Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is the Government Market Right for us?
A. Let’s take a look at the numbers: $2.5 trillion per year. $8.49 billion a day. $28.5 million per hour. $475,000 per minute. Almost $8,000 per second. These figures represent the total annual spending of the federal government. If you’re not currently doing business with Uncle Sam, some other company–one that sells the same product or service that you provide–is getting a nice slice of the government pie.
So why aren’t you in business with Uncle Sam? One of the myths that scares companies–both large and small–away from doing business with the government is the old “You have to be in DC, and you have to know people.” This myth has only been exacerbated by the news surrounding the Jack Abramoff affair and its never-ending aftermath. And while it never hurts to “know people”–especially those who might buy your product or service–you certainly don’t have to have a lobbyist on your payroll to sell to the government.
Before I tell you just how to sell to the government, however, you need to determine if you really have what it takes to play in the largest market in the world. Here’s a short “quiz” that will help you figure that out.
- Are you comfortable with long-term sales cycles? Although the federal government would be ranked No. 1 if it qualified for the Fortune 500, and all governments in the United States–federal, state and local combined–account for 25 percent of all domestic spending, the government sales cycle can be slow. For one thing, you’ll be competing against some very entrenched companies. If you sell products (vs. services), the process may be a little quicker, but not by much. This doesn’t mean you can’t succeed, but it does mean it’ll take some time and effort. The government buys every legitimate business product and service available, and there is competition for that business. Successful market entry takes dedication.
- Are you willing to learn how the government buying process works? At the federal level, most buying is done under contract. Do you have the time and interest it takes to properly follow procedures? A detailed description of the types of contracts used can be found at the Federal Aviation Administration’s site. (One other way the government buys is discussed in question No. 8.)
- Do you know what resources are available to help you out? One of your best resources will be the Defense Logistics Agency, which sponsors the Procurement Technical Assistance Program, which operates Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs). A complete list of PTACs and many other web-based resources are available at Government Express.com. Click on “Resources.”
- Do you know what a GSA “number” is or what it’s used for? The General Services Administration (GSA) does two major tasks for the government: It’s the government’s property manager and also its contract manager. The GSA Schedule is a collection of forty-three contracts–also known as schedules–that each cover a group of products or services. Schedule 70, for instance, covers all information technology products. These individual schedules (or “number”) are a contract that allows you to do business with any federal agency. To get a GSA schedule, you must submit a proposal to the GSA. There are currently more than 12,000 schedule contractors, and in fiscal year 2005 (which covers the dates October 1, 2004 through September 30, 2005), GSA schedule sales accounted for $33.5 billion.
- Do you legally qualify as a small business? The SBA sets the criteria for what is considered “small” by federal buying standards. To make a determination, go to this section of the SBA site. You’ll need to know your NAICS (North American Industrial Classification Standards) code to be able to make this determination for your business.
- Is there anything else that you need besides a GSA number to legally qualify as a small business before you attempt to do business with Uncle Sam? You bet! You need to have a DUNS number, which you get from Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). D&B assigns a DUNs number to any company that wants a credit rating from D&B. Companies and government agencies subscribe to the DUNs service to be able to determine if another company is in good financial shape.After getting your DUNs number, you’ll need to register at the Central Contractor Registration site (CCR). You have to register with this site if you want to do business with the federal government. In order to register, you must have a DUNs number.
- Can your business qualify as a “disadvantaged business”? There are a number of classifications for contract preference that may apply to your business. For instance, some bids are “set aside” for qualified minority business. To find out if you qualify, visit this page on the SBA’s site that answers questions about the minority business program.To determine your eligibility for other disadvantages business categories, here are the classifications:
- Being a registered minority firm in the 8(a) program
- Small Disadvantaged Business
- Woman-owned business
- Veteran or Disabled Veteran
- Hub Zone
- Native American/Alaskan
- Is it possible that you’re already doing business with the federal government? If what you sell costs under $2,500, you may already be doing business with Uncle Sam and just not know it. Orders under $2,500 fall under the “micro purchase threshold” and don’t require any government contract or paperwork so federal departments can make purchases under this dollar amount without the normal amount of red tape. If you want to see if you’re already doing business with the government, run this simple test. Check last year’s purchase receipts and see if any of the credit cards used for ordering began with any of these numbers: 4486, 4716, or 5568. These prefixes are used on federal credit cards (called SmartPay cards) exclusively.
