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Sunday, February 21, 2021

Marketing A Small Business In The Federal Government Contracting Environment



By Ken Larson

IINTRODUCTION

You have positioned your existing or start-up company for doing business with the federal government. You have registered your enterprise at the System for Award Management to include determination of your North American Industrial Classification (NAICS) Codes, applied for Small Business Set Aside Designations , if applicable, researched your HUB Zone status HUB Zone Information and developed a Capability Statement for marketing purposes.

You are embarking on the utilization of SAMContract Opportunities, the gateway for federal government agencies advertising prospective contracts on the Web. 

Now is the time to think through your marketing strategy and the various venues for contracting with the federal government. This article will discuss these venues and the opportunities they offer your small business.

II. WHAT TYPE OF SMALL BUSINESS ARE YOU?

A. Commercial Contracting Under FAR Part 12

Are you planning to market an existing commercial product which has been on the market, such as software, hardware, a commodity, a report, a conference, a survey or a study, sell it to meet a government specification or statement of work and bill for the end product when delivered? 

If the answer to this question is "Yes", you may be able to do business under Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 12, "Commercial Contracting", which is a simplified and fast form of selling to the federal government. 

The vast majority of purchases by the federal government in this category are Firm Fixed Price (FFP) with a product warranty of some type. You may be able to sell under FAR Part 12 if your product meets the definition of commercial items specified by the government.

B. Non-Commercial Contracting

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

Or is your product or service a development effort or not readily available to customers in the commercial marketplace. If you fall into this category for either reason it is unlikely you will be contracting under FAR Part 12 and you will be pursuing long term government contracts. 

If the above apply, much of the remainder of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) will apply to you, together with the various contract types other than FFP which are used for efforts where the contractor and the government may share the business risk in development, implementation or production of a new product, system or service.

C. Commercial and Non-Commercial Contracting

You may decide to market under both (A) and (B) above. Some small businesses sell their product commercially, but contract for product implementation and support on a service contract basis.

If you are selling under (A) and (B) or just (B) above you should examine this web site further to obtain sufficient detail to develop your business system in estimating, proposing, accounting and billing the government for contracts not qualifying under FAR Part 12.

III. YOUR CUSTOMER

Although all requirements in the federal government market emanate from the US Agencies there are several ways for meeting these requirements with a business arrangement that suits your small business.

A. U.S. Government Agency As a Customer

There are over many agencies or "Departments" in the Federal Government. Each of these agencies has a statutory obligation to contract from small business for 23% of everything it buys. Contracting officers must file reports annually demonstrating they have fulfilled this requirement. Not fulfilling the requirement can put the agency annual funding in jeopardy. You have a motivated customer in federal government contracting officers and buyers.

As a prime contractor to one of these agencies your small business proposes, negotiates and contracts directly with a federal government contracting officer. You may or may not have subcontractors or suppliers. 

A subcontractor is a teaming partner who agrees to accept a portion of the effort under your prime contract and abide by the prime contract terms and conditions flowed down to him from you. On competitive procurements the business arrangement is usually mutually exclusive on the part of the subcontractor and your company. 

A supplier is a purchased finished vendor or off the shelf retailer who sells you items or components necessary to produce your product but does not accept the flow-down provisions of your prime contract other than the most general terms and conditions such as US Public Law , EEO, Tax Provisions, Warranty and the like. Supplier relationships are not usually mutually exclusive arrangements.

You may be able to fulfill the entire prime contract scope of work or meet the product specification from within your company. However, major government procurements are increasingly geared to teaming arrangements involving a prime and several subcontractors. As the prime on such a procurement you normally have the lead share of the work scope, you have a product critical to the program, you know the customer the best or a combination of these factors. Your subcontractor team members are usually not your direct competitors but are involved in lines of work that complement your business and enable the team to fulfill a scope that is larger than any single member could undertake alone Your direct competition is most likely forming similar teaming arrangements in an attempt to win the larger jobs which can span a number of years in duration and mean good, solid cash flow for all participants.

