With our fall American Express OPEN Government Contracting Procurement & Networking Events approaching on October 20th and November 5th in New Orleans and Chicago, I wanted to talk about the enormous opportunity selling to the U.S. government offers small business owners – the government purchases more than $500 billion on a broad range of products and services – at least 23 percent which are required to be fulfilled by small businesses. And I wanted to know why some owners – who understand that their products or services are a perfect fit – still don’t take advantage of it.
What I’ve learned from many of them is that the process for becoming a government contractor seems too complicated or time-consuming, especially given the daily demands of running a business. But those who have achieved government contracting status say the effort is well worth it.
We recently profiled Randy Lebolo, who talked about how he obtained his construction license in 2000. By 2004, he was a subcontractor in building schools in Palm Beach County, as well as banks in Colombia, Puerto Rico, and throughout South America. In 2008, he obtained his 8a certification, which offers traditionally under-utilized businesses a chance to secure federal contracts. With this certification, eligible firms may be awarded federal government contracts on a sole-source basis – up to $3 million for goods and services and $5 million for manufacturing.2 Within four months of securing his 8a, Randy received his first sole-source contract.
As a business owner interested in getting into government contracting, Ahmed Mady, CEO of Paragon Remodeling, recognizes the potential to expand and add stability to his company. He’s looking into getting his D-U-N-S identification number (a required step for government contracting to register in the SAM database) and seeking potential teaming arrangements. Still, he said, “Getting into government contracting is like starting a business. There’s so much to learn.
It would be much easier if it was broken down into smaller steps and someone walked me through it. That’s why I’m looking for a partner who has a contract and can help me learn my way into it.”
For Ahmed and other business owners who may be interested in getting started, I suggest the following:
- Hiring a consultant can provide assistance. I’ve met many small business owners who have worked with outside experts to help them get started with the process. While it may mean additional cost, the time saved and confidence gained from working with someone experienced in the process may well be worth it. Your local SBA/small business development office should be able to provide referrals for consultants, along with other resources.
- Break down the process down into smaller steps, as Mady suggests. In “Prepare Your Business for Government Sales,” we’ve outlined some steps – such as obtaining a D-U-N-S identification number and a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code – along with many of the telephone numbers and Web sites needed to do so. Follow these steps, and you should be able to get started on the path toward government contracting.
- Network at events where agencies may have representatives. Many agencies host their own events to encourage and educate businesses to learn more about working with them. You may also consider general business events, where you may meet other business owners who have experience in government contracting and can provide direction – or even teaming opportunities.
I invite you to learn more about government contracting – and network for opportunities – at one of our upcoming American Express OPEN Government Contracting Procurement & Networking Events, taking place October 20, 2010, in New Orleans and November 5, 2010, in Chicago. At each event, there will be sessions for those new to government contracting who want to learn the basics, as well as those more experienced who want expert advice on how to maximize opportunities. And you’ll have the opportunity to learn from and meet experts and other business owners who may be able to help you get started.
You can also learn more by visiting OPEN for Government Contracts: Victory in Procurement (VIP) for Small Business, an online resource that includes a step-by-step interactive guide that will take you through the government contracting process.
Sophia Lundberg is a Vice President leading the Advocacy team for American Express OPEN.