While there are many nuances, rules and regulations you must learn in order to do business successfully with the government, if you’re persistent, you’ll find this to be a very rewarding–and surprisingly loyal–market.
Q. WHY GET GSA SCHEDULE CERTIFIED?
A. The GSA awards more contracts to its certified contractors more than any other government agency in the world. The GSA opens new lines of revenue and increases lines of revenue to new and existing GSA Schedule Holders.
Q. HOW DO I KNOW THE GSA WILL BUY MY PRODUCTS / SERVICES?
A. You can verify that they will buy your products / services on their website at www.gsaadvantage.gov. They spend more than $50 Million dollars per hour and over $1 Billion dollars per day.
Q. DOES THE GOVERNMENT TAKE A LONG TIME TO PAY?
A. In other sectors of the government this may be true but through the GSA this is absolutely not the case. They GSA will often offer to pay earlier than the pre-negotiated terms. They have the money already allotted and they simply transfer it to you or pay with a government credit card that most procurement agents hold.
Q. I DO NOT WIN THE BIDS ON CONTRACTS NOW SO WHY EVEN GET CERTIFIED WHEN I CAN GO TO WWW.FEDBIZOPS.COM NOW TO DO PUBLIC BIDDING?
A. You can bid on contracts at www.fedbizops.com but you are bidding against everyone that has the minimum level of certification to work with the government. By being a GSA Schedule Holder you are getting first look at contracts and can obtain them before they even go to www.fedbizops.com.
Your only competition will be against other GSA Schedule Holders in your area of expertise.
If you couldn't find your answer here please contact |S|B|G|A| customer service line: (202)417-SBGA.
Each year, the government awards hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts to businesses to meet the needs of federal agencies and the military. The government’s goal is to award at least 23 percent of those contracts to small businesses.
To sell your products or services to the federal government, your business must meet specific requirements. Although the contracting process can seem complicated and overwhelming at first, the government provides lots of information and tips to help you learn to compete as a federal contractor.
Find Sources of Federal Contracts
There are several different ways you can find opportunities to do business with federal agencies and the military. You can use these resources to get a sense of the federal marketplace for the products or services your business offers.
- Search the Contracting Opportunity Finder. It’s geared to businesses new to federal contracting.
- Sign up for notifications from and search the FedBizOpps database of federal contracting opportunities.
- Become part of the General Services Administration (GSA) Schedules Program.
- Find contracts through individual agencies’ Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
- Become a subcontractor by working for another company that already has a contract with the federal government. This is a good way to introduce your company to contracting with the government and to build a track record of success.
Prepare Your Business for Federal Contracting in 8 Steps
Make sure you read through all of the steps in the list before getting to work. This will help you understand your timeline and what to expect from the process. You may also choose to reorder these steps to fit the specific needs and timing of your work.
- Decide if federal contracting is a good idea for your business. Consider factors including whether your company has enough time and resources to invest in the process. GSA’s Vendor Toolbox can help you make the decision.
- Research the demand and pricing for your product or service within the government. Determine demand for your products or service with the Contracting Opportunity Finder, FedBizOpps, or the GSA Forecast of Contracting Opportunities Tool. And use the Contract-Awarded Labor Category (CALC) site to get an idea of hourly labor rates in federal contracts.
- Avoid costly errors and potential legal problems by researching the regulations and laws for federal contractors. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers resources that can help you learn about the responsibilities of federal contractors. You can also contact a Procurement Center Representative (PCR) for assistance and counseling.
