“Set-asides” and special initiatives for women-owned businesses can be helpful, but often winning business requires a unique combination of strategy, ingenuity and tenacity.
According to the Commerce Department, businesses owned by women are 21% less likely to get government contracts than those owned by men.
Additionally, even though the Federal government has the goal of awarding at least 5% of its prime contract dollars to women-owned businesses, that goal has yet to be attained. This means being a woman and owning a business isn’t enough to capitalize on the lucrative realm of government contracts.
Here’s the good news: the keys to winning government contracts (which are available for a dizzying array of products and services, often on an ongoing basis) are accessible to any female entrepreneur with a proven track record of reliability, frugality, attention to detail, and the willingness to network and follow-up.
Let’s walk through the steps to get you in the game.
The first thing you’ll need to do is register with SAM, the System for Awards Management. It’s a clearinghouse for gathering supplier information for agencies that are looking for businesses from which to purchase products and services.
Being registered with SAM will eliminate the need to enter the same data
multiple times for different opportunities and makes the process of doing business with the government more efficient.
You’ll also need a D&B D-U-N-S® Number, which is a unique nine-character identification
number issued to your business. You can register for your D-U-N-S Number free of charge by calling 1-866-705-5711 or by visiting Dun & Bradstreet’s Government D-U-N-S Number registration page.
Set Your Business Apart
Being certified can also set your business apart from your competitors and give you additional opportunities to bid for contracts. Two of the certifications that apply expressly to women-owned businesses are the Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) certifications.
To be eligible to compete for woman-owned small business set-asides or receive sole source awards, you must either be certified by a Small Business Administration (SBA) approved Third-Party Certifier (TPC), OR self-certify in accordance with current SBA regulations. There are currently four SBA-approved TPCs. They are:
- El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- National Women Business Owners Corporation
- US Women’s Chamber of Commerce
- Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
You can learn more about the requirements for the government’s woman-owned small business certification requirements on the SBA’s website.
These certifications demonstrate that you’ve met the stated criteria, which include a level of experience in your market and even certain licenses. They are both meant to increase visibility and access to contracting opportunities.
Demonstrate Your Reliability
As you begin exploring opportunities to sell your products and services to the government, you’ll find that the agencies you want to do business with will have an established vetting process in place.
After working in Washington D.C. as a consultant for the Department of Defense for four years, Rebecca Robinson, who is a service disabled Marine veteran, decided to use the training and instincts gained from her military career to start her own consulting firm, She Marine Veteran Supply. Rebecca discovered quickly that her prospective clients wanted to know “that we are who we say we are and that we have the experience and capacity to meet their requirements.”
Says Rebecca, “we demonstrate our readiness in part by having a strong D&B® file for our business. We have moved quickly in our first year of business and have surpassed many milestones that have taken other businesses years to get through. With every step we have been building our D&B business credit file.”
Among other things, your business credit profile refers to your business’ perceived ability to make good on the terms and conditions of your client contracts. When your company has a positive credit score, this can indicate to a prospective client that you have a solid record of responsible financial behavior. Government contracts are typically awarded to businesses that are low-risk, so it’s worth the time and effort to build and maintain a strong business credit profile.
Summarize Your Expertise
Your goal when competing for government contracts is to demonstrate that you can deliver a well-defined product or service on deadline at a reasonable cost. To support your bid you’ll want to create a Capabilities Statement about your business. This document will include details about your company including:
- Registered company name, DBA, company branding and tagline (if any)
- Summary description of the company
- Year and state of incorporation
- Corporation type
- D-U-N-S Number
- CAGE Code
- Full contact details
You’ll also want to include:
- Core capabilities
- Description of major services offered
- Federal, State and other certifications
- Contract vehicles in which you participate (Federal and State)
- Major Clients (list the most important), both Commercial and Government
- NAICS Codes
- Partners and authorized resellers
- Staff clearances and certifications
Showcasing Your Value
Whether you’re bidding for a local, state, or federal contract, you’ll be in the best position to win the business if you can demonstrate that you run a tight ship and that you can deliver on time.
Another key advantage is being able to demonstrate that you’re budget savvy and able to offer competitive rates. The government is required by law to make sure it is spending its budget with some frugality, which takes into consideration both cost and the projected quality of the work or products in question. Any smart cost-cutting measures you can implement without sacrificing quality will be rewarded.
Attending relevant events and networking strategically with key contacts can help shorten the buying cycle in winning government contracts. Invest the time to research what events your target agencies or departments are hosting and plan attend. You’ll also want to plan ahead how you’ll follow-up with your new contacts.
Having face-time with advocates and prospective buyers really helps with developing trusted relationships. This also gives you the opportunity to ask questions and gain insight that you won’t otherwise have access to.
Attending these events is also a great way to develop relationships with prospective partners and discover sub-contracting opportunities. While details about upcoming bid opportunities are all available on various databases, networking at the right events, with the right people might get you an early tip-off.
Winning a government contract will require consistent and focused effort on your part. You’re bound to encounter some obstacles along the way, but don’t let a roadblock distract you from your goal.
Says Robinson, “Oftentimes you hear of people being afraid of the word ‘no.’ I laugh every time I hear someone being afraid of rejection as truly there are many WORSE things than hearing ‘no.’ Make hearing ‘no’ a motivator, not a rejection. Don’t fight ‘no’ – look for a way to mitigate ‘no.’ You are the only person who can find your way to ‘yes’ and ultimately the only person that can stop you and your business is you.”
Accept A Helping Hand
Once you decide to bid on an opportunity, you’ll need to do plenty of research. First, you’ll need to dig into the specific demands of the request for proposal. It’s imperative that before you invest the time to create your bid package you determine if your solutions are a good fit for what the agency is seeking. Each agency has different requirements for their bid process so you’ll want to research the details and follow the instructions exactly as they’re outlined.
Dun & Bradstreet can help you compete for government contracts. Visit our Government Contracting Guide to learn more about how to get certified, how to build your business credit file, securing your free D&B D-U-N-S® Number and helping ensure you stay compliant with government standards.
Now it’s time to get to work! At the outset, we mentioned it takes ingenuity, strategic planning and tenacity in order to win government contracts. These 7 strategies give you a foundation to support your efforts to compete in this competitive marketplace. Take the first step today and don’t fret when challenges arise. Keep pushing forward and reach out for support when you need it. Winning a government contract can be the catalyst that propels you to the next level of success in your business.
Photo Credit: kambizakhbari, Twenty20