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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Techniques for Small Business Product/Services Development in Government Contracting

 
Image:  Getentrepreneurial.com


INTRODUCTION

This article will suggest approaches in developing a product to the point where it can be marketed in the small business federal government contracting venue. Individuals usually succeed at such an endeavor by forming a company, separating it from their personal assets and then developing the company and its product(s)/service(s); even if it is only a one-person operation at the start.

There are techniques for small business to gain government participation in growing an idea into a company. Small Business Innovative Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs in major federal agencies seek concepts that can be funded and developed into products the government needs. Here are some examples:

 DOD SBIR/STTR Small Business Portal

National Institute of Health SBIR/STTR


Service contracting is another form of gaining entrance into the market, creating opportunities for introducing products by selling skilled labor under a government agency service contract or prime contractor teaming arrangement.

A GSA schedule affords a platform for products and services but sales must have been achieved historically in the commercial or government markets before applying because GSA relies heavily the most recent 2-year pricing data in negotiating a schedule.

The government contracting product and services venue is competitive and requirements by federal agencies are often bundled into larger systems procurements. Therefore, it is necessary first to position a small enterprise and its product offerings before tapping the federal market for development support.

GENERAL OVERVIEW

Product entrepreneurs all face the same challenges. Those who succeed recognize they need to visualize themselves in the product development business, structuring an enterprise, generating a business plan, protecting intellectual property and then seeking industry partners and investors to bring the product to market.

In the process, copyrights, patents and royalty issues may come into play and development and distribution agreements are formed. Pricing is finalized based on cost and expense projections and competitive factors unique to the company as negotiation results are achieved with industry teaming partners, developers, manufacturers and distributors.

Financing is always a factor and can be achieved through loans or investors with a good business plan. The remainder of this article will address the basic elements of a framework within which to succeed with your product development for federal government contracting. 

BUSINESS STRUCTURE

For the majority of individuals who are starting single person or no more than 2 or 3 person operations, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) registered with the state and with the federal government is recommended.

It will separate personal assets from company assets and protect them. When product or services sales begin generating revenue an LLC has many tax advantages. It can be registered as Sub Chapter 'S' for tax purposes and revenue and the expenses can be passed through to personal tax returns, paying no taxes as a company. The double taxation issue prevalent with many of the other types of incorporation is avoided with a Sub chapter “S” LLC. An LLC assists in limits your personal liability for debt and court judgments that may not fall in your favor.

Representing the business as a company allows pursuing financing as an enterprise. You can think of a creative name for your LLC and you can complete the articles of incorporation necessary to bring your enterprise into existence. The term, "LLC" must conclude the name of your company if you decide to form such an organization.

Instructions for registering in your state and federally with the IRS are available at your state web site and at the IRS site. You will receive tax and employer identification numbers by registering your business.

PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Patents and copyrights for your idea may ultimately protect you to a degree but the government agencies granting them have no enforcement arm so you must discover a violation yourself, retain a lawyer, bring a court proceeding against a violator and then hope to recover your costs and a reasonable settlement if you win. 

 The U.S. Patent System

Therefore, most of my clients use non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) in dealing with other companies. Teaming is a practical fact of life in pursuing the larger federal government contracts.

You can download an NDA from the “References” Box Net Cube at the right margin of this site. Fill in the blanks as appropriate for a given exchange with outside individuals and companies. Before you meet to disclose details with a potential teaming company or investor, for instance, ask them to sign the document with you up front, put a serial number on it and reference the serial number and the agreement and date on any written materials you give to them.

After the meeting draft a short letter, documenting the minutes of the meeting, what was discussed and stating that the verbal disclosures and materials in the meeting are subject to the agreement and reference the agreement by number and date. Put an acknowledgment line on the letter and ask them to return a signed copy to you. This confirms their receipt of your proprietary information and their agreement to protect it in accordance with the NDA.

There are certain exceptions with regard to individuals or companies you may be dealing with on investing where you may not choose to use an NDA. Some Angel and Capital Investors are sensitive about being asked to sign them. You will have to trade their objections off against the value they represent to your company and conduct your risk analysis on a case-by-case basis.