- Create a business plan. It should include a marketing plan, staffing details, and a calculation of how much money you expect your business to gain from the contract.
- Look up the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for your industry. You must know your six-digit NAICS code to compete for federal contracts.
- Determine whether your business is eligible for any special labels (set-aside types) or programs. If so, you can compete for additional contracts that are “set aside” by the government for small and/or disadvantaged businesses. You may also receive preferential treatment when competing for contracts, depending on the specific set-aside type(s) you qualify for.
- Register for a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) code. You must have a nine-digit DUNS code to compete for federal contracts. The government uses this code to track your company’s credit record. This system is managed by Dun & Bradstreet, which is a private company. Registration is free for federal contractors.
- Register in the System for Award Management (SAM). You must have a SAM account to compete for federal contracts. The government uses this system to store information about your business, including certifications, so it’s important to keep your SAM profile updated. Registration is free.
Note: While learning about contracting, you may see information online about the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), however, this system was replaced by SAM. Currently, contractors only need to register in SAM.
Once you’ve completed the steps to get your business ready for federal contracting, you can begin the steps for searching for and responding to contracting opportunities.
- To find a federal contracting opportunity that’s a strong match with the products and services your business is prepared to offer, start your search with the Contracting Opportunity Finder. This tool is geared to businesses new to federal contracting. You can also search for contracting opportunities that are posted through individual agencies or on FedBizOpps, which allows you to register to receive notifications when opportunities that match your business products or services are posted.
- Read all of the documentation about the contracting opportunity very carefully. Every opportunity is different and reading all of the information is extremely important so you’ll understand the requirements.
- Make sure you’re responding to a solicitation rather than a presolicitation, which is often just a request for information and not actually a request for offers. If you need help understanding what certain contracting terms mean, visit the Contracting Opportunity Finder glossary.
- Ask questions--don’t guess. Before you submit your material, get your questions answered by reaching out to the agency contact person listed in the solicitation, or a Procurement Center Representative.
- Submit the requested forms and technical, past performance, and pricing information in the appropriate format by following the instructions in the solicitation. (Only the person legally authorized to enter into contracts for your business should sign forms.)
- Prepare to negotiate your best offer with the government. Make sure you know the pricing you included in your offer and have a strong understanding of the requirements listed in the solicitation.
A federal agency may reject or seek clarifications on your submission if it is incorrect, unclear, incomplete, or late. Many contract submissions are unsuccessful for these reasons. Give your business its best chance by responding to the solicitation on time and correctly the first time.
After You Submit an Offer
The government usually takes 30 to 120 days to review submissions. A Contracting Officer (CO) handles each review. Generally, contracts are awarded based on multiple factors, including
- How responsible and responsive a business is
- How technically acceptable a proposal is
- Past performance references
- Pricing and terms of the proposal
Once your offer is reviewed, you will receive a response from the government. The response could let you know your offer has been accepted or rejected, it could be a request to schedule a meeting to negotiate terms, or it could be a request for more information. If you do not receive a response from the government within three months, reach out to the contact person listed in the solicitation.
If you couldn't find your answer here please contact |S|B|G|A| customer service line: (202)417-SBGA.
Explore the tools businesses can use to search for federal government contract opportunities, and learn about the support services available.
Search for Federal Contract Opportunities
These tools can help you find contract opportunities that are right for your business:
- Visit the Contracting Opportunity Finder to search for opportunities. This tool is geared to businesses new to federal contracting, and small and/or disadvantaged businesses specifically.
- Visit FedBizOpps, where you can search for contract opportunities and register to be notified when an opportunity matches your business.