A General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule is a pre-qualifying way to obtain business directly from all federal government agencies. The GSA performs the service of negotiating with you for multi-year pricing of labor, products and equipment, together with pre-established terms and conditions. Your schedule and terms are posted to the GSA Web Site and all federal agency buyers can expeditiously buy from your schedule. A GSA Schedule is normally set up for 5 years. Achieving and Utilizing a GSA Schedule

The GSA also sponsors and manages major Indefinate Delivery/Indefinate Quantity (IDIQ) procurements such as "Alliant" and "Alliant Small Business" for Information Technology. These contract vehicles pre-position large and small contractors and teams of contractors to accept competitive delivery orders under established terms and conditions and standardized solution s for technological areas in high demand across the federal government. An IDIQ procurement can span a period as long as 10 years.

B. A Government Prime Contractor As A Customer

Government Prime contractors who are large businesses (roughly defined by the SBA and the banking community as having over 500 employees and annual sales in excess of $20M) and who hold federal government contracts have the same requirement as government agencies to buy at least 23% of the supplies and services in support of those contracts from small business.

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. You have a motivated customer in large business subcontract managers, administrators and buyers. A small business who becomes a prime contractor does not have to meet the annual small business contracting plan requirement until it becomes a large business.

In selling to a prime contractor you propose, negotiate and subcontract with a company who holds a contract with a US government agency and in turn flows down its provisions to you. Or you sell under purchase orders on a commercial basis (FAR Part 12) to another company who holds a federal government contract.

C. Selling Via a Joint Venture

There are occasions when two companies wish to combine their respective products or resources and form a separate entity to undertake a contract, usually a prime contract with the federal government. The marketing considerations for such a venture involve impressing the client with the resources being dedicated to the program or addressing government concerns about broadening the technology and assuring redundant capability in the industrial community. A joint venture consists of human and other resources from the participating companies. However, it stands alone as a legal entity. Joint venture agreements are difficult to craft. Protecting proprietary information, together with intellectual property is especially demanding. Dividing the contractual effort and ultimately integrating it into a final product or service is also a challenge. Complicating the scenario is the fact that the US Government reserves the right to approve joint venture agreements before a contract can be issued to the entity. One company usually assumes the lead role in the joint venture. Some joint ventures hire a joint venture administrator who is the only legal entity authorized to sign a binding document on behalf of the two companies once it has been approved by each firm through a joint venture board, with equal representation by both organizations. Administration, accounting and billing at the joint venture level is a third tier of administrative cost which must be born by both companies.

Your customer in the federal market is either the government itself or a prime contractor. You will sell as a prime contractor, as a commercial supplier or as a subcontractor and on occasion you may have the need to establish a joint venture with another firm.

IV. MARKETING AVENUES

A. Small Business Certifications

Your small business designation at your SAM registration places you in the small business set-aside market for 23% of the total goods and services the federal government buys. Within small business, there are additional self-certifications and SBA certifications to which you can apply if you qualify.small business designations 

Self-certification occurs when you respond to government requests for proposals, cite you registration number and state in your proposal certifications and representations that you are a Small Business and whether or not you have set-aside designations.

Procurement contracting officers and prime contractors are responsible for verifying self-certifications. Owners claiming designations must have a major equity share in the business and must be involved in running the business operations.

The SBA certifies Small, Disadvantaged Businesses under their "8(a) Program". The application for this certification is available at the SBA Web Site for businesses who qualify by virtue of minority ownership and minority involvement in running the business operations. The SBA reviews, approves and grants 8(a) Certifications to small minority-owned businesses. Please see the following link:

Federal agencies and prime contractors are required to set goals and contract to achieve annual objectives for each of the above certifications within the overall 23% small business contracting mandate required by statute. Procurements are regularly "set-aside" for these designations to achieve government and prime contractor annual objectives. Procurements are also set-aside for small business in general, which includes companies who may not qualify for the additional small business certifications discussed above.

B. Capability Statement

With your small business SAM registration and additional certifications, you are ready to develop your capability statement. This document will be a promotional brochure which on paper and through the electronic media advertises who you are, what your do and why the government or prime contractors should buy from you. Major elements of your capability statement in addition to your small business designation and certifications are as follows:

(1) Company overview

(2) Supplies and services description couched utilizing your marketing ideas and strategy.

(3) Past performance of your enterprise or your personal background and qualifications (experience, education, etc.)

(4) Facilities or capabilities overview (How you perform your service couched in a manner that will appeal to your target market)

(5) Explanation of the positive results the client should expect.

(6) Points of contact and ways to contact you for meetings, placing an order and contracting your services.

