CategoriesGovernment Contracting 101

How to Ensure Your Company is Poised for Success in the Federal Marketplace

Team celebration for winning a government contract award

The Federal Government spends an average of $500B a year on products and services, providing business owners with the fuel and opportunity they need to make a difference in this country. However, many companies enter unchartered territory when they step into the Federal marketplace, ill-equipped to work in the arena of Government contracting. Many businesses are not prepared to enter the government contracting space because the Federal Government is very different from typical commercial customers. The Federal marketplace is unique and can be intimidating for business owners unfamiliar with the complex set of regulations and processes. However, once a company has navigated its way into the market, it can be a highly lucrative and reliable revenue stream. 

After your business has registered for an account on SAM.gov, acquired a UEI number, and identified relevant NAICs codes, here are five tips to further expand your business into Government contracting:

1. KNOW WHAT YOU OFFER

It is vital to pinpoint your business’s unique expertise, and understand how the Federal Government refers to your company’s products or services. Discovering the keywords and terminology used in the industry will help you establish communication tools such as a marketing plan, which will include your business’s solution offering and a capability statement. These tools will accurately inform Federal customers how your products or services will be a solution to their needs.

2. TRACK OPPORTUNITIES

The Federal Government sales cycle is slow, and therefore it’s best not to make your company’s sole focus one specific opportunity. Successful Government contractors target and pursue multiple potential contract opportunities and buyer relationships. This also helps your organization discover and shape the best options for your company. Your company should maintain a consistent pipeline that tracks all relevant contract information and changes. Government contract leads are available on several paid subscription services, but for those who are just getting started, visit SAM.gov, the official source for federal contracts worth more than $250,000.00 

3. CONNECT WITH CUSTOMERS

In the Federal marketplace, making reoccurring contact with decision-makers in your potential Federal customer base is a best practice. Therefore, it is essential to be knowledgeable of all the key players and know the best way to contact them. Once you have this information, research, research, research! Knowing what your Federal customers buy and how they buy will enable you to connect your product or services to their needs directly. With persistence, this information will help you refine your company’s messaging to grab the attention of decision-makers.

4. EXPLORE SUBCONTRACTING OPPORTUNITIES

It’s not easy to get your foot in the door, but one viable avenue worth consideration is subcontracting. Companies can indirectly serve the government by partnering with prime contractors. Not only is subcontracting a way to connect with a Federal agency you may not have previously worked with, but it is also a great way to expand your portfolio of past performance. One way to effectively pitch yourself as a subcontractor is to offer a cost-saving solution. Pinpointing a niche need your service can fill is also an excellent way to earn a subcontracting role. Once you find a prime contractor that needs what you have to offer, reach out and sell them on your capabilities!

5. DEVELOP A COMPETITIVE BID

Understanding the bid-proposal process is vital to your success as a government contractor, and even more important is having the resources in place to execute it. Build your bid-proposal team and distribute tasks that complement specific skill sets to achieve your overall goal. Once the proper resources are in place, stay compliant with the proposal requirements and bid a cost-competitive proposal. 


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Types of Federal Contracts

Federal contracts exist broadly between two categories: products/goods and services. The former includes almost everything from food to furniture and medicine to machinery. The latter includes professional services, research and development, management and administration, and consultancy. The majority of federal contracts, by dollar value, are awarded in the following sectors:

  • Facilities and construction, including real estate purchases and leases, building materials and services, etc.
  • Professional services, including financial, legal, public relations, marketing, and technical expertise.
  • Information technology, including hardware, software, consulting, telecommunications, and security, etc.
  • Transportation and logistics, including delivery, motor vehicles, support, and fuel, etc.
  • Medical, including health care services, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, and consulting, etc.
  • Industrial products and services, including machinery, tools, and maintenance, etc.
  • Security, including state-of-the-art systems and real-time services, etc.
  • Human capital, including educational services and vocational training, etc.
  • Travel and lodging, including event management services and food and beverage supply, etc.
  • Office management and administration, including purchasing furniture and essential supplies, etc.