For detail information asserting rights in technical data and software to government agencies and protecting intellectual property with other companies please see the following article:

Protecting Intellecutal Property 


BUSINESS PLANNING

Visit the SBA website on business planning. There are major topics in the business planning process which, when addressed in a plan, will insure the success of your enterprise and assist you in determining and supporting the amount of funding you need. Such topics as marketing, advertising, competitor analysis and financing are covered there. You will find a presentation and examples that you can follow in improving your plan or in generating a plan if you do not have one. The link to the site is below:

Writing a Business Plan

Articles on strategic planning and developing your marketing plan are also at the “References” Box Net Cube at this site. They address evolving an operations vision for your enterprise showing its potential to present to a banker or to an investor.

Here is a site with free business plan samples:

Business Plan Samples 

It may assist you in visualizing your own business growth to look at an example of how someone else addressed a given topic. I have learned from having worked with many new business owners that it is best to have you examine the material and continue your plan, contacting me with issues and questions as they occur.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILE PLANNING

 
Locate teaming companies to further the objective that they would market your product as part of their offerings with your company licensing and sharing in the proceeds.

A business plan and the guidance above for its generation is the road map for developing ideas, laying out how to expand the sales of your product and researching your market to do so. It will also assist in developing pricing to considering the direct costs of product development, service implementation and distribution as well as the indirect costs of the enterprise itself (operating expenses).must be considered and financed.

A negotiation position for a given product will be driven by certain strategic factors:

1. Does a developer or teaming partner have a strong but realistic incentive to actively make the product a part of the marketplace?

2. Does market research indicate the idea will have strong sales volume once it is developed and distributed?

3. How much will a prospective teaming partner or investor have to invest in the product to get it to market? Does the product require testing?

4. Which is the better deal? Is it better to receive a 7% royalty on $5,000 worth of sales or a 1% royalty on $500,000 of sales? Even though 1% does not sound too impressive, of course it’s the better choice in this example.

A negotiation position should be based on support by for the argument that a concept will experience a certain level of sales and the royalty should be based on a % of estimated end user volume sales, discounted for the investment that the developer and distributor must make to get it to market.

The royalty should be outside of the distributor cost breakdown and the end user cost breakdown. It is simply a deductive factor the manufacturer will have to introduce into their profit equation after the costs have been tabulated. They should not view royalties as a cost factor; they should view them as a share of the profit on the total estimated sales.

Chances of succeeding with a negotiation with a developer and/or distributor are increased by showing understand the prospective market for the product and drawing some comparisons between the product and other similar successful products.

Naturally there will be some give and take with the other side about estimated costs to get the product to market. Be forthright in acknowledging their investment but also support a position with some research and comparative data on the product potential.

Lastly, settle on a % of the end user sales volume based on an estimate to which is agreed with the other party and insures that the purchase agreement for royalties entitles the agreed upon % on all future sales.

FINANCING

The SBA assists prospective business owners in completing sound business plans, which can then be presented to a banker in applying for financial assistance.

In the event that 2 banking institutions deny a loan application, a candidate can apply to the SBA for a loan guarantee that may assist in achieving a loan, since it would back up the application to a bank.

Loan officers are interested in a business plan to get a view of the business future and place a value on products and services based on the market, the competition, the sales projections, costs, expenses and profit expectations. The link to the SBA loan guarantee program is below:

SBA Loans and Grants

Veterans have access to small business loans via the Patriot express program:

 Patriot Express Program


ANGEL AND CAPITAL INVESTORS

Angel and private investors have two prominent characteristics:

(A) They want a high return on investment (ROI)

(B) They typically want a great deal of control of the operation.

According to the Colorado Capital Alliance, surveys of angel investors show that:

1. Angels are seeking companies with high growth potential, proven management and sufficient information about the company, its management team, and its market to be able to assess a company's value.

2. On average, Angels expect 10 to 15 percent above of the S&P 500 return on equity.

3. Typically, Angels invest in companies seeking between $50,000 and $1,000,000.

4. Angels generally prefer to finance manufacturing or product-oriented ventures, especially in the high-tech fields.

5. On average, Angels are 47 years old, have a postgraduate degree, and management experience in an entrepreneurial venture.

