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The U.S. government buys more than $800 billion of products and services each year, making it the world’s biggest customer. Given all the business available, you would think small businesses would be beating the government’s door down. They’re not.
“Only 5% of America’s small businesses call the government their client,” says Sher Valenzuela, a government contracting expert with GrowUSA! (www.growusapress.com) in Milford, Delaware, and author of The World’s Perfect Customer Changed Our Lives. The figure is so small, she says, because most small businesses either don’t know about the opportunities that are out there, or they think they’re too small to be taken seriously.
While size might be an issue in the corporate world, the U.S. government is different. Here are some key points for every small business to consider:
When it comes to the U.S. government, small is in. A company’s small size can be a plus in pursuing government contracts. In fact, more than $240 billion worth of work is set aside each year to be bid on by small companies.
What the government buys is public information. While you may have to badger corporations to learn whether they have a need for your product or service, the government is required to advertise all available contracts valued at more than $25,000, and the primary source of information is www.fedbizopps.gov. You’ll find information about what government agencies buy, from whom, and what they’ve paid in the past.
Free help is available from the government to win its business. “The government is serious about attracting more small business suppliers,” says Valenzuela. To that end, it has created tools and supporting agencies to help companies win bids. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers are an excellent starting point. Find your nearest office at www.dla.mil/db.
If your bid is unsuccessful, the government will tell you why. “The federal government is very responsive when you don’t win a bid,” says Aya Fubara Eneli of Aya Fubara Eneli and Associates in Danville, Illinois. “Always ask for feedback on what you could have done differently, and you’ll be much better educated for the next time you bid,” she recommends. Eneli’s firm provides grant writing and training in issues such as diversity and leadership.
Payment is guaranteed. “It may take a little longer to get paid by a government client,” says Russell Henderson, vice president of Metropolitan Technology Solutions Corp. in McLean, Virginia, “but you are guaranteed payment.” That’s not the case with other businesses, something MTS has discovered first-hand.
Buyers like doing business with people they know. “The federal government is like any other client,” says Henderson. “If they know you and know you’ll do a good job, they’ll want to use you.” MTS is a consulting firm specializing in contract IT personnel; the government accounts for 80% of its annual revenue.
Personal contact gives you a leg up. “When a question comes up regarding a bid, some beginners are reluctant to pick up the phone to ask for clarification,” says Eneli. “Always make the phone call,” she says, because “you get nuggets of gold