Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

Take these steps before becoming a federal contractor

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My Sept. 24 column reviewed potential federal contracting opportunities to consider if you start your own business after leaving your federal job. Here are tips I collected from federal contract managers on how to win contracting bids:

  • Follow solicitation instructions to the letter, and submit all required documents.
  • Discuss solicitations that interest you with your target agency’s contracting officer (CO) before you submit proposals. Also, consult him if you anticipate missing deadlines or if you hit other obstacles while preparing proposals or fulfilling contracts. It is the CO’s job to communicate with vendors; don’t be shy out of the mistaken belief that you will earn a reputation as a pest if you contact him.
  • Tailor each proposal. Specify how you will fulfill all solicited requirements. A federal procurement manager advises bidders: “Do the research. If your proposal just yammers on about your company’s history and why it is so great, it will flop.”
  • Write your proposal so that it gets to the point quickly and hits readers with your best shot up top. “If you bury your relevant credentials and project plan in fluff, you will dig your own grave,” warns a federal procurement manager.
  • Your proposal should answer questions such as: Why should we select your company? What does your company offer that other contractors don’t? If possible, provide concrete examples of your company’s successes that parallel the demands defined in your target solicitation, and describe any previous contracts you have fulfilled.
  • Craft your written proposal to be complete and comprehensive. This document is the only record that will count — spoken conversations or handshake agreements are not contracts.
  • Don’t communicate with anyone at your target agencies about your pending bids except the appropriate COs. If you violate this rule, you may inadvertently create fatal conflicts of interest.
  • Answer appropriate “sources sought” notices — statements of potential interest in a product or service by an agency — posted at www.fedbizopps.gov. You may get your foot in the door and earn an insider advantage that could lead to a small business set-aside or a sole-source contract.
  • Work to expand business. Research opportunities with your customers during the fourth quarter of the year, when they may be particularly eager to meet small-business contracting goals before the fiscal year ends.

Resources to help you win federal contracts:

  • Most agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, which promotes opportunities for small business by publishing forecasts of their procurement needs and by hosting vendor outreach sessions, where businesses market their capabilities and learn about potential procurement opportunities.
  • Before attending sessions, research your target organizations and practice your sales pitch. Bring with you marketing materials. Find sessions at www.osdbu.gov.
  • The Small Business Administration’s Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program promotes opportunities for women-owned small businesses. See www.sba.gov.
  • SBA offers free mentoring programs that pair small businesses with experienced entrepreneurs. For more information, type mentoring into the search window at www.sba.gov.
  • The Procurement Technical Assistance Program provides help to businesses at little or no cost as they seek government contracts. See www.aptac-us.org/new.
  • The National Association of Government Contractors offers leads on government contracts and potential teaming partners, contract review services, proposal writing services, training and publications. See www.nagc.com.

 

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