An angel investor may ask for at least ten to twenty times return in just five years. For many angel investors, it’s not just about the money; they want to actively participate in developing your business. They want to act as a mentor and sometimes even to take an active role in managing the company. This often translates into the angel investor having a seat on the company Board of Directors.

Angels are also highly interested in an exit strategy from for a full return on their investment in your business. The closest thing to it is an astute business plan that calls out the specifics of potential ROI, based on sound planning and analysis and addresses the following as possible exit strategies. Remember, investors are very aware that an exit strategy cannot be guaranteed. But they can be offered more than the wishful thinking that an IPO will occur in three years.

It is always good to have a lawyer involved in complex documents or in the development of documents. This will further protect a concept. A lawyer does not necessarily have to be present during the exchanges with prospective companies, but a lawyer review and comment on documents before they are signed.

SUMMARY

This article has conveyed preliminary steps for the small business in product development for the federal marketplace.

It should be noted that much of the process discussed in this article is the same for the commercial product development and a certain amount of commercial success is usually achieved before selling products in the government contracting venue. The exception to that rule is in highly technical product pursuits where the government is funding advanced development.

To consider non-profit grants and direct government contract funding potential please see the following article:

Grants Vs, Direct Government Contracts

 
Once a company is formed, a product platform established and a position to market a useful product to the federal government is achieved, please see the following articles at this site in developing a marketing plan

Registering Your Business For Government Grants and Contracts

Multiple Front Marketing

Should You Consider Small Business Governement Contracting?

Small Business Teaming

With careful structuring, planning and marketing, a product with potential can find its place in federal government contracting.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Federal Fiscal Year - Have You Managed Contract Funding Risk?


INTRODUCTION

As the federal fiscal year draws to a close and the new year opens this month, an astute contractor will have examined the funding status of all government contracts for risk.

Limitation of funds and funding exposure must be a vital topic for every government contractor.

THE FUNDING CHALLENGE

Many federal contracts are funded incrementally, usually based on the government fiscal year that runs from 1 October to 30 September. Although the government may negotiate dollar price ceilings for cost plus and time and materials contracts or firm, fixed total price arrangements, the contracts themselves may be incrementally funded, particularly if they extend over two government fiscal years. A contract may contain negotiated prices or a cost ceiling but also specify an incremental funding value.

The contractor is required to inform the government when actual costs incurred plus obligations to suppliers or payroll on a specific contract reach certain thresholds of the current incremental funding specified in the contract (usually 80%). The government is then obligated to further fund the contract. 

In the event the contract is not funded further, the contractor has the right to stop work before he exceeds the incremental funding. Some contractors choose to operate on "risk," continuing to perform on a contract while exceeding the incremental funding in booked cost and obligations. 

The government is under no obligation to reimburse the contractor for invoiced amounts exceeding incremental funding. Nearing the end of a government fiscal year, a contractor may find delays in funding reaching all the way to congress. This situation must be managed with the government contracting officer. Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure

STOP WORK ORDER

In the current political climate with Sequestration still in vogue and new fiscal year appropriations being incrementally approved by Congress, contractors may receive stop work orders from agencies unless their contracts were fully funded in the previous fiscal year.   Even then, the government reserves the right to de-obligate funding on contracts, which can effectively bring them to a halt. 


Stop work orders are serious matters and require special handling to comply with government direction and manage the associated financial risk. 

Upon receipt of a stop work order you have no guarantee of payment for any transaction date-stamped in your accounting system after the date of the stop work order (or the commencement date of a stop work order specified in a Contracting Officer's Letter).

Applicable charge numbers in the accounting system must be closed until the stop work order is lifted and any effected suppliers and subcontractors must be notified to do the same.

To the degree the government has made progress payments or has any other form of payment invested in a physical product to date it has ownership rights. If that is the case, treat the physical material work-in-process as government owned, store it as such without performing any more effort on it and await further disposition.

To the degree the government has not paid anything on the contract or delivery order they have no ownership rights to the physical product and you are free to complete it and sell it to another customer (commercial or government that has not stopped work). If the government recommences the order, quote a new price and delivery from ground zero.

At the bottom line a stop work is blunt and to the point.  Treat it as if you will never hear from this customer again to manage the risk.

