As with most things that involve the government, it can be a hassle to fill out the paperwork to become a registered government contractor and bid for jobs. But it may be well worth it: The U.S. government contracted with American small businesses for a whopping $96.8 billion in federal contracts in 2009. If you want a piece of Uncle Sam’s pie, here’s what you’ll need to do.
1) Get registered. The first step to getting on the government’s radar as a vendor is to register your small business with the Central Contractor Registration. The site will also prompt you to sign up for the required Dun & Bradstreet number you’ll need to complete any government contracting work. The paperwork may be tedious, but it’s important to be sure that your company is coded properly so you will be eligible for opportunities within your field.
2) Research available opportunities. Find current contract opportunities by searching for your relevant code numbers in the advanced search toolbar at the Federal Business Opportunities website. If you find something that seems like a good fit, start small: Many small businesses are competing for these opportunities, so don’t put time into applying for a contract you know you can’t win. Additionally, take the time to research contracts that have already been awarded, and analyze which companies received them to get a better sense of what the government agencies are looking for.
3) Get certified in a specialized category if your business fits the bill. Government agencies are required to reserve 23 percent of their small business budgets for businesses owned by women, minority ethnic groups, and veterans, as well as for businesses located in depressed economic areas known as HUBZones. If your business meets any of these criteria, get certified and you’ll stand a better shot of being awarded contracts.
4) Consider subcontracting first. If you’re finding it difficult to land government contracts or don’t quite understand how the process works, you may want to consider first subcontracting your services to a group that frequently works with government agencies. This will also help you build valuable connections that can serve you well when you decide to pursue opportunities on your own.
5) Attend procurement conferences and seminars to network with agency officials. These conferences will give you a better sense of the government’s contracting process, and allow you to interact with agency officials with buying power on a one-to-one basis.
6) Be patient. The government contracting process can be extremely time-consuming and slow: Many businesses must wait as long as two years for final approval on a contract. With these kinds of timelines, you’re unlikely to make government contracting the bread-and-butter of your business. Still, if you don’t mind dealing with the red tape, government contracts can result in plenty of green over the long term.