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Friday, July 23, 2021

Managing Risk In Small Business Federal Government Contracting

Image: Govconadvisors.com

The challenges and difficulties for the small business in government contracting are not so much in the areas of barriers as  they are in lack of knowledge (which I concede is a form of barrier but one that can be dealt with).

Large business and government agencies take advantage of the small enterprise lack of knowledge or make poor assumptions regarding what a small business knows about the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and associated Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). This leads directly to abusive practices.

A prime example of an abusive practice is large corporations signing  teaming agreements during proposal efforts and then not awarding  subcontracts to the small enterprise as agreed, keeping the majority of work for themselves.

Agencies take forever these days to put in place actual prime contracts after source selections and award to a small business. They do not realize that a small enterprise does not have deep pockets and must have cash flow to sustain a new program with new employees.

Funding levels on IDIQ and Omnibus programs are insufficiently committed and the small enterprise is not adequately informed about limitation of funds and  funding exposure. 

Managing Government Contract Limitation of Funds and Funding Exposure


I have seen enough small  businesses succeed in the government contracting field that I am  convinced that the government needs more active roles in education of  the small enterprise and more trained contracting officers that understand the limitations of a small business.

The most common traumatic situation I encounter is with newly  established businesses who have won their first government contract and  have no CAS compliant job cost accounting system in place to bill it  out. The government has assumed that capability will materialize and  when it does not they audit the bills, find no backup and shut down the  cash flow until the system is fixed. At that point the business can fail. The company should have been educated much earlier in the process about these requirements.

 What Small Business Should Know About FAR and CAS

The number of poorly performing SETA contractors in roles not suited  to them in contract administration support is increasing in federal  agencies. These firms need to be vetted and better managed for the  omissions and commissions they contribute to the above.

  Is Federal Government System Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) Contracting for You?

Not every small enterprise can get  into a class on government contracting at George Washington University,  The Defense Acquisition University or send their personnel to lengthy  and costly seminars conducted by organizations like the National Contract  Management Association. These are  great education sources but do not  come close to filling the complete requirement and they cost time and money.

The contracting officer and his staff as well as larger enterprises need to be upgraded in the skills necessary to guide - not abuse - the small business in federal government contracting.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The 2021 National SBIR Week

 


U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION”

“The SBIR/STTR programs provide over $4 billion in funding to small businesses each year in a wide variety of technology areas.

The 2021 National SBIR Week empowers you to connect with SBIR/STTR program managers through live panels & direct 1-on-1 meetings.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

“About this event

The 2021 National SBIR Week is a virtual event connecting entrepreneurs working on advanced technologies to the country’s largest source of early stage funding – The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Also known as America’s Seed Fund, the SBIR/STTR programs provide over $4 billion in funding to small businesses each year in a wide variety of technology areas.

This event provides you with an opportunity to participate in live streaming panels and presentations with participating federal agencies that administer over 7,000 new awards annually and to meet virtually One on One with program decision makers.”

https://www.sbir.gov/node/1989835


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Small Business Government Grants Versus Direct Government Contracts




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".

Other than the special circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 Pandemic, there is generally 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.













Monday, June 28, 2021

Your Free Small Business Federal Government Contracting Advisory Service


This site is dedicated to Small Businesses who wish to succeed in Federal Government Contracting. 

There are over 100 agencies or "Departments" in the federal government. Each of these agencies has a statutory obligation to contract from small business for over 20% of everything it buys. Contracting officers must file reports annually demonstrating they have fulfilled this requirement. Not fulfilling the requirement can put agency annual funding in jeopardy. You have a motivated customer in federal government contracting officers and buyers.

Large business, under federal procurement law, must prepare and submit annual "Small Business Contracting Plans" for approval by the local Defense Contract Management Area Office (DCMAO) nearest their headquarters. These plans must include auditable statistics regarding the previous 12 month period in terms of contracting to small businesses and the goals forecast for the next year. 

The federal government can legally terminate a contract in a large business for not meeting small business contracting goals. Approved small business plans must accompany large business contract proposals submitted to federal government agencies. Small businesses have motivated customers in large business subcontract managers, administrators and buyers.