To the degree you do hear from the Contracting Officer again and he or she has the funding to recommence work, be prepared to submit a proposal for what it will take to start the effort and a realistic delivery schedule to complete it, but do not build any retroactive costs incurred during the stop work period into your logic and expect to bill them; they may not come to payment fruition. 

Continuing effort on a contract after receipt of a stop work is high risk. Astutely managing your options is a far better approach.   What is a Government Contract Stop Work Order?

SUMMARY

Having a limitation of funds and funding exposure process in the company should be a standard part of doing business.  A, shrinking, remaining funding level condition on incrementally funded contracts should trigger a risk analysis and government notification process throughout the year.  The federal fiscal year-end brings an additional element of risk to the process with the annual budgeting, approval and appropriations process required by law. 









Friday, September 1, 2017

Managing Risk in Small Business Federal Government Contracting Business System Development


INTRODUCTION

Most small enterprises must undertake some form of business process augmentation when entering federal government contracting.

The natural inclination for small business is to immediately jump to buying computer software tools or services in an effort to expedite the business system growth process. That propensity is often enhanced by suppliers who maintain their product or service is “DCAA Compliant”, has been “Validated by the Government as an Earned Value Management System (EVMS)” and other similar claims.

This article will address cautions and tips regarding an immediate jump to software or services as a means of growing a government contract business system. It will recommend some rules of thumb to insure wise business system development decisions, specific to your company, for managing the associated risks.   

UNDERSTANDING THE REQUIREMENTS

The US Government learned decades ago that it cannot impose specific business systems on contractors.  One of the last great attempts to do so was the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT).  It was abandoned in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and replaced by a set of industry criteria now known as Earned Value Management Systems (EVMS). 

Similarly, the Federal Government Cost Accounting Standards Board (CASB) determined that job cost accounting systems could not be imposed on contractors. Over the years they have developed and maintained a set of Cost Accounting Standards (CAS) which governs requirements for accounting on government contracts. 

The GSA and similar agencies maintain policies on travel, human resources and wage/rate determinations that are not specific systems, but minimum standards as well.  A small business entering federal government contracting should research the above and similar requirements in such areas as quality assurance, inspection and acceptance and export management.

PROCESS COMES FIRST – MAXIMIZE WHAT YOU HAVE

Given a thorough understanding of the requirements for a government contract business system that fills the need for your specific product or service delivery, the next step is to examine existing processes to determine if they can meet the need or be minimally supplemented to do so.

Finding a need for major process changes or enhancements in the existing business system is the beginning of a requirements analysis to determine the labor, process change, planning, costs and eventual selection of new automated tools that fit the company and that need.

Many start-ups and small enterprises find they can crutch their existing job cost accounting system for service contracts with spread sheets instead of buying an expensive, data base oriented, software package or services initially.  As the company grows into government contracting and the number of transactions and associated revenue warrants the expense,  the firm can then evaluate more expensive packaged software tools or services and ease into them with a plan to minimize disruption.

A government contract award drives many things in government business, but small firms cannot wait until that event to position at least the minimal processes necessary to perform, price new business, function lawfully in the human resources area and submit supportable detail in billings. 

Please see the following articles for guidance on minimal business system requirements for small business federal government contacting.

What Is A Small Business Federal Government Contractor?

Pricing Small Business Federal Government Contracts

Small Business Job Cost Accounting Basics

Small Business Federal Government Contracting Business System Development


RULES OF THUMB FOR SELECTING AUTOMATED TOOLS

From strategic planning to marketing, from forward pricing to job cost accounting, from subcontracting and vendor/contractor management to human resources policies, the small firm finds itself undergoing a business system design project upon entering the government contracting venue.

Understand the requirements first, review existing processes and tools next, develop a thorough requirements statement of what must be done in the way of enhancements and then consider automating.  While performing your analysis keep the following 5 rules of thumb in mind:

1. An electronic computer software package or service is not a system. One cannot acquire a system by acquiring them. 

2. One acquires a system by conducting systems analysis, achieving a design and processes by working with the people who will run the system. This is hard work and time consuming. Processes are improved and made more efficient by modifying user behavior not by automating it.

3. Once system and analysis and system design are complete one can prudently choose tools to assist in running the system. The adequacy of a computer tool or service is driven by the requirements of the most efficient system design.

