There’s a potentially profitable avenue for businesses looking to expand and grow that only a few business owners have dared to explore: government contracting. The government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world, and securing a government contract could mean large returns for your business.
While government contracting can be intimidating, considering that you’ll be competing against the largest players in your industry, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try your luck. The federal government awards hundreds to billions of dollars worth of federal projects to eligible small businesses each year.
If you want to try your luck at government contracting, here’s what you need to do.
1. Evaluate your products and services
The federal government is a huge entity comprised of different branches and offices, and each of them need to hire services or buy goods to achieve its goals. Whether they need more paperclips, heavy equipment, or promotional ads, they’ll turn to contractors to get what they need. And you could be one of them.
Still, if you’re not sure whether the government would be interested in the products or services you offer, online resources are available to help you study the government’s spending habits. One of them is the advanced search tool by the USASpending.gov. It works a lot like Google search, so it should be easy to use. All you have to do is search for the product or services using keywords, choose a fiscal year (FY), and customize the other fields to filter your search. The website will then display a list of completed and ongoing government contracts based on the information you provided.
2. Register your business with the federal government’s database
Once you know for sure that there’s a government contracting opportunity for your business, the next step is to register your company with the federal government. To do that, you need to follow several steps:
- Find out if your company size passes the SBA’s established size standard. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has set a standard size for small businesses across different industries. If you’re looking to pursue government contracts, you’ll need to see if you pass as a small business according to the SBA’s Size Standards Tool. It’s worth noting that appropriate size varies by industry, so consider that when evaluating your company.
- Secure a D-U-N-S number. DUNS, which stands for Dun and Bradstreet Number, is a nine-digit identifier assigned to your business for credit report purposes. You’ll need your DUNS identifier to create an account at SAM.gov, which is a large database for government contracts. You can easily get your DUNS number without charge through their DUNS service request platform.
- Know your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) Code
Businesses looking to pursue government contracts must know their NAICS code. The North American Industry Classification System Code, or NAICS code, is the standard classification system the governments use in identifying business establishments based on the products or services they offer. To know your code, you simply have to identify the goods or services you offer, go through the NAICS codes list, and pick the one that best matches your business. If you offer different products or services, you may have more than one NAICS Code.
- Create a SAM.gov account
The System of Awards Management website (SAM.gov) is the government’s main database for managing federal contracts. You need to be in the system before you can submit a bid. If you own different businesses, you must register them separately on SAM.gov. Your profile must be optimized, so it’s easier for the contract managers to see you in case they need your goods or services. Like optimizing your website for Google or other search engines, you can use keywords related to the products or services you offer.
- Create an SBA profile
Though not required in government contracting, creating an SBA profile can significantly boost your chances of winning contracts. Your SBA profile allows contracting officers to get a deeper look at your business and assess whether your company fits their needs or not.
Moreover, your SBA profile is also necessary to add your business to the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS), which is another database or search tool that contracting officers use when looking for contractors. You can also use the DSBS to look for other contractors and partnership opportunities.
3. Get Certifications
It’s worth noting that government contracting is a tough industry, especially for underserved and economically disadvantaged small businesses. By applying for certifications, smaller companies can better compete for government contracts.
If you are a socially or economically disadvantaged business (e.g., woman-, veteran-, or minority-owned company), you can apply for SBA 8(a) program that provides a 9-year government contracting training to small, disadvantaged businesses. Once the training is complete, certified small businesses will be given priority on selected government contracts (i.e., sole-sourced contracts or set-aside contracts). On top of that, the program also helps small businesses navigate the complex world of government contracting – from getting gathering all the needed documents to writing contract proposals and securing contract financing.
Another program worth exploring is the SBA HUBZone Program, which helps small businesses in Historically Underutilized Business Zones gain preferential access to federal contracting opportunities. To qualify, your business must be located in areas the SBA considers a HUBZone, and most of your employees must reside within the region.
4. Start searching for government contract opportunities
Once everything is set, you’re now ready to win and bid on government contracts. There are a number of databases you can visit to look for available contracts. This includes the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS) or GSA Schedules.
You can also try subcontracting. Larger government contractors may look for smaller contractors to supply tools or delegate a portion of the government project to. If you’re interested in subcontracting, you can check SubNet.com, an SBA-maintained website government contractors use to post projects for subcontracting. Potential subcontractors can see active projects, including its start and end date, project size, location, and more.
The Bottom Line
Government contracting can be complicated. But it’s also one of the most lucrative markets out there. Once you get one foot on the door, you’ll be opening up bigger opportunities for your business. If you’re interested in becoming a government contractor, the steps outlined above can be a good start. The Small Business Administration also offers multiple assistance programs that can help small businesses get an edge in government contracting, so be sure to check that out as well.