Your capability statement can be distributed on paper to your target market as a brochure, emailed as an attachment and linked into related industry web sites or partner web sites to get the word out about your product or service. The capability statement 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.

C. Self-Marketing for SBA 8(a) Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB)'s and Historically Under-Utilized Business (HUB) Zone Contractors

If you qualify for a SDB Certification or can attest that you are located in a HUB Zone, these items can be valuable marketing tools. Presenting your capability statement to a prospective federal customer and meeting the management, technical and procurement decision makers puts you in a position to self market projects. All federal agencies and large business contracting to the federal government have to meet SDB and HUB Zone annual buying objectives. They have processes for competitive procurements. The processes are generally lengthy to comply with regulations governing solicitation on the open market, request for proposals, source selection, negotiation and award.

Under the 8(a) SDB Program and the HUB Zone Program if you can assist a federal agency or large business in identifying a product or service they need and that you are a qualified source to fill that need then the your customer can buy it directly from you and bypass the competitive process entirely. The key to achieving this type of targeted marketing is to contact and/or visit your customer regularly and get in front of the solicitation process. Once a project has gone to the "Sources Sought" or "Solicitation" stage you can still convince the customer to set it aside for 8(a) or HUB Zone firms, but you will be competing with other SDB's or HUB Zone contractors in your NAIC's Code for the business. The "Early Bird Gets the Worm", adage is useful for SDB and HUB Zone organizations. Some buying agencies even permit an 8(a) SDB or HUB Zone Contractor to assist in writing the product or performance specification for a project to expedite the process. Federal agencies and large businesses are motivated to use the non-compete, set-aside features of the 8(a) SDB and HUB Zone Programs. Doing so permits them to meet their small business procurement goals and enables a swift buying action of a product or service for which they may have a critical need. 

D. GSA Schedules and Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Contracts

The General Services Administration (GSA) pre-qualifies contractors with a terms and conditions package and negotiated rates for products or services. Your GSA schedule is then posted to the web at:

This site is searchable by all government agencies who want to buy products and services. A GSA schedule allows you to offer a pre-existing contract vehicle with established pricing to any federal government agency or prime contractor. This shortens the procurement process considerably. In some procurements, a GSA Schedule is necessary to qualify for bidding certain jobs. You can read more about applying for a GSA Schedule by going to the General Services Administration Web Site at:  GSA Web Site

Under Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Contracts, terms and conditions and labor hour pricing are agreed upon in advance with an agency for a period of time (usually a multi-year arrangement). Many large government agencies contract utilizing IDIQ contract vehicles and often make multiple awards to several companies who then compete for work on a delivery order basis thereafter. 

The GSA also manages large scale IDIQ procurements in high technology areas such as Information Technology (IT).  Individual agencies then compete and procure IT products and services against the standard with established terms and conditions and known pricing. Once qualified, winning in this type of environment is simplified to submitting the best technical solution to a given delivery order with the lowest man-hours or product pricing. It is not uncommon for competitors to offer discounts during the competition.

Under both GSA Schedules and IDIQ Contracts individual delivery orders are negotiated separately regarding the labor hours, material and travel cost necessary to complete a discrete scope of work.

E. Teaming

Because the federal government buys on such a large scale and in many acquisitions chooses to package related technologies or services, it is a necessary part of your marketing plan to consider teaming with other companies. As discussed in paragraphs II. and III., above, large businesses who are in the same line of work as you are have a requirement to subcontract to small businesses under federal government contracts. In addition, large and small companies who are in related or synergistic businesses to yours actively seek partners in the federal government market to permit access to larger packaged procurements.

Attend trade conferences, join trade organizations, get into technical blogs on the web. All large businesses contracting with the government have a small business liaison officer which you can locate at the company web site. Present your capability statement electronically or preferably in person to local large businesses engaged in federal government contracts who may need your services.

Many large businesses are willing to team as a subcontractor to a small business to get access to the small business set-aside market. A large business cannot receive an amount in excess of 50% of the dollar award of a small business set-aside, but many large businesses are willing to subcontract to multiple small businesses on federal government contracts to broaden their business base.