This site provides practical, no cost, “How to" guidance on the following:

1. Understanding the federal government contracting environment and small business set-aside opportunities

2. Registering a small business as a supplier with the federal government

3. Marketing to the federal government

4. Understanding the requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Cost Accounting Standards (CAS)

5. Teaming with other small businesses

6. Achieving a General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule

7. Subcontracting to prime contractors on federal government contracts

8. Preparing competitive proposals

9. Negotiating federal contracts with government agencies, prime contractors and subcontractors

10. Managing government contracts

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

SBA Woman-Owned Small Business Program




On October 7, 2010, the U.S. Small Business Administration published a final rule effective February 4, 2011, aimed at expanding federal contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses (WOSBs)

The Final Rule sets forth procedures authorized by the Small Business Act to help ensure a level playing field on which WOSBs can compete for Federal contracting opportunities, while helping achieve the existing statutory goal that 5 percent of Federal contracting dollars go to women-owned small businesses. Some of the components of the Women-Owned Small Business Program include:

To be eligible, a firm must be 51 percent owned and controlled by one or more women, and primarily managed by one or more women. The women must be U.S. citizens. The firm must be “small” in its primary industry in accordance with SBA’s size standards for that industry. In order for a WOSB to be deemed “economically disadvantaged,” its owners must demonstrate economic disadvantage in accordance with the requirements set forth in the final rule.

Based upon the analysis in a study commissioned by the SBA from the Kauffman-RAND Foundation (referred to as the Rand Report), the proposed rule identifies 83 industries (identified by 4 digit North American Industry Classification System, or NAICS, codes) in which women-owned small businesses are under-represented or substantially under-represented. The Rand Report is available to the public at:


In accordance with the statute, the Final Rule authorizes a set-aside of Federal contracts for WOSBs or economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) where the anticipated contract price does not exceed $5 million in the case of manufacturing contracts and $3 million in the case of other contracts, if certain other conditions are met.

The Final Rule removes the requirement, set forth in a prior proposed version, that each Federal agency certify that it had engaged in discrimination against women-owned small businesses in order for the program to apply to contracting by that agency.

The Final Rule allows WOSBs or EDWOSBs to self-certify their status or to be certified by third-party certifiers, including government entities and private certification groups.
The Final Rule allows SBA to engage in program examinations to confirm eligibility of individual WOSBs or EDWOSBs.

Please see the following link for further details on qualifying for and and entering the program:

Friday, June 18, 2021

DCAA Audits and Small Business Job Cost Accounting




INTRODUCTION

Small Businesses typically have a learning experience growing into government contracting. Part of that process is undergoing reviews by the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA). It takes knowledge of the requirements and strategic focus to set up the type of business processes required for accommodating government contract job cost accounting and fit those processes into the way your company does business.

DCAA or other agency representatives do not approve job cost accounting software packages. They approve contractor job cost accounting practices in compliance with Federal Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). If you are a small business, you are probably going to come under modified CAS Coverage that you can read about at the following link:

What is a "Compliant" Federal Government Contracting Small Business System?

Perhaps you have already examined the above background, but I would encourage you to review it again in connection with planning for your business system. Perhaps you have discovered that CAS compliant job cost accounting effects your estimating structure, your long range planning for indirect rates, as well as your general ledger, overhead and G&A structure. You may have discovered as well that DCAA wants to see your government contracts accounted for in a separate cost center from your commercial work and that there are certain unallowable costs that cannot be charged directly or indirectly to government contracts.

PROPOSAL AUDITS

Proposal audits are performed by DCAA on your cost proposal at the request of the Procurement Contracting Officer (PCO) and verify your direct and indirect rates against your long range plan, your labor category pricing, contingent hire agreements, vendor quotes, subcontractor proposals and all other data related to the cost volume of the proposal. Results go to the PCO. Arithmetic checks are made. No opinion is offered on the merit of the pricing, only that it has been documented in a long-range plan or a vendor or subcontractor quote and it is accurate.

PROGRESS BILLING AUDITS UNDER FIRM, FIXED PRICE CONTRACTS

This type of audit is on live data from your billing system. It is triggered by your submitting a progress payment under a firm, fixed price contract. Progress payments can be allowed in long-running firm, fixed price contracts that are front-end loaded with material and labor investment and have lengthy schedules for delivering the end product.

The DCAA Auditor will get the audit request from the contracting activity and will ask to examine the complete set of job cost records in your accounting system for incurred cost on the fixed price contract and tie those records out to the progress payment requested amount (usually 85-90% of the incurred cost to date - they hold some billed amount in retention). Records audited are at the time card and expense report level, as well as purchase orders, travel vouchers and any other transactions that are booked and billed in your accounting system to the fixed price contract. They will want to see the time cards and other documents and will trace them back through the system.

