an awareness of planned projects or potential contracts.

There are many helpful web sites available when researching forecasts. Acquisition Central lets you search forecasts by agency. 

Tip 5: Search beta.SAM.gov at https://beta.sam.gov. Effective November 2019, FedBizOpps.gov (FBO.gov) transitioned to beta.SAM.gov. This is now the site where federal agencies are required to post available procurement opportunities valued at more than $25,000 (Note: many agencies are posting projects below this threshold).

If you are interested in saving searches, following contract opportunities or signing up for an Interested Vendor List, you will need a login.gov account. Your previous account in FBO.gov will not transfer.

There are many methods to search this database. You can most easily find a listing of contracts by using a keyword search with your product/service or zip code. Using this method, you can find all solicitations for "cheese", or "computers", or "socks", or "food services", or whatever you may wish to sell to the government.

You can also check the site for contracts with the agency that best fits your product or service by using the Search by Agency function.

You can also use this database to search past contract awards for more data around market size and competition.

Tip 6: You can set beta.SAM.gov up to do searches or you can subscribe to a BID MATCHING Service. In North Dakota, the North Dakota Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) can help you set up a search profile in their bid matching system - it will save you countless hours of searching! Your matches are delivered to you via email every afternoon. 

The North Dakota PTAC provides this service and one-on-one procurement assistance free of charge. All states have a PTAC and most provide this service free or for a very reasonable fee. You can find PTAC’s in other states at http://www.aptac-us.org.

Tip 7: Check State Agency websites. Consider state agencies! North Dakota has a website similar to SAM specifically for the purpose of providing access to state solicitations – http://www.nd.gov/spo. This is the site which, after proper registration, pushes information to you rather than requiring you to search each day. If you want to bid on state solicitations, you must be registered on this site.

You can check out state procurement agency sites by clicking on the following links: North Dakota, Minnesota, and the National Association of State Procurement Officials provides information for all states. As you do this, you will quickly learn that not all websites are created equal. Practice, persistence, and patience will pay off!

Tip 8: Once you find a solicitation you are interested in … Print it out! Print the page and save all the information you find as a hardcopy. You may find a contract on the internet and then lose the site or bookmark “favorite”. When you go back to the site you can’t find it again. If you didn’t print it out it could be lost forever. You can also use this as a scribble copy!

Tip 9: Keep the name of the contact person. Call and/or write to them with your questions. Read the entire solicitation, write your questions down and submit them all in one letter or email. Before you do this, check the solicitation website to see if these questions have been addressed by other parties. There are times when a phone call can work best, but a written request with a written reply is much more reliable. Do not call them continually with one question at a time and make sure you check to see if there is a timeframe for asking for clarifications.

Tip 10: Check the sites often for updates and amendments. You must make sure your bid reflects all amendments. If the opportunity was on beta.SAM.gov, be sure to register as an “Interested Vendor” and “Watch Me” so you are notified if there are any changes.

Tip 11: Relationship Building. You will want to create a strong relationship with the agencies you're attempting to serve. On the Federal level, most agencies have a Small Business Specialist that will meet with you. Remember to do your research so you understand the agency's mission and how your product or service can help them meet their needs.

Many SBA and PTAC offices work together to offer Procurement Fairs where small businesses can meet the federal agencies. The North Dakota Procurement Fair will be held March 25, 2020 in Bismarck - mark your calendars!

Tip 12: Check for subcontracting opportunities. If you are interested in subcontracting, the SBA hosts the SUB-Net database. This is a listing of subcontracting solicitations and opportunities posted by large prime contractors and other non-federal agencies.

Becoming proficient in finding and bidding on contracts is a long journey. The most successful companies dedicate an employee to research procurement information and search for opportunities. These tips will help you to become proficient, so keep trying, and don’t get discouraged!


Sherri Komrosky is the Deputy District Director and the Business Opportunity Specialist for the North Dakota District Office. In this position, she is responsible for assisting North Dakota small businesses gain access to government contracting opportunities and utilize the federal 8(a) and HUBZone programs. Prior to joining SBA, Sherri served was the Minnesota Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) Program Director for 10 years; Northern Minnesota Area Manager for 15 years; and with the North Dakota PTAC for 2 years. Her government experience began with the VA Medical Center in Fargo where she held various positions during her 8 years there, many in the procurement area. Sherri can be reached at sherri.komrosky@sba.gov.