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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Marketing to Achieve a Small Business Set-aside Government Contract



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 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:

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 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.      
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 procurement a key element in your marketing plan. 







Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Registering Your Business For Federal Government Contracting

You have worked hard establishing your small business in the commercial market; or you have succeeded in your profession working for large enterprises. You have established yourself and you are recognized as a success by your superiors, your peers and your subordinates. Someone or something one day attracts your attention with the suggestion that the federal government may be in the market for your skills, products or services. This article will address the path to expanding your existing business or initially undertaking a business involving federal government contracts.

GETTING STARTED


The best way to explore federal government contracting possibilities is to expand your business plan to include a sector for that type of business or develop your start up plan including a federal government business sector. Doing business with the Federal Government is not "Rocket Science" but it is different. It embodies a set of regulations entitled, "The Federal Acquisition Regulation" or FAR, which contain the rules by which the government and industry abide in contracting for supplies and services. The FAR had its genesis during World War II and has evolved since that time to control and regulate the ever-expanding amounts of goods and services which the federal government buys.


The following are the most important "Mechanical Steps" necessary in positioning your business to begin selling to the federal government. They are listed in the necessary sequence for becoming a supplier entity in the government system. A link to appropriate web sites is provided at each step.


A. Register Your Company With Your State And with the IRS:


Incorporation is fairly inexpensive and can be done yourself via the WEB for either a non-profit or a for-profit business. 
You may download free instructions to register a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in your state from the BOX in the right margin of this site.  

B. Register at the System For Award Management Web Site:




C. For application in the SBA Small, Disadvantaged Business (SDB) Program:


SBA 8(a) Program


If you qualify as a minority, follow the directions closely. Note there is a preview section which will acquaint you with the application and the types of information that will be necessary when you start the process.


D. For Historically Under-Utilized Business (HUB) Zone Information:



SBA Hub Zone Program

Note that Hub Zone qualification is based on where the business is located and where the personnel in the business reside as well.

For information on additional set aside designations such as those for women-owned business, veterans and disabled veterans please see:

Federal Government Contracting Set Aside Designations

E. For Searches on Federal Buys:


Contract Opportunities 
 is the gateway for all federal business. The search tool there is a very powerful engine with many filters that are useful. It is well worth the time to learn the filters. Every federal agency is required by regulation to advertise there and you will be amazed at the products and services the federal government buys.

F. For an example of a small business capability statement check the following web site:



A capability statement is always a good idea for marketing. The link above as an example. It was found on the web in the public domain Note that the site is a SDB. Later you will get into proposal preparation and the regulations governing the types of grants and contracts, as well as billing the government for your work and other factors.

G. Questions for you:


Are you planning to produce a deliverable, distinct, end product such as software, hardware, a commodity, a report, a conference, a survey or a study, sell it to meet the government's statement of work and bill for the end product when delivered?


OR


Are you planning to price your services at an hourly rate, sell them by labor categories with professional job descriptions to perform the government's statement of work and bill by the hour for labor and at cost for material and travel?


Answers to the above questions are key factors in how you set up your business and price your work in proposals to federal agencies. The answer to the above questions is "Yes" in both cases for some businesses. Some small businesses sell their product commercially, but contract for product implementation and support on a service contract basis.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Small Business Government Grants Versus Direct Government Contracts

PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE OR DOWNLOAD TO ENLARGE


INTRODUCTION

Start-ups, entrepreneurs and new small businesses regularly seek information regarding small business grants. There are many misconceptions about the nature of such instruments, who qualifies for them and what constitutes a small business grant. The misunderstanding stems from advertising on the Internet and other media creating the impression that grants are readily available and that they are "Free Money".

There is no such thing as “Free” small business government grant money. In many instances individuals seeking grants should be looking to direct government contracting; this article will explain why.

DEFINITIONS

Small Business Government Grants

Small Business government grants are a type of contract and involve performance of a statement of work for agencies that are in some socio-economic endeavor serving the public, such as health care, public information, communications, high technology, or similar undertakings. A small business entity receiving a grant from a government agency becomes an extension of the agency mission and obtains funding to enhance that mission while growing as an enterprise.

Small Business Direct Contracts

Small business direct government contracting differs from grants in sheer numbers and regulatory control. Direct contracts are used by all agencies of the federal government to acquire supplies and services. Both for-profit and non-profit organizations compete in direct government contracting. A direct government contract has a very specific work scope, schedule, deliverable items, pricing and in many instances incremental funding. A grant has a more generic functional orientation to funding and may or may not include deliverable items.