If you do not have a progress billing clause in your firm, fixed price contract, it is unlikely you will be audited. The contracting activity or the Defense Finance Accounting System (DFAS) will simply compare the final amount you bill to the firm, fixed price amount in your contract and pay if the item or service has been accepted and delivered. (Usually a sign-off by the PCO, Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COTR) or a DD Form 250 signed by a government inspector on product deliveries)

COST PLUS AND TIME AND MATERIAL CONTRACT AUDITS

Billing audits are performed by DCAA, again at the request of the contracting activity. The auditor will go into all actual cost records submitted with your billing. Cost plus and T&M billings must have all the billing detail behind them or they will not be paid. The detail must be at the transaction level and the audit is identical to the one discussed above for progress payments.

INCURRED COST AUDITS (OFTEN REFERRED TO AS "RATE AUDITS"

These audits are conducted when you are closing out contracts with the government and they have been billed at provisional rates, or the government needs to establish that you are billing accurately from a rate standpoint. If the contract is fixed price with progress payments, cost plus or Time and Material in nature and has been billed over a long period, particularly if it has crossed more than one government fiscal year, then a system-wide incurred cost audit will be necessary to verify the rates that were charged to the government and determine the difference between the provisional rate billed and the actual rate incurred (where applicable).

In addition it is periodically necessary for the government to establish that no unallowable costs have found their way into government contract billings.
The government allows provisional billing rates for the convenience of the contractor based on his long-range plan and mix of business. The government holds a retention amount on each billing and then at closeout determines with the contractor through an incurred cost audit the final amount due on the contract, releases the retention accordingly, and the contract can then be closed if all other obligations have been completed. At closeout the government pays the final bill.

A rate audit determines the compliance of the job cost system if it occurs while the contract is in process. If an incurred cost audit occurs on contract closeout actions, results will directly impact final contract billing approval and amounts.

JOB COST ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE TOOLS

My experience with job cost accounting software tools is that complete packages are pretty expensive. COTS accounting packages such as Quick Books do not provide job cost accounting. I have installed JAMIS, which is the 'Cadillac', DELTEK, which is the 'Fairlane 500', and SYMPAQ, which is the 'Volkswagen'. They are all expensive, even for single user licenses. You can go to these and other product sites on the web and examine their capabilities:

DELTEK

SYMPAQ

JAMIS

Here are some products especially designed for small business:

ICAT

PROCAS

All of the above suppliers are used to long sales cycles and competing against each other. They will do remote demos for you and bend over backwards to show you their products. You can learn much about government contract job cost accounting just by taking the time to go through a demo. For companies whose direct job cost records are growing fast, these tools offer the utility to manage data volume and efficiently handle requirements such as changes to existing records driven by rate changes, fiscal period closing or contract closeout.

GROWING YOUR JOB COST SYSTEM

Many small companies doing government work start out with a rudimentary direct job cost accounting software package such as Peach Tree or the add-on tool for Quick Books mentioned above and crutch it with manually maintained records on spreadsheets for indirect cost allocation, time keeping, expense reporting, purchasing and supplier commitments. There is nothing wrong with such an approach as long as you can supply job cost (individual contract) records complying with modified CAS Coverage and demonstrate such things as:

Time Cards and time keeping process by worker and labor category by contract or indirect cost pool

Expense Reports and expense report process by worker by contract or indirect cost pool

Purchase Orders with job cost accounting data traceable thru invoices to contacts or indirect cost pools after payment

Overhead Allocations in a Government-unique cost center to individual contracts at month end based on individual contract direct labor cost

G and A Allocations in a Government-unique cost center to individual contracts at month end based on individual contract total cost.

A semi-manual approach gets burdensome as the company grows and the number of accounting transactions at the direct and indirect cost level increase in volume.

If you do not have a good job cost software tool, I recommend you begin looking for one and plan strategically to implement it if  significant progress billings and service contracting transactions, to include time and material and cost plus contracts, are in your future. Implementing a government compliant job cost system is a sensitive matter and must be planned. '

As companies grow and get involved in larger programs they come under full CAS Coverage that requires a disclosure statement and considerably more controls on the structure of the business system. You can read about full CAS coverage at the link contained in the introduction to this article.

