Registration Do’s and Don’ts
The first step in pursuing government contracts is registering in the System for Award Management (SAM), the federal government’s vendor database. One agency – FEMA – has their own database that supplements SAM. Small businesses contractors may also seek special certifications, such as 8(a), woman-owned, veteran-owned and/or HUBZone, or want to explore the potential for a GSA Schedule contract.
A number of for-profit assistance providers target small business owners who are unfamiliar with – or confused by – the various government registration and certification processes. They market their services aggressively, sending official-sounding emails directing small business owners to sign-up for their services to be registered or certified – for a hefty fee, of course. Commercial websites (.com websites, in other words) are just that — commercial. When a commercial website advertises to help you with the process of registering to do business with the government, there’s almost always going to be a fee involved. By contrast, government websites (designated as .gov) always offer free advice and registration.
Remember: There is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor. Repeat – there is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor. And, there is free or low-cost help available to get you through the process.
Some commercial enterprises target companies as soon as they begin a government registration process. Because SAM and other vendor databases are public, for-profit providers can obtain your contact information almost as soon as it is entered. Once they obtain it, they send automated emails with messages like: “Your registration is not complete. Contact us immediately.” Such messages are not legitimate government notices. When a business clicks the link – or calls the number provided – they are prompted to sign-up for assistance, usually at a cost of hundreds of dollars.
One commercial website runs an aggressive advertising campaign directed at businesses, soliciting vendors to fill out a “FEMA Contract Registration Form.” Once the form was filled out and submitted on-line, applicants received the following message: “Thank you for submitting your information. We will be in contact with you shortly. Click below to make a payment of $500.00 for this service.” By clicking on the “Buy Now” button, businesses are directed to a site to pay $500.00 via a PayPal account for “FEMA Registration.” Other marketing campaigns by similar outfits target veteran-owned businesses, women business owners, 8(a) applicants, and others.
Please know that neither SAM, FEMA, nor any other government agency charges money to register as a vendor.
Free Help with SAM Registration
Most business owners can navigate SAM, FEMA, and other registrations quite successfully on their own. For those who’d like help with registrations, certification applications, or any other government contracting issue, the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) provides free, expert assistance with registrations, certifications and all other aspects of government contracting, offering classes, one-on-one counseling, electronic bid-matching services, advice on proposal preparation, matchmaking/networking opportunities, and much more. GTPAC’s counselors have backgrounds in government acquisition offices and/or prime contractor government contracting departments, so they bring real world experience to help you.
For businesses located outside the state of Georgia, you can contact a Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) near you for free or low-cost assistance with SAM registration and any other aspect of government contracting. To locate the PTAC in your state (as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia), simply visit: http://www.aptac-us.org/find-a-ptac/
Of course, there are circumstances in which it makes sense for a small business to pay a consultant for specialized legal or financial help or for intensive project development, and there are many qualified professionals to choose from. As with any business decision, thorough research into qualifications, costs and realistic expectations and deliverables are keys to determining the right solution for your business. Never let yourself be pressured into a hasty decision or enticed by an “easy fix.” Careful due diligence is always the best investment you can make.
More Resources — Including a Helpful New Video — Are Now Available … and They’re Free