For SDB companies, the "Mentor - Protege' Program is available. This is a federally sponsored program whereby a large business sponsors a smaller business through active teaming and mentoring. Your can learn more about this program at:

The best way to approach a large business or another synergistic small business is to have a program target as a discussion vehicle. If you find a project for which you need a partner or partners, carefully research the firms you are considering, check their D&B's, see if they have entered their company in the "Interested Parties" frame of the solicitation at FEDBIZOPS.
When teaming with another company, most arrangements become mutually exclusive if you are subcontracting to one another and not just supplying off the shelf products. As the business relationship evolves and you begin sharing information a two way Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) is usually necessary to protect proprietary information.

As the business relationship matures and the parties agree to become exclusive, a teaming agreement is also necessary. At this point you have agreed upon who will be the eventual prime contractor and who will be the subcontractor. The areas regarding work share and proposal preparation are particularly critical in terms of thorough definition to avoid future misunderstandings among the parties. If and when the prime contract is awarded, the teaming agreement is replaced by a subcontract from the prime party to the subcontracting team member.

F. Small Business Innovative Research Program

Other federally sponsored programs are the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs for high technology small business. These are competitive programs awarding small business fundng in critical high technology areas. Your can learn more about the SBIR/STTR Programs by going to:

V. SUMMARY:

This article has offered a template of avenues for small business federal government contract marketing. You should apply the template to your business plan and explore which avenues suit your enterprise. The federal government contract customer is motivated to buy from you. Your marketing task is to target and find your customer considering the supplies and services you sell. The federal government offers competitive advantages to various types of small business, depending on ownership and size. Federal government contracts offer small purchases and long term contractual arrangements from firm fixed price purchases to cost type and time and material contracts.  The opportunities are there for small business entrepreneurs’ to pursue.



Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Difference Between A Free Lancer And A Small Business Federal Government Contractor


Image: "Gwen Fox"


“SIZE MATTERS”

 INTRODUCTION

Talented free lancers often wish to grow independently as individuals in the government contracting market and face difficulties in doing so. Many have service and product development skills of value to federal agencies, but few succeed without forming a company and beginning to view their objectives as an enterprise instead of a single person entity. 

This article will examine the principal differences between free lancing and small business contracting from the perspective of the market realities that drive success in the venue.

DEFINITIONS:

We have previously discussed the organization entities that are involved in federal government contracting:


Free Lancer:

A particular type of individual – the “Free Lancer”, finds his or her way to the federal market via established companies and performs single person services while not on a company payroll as an employee, having no taxes, benefits or deductions taken from their pay and not covered by any form of insurance.

The company issues a purchase order to the individual at an hourly rate and submits a Form 1099 to the US government reporting what is paid for services. The free-lance contractor must self-insure during the contract period and pay taxes on the money earned at the end of the tax year. Little, if any intellectual property protection exists for the individual and the larger firm may require non-disclosure, exclusivity and noncompete agreements that may limit the future efforts of the free-lancer.

Contractor

The term “Contractor” in government parlance refers to businesses, not individuals. To become a contractor to a government agency, you must therefore form you own business. Government agencies rarely engage individual contractors or free-lancers.  If they want individuals to perform services they put them on the agency payroll. If they want to acquire specialized outside services they contract with companies. 

Subcontractor

A subcontractor is a company that takes on a flow-down of liability from a prime contractor to complete a major portion of a large scale job for the prime contractor's customer. The subcontractor is obligated to the prime contractually in an identical fashion as the prime is obligated to the government agency. The prime contractor issues a subcontract with a statement of work and flow down terms and conditions from the prime contract to the subcontractor. In many instances the government requires review and approval of major subcontractor selections and holds the prime contractor accountable contractually at the prime contract level for the subcontractor(s) efforts.  Free-lancers and contractors, as described above, rarely become subcontractors.

The Necessity to Grow From a Free Lancer to a Contractor and/or a Subcontractor

Although talented professions may believe there is growth in the market for high performing individuals, the government contracting industry has very little room for them except in specialty roles and then usually only temporarily.  Prime contractors also view Free Lancers as interim performers of a short term variety and usually offer them the option of joining the company or moving on.  The government tends to view them as “Roosting” and not long term in reliability.

No past performance record is kept on individual Free Lancers by the government or prime contractors under FAR.  Such records pertain only to incorporated entities.  Companies bringing free lancers on board cannot claim their historical work as credible under government past performance guidelines until the individual has contributed to the company success as an employee, losing his free -lancer status in the process except for resume and organization chart purposes on future projects. 