SUMMARY

If you have the investment budget available, you may wish to consider the job cost accounting system software suppliers I mentioned above and compete them against each other for a price. Installing one of these packages is critical from an accounting period standpoint. I recommend a new year starting point and running in parallel on your old system for at least a quarter.

Keep in mind that DCAA does not approve COTS job cost accounting system software. Buying the software will not make you "DCAA Compliant" or "CAS Compliant" You do that through careful process development, specific to your company, utilizing software as a tool to operate your own unique business processes. Your processes will include long range planning, pricing, job cost accounting, indirect cost allocation, time-keeping, expense reporting, purchasing and commitments and billing - all geared to accurate job cost records at the individual contract level.

To the extent that you cannot demonstrate the above features to DCAA when they audit your business you CAN demonstrate that you are aware of the necessity to set these things up, lay out your plan to do so, and specify a time frame within which DCAA can expect to see you complete your compliant government contract pricing and accounting structure.

I have found that DCAA auditors are reasonable people who understand small companies must grow into government business systems. Showing them your accounting structure and your business system plans will display knowledge they will appreciate and assure them you understand the requirements, even if you cannot demonstrate all the processes at the point in time that the government initially audits your company.

Chapters 45 and 51 through 53 of my Book, "Small Business Federal Government Contracting" provides further detail and examples on establishing CAS-Compliant small business planning, pricing and job cost accounting. The book is free as a download in the right margin of this site in the "Box Net" cube.

NOTE:  Comments at this post have been retained from previous discussions on the topic at "Small to feds" 





Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Are Startups Missing Out By Not Bidding On Federal Contracts?


Image:  Yourstory.com


By Kayleigh Alexandra


If you run a startup, the thought might never have crossed your mind to seek out contract work with the government. After all, it isn’t the conventional way forward, and you might well figure that federal contracts will invariably go to companies with well-established government links.

But are you missing out by not making an effort to seek out federal contract work? Let’s go through some reasons why you might want to give it more consideration.

You can’t get what you don’t apply for

The notion that government contracts will always go to giant corporations is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it spurs small enterprises to hold back from applying for them. Despite this impression, it’s generally quite viable, especially since the Federal Government sets a goal every fiscal year for contracting a percentage of its work to small businesses.

In 2017, the Federal Government awarded 60 billion dollars in contract work to small businesses, with the yearly goal agreed for 22% but set as 23% by Congress. The goal for 2018 is similar at 22%, so they should achieve a financial figure not far off that 60 billion dollars.

Given this ongoing commitment to diversifying the awarding of government work, now is as good a time as any to pitch for available contracts. If you succeed in getting one, you may be able to parlay it into an ongoing working relationship.

The field is becoming more open

The main difficulties with landing federal contracts are not technical but procedural and organizational, and the problem with high-level bureaucracy is that it’s incredibly difficult to dislodge. The flexibility in approach, then, must stem from the applicants.

While this is undoubtedly a frustrating notion to small businesses everywhere, consider that it also wards off a lot of possible competition, and that the benefits of securing federal work are extensive. In addition, the incumbent win rate for federal contract proposals dropped 21% from 2015 to 2016, going from 75% to 54%, so the playing field has become a lot more open.

Another thing worth noting for programs set aside for small business is that medium and large businesses are both precluded from assuming prime roles and limited in their participation as subcontractors. The government’s mandate for a small business set-aside contract caps participation by firms other than the small business prime awardee at 49% of the project effort (factoring in work scope, cost, and time). While this does mean that a small business must demonstrate (during the proposal and site survey phases) the ability to carry out 51% of the work internally to win a contract, it does ensure that a majority of the work genuinely goes to small business workers.

The advantages of government work

Even disregarding the intimidating process involved in securing government work, a lot of startups may well think that it isn’t the right fit for them, particularly given the common perception that federal contracts are dull, expensive, or overly complicated. Brand image is very important in the social media age (and more important than people think for contract bidding), and pitching to popular brands might feel like a better option.

The big advantage to working on government contracts is that it lends your company a great deal of credibility and cache. People understand that it’s a difficult marketplace to operate in, and will view your ability to do so as an indication of your professionalism.

