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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Multiple-Front Marketing In Small Business Federal Government Contracting




INTRODUCTION:

Your enterprise must market on several targeted government contracting fronts to be successful. Simply registering as a federal government contractor or acquiring a small business set aside designation does not mean that contracting officers will find you or that larger corporations will seek you out as a teaming partner. A GSA schedule or a multi-year IDIQ umbrella contract, purchase agreement or similar vehicle may look promising, but they are really no more than hunting licenses. The game must still be bagged (targeted sales of specific products or service projects to customers).

The prudent small business will target agencies and teaming partners that best fit its products and services, positioning itself to acquire developing information on requirements and displaying capabilities by conveying early solutions to customer decision makers. This article will suggest techniques, approaches and tools to conduct a multi-front, targeted, requirements-driven, marketing campaign for small business federal government contracting.

SELECT YOUR SMALL BUSINESS SET ASIDE DESIGNATIONS CAREFULLY

Your small business designation by North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) Codes should be thorough and as comprehensive as possible when you register at the "System for Award Management (SAM) web site. Make sure your registration has the maximum number of codes for which you qualify, since the whole federal procurement system rides on those codes. Insure the narrative description of your services is complete as well. Please see the following link for further information on registration:

Federal Government Contracting Registration

The sub-categories of small business set-aside certifications should be chosen carefully and based on your company ownership and specific market research into which categories the agency or prime contractor favors, what their small business contracting plan includes in the way of targets and what their track record has been in awarding contracts. Good information on awards can be gleaned from the federal web site on federal government spending at:

USA Spending

You can also check the SBA small business goaling report at:

SBA Goaling Reports


For further details on each of the 7 small business set aside designations please see the following link:

Small Business Set-aside Programs

TARGET REQUIREMENTS EARLY

Government agencies, like companies, have long range plans and budget cycles. Keep abreast with the latest developments in trade magazines and journals regarding government contracting trends within agencies to develop and market solutions for anticipated requirements.

Monitor agency web sites and forecasts. Be constantly aware of the annual federal budgeting cycle, its development progress in the executive branch and its approval status in Congress. Agencies push to commit excess funding late in the fiscal year and at the same time forecast their next year needs for submittal to higher authorities. In the 1 October to September 30 fiscal year cycle, July, August and September are prime marketing periods.

Watch SAM for sources sought notifications, requests for industry comments on draft RFP's and similar early indications of programs taking shape which will later be advertised in full solicitation. Go after them early enough to market and get them set aside for your small business designation and influence the development of the project with constructive input creating a presence in the eyes of the customer and prospective teaming partners.

MAKE PRUDENT BID/NO BID DECISIONS

Develop a good fit in your bid/no bid decisions. The only thing worse than losing a contract bid is winning it and performing poorly, creating negative past performance notations on your record. Know what your company can do and cannot do. Acquire skilled personnel through contingent hire agreements or incumbent work forces as you grow and carefully choose what you bid. For information on bid/no bid decisions and proposal preparation please see the following link:

Government Contracting Bid/No Bid and Proposal Preparation

EXPLORE SERVICE CONTRACTING AND TEAMING

Other than FAR Part 12 Commercial Contracting for off-the-shelf items, entry into federal government contracting for small business usually occurs through service contracting direct to an agency or teaming as a subcontractor with another firm for a major program. Even for commercial products, particularly new ones on the market, the best way to introduce your solution to a customer is to become involved in a service contact supporting the client's operations.

With regard to larger government contracting corporations to whom you could subcontract, cover the waterfront. Find out what they are bidding and aggressively market a piece of the action as a small business. Find the locations for the largest government contractors nearest you and register at their supplier business sites. Everything they buy for their facilities, their personnel and their operations counts toward the small business goals required contractually of them by their enormous government contracts.

Research their web sites and locate their small business liaison officers. Make appointments and visit them. While visiting, seek the names and titles of managers internal to their companies who manage prime contracts involving expertise your business can supply. Go after those managers.
Form teaming agreements early with good industry partners and begin to develop a winning message to the customer while he is defining his program. The following article provides further details on teaming:

Teaming in Small Business Contracting

OBTAIN A GSA SCHEDULE

The below link is an article on how to apply for and utilize a GSA schedule:


Achieving and Utilizing A GSA Schedule

There are 3 major challenges to going through the GSA schedule application process:

1. Finding an open solicitation that fits your product line

2. Establishing a good working relationship with the GSA Contracting Officer on the schedule solicitation and getting his/her assistance in working the system expediently.

3. Presenting viable, auditable cost history on what you have previously sold your products for to pass the cost/pricing audit portion of the process.

