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
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.
Small business group-designated procurement is 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 SAM Contract Opportunities
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:
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 procurement is 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 SAM Contract Oportunities.
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 SAM Contract Opportunities, 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 SAM Contract Opportunities "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 SAM Contract Opportunities 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.
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 procurement a key element in your marketing plan.