If you’re a small business and want to get into government contracting, you need all the help you can get. The prospect of competing for and eventually winning government contracts sounds intimidating, but you don’t have to journey alone. In this post, we’re going to review the best free resources for small businesses and demonstrate how they can help your government contracting business:
- Participate in contracting assistance programs for small business, if eligible
- Review open government contracting opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels
- Identify subcontracting opportunities with prime contractors
- Decide if a GSA schedule is the best contract vehicle strategy for your business
- Get support from experts without having to pay expert fees
How to Participate in Contracting Assistant Programs, if Eligible
Every year, the Small Business Administration (SBA) establishes government-wide goals for awarding federal contracts to small businesses and small socioeconomically disadvantaged businesses. In fiscal year 2020, the goal for setting-aside federal contracts to small businesses was 23%. The SBA sets another 5% aside for Small socio-economic Disadvantages Businesses (SDBs), 5% for Woman-Owned Small businesses (WOSMs), 3% for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs), and 3% for Small business in a HUBZone.
How do you position yourself for these set-asides? First, identify whether your small business qualifies as a small business according to the SBA size standard. The size standard of a business can vary depending on industry activities, number of employees, or amount of annual revenue/receipts. Moreover, the standards are matched against a list of NAICS codes that determine whether your business can qualify as small for a particular industry. For instance, say your business has two basic service lines: software publishing and marketing consulting services. Your business has average annual revenues of $18 million, which means your business will qualify as a small business for the NAICS code 511210 (Software publishing) because the code has a $41.5 million size standard. However, your marketing consulting services with a NAICS Code 541613 won’t qualify as small for federal contracts because it has a $16.5 million size standard.
Those size standards are the highest level; they delineate small businesses from “other than” small businesses. We recognize those annual revenue numbers seem quite large, especially for new businesses or startups. So even contracts that are set-aside for small businesses will have a large field of competition since many companies will qualify as small when the annual revenue standard is in the tens of millions of dollars.
If you want to qualify for more specific set-aside programs that exist for small *and* disadvantaged businesses, you’ll need to specifically pursue eligibility through one of four SBA contracting assistance programs. Use certify.SBA.gov to determine if your business is eligible, and if you qualify then you can compete for these socioeconomic set-aside opportunities or even be in position for a sole source award. It can take a few months to work through the process, but these certifications can lead to opportunities for your contracting business so the juice is well worth the squeeze.
Find Government Contracting Opportunities
The most popular free search tool for finding federal contracting opportunities is beta.SAM.gov. It replaced FedBizOpps in 2019 and features a few search options like keyword, solicitation published/updated/response date, NAICS, product service codes, and even set-aside status. We recommend reviewing open contracting opportunities to gain a better understanding of how your target agencies buy products and services that you might offer. The opportunity listings are a great source of market intelligence and can also help you find keywords to add to your capability statements and GovShop supplier profile to get on the radar of more government contracting professionals.
Another source to consider for finding open government solicitations is GovShop, a market research platform that connects buyers and suppliers in the public sector. Our open opportunities page is easy to search and filter for solicitations that you can pursue. If you create a free account, you can even follow opportunities for easier reference and share them with your team members. If you are serious about winning government contracts, create a free company profile in GovShop and let us help you on your journey. Once you find an opportunity that you want to pursue, make sure you know what you’re doing. We created a guide to reading, reviewing, and responding to government solicitations to help you get started, which is available when you sign up for our free 10 week government contracting bootcamp.
If you are more focused on state and local government opportunities, check out these state and local business resources to find contract opportunities, financing, regulation, and guidelines on how to do business within those states and localities. For example, in order to sell your products/services to Virginia, you need to register, for free, as a vendor in eVA. Each state administers its own contracts system, so you will have to create free accounts with them as you develop business at the state and local levels. Many of these systems offer helpful business development tools, like the business opportunity system at eVA, so there is additional value with each registration.
Identify Subcontracting Opportunities With Prime Contractors
If you’re a small business trying to get your foot in the door, government contracts aren’t the only option. In fact, some government contracts (especially those awarded to large businesses) will provide evaluation preference to prime contractors that hire diverse small businesses as subcontractors. These subcontracting opportunities can be very lucrative, but even small subcontracts can help your business develop a record of past experience and gain experience in the government contracting market.
Because subcontractors work directly for a prime contractor, you need to reach out directly to potential prime vendors and demonstrate why they should consider hiring you as a subcontractor. Use GovShop’s database of over 2 million suppliers to find company profiles that sell what you want to sell. Contact information is included in each profile, so email their government representatives and share your capability statement or other key information to build your network.