Most companies continue to bid work to the government through FAR Part 12, Commercial Contracting procedures or other contract vehicles discussed this web site while their GSA schedule application is pending. Please examine this site for articles on teaming, marketing, IDIQ contracts, negotiations, subcontracting and many others.

Remember there are thousands of companies out there going through the system, so you will have to be patient. Very few applicants get through it in any less than 6 months. A GSA Schedule is a very valuable item to achieve, but it takes time to do so and there are other forms of government contracting you can use while your application is in process.

DEVELOP A DYNAMIC CAPABILITY STATEMENT

A capability statement (CAPE) is an absolute necessity. It contains the specific information a contracting officer needs to place an order. This information includes such items as your D&B Number, your government registration numbers, your North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes and the like. These items are selected or provided by you or determined by the system when you register your company for government contracting.

Your electronic capability statement (CAPE) for government contracts should be short and hard-hitting. It should be 1or 2 pages and should highlight the salient points of your products and offerings, your personnel and your qualifications. Please see the following link for an example of a capability statement:

Your Capability Statement

WRITE RESPONSIVE PROPOSALS

Writing a winning proposal is an art form. It takes practice and the more proposals you prepare and submit the more artful you will be. You will find yourself utilizing the same materials over again on successive proposals. Management approaches, personnel profiles, win strategies and other major components of a good submission will fill your library and extend your CAPE to specific solutions for specific customers.

The following link contains guidance on writing effective proposals:

Proposal Preparation

SUMMARY

Your reputation as a reputable performer in the small business federal government contracting community is important. Be selective and high performing. Agencies, past performance data bases and other companies will be observing you, recording your performance and passing the word along to others directly and indirectly.

Then insure your web site, your capability statement and your marketing plans are maintained current alive and dynamically reflective of your successes as you pursue new business and carefully develop your library of past performance records by project with accessible profiles to use in your government proposals.

Please see the following link on meeting the past performance requirements challenge in federal government contracting:

The Past Performance Challenge


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ken Portrait - Copy (2)

Small to Feds is maintained by Ken Larson a Veteran of 2 tours - US Army Vietnam.
As a Volunteer Counselor, he assists many small businesses with their planning and operations processes.
Subsequent to his military service Ken spent over 30 years in federal government contract management and 10 years in small business consulting. He gets many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting or grow their commercial enterprise. This site is intended to assist in answering those questions and others small businesses have in developing and operating a successful firm.
Those wishing a free counseling session may contact Ken at: Micro Mentor Ken Larson

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Maintaining an Ethical Company Image In Government Contracting




   
Image:  giodn.org


I
NTRODUCTION

In the age of modern communications, lighting fast news, social media and exposure to world events, an ethical company image is vital.  

This article recommends several key actions in the small business contracting venue that you can take to favorably maintain your company ethics image.  

SERIOUSLY AVOID ORGANIZATION CONFLICT OF INTEREST (OCI)

OCI can lay waste to the best planned marketing strategies. Careful screening of new hires, procurement types and the business environment is necessary to preclude wasted time, expense and legal implications in the event such conflicts occur.  

OCI clauses in solicitations and contracts require that companies certify their organizations and personnel as not having a procurement integrity issue with regard to a pending contract award or disclose what may be deemed an issue and provide mitigating factors to still be considered.  For more on this matter please see the following article:

UNDERSTAND DEFECTIVE PRICING (DP)

A reputation for defective pricing leads to accusations of waste fraud and abuse in government contracting.  DP is mostly about what a contractor knew regarding company prices at the time a bid was submitted and what the contractor did not disclose in the supporting data regarding the likely cost outcome of the contract. 

Actions taken by the government and litigation resulting from defective pricing become part of the contractor past performance record and must be disclosed during competition for other programs. Read more about defective pricing at:


USE PROTESTS SPARINGLY

There are occasions when protests are warranted.  However, in recent years they have become a culture within federal contracting and a costly disruption to procurement.  

Reduce the likelihood of a protest being filed against your winning proposal effort at award by carefully scrutinizing conflict of interest, ethics and small business qualification credentials. Do not maintain you are what you are not. You will be audited and discovered. 

Do not develop a reputation within the contracting community for filing protests.  It may work against you indirectly during source selection and directly in terms of companies not wishing to team with you. No one likes a sore loser. 

COMPLY WITH NON-DISCLOSURE AND TEAMING COMMITMENTS

Companies seek industry partners who know the rules and who keep their commitments.
In addition to technical, management and product synergism, astute and valuable teaming partners respect and understand your intellectual property rights. They expect the same knowledge and respect from you. 