4. The biggest mistake implementation teams make is to believe they are buying a system when they buy a software tool or service or let the tools drive the systems analysis process. That is like asking a mechanic to drive a wrench from New York to St. Louis. It has resulted in millions of dollars wasted and plummeting efficiency in many organizations, large and small.

5. It is necessary to design a system and processes unique to the company to meet user requirements before going shopping for computer tools or services.  If you do not you will be pigeon-holing your company into becoming a slave to the company that owns the software source code or service. If you want anything changed it costs a big buck.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

PRICING SMALL BUSINESS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SERVICE CONTRACTS

Integrate Long-term Company Strategy
 With Short Term Proposal Pricing Objectives 
For Success





INTRODUCTION
Small businesses entering or growing into federal contacting often struggle with developing a pricing approach. They must design a pricing structure to pass an audit and win competitively. A winning strategy for federal services contracting must involve a view of the horizon as well as the instant bid on the table.
If you are a small enterprise selling off-the-shelf commercial items under FAR Part 12 or marketing commercial products on a GSA schedule, you may be initially challenged by the government contracting venue. With persistence you will establish selling relationships through agencies and prime contractors. Your pricing challenge is minimal. A service contractor faces a far greater challenge in understanding the nature of government contact pricing and winning at it.
Strategic thinking must therefore be applied to structuring a government service contracting cost center in your company. It must involve long term planning and designing a business system as well as establishing rates and factors to bid new work.
LONG TERM COMPANY STRATEGY
Build a Business System With Pricing in Mind:
We have previously discussed the basics of small business government contracting business system design: Job Cost Accounting Basics
The structure or your pricing approach from the cost element level through burdens must use the same template as your job cost accounting and billing. The parallel mapping provides the consistency required to pass audits or get your billings approved on a service contract.
Please read the above article and its related references. Then design your processes recognizing the guidance there and applying it to your company organization, and the way you produce your supplies and services:
Sculpt the DCAA Auditor
As you begin submitting government contracting proposals you will encounter your local DCAA audit office. They learn about your company by auditing your cost proposal rates, job cost processes and systems, billings and contract closeouts.
Keep in mind that you are shaping opinions in these encounters on the part of these government personnel that will influence your future and be passed on in reports to contracting officers. Your unique company business system structure must be carefully explained to them against what they know best; their DCAA Audit manual and FAR Cost Accounting Standards:
Protect Rate Information
Your fully loaded rates will appear on your GSA schedule in the public domain, in subcontracts from prime contractors and in data acquired under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by competitors.
It is generally recognized by all industries participating in federal government contracting that internal overhead and G&A rates and the data that support them are proprietary data. The reason for the proprietary nature of rate data between companies is that in government work firms are teaming with each other exclusively on one project and competing against each other on additional contracts or projects at the same time.
Companies do not disclose the details of their rates to other companies and they do not expect to see another company’s proprietary rate information. So companies view each others rate information on a fully loaded basis, meaning the total of the base cost, any proprietary indirect cost and an agreed upon profit percent.
If a prime contractor requests that subcontractor proprietary rate information be supplied with a proposal the detail should be double wrapped and the package stamped, ‘Government Eyes Only’. The prime will then hand the package off to DCAA without opening it and receive only the fully loaded result of the burdened rate pricing.
For further information on intellectual property protection and protective markings on government contract proposals please see the following article:
Recognize Overhead and General and Administrative Expense Rates Are Critical
Assuming your competition pays a generally similar labor rate to their employees as you do and that fringe costs about the same for everyone, then overhead and general administrative expense are what wins and loses contracts.
Please read the following articles carefully with regard to long range planning and setting your overhead and general  administrative  rates:
Keep in mind that if you are performing work inside a government facility the government will expect to be charged a lower overhead rate than if you were paying the space and occupancy costs and the light bill. This is normally achieved by establishing a separate cost center for “On site” (Internal to government quarters) work with lower overhead expenses applied to project direct labor dollars in that cost center.