After classification based on industry sector, product, or service, there is further categorization depending on contract terms:

  • Fixed Price Federal Contracts
    • This type of contract is applicable for both goods and services. Open government contracts of this kind typically invite bids from eligible contractors or vendors. If it is a product, then a specific unit is preset for the pricing— such as by the carton, ton, or some other metric. For services, the pricing is typically per hour. It should be noted that fixed-price federal contracts may have specific clauses that could alter the calculation of billable amounts depending on relevant factors, such as quality or regulatory compliance.
  • Cost Reimbursement based Federal Contracts
    • Federal contracts for typical goods and services are usually fixed-price agreements. Cost reimbursement-based federal contracts are common when a fixed price is difficult to ascertain or predetermine. Research and development services, for example, are difficult to price at the outset. There are myriad variables in such contracts, especially in the deliverables. Hence, a cost-reimbursement policy is pragmatic for contractors and, to an extent, for the government.
  • Time and Materials based Federal Contracts
    • This type of contract is commonly used for services wherein select materials may be requisitioned for the deliverables. The service is billed hourly, and the cost of materials is added for the billable time. There is, of course, a price cap as agreed upon in the bid or proposal. Time and materials-based federal contracts are typical for tasks or operations spanning a relatively short period.
  • Incentive-based Federal Contracts
    • This should not be presumed as a contract that pays only incentives. Instead, it is labeled as an incentive-based federal contract due to a provision. Most incentive-based federal contracts are either fixed-price or cost-reimbursement agreements, with a bonus payable only if a certain quality and compliance standard or other criteria are met.
  • Delivery-based Federal Contracts
    • There are a few types of contracts wherein the deliverables are not precise or wholly defined. The variables in such cases may be time, materials, the type of product or service, and other factors. In these cases, it is practically impossible to have fixed price or cost reimbursement-based contracts. Hence, delivery-based federal contracts are the only feasible option. 

Benefits of Federal Contracts

There are myriad advantages of federal contracts. The most noteworthy benefits are:

  • Financial reliability.
  • The potential for growth and expansion.
  • Enhanced brand value.
  • Long-term business viability.
  • Special advantages.

Financial Reliability

The federal government is a reliable paymaster. Unless there is something seriously wrong with the deliverables, the federal government generally does not delay payments and is consistent as per the billing cycles. Moreover, unlike private or public enterprises, the federal government is not vulnerable to a cash crunch or probable bankruptcy. Hence, companies know they will be paid for their products or services.

Potential for Growth and Expansion

A company can grow and develop its expertise by working on federal contracts. This is primarily due to the stringent regulatory and compliance standards that force businesses to take their business practices to the next level. As a result, most businesses emerge as more efficient organizations after working on a few government contracts. Business expansion also becomes easier when a company starts winning federal contracts due to the infusion of reliable capital. 

Enhanced Brand Value

The importance of having the federal government as a client in a portfolio cannot be overstated. Every industry veteran knows the stringent regulations for federal contracts. If your company has won and delivered on a few federal contracts, your potential clients will be assured that you can and will live up to your commitments.

Long-Term Business Viability

The federal government is never going to be out of business. If your company continues to win federal contracts and deliver the products or services as per the terms, then your business will find its place in subsequent shortlists. The federal government alone can make a private or public business viable in the long term.

Special Advantages

There are federal contracts designed to give advantage to minority-owned enterprises, female entrepreneurs, and others who have been traditionally disadvantaged in various spheres of employment and business. These are called “set asides,” meaning the competition for that work is set aside for those businesses in that category.  

Challenges of Federal Contracts

While you can gain financial viability and grow your business with federal contracts, government contracting is not without its fair share of challenges:

Stringent Rules

As a business, you are undoubtedly familiar with your industry’s regulations. These will be in full effect while working in the federal government space. Additionally, there can be additional regulations or compliance standards for specific government contracts. These rules are quite stringent. Any company vying for federal contracts should be prepared to deal with stringent regulations.

