"She took time to do the research," explained Edney, assistant deputy for small business for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville. "Take time to learn what an agency does."
- Bid proposals fail to provide exactly what the agency is seeking.
- A glitzy document using colors and graphics won't score more points with agencies. Focus on substance.
- Vendors fail to read requirements as closely as they should.
- Proposals are late. Most, if not all, agencies on the federal, state or local level will not accept a late bid.
- Math mistakes are made. Most agencies don't allow corrections or changes in bids.
- Attachments and supporting documentation are not included or are incomplete.
SOURCE: CAROLE ADAMS-HART, CERTIFIED BUSINESS ANALYST FOR GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT, FAU'S SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER
- www.ccr.gov: To register with the federal government as a contractor
- http://pro-net.sba.gov: Pro-Net database identifies and notifies potential vendors of upcoming contracting opportunities
- www.fedbizopps.gov: The new government portal for all agency solicitations of $25,000 or greater
- http://DoDBusOpps.com: Department of Defense business opportunities
- www.neco.navy.mil: U.S. Navy electronic commerce online
- http://procurement.nasa.gov: NASA procurement
- www.supply.dla.mil: Defense Logistics Agency, which purchases for the military
- www.myflorida.com: State of Florida central site
- www.myfloridamarketplace.com: Florida's e-procurement site
South Florida sites:
- www.osd.dms.state.fl.us: How to become a certified minority vendor for Florida
- www.co.broward.fl.us: Broward County business opportunities
index.htm: Fort Lauderdale business opportunities
- www.co.palm-beach.fl.us: Palm Beach purchasing opportunities
- http://miamidade.gov: Miami-Dade procurement opportunities
Business analyst Carole Adams-Hart also says that small businesses seeking government contracts need to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Adams-Hart knows what she's talking about: She worked for 25 years for Honeywell, a major government contractor, before becoming a business analyst in government procurement for the Small Business Development Center at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
One advantage to government contracts is that local and federal government and agencies forecast what products and services they're going to buy, usually 90 days in advance, allowing for better planning. And in the current economy, "the government is offering more business opportunity than the private sector," Adams-Hart says.
She suggests small businesses start by focusing bidding efforts on a few agencies. To do business with the federal government, the first step is to register in Central Contract Registration, www.ccr.gov, or through http://pro-net.sba.gov, the U.S. Small Business Administration's site for procurement marketing and network access. To register, small businesses must have a Dun and Bradstreet number (call 800-333-0505) and banking information for electronic fund deposit.
"If you don't register with these agencies, they will never find you," Adams-Hart says.
Once registered, a company will receive a Commercial and Government Entity code and a Trading Partner Identification Number, or TPIN, which is a business' access number to the system. Secure this information because it allows access to your company's bank account. The federal government pays its vendors electronically, directly to a bank account.
The federal government tends to pay faster than corporations, Adams-Hart says, generally within 35 to 40 days. Federal opportunities of $25,000 or more can be found at www.fedbizopps.gov. To find out about smaller federal contracts, business owners need to network with purchasing agents, Adams-Hart says.
Like the federal government, Florida is now doing e-procurement. Businesses can register at www.myfloridamarketplace.com. The best way to learn about the state's procurement needs is to peruse the site. "Go there and see what they've bought in the past. See if your product is something they're going to have an interest in," she says.
Attend the Florida Government Expo, this year being held Sept. 24-26 at the Tampa Convention Center. The state also is holding regular seminars on its e-procurement. Check the floridamarketplace.com site for details.
Small businesses have to make an effort to get government business beyond surfing the Internet. "It's not about just going on the Internet. You have to do old-fashioned 101 marketing," Adams-Hart says. Small business owners need to call procurement workers and ask, "What are you working on?"
For the smaller business or start-up, partnering with an experienced contractor is the best entry to government contracts.
Once you land a contract and follow through on it successfully, you are likely to have an easier time getting government contracts -- not only from the original agency but also from others. Procurement officers begin to feel they can trust you.
In deciding the pricing of a bid on the federal, state or local level, bid-search.com can be a big help. The database site archives bids that were awarded for goods and services.
Edney says agencies aren't as concerned about how long a company has been in business as whether it has the capacity and capabilities to do what the agency needs.
At the same time, businesses need to be careful about becoming too dependent on any one source, even if it is a government contract, he says. "Anybody in business needs to have a mixture of public and private work."