Are you a small business looking to pursue contracting opportunities with the government, but simply don’t know where to begin? You’re certainly not alone. From knowing whether your business is even a right fit for public sector work in the first place to understanding how to deliver on contracts once you’ve finally won a bid, navigating government procurement can be a daunting endeavor that challenges even the most seasoned acquisition experts.
At Public Spend Forum, we’re passionate about remedying the barriers that small businesses face when they seek to work in public sector markets. In our recent Barriers to Entry Report published in February 2021, we highlighted many of the pain points that small businesses encounter during their journeys in government contracting. Among the many difficulties identified over the course of the study, one of the most common concerns voiced by small business leaders was the complex and costly processes involved with doing business with the government. Another routine hindrance small businesses face is the challenging and disjointed flow of communication when trying to conduct work with public sector agencies.
Furthermore, many small businesses feel as though they simply don’t stand a chance against the well-connected and established firms that are more experienced and well-acquainted working in the public procurement market. To remedy these frustrations, and many more, we’ve decided to launch the Govshop Small Business Resource Center (SBRC) — a one-stop-shop containing anything a small business would ever need to navigate public procurement in the United States.
The Frustrations Small Businesses Face When Starting Government Contracting
To gain a better understanding of why procedure, communication, and incumbent preference within government markets all continue to be so problematic for many small businesses, we decided to take a deep dive to learn about these issues and their root causes.
When most small businesses begin thinking about doing business with the government, the first place they often go is online, which is why we chose to investigate the current state of online procurement resources in the United States. To do this, we examined the current agency-published resources publicly available to learn why so many small businesses find these resources to be suboptimal tools for their public-sector market needs. Procurement resources published by government agencies are important because their purpose is to help small businesses new to working with government agencies navigate the complex processes within the public procurement lifecycle. The consumability of these resources is particularly vital because these complex processes can vary considerably by agency and level of government. However, the reliability of these resources as well as their feasible use by small businesses is, to say the least, less than ideal.
This deep dive involved researching and analyzing hundreds of resources from dozens of federal, state, and local government agencies in the United States, as well as additional outside resources aiming to provide businesses guidance on how to work with public sector agencies.
During this research, we settled on the goal of curating a harmonized resource center where small businesses can easily find organized and accessible information about how to work with public sector agencies. It is our hope that this collection of resources, hosted within the recently unveiled GovShop Small Business Resource Center, will make doing work with the government as seamless as possible for small businesses in the future.
What Makes a Useful Agency Procurement Resource? Design, Depth, and Content Quality
The patchwork of government procurement resources that defines the U.S. public procurement ecosystem struggles from inconsistency in three major ways; design, depth, and quality. During our initial research, one of the first observations we made was that the online resources available to help businesses understand the process of working in the public sector are often confusing and very difficult to navigate.
Namely, resources for individual government agencies are almost always located on disparate websites or pages that utilize differing designs, formats, and layouts. For example, the same information published on one agency’s website could be located on two or more different pages on another agency’s website. This means that no matter how familiar a user is with one particular agency’s website, they can get lost when using another agency’s platform.
Similarly, we also noticed during our investigation that the information provided on these varies greatly in level of depth from agency to agency. Some agencies certainly deserve credit for devoting a considerable amount of time and effort to put together robust “How to” or Q&A pages for their potential suppliers. However, other agencies provided very little information to potential suppliers on how to do business with their agency — with some agencies completely lacking resource pages in their entirety. This often left us frustrated and aimlessly looking around other down-page websites to try to find solutions to our most basic questions about the agency’s procurement processes.
During our investigation, we also noticed that quality of the information provided varies considerably from agency to agency, even among those who went to great lengths to provide users information on how to do business with them. In some instances, well intentioned agencies had put together robust “how to” guides for suppliers, but the information contained within was often confusing and not easily digestible for a supplier that has not previously done business within the public sector.
Other resources contained broken links, a slew of agency specific acronyms that are not spelled out, or outdated content, making it very challenging for readers to gain even the most basic insights they’ll need to better understand those agencies’ procurement processes.
A Better Solution for Small Businesses: The GovShop Small Business Resource Center
These disparities in design, depth, and quality warrant a better way for small businesses to go about navigating the public sector. These conditions create an information asymmetry that disadvantages small businesses that are new to the government market compared to incumbent contractors that have previously won government awards and are more familiar with complex contracting processes.
Simply by having greater familiarity with the contracting processes, incumbent suppliers are given an advantage over new small businesses, regardless of whether the incumbent’s product or service is the best available.
There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for small business owners to grow their companies by winning government contracts, but major barriers to entry inhibit the ability of many companies, particularly small businesses, to work with public sector agencies. Finding quality resources that can help suppliers navigate the complex processes is a very difficult task itself. What you’ll find in the GovShop Small Business Resource Center is the result of many hours of research and curation of the best and most relevant resources for any small business supplier looking to win government contracts.
There are more resources available on the web, but we intentionally selected those which we found to contain the most pertinent and understandable information. It is our aspiration that this center will reduce the amount of time and energy that small businesses spend finding the resources to help them navigate working with Public Sector agencies.
We also hope that this curation of resources will ultimately make working with public sector agencies more accessible for all small businesses and begin to level the playing field to create a more open and equitable public marketplace.
We Want Your Feedback
Our goal is to help small businesses as much as we can, so we plan to continue to curate more resources and add more features to the Small Business Resource Center to best serve the needs of Small Business owners that want to succeed in the government market
We also invite and appreciate any feedback you might have that would help us improve the Center’s utility. If there is an FAQ that we have not included or a valuable online resource that we have not linked, please let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org and we will work to integrate it into the Center!