Here are some more advantages:

     Scheduling Consistency
     A lot of contract work extends to substantial periods of time, meaning you plan your financial year around it and allocate your resources efficiently.
     Industry Networking
     You’ll have the chance to meet people in very important positions in your industry, providing you with the opportunity to network and establish useful contacts.
     Financial Certainty
     Government payments will always be issued on time and in accordance with the agreed terms. You will never face the prospect of chasing them for payment.

Meeting the requirements for contractors

There are specific requirements that prospective contract work suppliers must meet in order to be granted consideration, and meeting those requirements is the most challenging part of the process (with the possible exception of formulating the pitch).

Typically, you’ll need to ensure that your business system meets government standards for job cost accounting (each job is unique and must be costed accurately), be fully prepared to deal with thorough audit requests, and have the capacity to produce project proposals of a sufficiently-high quality and that your business system meets government standards

You’ll also want to make sure your company has adequate insurance. Basic commercial insurance likely won’t cut it— you should pursue a suitable custom policy that covers everything needed, such as Defense Base Act insurance if you use overseas employees. The government is very risk-averse in awarding contracts and you won’t stand a chance if your proposition seems a little rocky.

To navigate those murky waters, it’s generally best to consult a specialist. This website offers a great deal of information for free, but there are also paid consultants you can hire to help get your business ready to be viable for contract bidding. Here are a couple of you can consider:

     Mark Amtower: https://www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower/

Working with a prime contractor

Given the complexity and expense involved in becoming a government contractor, it’s often worth considering the option of working as a subcontractor for a prime contractor. A prime contractor is a business that has been granted full control of a government contract, allowing it to delegate parts of the work should it wish to.

If your startup isn’t ready to battle with much larger companies for huge contracts, subcontracting work could be a great first step to take. Most of the advantages we covered earlier still apply, as well, so it gives you the chance to make some influential contacts.

In summary

It isn’t easy to acquire a government contract, especially if your business is just getting started, but it isn’t impossible, and the benefits can be substantial.

If it’s an option you’d like to pursue in the future, make an effort to begin preparing your organizational structure to meet federal requirements, and seek out subcontracting work to help you establish the connections that could help you in the right direction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Visit the blog for your latest dose of startup, entrepreneur, and charity insights from top experts around the globe. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

10 Common Traits Among Successful Small Business Government Contractors


Image:  Quora

As a volunteer counselor over the last 14 years, I have noted common traits among the most successful small business federal government contractors.  The following are 10 of the most prominent traits and tips on how successful small companies developed them
Commercial success before entering government contracting.  From maintaining buildings to keeping the lights on, from grounds maintenance to flight maintenance, look for niches that can be pursued based on successful past performance, transitioning via industry teaming via subcontracts, partner roles with larger companies or in small business set aside orders for minor items and simpler services provided directly to the government.  Your Entry Points
Willingness to concede there were things they did not know and seeking advice early.   You may download the book, SmallBusiness Federal Government Contracting and its supplement from the "Box" in the right margin of this site.  You may also benefit from the free "Reference Materials". Contract agreements, incorporation instructions for all the US states, guidance on marketing and business planning are also included.   Free Books and Supplements
Recognition of the value in industry teaming. Synergism is paramount in teaming with any size company, whether in a lead or subcontracting role. There should be technical, management and market segment similarities between you and any company with whom you are considering teaming. Your prospective team member ideally will not be a direct competitor; rather a business in a related field with whom you share a mutual need for each other's contributions in pursuing large-scale projects. Small Business Teaming in Government Contracting 
Strong capability statement (CAPE) development, networked prudently among government agencies and large government contractors. Your CAPE targets contracting officers and prime contractor buyers who are seeking to fulfill their small business buying goals. It is a way to get you in the door and speak to, or correspond with, the management and technical personnel who are the decision makers in sourcing small business buys.  A good quality CAPE is the spearhead of your marketing campaign and your visual image;  focused and direct, it must be informative, concise and a snapshot of the very best you can offer. Your Capability Statement
Maximizing set-aside qualifications in seeking both prime and subcontract opportunities. 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.  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 dollarsMarketing to Achieve a Small Business Set-aside Contract
Prudent bid/no bid decisions. Government contract proposal preparation is time consuming and can be costly. Meeting 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 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 the job for lack of such a strategy. Making an Astute Bid/No Bid Decision
Ethical business conduct and avoidance of conflicts of interest. 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.  Maintaining an Ethical Company Image
Excellence in risk analysis. The challenges and difficulties for the small business in government contracting are not so much in the areas of barriers as  they are in lack of knowledge (which I concede is a form of barrier but one that can be dealt with) Large business and government agencies take advantage of the small enterprise lack of knowledge or make poor assumptions regarding what a small business knows about the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and associated Cost Accounting Standards (CAS). This leads directly to abusive practices. Managing Small Business Risk
 Solid long range planning and plan maintenance. The time to consider separating government from commercial work and/or establishing new cost centers for bidding, accounting and billing purposes is when the enterprise is generating a long range marketing plan to determine rates for bidding new long term contracts. The location of the work (both geographic location and whether performance is in or out of a government facility, its duration, skill set requirements, government-mandated fringe benefits for workers and the competition are all factors to consider).Strategic Planning for Small Business
Excelling in meeting the past performance challenge, building a performance record with solid customer service and sensitivity.  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. Meeting the Past Performance Challenge

