Doing business with the government requires a learning curve, but can be rewarding.
You’ve probably seen the pitches on late-night television for books promising you an easy way to win big government contracts. Maybe you’ve received telemarketing calls, emails or faxes promising you the same thing. Buy our books, CDs, and subscription services and you’ll be rolling in free government dollars in no time – it’s easy, they say.
We hate to burst your bubble, but that’s not the way it works. And government contracting is not easy.
Government contracting can be made easier, however, if you commit yourself to learning about it. You must do market research, follow instructions meticulously, and take advantage of legitimate resources available to your business. If you are tenacious and pay attention to detail, your business can be successful in transitioning from the commercial sector into the vast government marketplace.
Here are a few of the initial steps you should take to prepare yourself for landing government contracts. These are “must do’s.”
1. Make sure you obtain a federal tax identification number, often referred to as a TIN or an EIN. Because so many government databases are public information, it’s a big mistake to operate your business under your Social Security number — doing so will increase your risk of identity theft.
2. If your business is less than two years old, be sure to take advantage of the business start-up services offered by the network of Small Business Development Centers across the state of Georgia. Find the office nearest you at www.sbdc.uga.edu.
3. If you’re outside the Atlanta area, you’ll also want to get acquainted with the Georgia Entrepreneur & Small Business Program, a partnership between UGA and Georgia Tech, supported by the One Georgia Authority. You can find details and resources at http://onega.gamep.org.
4. Obtain a DUNS number. Call 1-866-705-5711 to obtain one free of charge in 5-10 minutes. Don’t let anybody talk you into paying for a DUNS number.
5. Understand that government agencies buy everything “by the number.” Literally every category of product and service has one or more numbers assigned to it. And there’s no person more qualified than you to look up the numbers that apply to your business. You need to look up NAICS codes, Federal Supply and Product Codes, and NIGP codes, the latter used by state and local governments when they purchase. This can be done on-line; more information on that in just a moment.
6. Figure out whether your business is a small business. Small businesses often have competitive advantages in government contracting, but you can’t just guess whether you meet the standards – you have to know for sure. There’s a process for doing this, just as there is a process for determining whether your business falls into any socio-economic categories for which there may be government purchasing preferences.
7. Register in the granddaddy of all vendor databases – Central Contractor Registration. Over 600,000 firms are registered there already, and if you want to be found by government contracting officials, you need to be there, too. It’s free, and can be a great marketing tool … if you register correctly. A large percentage of the business listings in CCR contain mistakes or are incomplete. You don’t want to be one of them. Government contracting officials are interested in doing business with companies that pay attention to detail.
8. Register in other government databases where you want to market your business. The city and county where your business is located are great places to start, and don’t forget about registering as a vendor with the State of Georgia. Once registered properly, many units of government actually will send you emails every time they are getting ready to buy something that you sell – but, remember, you’ll receive accurate emails only if you’ve looked up your codes correctly (remember step 5?).
9. Get help along the way. There’s an award-winning, no-cost service available to you as a Georgia business. It’s the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC), and it’s operated by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. GTPAC has offices in nine cities across the state, and at each location classes are taught on every aspect of government contracting. In addition, Procurement Counselors are available at each GTPAC location. They have decades of government contracting experience and, once you are signed-up as a client, they will provide you with one-on-one instruction.
In calendar year 2009, GTPAC’s clients won almost $700 million in government contracts. But none of these successful contractors will tell you it was easy. They likely will tell you, though, that it was made easier with GTPAC’s help.
Want to take advantage of GTPAC’s services? Click on the TRAINING tab at the top of this page and register for the “Introduction to Government Contracting” class in a location convenient to you. You’ll learn all about the steps outlined in this article … and much, much more!
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