There are some programs, such as Mentor/Protege and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) that appear to be hybrids of grants and direct government contracting and are often mistaken for grant instruments. They are not grants and are governed under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) as direct government contracts.

REGISTRATION
Guidance on registering to become eligible for both small business grants and direct contracts is at the following link:

Registering For Government Contracting

STRUCTURE AND STRATEGIC PLANNING

Non-Profit Organizations

Most small business government grants go to non-profit organizations because of the nature of the work such entities do.

A non-profit organization operates in much the same way that a for-profit company does except that the founder (s) work for a board of directors that pays them a salary and, upon registration with state and federal governments under IRS provision 501 3 (c) or a similar designation, the business pays no taxes.

What would normally be considered profit in a for-profit company is re-invested back into a non-profit to further its work. Annual reports are required by the IRS to demonstrate the re-investment and maintain a tax-free status.

Non-profit organizations are usually initiated to pursue a religious or socio-economic endeavor serving the public, such as churches, health care, public information, communications, high technology, or similar undertakings.

No one owns a non-profit organization. A board of directors, a charter, articles of organization filed with the state and the IRS designation with the federal government establish it as a public entity. In the event it is discontinued, all proceeds and assets are distributed by the government for public use and no one individual benefits. A non-profit charter must include that provision.

The following link at NOLO provides the chronological process between a state registration and the IRS in applying for non-profit registration and tax-exempt status:



For-Profit Organizations

A for-profit organization is founded by individuals specifically defined by name as owners in the articles of incorporation with the state and registered with the federal government for tax purposes. There are many different types of for-profit entities (S Corp, Sole Proprietorship, LLC, Partnership, etc.); each type has its own unique tax and operating characteristics.

A for-profit organization exists for the specific purpose of providing a return on investment for the owners. All assets on the books of the company are the property of the company, and although certain types of corporations, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) reduce the risk and insulate the owners' private assets to some degree, in general what is invested by an owner in the firm is the property of the firm and subject to business risks and the laws governing such matters. In return the owner or stockholder is entitled to the return on his or her investment as an individual in the form of dividends, direct proceeds after costs or other forms of entitlement (conveying what is commonly known as profit).

GRANTS VS. DIRECT CONTRACTING

Small Business Grant Funding

Small Business Government Grants have the effect of supplying lump sum funding to a non-profit organization for a specific period once the grant is awarded. In general the funding is used to further the stated mission of the business. However, the grant provider may reserve the right to receive reports on how the money was spent and may require deliverable items associated with performance of the work under the grant.

Certain grants take the form of cooperative agreements, whereby the non-profit and the agency commit to supplying mutual funding amounts to a project. Under limited or special circumstances involving 0 profit, a for-profit entity may be eligible for such a cooperative agreement with the federal government.

Federal Government grant regulations are at the following link:

Grant Regulations



A Web site for researching federal grants as well as additional information on grants in general is at the following site:

Government Grants

Small Business Direct Contract Funding

Federal Government direct contracting regulations are at:

Federal Acquisition Regulation


“Small to Feds”, the web site you are reading, was initiated to assist small businesses in understanding the above regulation and direct federal government contracting. Please see the table of contents in the left margin of this site for topics.

As stated in the introduction above, both for-profit and non-profit entities compete for direct federal contracting. A non-profit entity will bid grants and direct contracts at 0 profit. The following links are suggested as an introduction to direct federal government contracting:

Introducing Federal Government Contracting Into Your Commercial Small Business

Small Business Government Contact Set-Aside Designations

Should You Consider Small Business Federal Government Contracting?

 
SUMMARY

This article has provided a brief (and admittedly general) overview of the difference between non-profit and for-profit business entities and the small business government grants and direct contracting available to each. 

Both small business government grants and direct government contracts are highly competitive. Selecting potential agency sources and submitting winning proposals are acquired skills. For assistance in writing grant and direct contract proposals please see the following links:

Proposal Preparation


Non-Profit Guide

When considering forming an enterprise, please assess in your business plan the potential of both types of entities in direct contracting or grant competitions. Go to the SBA web site that guides you through the business planning process. I suggest you follow the site presentation and note the factors to consider:

Write Your Business Plan


The following site contains samples of business plans:

Sample Business Plans

Look for examples in the above of both for-profit and non-profit organizations at the above link.