Negotiate thorough and well understood non-disclosure agreements and teaming arrangements.   Perform in accordance with your obligations; your reputation for doing so will follow your small business.  

For more on this factor please see the below links:

Small Business Teaming

Practical Intellectual Property Management


CONDUCT EFFECTIVE CUSTOMER RELATIONS AND SURVEYS

Stay attuned to your customer's perception of your business.  Insure your top management visits and stays in contact with your most important customers, accompanied by your project managers and marketing personnel. 

Process a survey to your key clients requesting feedback and constructive suggestions.  Review your past performance data base information regularly and take corrective action where you have been rated low or received negative marks.  Demonstrate improvement and broadcast the achievement to the functional heads of the agencies you serve.  Please see the below articles for more details in this vital area:

PRACTICE CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR)

Your management and employees are your emissaries to the public.  Convey your behavioral expectations and, to the extent you can budget for them, encourage  participation in community charitable events to increase company visibility.

If you can technically support social services organizations, do so and seek contracts where your technical expertise may be brought to bear on their challenges. You company will be recognized for it. 

CONTROL PRESS RELEASES AND SOCIAL NETWORKING

Establish policies and focal point control for review and approval of announcements on the Internet of a public relations nature.  Never release a press announcement regarding a contract award until you have signed the deal. 

Insure employees in the social networking, marketing/sales and customer relations venue understand the line between regular communications in their jobs and making an enterprise business commitment or formal announcement.  Errors in this area are hard to retrieve. 


CONDUCT ETHICS TRAINING

Company ethics go beyond decrees to personnel regarding professional conduct and honest business practices.  Business ethics must be tailored to the company service or product venue, relationships with clients, industry partners and suppliers. 
Training in company ethics is vital. It is a form of communication. It is not an academic pursuit, although elements of it may include learning new information. Still, it is not schooling in the sense of personal improvement as much as it is communication of company policy and expectations on the topics discussed here and others like them.

The best organizations make sure everyone from the chairman of the board to the janitor understands that training is a privilege, a right and a requirement and that it will be conducted as a matter of record for everyone.

Some training will be global, such as policy, corporate ethics and human relations. Other training will be specialized, such as changes in law, company policy or technology implications by functional areas.

Training must be sophisticated, interactive, and responsive to changing times and contain feedback mechanisms to gauge effectiveness.
SUMMARY

A small business ethics image is different than a product or service "Brand Identity". The latter focuses on that which the customer receives from you in the way of products and/or services. 

A company ethics image is how the organization is viewed in general from a public perception as positive or negative.  That view is held by customers, your industry partners or prospective partners, regulators and the average citizen. 

If carefully sculpted your public ethics image can be a vital element in business success; if neglected it can pose a high risk to your enterprise. 



Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Assessing Department of Labor (DOL) Government Contract Wage/Rate Determinations

MANAGING COMPLIANCE WITH THE SERVICE CONTRACT AND DAVIS-BACON ACTS

INTRODUCTION:

When pricing government contracts, in particular service contracts, the small business will encounter government wage determinations under the Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act. These determinations specify the minimum wages and related benefits that must be paid to all hourly employees charging time directly to a federal service contract as part of a total compensation plan.   

The Department of Labor Manages the Wage Determination program.

SAM Wage Determinations

Contractor compliance with Wage Determinations  is subject to audit by the Department of Labor, Defense Contract Audit Agency, or other agency audit procedures. Failure to prove compliance may subject the contractor to debarment from all government contracts for up to three years.

Service Contract Act, as an example, requires minimum wages be paid per labor category as defined in the Directory of Occupations and listed as minimum wages per labor category on the Area Wage Determination incorporated into each contract. The wages are mandatory minimums paid employees for every hour worked on the contract as defined by The Act, both full-time and part-time. A typical Wage Determination is below: (Please Click Image to Enlarge)
                                                                   
MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:

When bidding a service contract with a requirement containing a Wage Determination, the labor category wages and fringe must conform, as a minimum,to the Wage Determination in the government Request for Proposal (RFP).  The personnel must be paid not less than the wages and fringe benefits specified in the determination when the contract is awarded.   

Due to competitive factors and labor market concerns the company may propose labor and fringe exceeding the Wage Determination, but the bid cannot go beneath the government specified rates.  Below is a typical conformance table for an engineering firm with the Wage Determination information on the right side and the company bid rate on the left side of the table.  (Please Click Image to Enlarge)

The Fringe element of the Wage Determination conformance is usually discussed in the basis of estimate for the fringe rate in the price proposal. A major project in a given location may impact on the company wide-fringe rate if existing fringes in the company do not meet the minimum requirement for the wage determination in the area being bid. This can be a deciding factor in a bid/no bid decision on a prospective project.
 
