Taking the Headaches out of Government Contracts: How Companies of All Sizes Can Successfully Woo the Nation's Most Demanding Customer
Thompson, Kevin D., Black Enterprise
Government procurement Two words that often strike fear in even the most seasoned business owners. You've heard the horror stories. The procurement process is lengthy, burdensome, complex, expensive and unfair. All true. However, those problems haven't stopped African-American entrepreneurs from seeking government work.
The reason is clear: Uncle Sam remains an avid shopper of goods and services. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that in 1990 the federal government alone spent an estimated $190 billion on goods, services and research and development. Add the lure of state and municipal contracts, and the revenue potential becomes hard to resist.
To capture a bigger chunk of those dollars, more black business owners are adopting cutting-edge strategies and applying forward-thinking techniques. In the dog-eat-dog government procurement arena, they have no choice. On the following five pages, BLACK ENTERPRISE shows how you can position your firm to do business with the government
What Vendors Must Do Before Approaching A Government Agency
If you believe you're ready to grab the world of government procurement by the lapels, think again. Are you really ready? Before you even set foot in a purchasing agent's office, you should have at least a year's worth of research under your belt Start by subscribing to the Commerce Business Daily to find out which federal jobs are up for bid. A six-month subscription costs $130 if mailed first class, $104 if mailed second class. Call the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C. (202-783-3238) for more information. For local bids, check out the Bids Wanted advertisements found in the business section of your local newspaper.
But that's only the beginning. Once you become familiar with the daily bid requests, then it's time to start cultivating contacts inside the agencies, in trade associations, and among those active in politics who can provide information about future projects that may require the services or products you provide.
"Don't walk for an open bid to come to you," says Susan J. Ross, contract compliance officer with Atlanta's Office of Contract Compliance. "Find out what projects are in the pipeline. Most cities will have comprehensive development plans for the next two years. Get to know those firms that will be involved. For instance, if you're a photographer, you might not think there's a job for you on a construction project but construction firms need photographers on their sites. We used a photographer to take pictures of the Atlanta Underground Project for instance. Minority vendors who specialize in industrial janitorial work should also pay close attention to construction plans. All companies have to clean up a site before they leave."
The vendors who do get contracts, experts agree, have obtained vital bits of information their competitors either ignored or couldn't find. If you haven't done that go back to the procurement drawing board.
Only the well-connected survive, says John W. Rickett, owner of Commercial Maintenance Services Inc. (CMS), a Houston-based industrial maintenance and custodial services company. That's why when he started CMS 10 years ago, Rickett joined several professional, civic and trade organization and got on every bid list he could. "We're certified with the city of Houston to receive solicitations and with the Houston Independent Schools District," notes Rickett, whose company grossed close to $3 million last year. "We also use the Texas information Procurement Services to assist in identifying procurement requirements. And as a member of the Houston Business Council, we're able to keep abreast of business activities throughout the area."
The point is you can't walk into a government agency office cold. Have a well-thought-out game plan. Susan Ross has three tips: Develop a sound business plan, make sure there's a need for your service and develop a strong marketing strategy. …