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Weighted Guidelines Profit Determination In Federal Government Contract Negotiations

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Image: Defense Acquisition University
The accepted template for negotiated procurements with the government is as follows:

A. Audit

B. Fact-finding


C. Pre-award Survey

D. Cost Negotiations

E. Final Profit Negotiations

F. Contract Award

Although policy in FAR Part 215-404-4 states that contracting officers ….” do not perform a profit analysis when assessing cost realism in competitive acquisitions”, it is wise to understand that during Steps A trough D above, the contracting officer and his representatives are indirectly forming opinions of the risk to the contractor and the mix of cost elements in the proposal. That opinion directly effects profit negotiations and judgments at Step E, above.

Although the above FAR clause allows for 3 methods of profit negotiation, this article will discuss the most common method contracting officers use --  the Weighted Guidelines Method.

ELEMENTS

Contractors should be aware that the Weighted Guidelines Method is mandatory for all negotiated procurements except Cost-Plus Award Fee Contracts and exceptions as approved by a higher authority. Contracting officers are to prepare their position using DD Form 1547 with associated backup and file it at the conclusion of negotiations.

Understanding the weighted guidelines method can assist in achieving a higher profit on a negotiation because a contractor can present a position at the table that logically supports the following elements required by FAR Part 215-404-4:  

  • Performance Risk
  • Contract Type Risk
  • Facilities Capital Employed
  • Costs Efficiency

    The detailed analysis guidelines for contracting officers under each of the above factors are contained at the following link:
    It should be noted that the Facilities Capital Cost Employed (FCCM) factor (a separate DD Form 1861) does not always enter into small business negotiations, because many start-ups and smaller enterprises do not propose it as part of their allowable costs due to elements they cannot demonstrate in capital investment, land, buildings and similar items.

    UTILIZING THE FORM FOR NEGOTIATION

    A DD Form 1547 accompanies this posting. An Excel version with arithmetic formulas and a separate tab for DD Form 1861, FCCM, can be downloaded from the  Box “References” cube in the top right margin of this site.

    Study the form and its guidelines at the above link. Apply it to your proposal. This puts your perspective on profit into the same structure as the contracting officer is required to develop his.

    When profit discussions ensue and the contracting officer takes a position, ask for a copy of his weighted guidelines analysis form. If he does not provide it, or has not prepared one, give him yours with your position on profit, updated to reflect costs negotiated during steps A-D above.

    A reasonable discussion can then occur on the elements of profit negotiation and offers, counter offers and ultimate agreement can be equitably reached with a known structure addressing risk and other required factors.

    SUMMARY

    The majority of negotiated cost proposal effort involves coming to an agreement with the government via audit, fact-finding, pre-award survey and cost realism. But keep in mind that the government is forming an opinion on the elements of weighted guidelines profit determination during those stages as well.

    You can influence the government negotiator (s) on the weighted guidelines profit elements during the early stages of negotiations as you settle on cost factors. You do so by presenting the data and narrative basis of estimate in such a fashion as to identify risk and other key area of weighted guidelines analysis. Insure the technical, management and cost volumes of your proposal, if they are required, are consistent in that regard.

    Update your DD Form 1587 in your working file and prepare to use it as you settle on profit to conclude negotiations. Relate your profit position to weighted guidelines cost elements, as agreed upon with the government, supported by your proposal and any other documented disclosures you have submitted during negotiations. Doing so will support your position on profit and give the contracting officer an opportunity to accept it.