Business

Label: Small Business IQ

Scott Bellows, procurement specialist at the USC Small Business Development Center, discusses getting government contracts

Regardless of how good a company is, there's a learning curve to becoming qualified to compete for government contracts. And without a little advice, you're likely to waste a lot of time - and some money. The keys to success: doing your homework, starting small, building relationships and providing solutions:

Read. Get a book to determine whether you are even prepared to compete in this arena. "Win Government Contracts for Your Small Business" by John D. Giacomo is a good primer.

Get Help. Most states have Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (www.aptac-us.org) that offer free or low-cost procurement assistance. S.C.'s is embedded in the state's 16-office Small Business Development Center (uscbiz.vet) network. There are a host of other support services available to small businesses at sbaguides.com/pdf/english/southcarolina.pdf.

Get registered. Working directly with the federal government requires that you first register on the Central Contractor Registration (ccr.gov). Beyond that, you should also complete applications for the Business Partner Network (bpn.gov), Online Representations and Certifications Application (orca.bpn.gov) and the Small Business Administration's General Log-In System (sba.gov).

Get certified. Many small businesses are eligible to apply for certifications based on geographic location or social and economic disadvantage. These certifications offer a competitive advantage. Quality certifications (such as ISO 9000) can also be important during the evaluation process.

Identify government buyers/opportunities. As with the private sector, knowing whom you are trying to sell to can make a world of difference. Networking should be considered part of this process.

Learn contracting procedures. Reading a typical government solicitation can be, well, daunting. If you're curious, visit fedbizopps.gov (fbo.gov) and see for yourself. There are something like 2,000 pages in the Federal Procurement Regulations (acquisition.gov/FAR). Just be patient and wade through the regs.

Market your firm. Those that make it through the steps above all-to-often wait for the government to contact them. While this can and does happen, the really successful firms market to the government just as they would in the private sector.

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