Price Set Aside Contracts the Same as Full and Open Competitions
If you are a small business lucky enough to receive a sole source set aside contract under an 8(a) or Hub Zone award, or if you are participating in limited competition under a small business set aside designation, use the same sharp pencil you use on the full and open market. Your goal is to compete for the long haul and inflating estimates on particular jobs due to limited competition has an inflationary effect on your business as a whole.
Your company past performance is being constantly evaluated by the government and prime contractor community. Consistency attains and retains new business. You will eventually grow to the point where set asides and sole sourcing will no longer be available; prepare early.
Know the True Value of Your Proposal
Develop risk thresholds (ceiling and floor) for your bids. The ceiling is the price for which you can bid a job, perform to meet specifications and win. A floor is the lowest possible price for which you can accept a contract and survive.
Do not bid or be negotiated out of these thresholds. “Buying In” does not work and sacrificing the future of your company by “Low Balling” cost proposals and hoping to get well on scope changes later is dangerous.
In government contracting the only worse scenario than losing a contract is winning it, performing poorly (cost, schedule or technical) and getting a black eye on your company past performance record that takes a long time to go away.
Understand a Proposal is the Opening Chapter a Baseline for Your Contract
Your proposal represents an initial offer to a government agency or a prime contractor. Please read the following articles on how this baseline is initially set and controlled through the negotiation process and ultimately through careful contract management.
SHORT TERM PROPOSAL OBJECTIVES
Make Bid/No Bid Decisions Wisely
Conduct your bid/no bid decisions effectively. Please see the bid/no bid analysis process at the beginning of the following article:
Be Conservative in Rough Order of Magnitude Pricing
A common government planning technique in the early phases of marketing is to ask questions and review and approve a concept paper by a company then informally request for “Planning Purposes”, a rough order of magnitude cost estimate (ROM).
If you provide a ROM be very careful. It tends to get cast in concrete in the customer’s mind, even though it is not the final, formal proposal. Make it conservative in cost content and schedule duration, then plan to beat it with your formal proposal.
Make sure you caveat the ROM if you are asked for it with the statement in your cover letter that it is for planning purposes only and is not a commitment on the part of your company. State that you will be happy to make a full formal proposal/commitment upon receipt of a formal RFP from an authorized contracting officer. Keep in mind that contracting officers are the only people who can commit the government:
The government usually goes forward with the concept paper and the ROM for approval of the funding necessary for the job. The “Agency Higher Ups” either give the project personnel the approval to do a set aside or they require a competitive procurement.
You may want to read the following article on Statements of Work:
Know the Difference Between Firm, Fixed Price, Time and Materials and Cost Plus Contracting
During the solicitation and proposal process the contract type is specified.
Firm, Fixed Price (FFP) is the riskiest type of contracting and should be undertaken only when you have a definitive grasp of a precise statement of work with known variables and end products. You should have achieved similar work scope in the past or be delivering follow-on products and services that are mature in nature to undertake a firm, fixed price contract.
FFP is particularly risky in software development contracts or high technology program pressing the state of the art. You will receive no more in the form of funding than your bid price on a firm, fixed price contract.
Time and Materials (T and M) contracting places the risk on the government and is suited to long term service contracts of a development nature. Time and Material may be contracted with fixed labor rates, making the hours and pass through materials and other direct costs the only variables.
Cost Plus (CP) contracting is the least risky of all contract types and you are assured of receiving every dollar of cost incurred under this type of contract.
The lower the risk to the contractor the lower the expected negotiated profit rate you can expect, since the government considers risk the principal factor in profit negotiation.
For further explanation of contract types in more detail, please see the following article:
Develop a Price Profile of the Competition
Use a copy of your own forward pricing long range plan (LRP) to model your strongest competitors. Profile your best intelligence regarding their size, location, contract base and estimated overhead and G&A expenses. Then interpolate, from your knowledge of the market, their labor and fringe costs, as well as other direct costs as you prepare your proposal. Incorporate any unique approaches you estimate your competition may offer that impact cost.