When conforming a labor category to a government wage determination,  the title of the company job need not be identical to that to which the government wage determination refers, but the company job description must be made available to an auditor for compliance mapping purposed; i.e. the role of the individual and the scope of his or her job description must very closely match the government documents. It is best to use existing company labor categories and descriptions and work any exceptions during the conformance process, conveying the results in the form of a table similar to the above in your proposal.

If a particular wage determination selected by the contracting officer in the RFP appears to be vastly out of sync with the scope of work in the prospective contract, it is best to bring this to the government's attention in the form of a question or a suggestion for improvement during the Q&A or draft RFP comments phase of the bid process.  But remember, your question, its answer and any action taken by the CO will be made available to all competitors. 

In many instances competitive labor rates, and in some cases benefits as well, will be higher than those specified in the government wage determination. Wage determination updates by the government often lag rapidly changing technical labor markets and area economic trends.

Evaluate your initial GSA Schedule and renewals against area wage determinations, since the government may choose to buy off your schedule or you may choose to use your GSA Schedule rates to bid a procurement where a wage determination applies.

Demographics in your company may play a role.  Accumulation of labor cost history driving a pay rate in one geographic location of a company for a given labor category may not meet government wage determinations if that category is used in another geographic area with a different area wage determination in a substantially different labor market.  Many larger firms maintain standard rates across multiple geographic locations to deal with this factor.  

SUMMARY

Regularly review your company labor category rates and fringe benefits for ongoing compliance with DOL Area Wage Determinations. Sample the DOL Wage Determination web site regularly as a normal function of maintaining your labor rates and fringe benefits costs. 












 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Insights to Succeed In Small Business Federal Government Service Contracting


Service contracting to the federal government is a natural venue for small business. It does not require a product with a niche market or capital intensive manufacturing facilities.

Service contracting does require skilled management and labor resources capable of performing a scope of work for which the government has identified a need and for which outsourcing to an industry contractor has been selected as the means to fulfill that need. The venue demands strong human resources management, industry teaming and an enhanced business system to price, account and bill on a job cost basis under government service contracts.

Small enterprises in the commercial services market are tempted to immediately begin bidding jobs in federal government contracting, approaching them like commercial efforts. They quickly find there are major differences in the way the government contracts are marketed, proposed, priced and performed. These differences are not “Rocket Science” but it is necessary to learn about them and plan for success.

Here are 8 insights for planning your success in small business federal government service contracting:

1. UNDERSTAND THE LENGTHY SALES CYCLE

What immediately becomes apparent to the commercial small business when entering the federal contracting service contracting market is that the sales cycle is a long one and the preliminary steps are often hidden from public view.

Often misunderstood, is that much has occurred in the way of marketing activities by companies in advance of notices formally published by the government on The System for Award Management (SAM) .By the time the formal, solicitation is published it is too late to market for setting a procurement aside for a small business designation if it has not already been established as such.
 In addition, formal solicitation publication closes the window on self-marketing by HUB Zone and 8(a) firms for set asides to them individually without competition. In short, businesses have been marketing for the requirement long before it became formally announced at SAM. For additional details please see:

What Small Business Should Know About SAM Opportunities

Even if a company has had exposure to an agency, marketed on a program in advance of its announcement or become a member of an industry team to bid the job, the proposal and award process, to include negotiations and start up, can easily consume 90 to 120 days as a minimum. For major programs the process often exceeds 6 months in duration. Planning must occur for the expense associated with supporting such lengthy marketing efforts before any cash flow results.

2. APPRECIATE APPLICABLE DEFINITIONS, ROLES AND REGULATIONS

Participation in the government contacting market can involve participating as an individual, becoming a subcontractor as a company or seeking a prime contractor role. Those with product research and development support needs can participate in venues like Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Mentor/Protege Programs. A GSA Schedule also provides opportunities for those in finished product sales. Please refer to the following articles for explanations of these roles and program definitions:

What Is A Small Business Federal Government Contractor?

Techniques For Product Development

Small Business Government Grants Versus Direct Contracts

Achieving and Utilizing A GSA Schedule

3. CONDUCT MARKET RESEARCH

If you are relying on SAM or like sites for new business you will be very disappointed. Pre-solicitation notices do have promise, but you have to get inside an agency to find out who has the funding, the need and the decision-making authority.  It is rarely the contracting officer who posts the notice who has these responsibilities.

