Ready, Set, Compete: American Express OPEN Forum Shares Tips on Doing Business with the Federal Government

OPEN Forum readies business owners
OPEN Forum readies business owners

A new year often brings resolutions that are triggered by the desire to improve oneself. Businesses are not immune to the resolve to improve, expand, and grow, including going after government contracting opportunities. However, companies are often stifled in their pursuits because they don’t have an effective strategy to scope out federal government contracting prospects and conduct the prep work that goes along with applying for and fulfilling the requirements for the would-be contracts. The harsh reality is that entrepreneurs are less likely to capitalize on potential business if they aren’t prepared.

When it comes to readying entrepreneurs to compete for federal government contracts, American Express OPEN Forum assists business owners who seek to gain a piece of the $500 billion spent by the federal government on products and services each year to ensure it operates smoothly on a daily basis. Lourdes Martin-Rosa, OPEN Forum Adviser and CEO of Florida-based Government Business Solutions, shares insight on preparing for and pursing federal government contracting opportunities, and offers the top five things businesses should do in 2014 to ready themselves to successfully compete for the chance to provide goods and services needed by the agencies.

Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN® Forum Adviser
Lourdes Martin-Rosa, American Express OPEN® Forum Adviser

With $500 billion in spending power, the federal government has a goal of ensuring that qualified small and disadvantaged businesses, which are often less likely to compete, have an opportunity to work with their agencies: 23% of small businesses; 5% of disadvantaged businesses, including women-owned companies; and, 3% of service disabled veterans. “It is important for businesses to understand the government playing field,” says Lourdes Martin-Rosa. For instance, knowing that many government agencies begin the fiscal year on October 1, instead of July 1 like most companies, a small business can make strategic adjustments that ready them for the Request for Proposals (RFP) process ahead of time. Martin-Rosa also says that the 2013 sequestration held up pre-approved spending that is now being used for government products and services, including equipment, technology, marketing, and human resources. When it comes to women-owned businesses, Martin-Rosa says that less than 50,000 companies are self-certified with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new Women-Owned Small Business set-aside program. There are more than 2 million companies owned by women in the country.

Last year, American Express OPEN Forum teamed up with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) to launch ChallengeHER, an initiative that provides resources, coaching, and insight for women entrepreneurs interested in pursuing federal government contracts. The first ChallengeHER event was held on December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The event offered best practices for navigating opportunities for women-owned small businesses, including developing capability statements, selecting teaming partners for contracting prospects, and networking opportunities for the participants. In addition, DHS posted their contract opportunities for the year during the gathering. The agency pledged $12.9 million in 2012 for small business contracts.

Ready, set, compete

Internal organizational issues, such as management, operations, and staffing, can influence a company’s ability to deliver products or services once the contract has been awarded. It is imperative that businesses reconcile weaknesses that could impede their competitive advantage. Conversely, companies can gain insight on how the agency with which it would like to do business rates in its management and employee morale. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publishes a score card rating for all agencies, which gauges their progress on internal management issues.

Bidding batting averages - American Express OPEN Survey
Bidding batting averages – American Express OPEN Survey

Five Things for Businesses to Do in 2014

1. Visit the American Express OPEN Forum website American Express OPEN Forum has a multitude of resources for new and seasoned business owners, including tutorials and tips for getting prepared to compete for federal government contracts, finding teaming partners, and creating capability statements. The site has a downloadable inside guides to help all businesses, including procurement for women business owners. Business owners can also ask for advice from other entrepreneurs, share their experiences, and view the membership directory of businesses registered with OPEN Forum. All of the resources are free of charge.

2. Develop your company’s internal strategic plan Before pursuing any contracting opportunity, identifying your organization’s strengths, internal systems needed to deliver the products or services, the ability to fulfill the contract’s deliverables, and managing expectations by the agency are paramount. Martin-Rosa suggests that companies map out internal and external resources, payroll systems to accommodate the project, and past performance prior to pursuing contracts. She also recommends that companies actively research and recruit teaming partners during down time for work on future prospects. “Think like the government contractors do – the acquisition officers who review hundreds of proposals,” advises Martin-Rosa. For example, an agency’s contracting officer may receive 300 proposals from companies that want to secure the same opportunity. Agencies set aside contracting opportunities for small businesses resulting in less proposal reviews, thus providing innovative results. Strategic small business owners, according to Martin-Rosa, will submit proposals as small businesses, resulting in, for instance, 100 submissions; or, as 8(A) certified business, including those owned by women and companies operated in HUBZones, which may total 20-30 submissions. This approach can significantly decrease the competition and increase the odds of being selected for the contract.

3. Register with government contracting databases Proactive and savvy business owners know that knowledge is power, and access forecasting projections, incumbent information, project pricing, and the percentage of small businesses selected for contracts can help a company develop its strategy for building its readiness to successfully compete for government contracts. The System Award Management, is a resource for viewing the companies that have been awarded contracts, while Federal Business Opportunities, Fed Biz Opps for short, is the go-to site for viewing thousands of open contracting opportunities with agencies across the country. Government agencies are responsible for collecting and reporting data on federal procurements through the Federal Procurement Data System, which lists all activity and purchases made by government agencies. Acquisition.gov provides a list of government procurement forecasts, and lists resources such as the grants data dictionary and updates to contracting opportunities.

4. Research government agencies’ performance Established in 2010, the Small Business Dashboard lists agencies’ performance in meeting goals, including socio-economic objectives, in awarding contracts. In essence, the site lists projected and actual spending goals, by agency, in dollar amount and percentage of business types awarded, including small businesses, small disadvantaged businesses, women-owned businesses, service disabled veteran owned, and certified HUBZone small business.

5. Build a strong internal marketing plan Creating a strong plan that indicates how each entity within the company, like diversity and IT, can fulfill the needs indicated in the agency’s Request for Proposals. Martin-Rosa proposes that companies identify at least ten North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry codes, and then cite and promote the top 5 the business does well and frequently, including categories such as management consulting, construction, or health care. Agencies use NAICS codes to identify the products and services they needs. Finally, Lourdes Martin-Rosa recommends viewing the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) schedule to find out how much the federal government pays for the products and services it secures, and bear the pricing in mind when developing a competitive proposal.   SOCIALIZE: Follow American Express OPEN Forum on Twitter Follow American Express OPEN Forum on Facebook

About the Blogger: Kesi Stribling KSHeadShot09

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