Adjust your competitor cost model to perform “What If Analysis” during your risk assessment and proposal review process. For an example of an LRP cost model please see the Box Net Cube in the left margin of this site: Small Business Federal Government Contracting It is Appendix B to the book, “Small Business Federal Government Contracting” and is available as a free download in Adobe format from the BOX in the right margin of the site.
Understand “Best Value” Source Selection
When the government declares a “Best Value” proposal award process the agency will perform a weighted trade study of cost verses technical and management factors in reviewing proposals. They will announce the weight of each factor in relative terms within the solicitation so contractors can focus on the most important elements.
What best value means quite simply is that if you are the low price bidder you may not win. If a competitor proposes a superior technical and management approach, a higher weighted rating in those factors may offset an otherwise non-competitive bid price, resulting in an award. This is a fact you must keep in mind when preparing your own proposal. In short you must perform your own trade study on your own bid.
Past performance has also become a significant weight factor in proposal evaluations in recent years. To address this challenge, please see the following article:
A balanced proposal, with specific, heavy emphasis on government-designated weight factors and an economical, yet realistic cost/price usually wins. Offsetting weaknesses in any designated government weighted area by proposing excellence in other weighted areas is vital.
Beware of Unallowable Costs
Over the years the federal government has determined that certain costs cannot be allowed in prices, cost reimbursements or settlements under contracts with the US Government. The government is unwilling to pay for these costs as direct charges to federal government contracts or through indirect expense pools applied to federal government contracts.
A company is not prohibited from incurring unallowable costs, but they cannot be recovered either directly or indirectly under federal government contracts. To manage unallowable costs, separate accounts must be established for these type expenses and they must not be priced directly into federal government contracts during the proposal process.
Such costs cannot be made a part of the expense pools which are applied to federal government contracts through an overhead, material handling or G&A cost allocation at accounting period close or during forward pricing rate planning. For more detail on unallowable costs please see the following article:
Integrate Pricing With Technical and Management Approaches
Establish price targets as soon as possible for major tasks, evolve a program plan, or if you are bidding a T&M, IDIQ type program develop a sample work order for a typical representative effort.
As the technical and management proposal move toward completion, use established checkpoints to evaluate the efficiency of your cost estimate, escalation factors, labor, material and other direct costs. Then apply your indirect rates and subject your total proposal to a credibility check with regard to a believable cost estimate considering your solution and its time frame.
Run your competition price model and bring in some outside experts to review the end product proposal “Cold” before it is submitted.
Manage Best and Final Offers (BAFO) Carefullly
Most government solicitations require a format and terms and conditions with submission that permit contract award without further discussion. However, many involve a down-select process, briefings by those selected in the “Competitive Range”, a call for best and final offer (BAFO) or negotiation to achieve a final price.
The best and final offer period is a sensitive time. Most contracting agencies that call for a BAFO will cite weaknesses or concerns in the selected contractor proposals. They wish to hear about solutions to those weaknesses during BAFO briefings and require a re-submitted offer to correct them. The price may be adjusted as well and that is a key consideration. Pay particular attention to the way the BAFO instructions and concerns, specific to your down-selection, are worded. Look for hints that indicate critical opinion about your pricing, and then adjust your costs.
Consider the cost, schedule, technical and past performance implications of the BAFO request letter from the government and revise your proposal by the required submission date. Close the loop on all matters with your suppliers, subcontractors and prime contractors, and then conduct your briefing to the customer when it is scheduled. Present a united front to win. Your price should be your best. You will not be offered a chance to bid another competitively on that program.
On some procurements you may be asked to undertake additional discussions to determine final contract pricing. Please see the negotiation template at the following article for guidance on that process:
SUMMARY
This discussion has conveyed how pricing should be a natural outgrowth of the organization structure, market strategy, competitive analysis, business system design and long range planning.
We have further explained how your long and short term pricing factors should be integrated with the management and technical elements of any given proposal. Take the long and the short view of your business by integrating long-term company strategy with short term proposal objectives