 
Pre-solicitations are alerts to industry, attempts to gauge industry interest or a way of "Kicking the Can Down the Road" until funding becomes available.  These notices are an indirect way of saying, "Come Visit Me and tell me about your company", or “Send Me your CAPE”. The full formal notification will come out at a time to be determined by when the agency gets the funding and how much interest there is in the contractor community. A schedule for when the formal bid notice will occur is rarely posted.

4. PROMOTE CAPABILITIES

Develop a capability statement (CAPE) to respond to government postings and mail directly to government agencies and to large corporations doing business with the government.

A capability statement is a necessity as a standalone marketing tool for dealing with government agencies and contractors. It should be short (no more than 2 pages) and hard hitting, containing all the information necessary for a government contracting officer or company buyer to place an order, as well as your registration information at local, state and federal web sites, your NAICS Codes and contact information.

Insert your CAPE in the tab at your web site where you discuss your background information and your government registrations.

See the second, vertical, Box Net “References” cube in the left margin of this site for an example of a good service contractor capabilities statement in the public domain.

5. ACQUIRE PERSONNEL STRATEGICALLY

Start up service contractors face the dual problem of establishing the enterprise with the one-time, non-recurring activities necessary to get the operation underway and at the same time acquire the core management talent and subsequent help as the business grows.

Even established companies who enter government service contracting find they cannot sustain a work force for large scale agency programs until the contracts are in hand to finance them.

A core team is an absolute necessity; it may be small and the business proposals may be few at first. But the core team product must be strategic in terms of high probability marketing to build the company base.

Supplementary help can be acquired by permanent ads at the company web site for generic skill sets, contingent hire agreements with prospective employees and similar techniques that position the resources on deck for business growth.

Small businesses commonly utilize contingent hire agreements to locate promising individuals who can bring projects or contacts with them when they join the firm. They are willing to negotiate a prospective wage and salary arrangement in advance of a proposal submission and commit to an offer of employment with benefits and commission should the program be won. They further offer to reimburse the participant for expenses and business related costs during the proposal period, if pre-approved.

The key to these arrangements is to identify target projects that both you and the candidate can go after, where the candidate is uniquely qualified to :

(1) Help win the job

(2) Contribute heavily to the proposal. Just bringing someone on who has no ability to offer targets usually does not work.

Contingent Hire Agreements

6. MAKE ASTUTE BID/NO BID DECISIONS

Government contract proposal preparation is time consuming and can be costly. Meeting the agency Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements with a responsive proposal can be well worth the effort if a winning strategy can be formulated.

When considering submitting a proposal to a given government solicitation, conduct a bid/no bid exercise. By going through that process you will begin formulating your win strategy or you will discover that you should not bid this job for lack of such a strategy. The elements of the process are in the form of questions to ask yourself against topics for key consideration at the following link:

Federal Government Contracting Proposal Preparation

Affirmative or non-affirmative answers to the topical questions and ability to fill in the blanks will drive your decision to bid or not bid a solicitation.

7. PREPARE YOUR BUSINESS SYSTEM FOR PRICING, ACCOUNTING AND BILLING

To effectively market a federal government contract a small business must sell on the basis of having a business system as well as technical performance infrastructure ready to run the job when a contract proposal is submitted. This dual requirement is where many small businesses fall short in their federal government contract start up planning.

Parallel thinking is required to plan for government project technical effort against a template of necessary business process infrastructure, driven by introducing Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) into the company. Key elements of the necessary business system infrastructure are discussed in the following articles:

Establishing FAR and CAS Compliant Small Business Systems

Managing Risk In Small Business Systems Development

8. PROPOSE TO WIN BY MEETING THE PAST PERFORMANCE CHALLENGE

As a small business begins the proposal submission process to federal government agencies or to prime contractors, the past performance challenge is major. By definition a start-up company in government contracting has no direct government agency past performance projects to site in meeting the requirement in requests for proposals (RFP’s) for historical references to similar projects in terms of size, duration and complexity

So how can a new organization or one that is new to government contracting muster a response to the past performance challenge?

The answer lies in historical projects that may be similar in the commercial arena and a high quality proposal that clearly demonstrates an understanding of the requirement at hand, a unique and cost effective project plan and high performing personnel and/or products tailored to the statement of work to offset an interim, light past performance record.

For further details see the following article:

The Small Business Federal Government Contracting Past Performance Challenge


This writing has conveyed insights for planning participation strategically in the small business federal government service contracting market.
Consider the lengthy sales cycle and the roles your enterprise can best play in the venue. Conduct thorough market research, promote your capabilities endlessly and make astute bid/no bid decisions.

You must acquire core and supplementary help as business growth permits by using methods to preposition human resources. Prepare dynamic proposals with unique project plans to meet the past performance challenge, then execute your project plans to succeed.