Ask yourself some strategic questions, such as what competition you envision and what your marketing plan will be. Addressing these questions may take some research and that is all part of the process of putting in place your plan. It is your road map for the future.













Thursday, March 19, 2020

COVID 19 And Small Business Government Contracting



The COVID 19 battle will continue as a local issue.  It is at the local level in which federal funding programs are enacted, grown and made part of the culture. 

There will be dramatic roles for small business, not just in medically related fields but also in logistics to geospatial technology fields and others. Here is an example of one published yesterday:


There will be many more soon to come.

INTRODUCTION:


 When visiting 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 an enterprise and assist  in determining and supporting the amount of funding needed. SBA Write a Business Plan

This discussion addresses the unique aspects of federal government contracting that will yield a successful plan and more importantly a successful execution of that plan in the federal contracting venue.  


Marketing, advertising, competitor analysis and financing must be addressed.  Free articles on strategic planning and developing a marketing plan are at the “References” Box Net Cube at the top right margin of this site. They address evolving an operations vision for an enterprise showing its potential to present to a banker or to an investor.

Here is a site with free business plan samples:


Business Plan Sample

It may assist in visualizing business growth to look at an example of how someone else addressed a given topic.

NICHE DEVELOPMENT

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.


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.


REGISTRATION

Utilize the below link to register your company.  It provides excellent guidance and background, as well as access to the PDF file on NAICS Codes which are critical for you to choose before you begin the registration process.  Give these some careful thought when selecting them.  If there is a chance your firm may wish to be involved in a field, put the code in your registration.  No one will question your qualifications at this point.  That comes later during proposals. 
Note the requirement for a DUNS number up front.  You may already have one.  If you do - use it.  If you do not, follow the instructions on obtaining a DUNS free at the Dunn and Bradstreet web site.  
When you have completed your registration at the link below you will received a Government CAGE Code, uniquely identifying your firm and its location as a government contractor. 

MARKET RESEARCH

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 set aside designations make small business set asides or sole source procurements key elements in your marketing plan. 


TEAMING

Be straight-forward and honest with  industry teaming partners.

Do not violate share arrangements, teaming agreements or non-disclosure agreements. Such violations are a death knell for your reputation in the business.

Do not become known as a resource raider by hiring away from other firms with whom you have teamed.

Give it a best shot as a prime or a sub but involve the government contracting officer to resolve industry teaming disputes that may damage a past performance record.

Exclusivity is the practical way to go on any given program. Team early and exclusively and be a winner. 
Reputation is key, ethics count and  customers as well as the industry are observing.


BUSINESS SYSTEMS DEVELOPMENT

Waiting for a contract award to achieve a government contracting business process is not advisable. A win may not happen at all without addressing the structure and process requirements in your proposal to convince the customer his business environment is understood.

If one is not prepared in advance and one is fortunate enough to win, then in a very short time frame one will have to evolve a business system to perform on the contract and submit a billing

This article will discuss a framework for a small enterprise to develop a business system in service contracting, which is the most frequent venue utilized to enter the government market.



PROPOSAL PREPARATION

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  a company  begins formulating your win strategy or it will discover that it should not bid this job for lack of such a strategy. The elements of the process are discussed below in the form of questions to ask  against topics for key consideration

This article offers guidance as a template to apply marketing operations for accommodating federal government contract proposal preparation. Proposals are special, sometimes exhausting projects, but a necessary part of doing business with government agencies. Like many other aspects of business, the more proposals that are prepared, the more that is learned and the more one can borrow from past practice for the next one.


PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Strategic thinking must be applied to structuring a government service contract project management capability 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 and control it while interfacing with the customer.

When one plans in detail to define the product or the service one reduces performance risk. 

The project management challenge is not to launch significant and costly resources before the specification for the product is sufficiently defined, obviating the need for costly revisions or abandonment, yet knowing when the product definition and plan are suitable for release.

Good project management starts early.


SUMMARY

Consider the advice herein when developing and maintaining your business plan. Overlay approaches unique to the company against the guidance offered and place it in the standard format for business planning.  It will yield a road map for success and can be further evolved for growth.

For additional  details on these topics and other important information in developing and executing a government contacting plan, download the free books and supplements available in PDF format at the “Box” in the top right margin of this site.

Seizing the Moment






Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Changing Dynamics of Collaboration in Today's Small Business Service Contracting

Image:  "Total Business Magazine"

 


Collaboration in government service contracting is changing dramatically. 