Stiff Competition

Competition is perhaps the most daunting of all challenges concerning open government contracts. You have to prepare well to gain an edge over your competitors. First, you need access to an up-to-date federal contracts database. It also helps to have insights into government procurement contracts to understand what it takes to submit a winning bid.

Red Tape and Bureaucracy 

Red tape and bureaucracy have become more manageable in the last two decades. However, some bureaucrats will still slow down with paperwork, the various processes involved in doing business with the government. You must learn to endure the red tape and bureaucracy if you want to leverage federal contracts.

Intrusive Supervision

In most cases, the government is not unnecessarily intrusive, but businesses must learn to deal with supervision and oversight. On the other hand, intrusiveness can help companies improve their efficacy, efficiency, and compliance, so there is a silver lining.


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How to Decipher Federal RFP Terminology – A Beginner’s Guide

Identifying federal government contract opportunities can be daunting, especially given the alphabet soup of jargon out there. 

The RFx Spectrum

A government opportunity search may lead you to find an RFP, RFA, RFB, RFI, or RFQ. You may even find an RFT, although the federal government rarely uses it (It’s more common in Europe). RFx is the collective term for the entire spectrum of these acronyms. 

An RFP is a Request for Proposal; RFA, a Request for Application; RFB, a Request for Bid; RFI, a Request for Information; RFQ, a Request for Quotation; and RFT, a Request for Tender. RFPs, RFAs, RFBs, RFQs, and RFTs are all similar in that they are seeking proposals or bids. RFIs, on the other hand, are simply seeking information and do not include a bid element or financial quote. 

Deciphering RFP Terminology

Once you discover an opportunity, you may find the proposal terminology confusing. However, understanding the jargon is key to creating a comprehensive, high-quality proposal response.

There are many terms and phrases used in proposals that are in keeping with their literal meanings. A few common examples are “agreement,” “bid,” “best value,” “period of performance,” “evaluation criteria,” “confidence ratings,” “past performance,” “compliance,” and “assumptions,” among others. However, other terms are not so clear – especially when there are a plethora of acronyms.

Proposal Acronyms

The government uses hundreds of acronyms for their various agencies and proposal types, instructions, pricing details, and performance ratings. 

Once you get through the “alphabet soup” of acronyms, there is no shortage of other confusing terminology you need to understand to formulate your best proposal response. Here are a few common terms used in government proposals:

  • “Issuer” is the issuing authority. Proposals are not always issued by the agency or office seeking the product or service. For example, a government agency may appoint a particular department or outsource the proposal process.
  • “Set-Aside” is where the government limits competition for specific contracts to small businesses and certain types of small businesses, such as Woman-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs), Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs), Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs), 8(a), etc. Those contracts are called “small business set-asides,” and they help small businesses compete for and win federal contracts.
  • Executive summary” is a brief overview highlighting the critical elements of a proposal. It is different from a cover letter because it contains a brief synopsis of the salient points in your proposal. Evaluators typically read the executive summary first, and will stop there if not incentivized to read further. Therefore, make it a compelling summary of what is to come in your proposal. 
  • “Lifecycle cost” looks at the total expenditure for a product. It assesses the total cost of an asset over its life cycle, including initial capital, maintenance, and operating costs. A proposed product should have a lifecycle cost lower or up to the current expenditure of the current contract. Otherwise, a government department may prefer an existing contract renewal. 
  • “Spend analysis” is an ongoing assessment analyzing all data related to the procurement. The objective is to enhance efficiency and ensure compliance. Spend analysis is a practice used by both the procurer and the contractor.
  • “Preference” is a set of project-specific advantages available to contractors in a specific location, offering a particular quality of product or service and/or possessing some special business classifications.
  • “Qualified bid” is a proposal response wherein a contractor explicitly exempts itself from the eligibility criteria or prerequisites. This limitation or condition may constitute grounds to disqualify the bid.
  • “Qualified vendor” is a contractor meeting all the prerequisites or eligibility criteria for an opportunity.


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