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Marketing to Achieve a Small Business Set-aside Government Contract

Image: Storedge.com


INTRODUCTION

Marketing is one of the greatest challenges for the small business federal government contractor. We have previously discussed the federal government marketing process at the following articles:

Insights to Succeed




This posting will address sculpting a government contracting business opportunity to the point where it becomes a sole source or small business group-designated set aside procurement.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Small business group-designated procurements are far more frequent than sole source contract awards.  Agencies must prepare special justifications for sole sourcing and those most frequently approved are for Hub Zone and Small, Disadvantaged [8(a)] firms (see table below).
Small business group designations are beneficial to firms who hold them by enhancing the probability of an award through agency restrictions on prime contractor bidding to only those who hold the group designation. Others may bid as subcontractors to the prime but the prime small business contractor must be capable of performing at least 51% of the total effort in terms of work scope, hours and dollars.  
 
In either sole source or group-designated marketing, an agency making the buy must be convinced that sufficient capability exists in a single company or in the small business designated group community to set a contract aside. The agency must be convinced early – before a formal procurement announcement is published on FEDBIZOPPS. 

Marketing to achieve a limited competition under a small business group designation or eliminate competition under a sole source contract assumes the marketing enterprise has one or more of the following federal government set-aside designations:

DESIGNATION                                                         TARGET
Small Business                                           (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Woman-Owned Business                 (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Veteran-Owned Business                 (Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Disabled Veteran-Owned Business  (Group Designation Set Aside Potential)
Small Hub Zone Business                          (Sole Source and Group Set Aside Potential)
Small Disadvantaged Business 8(a)          (Sole Source and Group Set Aside Potential)

Federal government procurements are further classified under the SBA Small Business Size Standards in terms of North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) Code, number of personnel and/or annual sales. To determine whether a firm qualifies for a given bid, note the NAICS for a given solicitation and download the SBA Small Business Size Standards the Box Net “References” Cube in the right margin of this site.

Part of the sole source or designated group set aside marketing task is to suggest to the agency the NAICS Code (hence the size standard) for a prospective procurement.
Registering to bid government contacts and establish sole source and group designations may be achieved using guidance in the below articles:
Hub Zone and Small Disadvantaged Business 8(a) designations are lengthy certification processes. The remaining designations in the above table are self-certifying at the above government contract registration web site, and are verified by site surveys and bid vetting for each solicitation prior to contract award. 


EARLY REQUIREMENT TARGETING IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN SET ASIDE MARKETING

Effective set aside marketing reaches the agency decision makers with technical, budget and schedule authority before a synopsis of the requirement is posted on FEDBIZOPPS. 
The objective of this form of targeted marketing is to get concurrence from the government to set the program aside sole source if the company has an 8(a), or Hub Zone Certification or reserve it by one of the above group designation classes to eliminate the prospect of full and open competition involving large business.

  • Become known to targeted agency personnel by visiting their program offices and meeting the decision makers.  Bring a capability statement:
  • Present your qualifications openly, objectively and specific to their needs.  You must determine what those needs are through market research, trade magazines, research on what they are buying on FEDBIZOPPS, as well as postings on their web site that are future-program oriented.

  • Subscribe to periodicals like "Washington Technology" and other trade magazines.  Observe agency trends and analysis that impact your market segment.  There have been set aside programs marketed by small companies through acquainting agency management and technical personnel with capabilities they were not aware existed in the small business community or fulfillment of needs they in fact did not know they had.

  • Pay particular attention to FEDBIZOPPS "Sources Sought" or “Requests for draft RFP Comment”  on programs that have yet to be formally solicited. Obtain an appointment to present your capabilities to the decision makers (not the gate keepers).  Be courteous to contracting officers but understand they are not the individuals who make source selections. Understand that once the requirement is formally published on FEDBIZOPPS the gate closes on informal visits to the customer and the competition begins in the form of proposals by competitors.  It is too late at that point to set the program aside for a sole source or a small business designation if it has not occurred by the publication stage.

  • Cultivate teaming relationships with other firms in your industry and look for early opportunities in agencies, not only to prime a program but to bring a team of qualified contractors in lesser roles to fulfill them with you or join a team being led by a more experienced firm:
  • Understand the small business start up past performance challenge and work to meet it:
  • Attend small business outreach events by agencies and prime contractors.  Stay attuned to who is attending and research their needs and requirements.

  • Make a point to be present at bidders' conferences for existing solicitations that you may not choose to bid but which may lend insight into the agency needs and prime contractor relationships in the future.      
SUMMARY

As a small business becomes known in the federal government contracting community, successful marketing of sole source or group-designated business becomes easier, but it is always a challenge due to the need for taking early action in windows of opportunity.  Find those windows and communicate capabilities to the decision makers and industry team members who can help you.  

If you are eligible for any of the designations discussed in this article, make small business set asides or sole source procurements key elements in your marketing plan.