- Businesses can apply to search and compete for contract opportunities posted through the General Services Administration (GSA) Schedules Program. This program is responsible for the largest government-wide contracts, and handles ten percent of the federal government’s contract spending. GSA operates over 30 different Schedules and each one covers a different type of supply or service. To get on a Schedule, your business must complete the following steps:
- Order a past performance evaluation (PPE). Your business must have a current PPE from Open Ratings, which is a private company, to get on a GSA Schedule. This report is created by surveying some of your past customers. You must provide names and contact information for six to 20 of your past customers when you register with Open Ratings and order a PPE.
- Look up the appropriate GSA schedule number for your business, product, or service.
- Once your business is on a Schedule, you must apply or submit information to solicitations electronically using eOffer/eMod.
- When your business is awarded a contract, make sure you know how to effectively manage a GSA Schedules contract. GSA has resources that can help you learn about your responsibilities as a contractor, and strategize to maximize the potential of your contract.
Support Services for Federal Contractors
Explore ways to learn about federal government contracting, and find out where to get your questions answered.
- The Government Contracting Classroom offers free online courses covering the basics of contracting with the federal government.
- Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) are funded through partnerships between the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and nonprofit state or local entities. There are more than 300 centers nationwide, with staff who can provide one-on-one counseling and help businesses complete registration and certification processes.
- Procurement Center Representatives (PCRs) are U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) staff embedded within other federal agencies. PCRs perform market research and advocate for small businesses. Businesses can contact the PCR within an agency they are interested in working with to learn about contract opportunities that have not been awarded.
- Commercial Market Representatives (CMRs) are SBA staff responsible for monitoring prime contracts to ensure that “other than small” businesses are compliant with subcontracting goals. Businesses can contact the CMR within an agency with questions about contract opportunities that have been awarded.
- Many federal agencies have an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) or an Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP). These offices can help small businesses identify contracting opportunities within each agency.
- The SBA website’s Contracting section provides information to help businesses understand the federal contracting process and requirements.
- The GSA Vendor Toolbox offers guidance and educational materials to businesses interested in pursuing contract opportunities through GSA Schedules.
Find out how your business can search and compete for contracting opportunities within the military.
- Learn about opportunities to sell to the military by contacting the small business office within each branch of the armed forces and Department of Defense.
- Find military contracting opportunities using the Federal Contracting Opportunity Finder (for beginners) or FedBizOpps. Search using the name of the military branch you’re interested in working with, or the location of a specific military installation.
Learn how your business can search and compete for contract opportunities with states and local governments, and U.S. territories:
- Learn how to sell to your state government and search for contracting opportunities.
- Contact your state procurement or contracting office. These non-profit offices can help you access professional development resources, develop innovative strategies, and more.
- Reach out to county, city, and town governments to learn about local contracting opportunities.
Many federal agencies have a dedicated office to help small businesses search and compete for contract opportunities within the agency. These offices are known as either an Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) or an Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP). They may hold informational trainings and outreach events, or provide contact information for businesses to use to ask questions about contracting with their agencies.
Sell to the Military
Find out how your small business can get a contract with the military. Follow these links to visit the OSDBUs or OSBPs for each branch of the military:
- Department of the Air Force
- Department of Defense (DOD)
- Department of the Navy
- National Guard
- U.S. Army
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- United States Coast Guard
- United States Marine Corps
Sell to a Federal Agency
Find out how your small business can get a contract with a specific federal agency. Follow these links to visit the OSDBUs or OSBPs within top federal agencies:
- Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA)
- Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)
- Defense Logistics Agency (DLA)
- Department of Commerce (DOC)
- Department of Education (ED) (PDF, Download Adobe Reader)
- Department of Energy (DOE)
- Department of Health and Human (HHS)
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
- Department of Justice (DOJ)
- Department of Labor (DOL)
- Department of the Interior (DOI)
- Department of the Treasury
- Department of Transportation (DOT)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
- General Services Administration (GSA)
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
- Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
- Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) (PDF, Download Adobe Reader)
- Smithsonian Institution
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- U.S Agency for International Development (USAID)
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
If you couldn't find your answer here please contact |S|B|G|A| customer service line: (202)417-SBGA.