You can also use this SBA directory of federal government prime contractors with subcontracting plans to identify which prime contractors have a current subcontracting plan. The directory provides the vendor, contracting agency, contract number, performance location, PSC/NAICS Codes, start and completion dates, and total contract value information. If a prime contractor catches your eye, visit their website and review any requirements for doing business with them. Or create a market research list in GovShop and add their company profile to track companies you want to consider in the future.
SBA SubNet is a network database that holds large prime contractor and non-government agency subcontracting opportunities, solicitations, and outreach events. You can search opportunities by state or use the advanced search tool. By state, you will find solicitation details such as prime name and information, type of business solicited, NAICS codes, description, point of contact, solicitation number, performance place, start/closing date, and files attached. Here’s a helpful tip: Use the advanced search tool, select “Business Directory”, then select “Business with solicitations” in step 1 to identify what primes have active solicitations.
If you’re interested in developing business within the Department of Defense, check out these subcontracting for small business resources from their Office of Small Business Programs. This directory provides key information on prime vendors like contact information, contract numbers, periods of performance, and commodity codes like PSC and NAICs codes.
But know that it isn’t just small businesses that are looking for prime contractors with whom to subcontract. Large businesses need subcontractors as well, and they do their own market research to find them. If you are registered in SAM.gov, that’s a good first step. Creating a GovShop profile is a natural second step, and both steps are free!
Decide If GSA Schedules Are Right For Your Business
GSA Schedules are a streamlined contract vehicle that federal agencies (and some state and local agencies) use to reduce contracting lead times and leverage the full buying power of the government for lower prices. You have probably heard about GSA Schedules as a strategy for your business, but are they right for you? The answer is: “It depends”.
If you are just starting your business or don’t have much experience with government contracting, it is not viable for you to apply for a schedule contract (which is still a chore unto itself). Instead, focus your efforts on building experience, earning past performance and experience, developing relationships with government contracting professionals and prime contractors, and nailing your unique value proposition.
On the other hand, if your business has a two-year performance history and is currently delivering on a government contract, GSA Schedules could be a great option, so long as what you sell is already offered on the schedule (and your target buyers regularly purchase goods and services there, a question you can answer by reviewing government agency procurement forecasts). Another helpful resource is GSA’s vendor toolbox which can help you determine whether Schedules are an effective strategy. Before making the final decision, the tool will ask companies to answer the following questions and fill a Readiness Assessment for Prospective Offerors that asks the following questions:
- Having analyzed the market, bid opportunities, and cost to win business on one schedule in GSA MAS, should you consider using other schedules or even other contract vehicles?
- Should you seek opportunities as a subcontractor; rather than a prime to get Government contracting experience?
- Do you need a scheduled contract to pursue future subcontract opportunities?
- Do potential customers you identified use GSA schedules? If not, can you convince them to use them?
- Do customers favor your products and services over the competition?
- How can you differentiate your company from other competition on the schedule where you want to make a proposal?
Get Support From Experts Without Paying Expert Fees
Ultimately, winning government contracts requires a significant level of expertise about process, regulation, and performance. Some companies hire procurement professionals that have worked in the government or industry. Others outsource knowledge from consulting firms. But the costs involved for either approach can be significant.
Before you take the plunge, make sure that your business utilizes these free resources before reaching out to the consultants we’ll describe in this section who can provide advice and support to you without charge. It is important that you use any time you have with them wisely, as they can only help you if you’ve already done your homework about what you want to sell and to whom.
These free consulting resources include small business offices from different federal agencies and procurement technical assistance centers that provide expertise for free and help you to streamline your contracting process with the government. Each federal agency has an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) or an Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) with personnel who are known for helping small businesses identify and compete for contracting opportunities within federal agencies. These people can share information and guidelines about business opportunities, make connections with program and other personnel, and help you market yourself to government agencies.
In addition, many offer free training and outreach events to connect with others in your field. For instance, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) have offices around the country staffed with dedicated, knowledgeable, and experienced procurement professionals whose job it is to assist local businesses with government contracting ambitions. Their services include classes and seminars, individual counseling, and access to bid opportunities, contract specifications, procurement histories, and other information that can help your business succeed. Find out who your local PTAC is and contact them to gain from their contracting services and expertise for free.
If you’re just getting started with your government contracting journey, check out our free 10-week email bootcamp. We’ll take you through each step of the process, from registering your business on SAM.gov and creating a dynamic capability statement to understanding how to read solicitations and identifying opportunities that match your business stage.