With federal agencies there is a strong movement to issue umbrella, multiple year, long- term contracts, many to multiple sources for qualification and then order services as required with bundled capabilities in teams of companies.  Free Lancers do not qualify for such efforts without a company identity.

On cannot acquire a GSA schedule as a Free Lancer.  Once must form a company and apply as a business entity to achieve that form of marketing vehicle. 

Further, the government hesitates to become involved in contracting with individuals unless they are heavily insured and such insurance costs heavily for individuals and in many cases cannot be achieved at all.  

Therefore, to progress economically and independently the Freelancer must incorporate, form an enterprise and begin to thinking in terms of a company entity in lieu of a single person image for the future.  This can be achieved by adding personnel via incumbent work forces, using contingent hire agreements or engaging in product development with industry partners and government financing.  The following articles at this site provide details:





SUMMARY

For stability, growth, cash flow, industry reputation and partnering, past performance consideration and economics, consider the transition from a single individual free-lancer to a company.  Brand your company and not yourself and think bigger than you are in terms of involving others in your operations to best position your supplies and services in the federal contracting market. 


Monday, February 8, 2021

Unsolicited Government Contract Proposals - A Multiple Stage Challenge

image ostglobalsolutions dot com



INTRODUCTION

Most enterprises in government contracting encounter the possibility of submitting an unsolicited proposal.  The perceived opportunity arises as a result of observing a requirement that the company could uniquely fulfill, but for which the government has yet to issue a formal solicitation.

These opportunities are normally  large enough so they can't be sold off a GSA schedule or an existing contract delivery order, and do not fall under FAR Part 12, "Commercial Contracting”  

CHALLENGES AND STRATEGY

Since your product or service is not on the funding docket with the agency it does not have a funding I.D. Your job is to get the technical and project personnel enthused enough about it to carve out a niche in their program area and support a funding request for it. They do so by  to obtaining a solicitation I.D; money and authorization to buy from you.
The key to achieving the above is a good presentation revolving around your capability statement but supplemented by a pitch that should emphasize specifically how you understand the agency mission and that your offerings could further it.
Your objective should be to submit a hard hitting summary with a proposal in letter form, protected with the standard proprietary markings, through the contracting officer with whom you have already had discussions to the technical lead man in the agency and request a meeting to make the full pitch in person. 

WORK YOUR PROPOSAL IN STAGES
The following link is the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) guidance on unsolicited proposals:
FAR Guidance - Unsolicited Proposals

Be advised that you need to assert your rights in technical data and software on anything you give them that is product oriented because you have made an investment in it. When they start putting money into its further development you find them pressuring you for a deal on licensing and free use of it in exchange for funding and orders for services. That is the normal course of events and it can be managed.
Another approach is to carefully locate a platform provider that could use your product services and team with them on a larger scale, bundled program that may be going to formal solicitation.
In either of the above instances, carefully protect your idea using the tips in the below article:
You will note that the FAR guidance specifies that cost and pricing data must be submitted so the proposal may be evaluated.  Naturally you must provide that ultimately, but it is recommended you do not do so with your initial proposal submission.  Simply state you will be pleased discuss with the agency the scope in terms of types and quantities of product and services, after which you will price the result of their input for planning purposes, pending a formal solicitation with funding commitment.
If the agency or a prime gets enthused, they will ask for a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) estimate for planning and funding purposes on what your product or services may cost. Be careful to make it conservative because those things get cast in concrete and caveat any ROM with a written statement that your ROM is not a formal commitment to a contract and that you will be pleased to commit with a formal proposal from the government through a duly authorized contracting officer under a funded solicitation.
I have had clients that have even been requested by agencies to write a statement of work for such a solicitation
The government fiscal year is a key driver in terms of available funding and getting it earmarked. Keep in mind funding for a program using your idea or a platform using it must fall within a funding cycle that begins 1 October, picks up heavily in July and August and must conclude in September.
CONCLUSION
Success in unsolicited proposals is a process:
1.   An initial unsolicited proposal submission after focused marketing is the gateway

2.   A strong presentation to the customer in person is key.

3.   Rough order of magnitude (ROM) pricing permits planning by the customer

4.   A funded solicitation is a green light for a firm contract proposal.

5    A Formal proposal submission under a funded solicitation, committing to negotiable price, schedule and delivery terms wins the contract. 

In addition to the articles linked above, please review the following 2 articles for additional guidance guidance: