Even if you’ve never thought of pursuing a federal contract for your small business, consider this: By law, a certain percentage of federal prime contract dollars must be awarded to small businesses. Small businesses are allowed to bid on any federal contract, and in fact, they’re entitled to have first crack at contracts between $3,000 and $100,000.
Of the millions of small businesses in the U.S. only a fraction are doing business with the federal government—not because they are not qualified, but because they don’t know how to go about it. Granted, the process isn’t simple. But there is plenty of help available.
Who can apply for a government contract? From defense contractors to musicians, from aircraft washing to snow removal, from milk to surgical instruments, the range of items and services up for bids is staggering.
Where to begin? First steps include determining your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code; there’s one for every type of business and profession, or you can, for a fee, request a special code for your business. You’ll also need to register for a Dun & Bradstreet DUNS Code. And that’s just the beginning.
- Not all business comes from Washington. Branches of federal agencies exist throughout the U.S. and you are likely within 50 miles of at least one of them. Some agencies hold monthly outreach meetings to get acquainted with small business owners in the area.
- Narrow your search and concentrate your efforts on three or four specific agencies.
- You may qualify for special consideration if you belong to a group such as Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses, Small Disadvantaged Businesses, and Women-Owned Small Businesses. SBA.gov has details on all of these.
- If you bid on a contract and don’t win, you have 10 days to request mediation where you can learn why you didn’t win. And you may be able to view the winning bidder’s proposal for additional insight.
- Never stop. Contracts (and funding) come and go. Even if you win a contract, it’s a good idea to keep marketing your firm for new contracts.
There are many online resources as well as local organizations that can help you navigate the process.
- The Small Business Association (SBA) has a comprehensive section devoted to government contracts and can guide you step-by-step through the application process.
- The SBA’s Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZones) Program specifically helps small businesses gain access to federal procurement opportunities. It also provides assistance through local organizations such as SCORE.
- BusinessUSA is a government web site that is a one-stop resource for small businesses and includes programs, tools, and blogs about government contracts.
- At Federal Business Opportunities you can enter your NAICS number or other search criteria and come up with a list of contracts over $25,000 currently up for bid as well as those recently awarded.
It takes a commitment of time and effort to pursue government contracts, but once you are in the system, you have access to a steady flow of opportunities.
Kelly Burkart is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, Minn. While she has spent most of her time writing about financial services the past 15 years, she has also explored and written about everything from cardiovascular health to travel, higher education and sustainable energy practices.