Gone is the emphasis on one-upmanship, closed exclusive relationships and protectionism based on the idea that the government has an endless stream of funding available for a marching army of proprietary contractors.


The government is becoming more open, opaque in its dealings, driven by dire efficiency issues and weighed down with a massive debt load. 

Budget and funding pressures, competition for scarce resources, efficiency and similar concerns are creating an environment where open, accessible communication and teaming at several levels can yield excellent returns for progressive small enterprises and their partners.

These advances are being enhanced by communication and processes made instant with technology, remarkably enabled for creativity and teamwork, as well as the lower operating costs of a small enterprise.  The new collaboration includes reaching out to clients, industry partners and suppliers. It also requires employee involvement at all levels in the dynamics of the collaborative process. 

Although sound, professional and business contracting techniques will always be necessary, together with prudent management and risk analysis, the collaborative dynamic is on the move. 

Now is the time to take the initiative in designing collaborative efforts with federal agencies, marketing solutions that maximize contractor and government resources and the best possible efficiencies in service solutions. Go in early, go in hard, go with a team concept and be open and objective with your primes, your suppliers and your customer. Engage your employees at all levels in the effort.
 
Many are planning strategically, are you?

Insights To Succeed In Small Business Government Service Contracting








 
 

 

 

Nimble Large and Small Business Teaming


WASHINGTON TECHNOLOGY"

"Smaller players and the larger contractors work together in a new model of agile programs.
With successful mentorship and partnership programs, larger contractors gain access to contracts for which they would otherwise be ineligible.

Conversely, smaller contractors that lack the resources for federal procurements can break into this competitive marketplace by teaming with larger providers.

In today’s post-sequestration business climate, government contractors are continually challenged with shrinking margins, strong price competition and flat or decreased agency spending.
At the same time, new acquisition reform efforts aimed at streamlining and improving technology procurements are helping to ensure that agency CIOs are more involved in the process, and are responsible for the success or failure of all IT projects at their agency.

For the agency, the combination of these developments creates greater demand for technology collaboration and agile solution development.  With increased CIO involvement and improved agency coordination, programs should benefit by sharing common capabilities through inter-program collaboration.  At the same time, with a shift towards smaller, agile application solutions, as opposed to traditional grand-scale programs, agencies can lower the risk of cost overruns and schedule slippage.

For the large contractors supporting the agency, increased collaboration and more agile development increases the need to team with smaller innovative tech firms in emerging IT areas and then share those capabilities across programs.

For example, with the increasing need for sharing geospatial data across not only the Defense Department but also civilian agencies, contractors can help CIOs leverage their existing geographic software and imagery with available commercial-off-the-shelf solutions from smaller software companies, as opposed to developing custom applications.

When customization is required for success, the same small software companies can help large contractors fill highly specialized capability gaps without the need to directly acquire the innovation. Ultimately, with the right teaming arrangement, program outcomes are optimized which benefits all industry partners.

However, there are always challenges when it comes to developing the right teaming relationship. According to the Washington Technology Insider Report 2015, there is often a lack of transparency and mistrust in the majority of teaming relationships.

Many of these challenges come down to a lack of communication, and a misunderstanding of what each side brings to the table. For smaller specialized companies, it is easier to show their value propositions to both the government customer and the larger primes.

In today’s rapidly evolving government IT arena, these unique value propositions can be anything from spatial data management to mobility to the Internet of Things (IoT) to specialized cybersecurity offerings. These are the new innovation areas that are moving away from being “talked about” to actually being implemented.

In particular, spatial data collection and visualization is fundamental to decision support for all federal agencies.  There will never be a shortage in the need for insightful, actionable data for helping government become more responsive and effective. Government will always need on-demand decision support data about a wide-range of subjects – including disaster recovery, income levels, air quality, disease patterns, environmental incidents or population trends.

For larger contractors, it may be difficult to build out or acquire these types of capabilities in a rapid fashion.  Furthermore, with acquisition reform efforts like FITARA giving agency CIOs more input in the procurement process, it’s even more important for larger contractors to demonstrate greater value with the right teaming arrangements.

Ultimately, we all want successful business outcomes produced by the unmitigated success of our customer agencies. This can be achieved through nimble teaming relationships where the smaller players and the larger contractors work together in a new model of agile programs."

Need for agility drives need for new technology partnerships