Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Finding Federal Contract Opportunities

Finding Federal contract opportunities is a challenge of its own, to say nothing of the bidding process and the complexities involved in performing and administering contracts.

FedBizOpps (http://www.fbo.gov) is the starting point, but by no means the be all and end all. Indeed, it's fair to say that many postings on FedBizOpps are not going to be realistic for most local small businesses to bid.

Some ideas for using FedBizOpps:

1) Jump right into the Advanced Search, because that's where you can narrow things down by Classification Codes or NAICS Codes.

One quick tip: in the listing of Classification Codes, you will see the Federal Supply Groups first (ranging from 10 to 99), but if you scroll all the way past 99, that's where the A to Z listing of Product Service Codes begins. It's all in one menu.

However, FSGs are mostly applicable to manufacturers and distributors. PSCs are largely applicable to service and construction contractors. Sometimes contracting offices throw service contract opportunities into FSG 99 - Miscellaneous, simply because there is no such leftover category on the PSC (alphabetical) side.

2) Use it as a telephone directory of contracting officers and contract specialists. Even if that particular opportunity is not geared toward you, ask the Point of Contact (POC) for that solicitation for the names of both their Small Business Specialist and their Small Purchase coordinators.

3) Look for sources sought notices. These are not immediate bidding opportunities, but instead a formal way in which Federal agencies might do market research. They are looking to see how many vendors, and in particular how many small business vendors, are out there that can complete the job as required.

4) Realize that many opportunities will only have a brief synopsis on FedBizOpps. The detailed solicitation packages may require accessing or even registering on another separate website, such as the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Internet Bid Board System (DIBBS), or Army Single Face to Industry (ASFI).

For more information on using FedBizOpps, please contact MO PTAC.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Small Business Week St. Louis Starts Today!

Small Business Week St. Louis officially kicked-off this morning with a breakfast event at the Sheraton Chalet Westport.

Right now there's a panel on "The State of Small Business in St. Louis" underway at Justine Petersen Housing & Reinvestment Corp.

And tomorrow is our usual MO PTAC seminar on Government Marketing Fundamentals, also part of the week's events. We are also participating in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District outreach event to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses on Wednesday at the Robert A. Young Federal Building, 1222 Spruce downtown.

Check out the full calendar of events, and sign up for some or all of them!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting Certified

Here at MO PTAC, we often get questions about getting certified as a minority-owned business or as a woman-owned business.

These can be difficult questions to answer. First, certification is no panacea. It should not be the primary motivation for starting a business. You have to show government buyers that you have the capability to get the job done -- that is first and foremost. That said, in some cases certain certifications may provide extra leverage in obtaining a contract or a subcontract.

All Federal agencies have goals for contracting with small businesses and with specified categories of small businesses, including Small Disadvantaged Businesses (SDBs), 8(a)-certified firms, Woman-owned, HUBZone-certified, Veteran-owned, and Service-disabled veteran-owned small business firms.

State agencies in Missouri, as well as the City of St. Louis, also have goals for utilization of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises (MBEs) and Woman-Owned Business Enterprises (WBEs). And transportation-related agencies such as the Missouri Department of Transportation, Lambert Airport, and Metro (Bi-State), have goals for utilization of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs).

But you must be certified to "count" toward any agency's goals. These are not "quotas" nor are they (except in limited circumstances) "set-asides." Indeed, the largest set-aside program has nothing to do with minority nor woman nor veteran status.

That is the Federal small business set-aside provision, which requires that any Federal contract with an anticipated dollar value under the Simplified Acquisition Threshold ($100,000) but above the Micro-Purchase Threshold ($3,000), must be set-aside for competition only among small business.

However, that is no guarantee that your small business will get the contract!

The certification process itself typically takes months, requires pretty extensive digging into the financial background and position of the firm and of its owners, and may involve a site visit by certifying agency staff. Government certifications are for the most part free of charge, but commercial certifiers may charge a fee.

All in all, certification can be one effective tool for your business, but is not a guarantee of obtaining government contracts.

If you have questions about certification, please contact MO PTAC!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Networking Tools and Events

If you have a small business in the St. Louis area and you are interested in pursuing government contracts... well of course, you can become a MO PTAC client!

But you may also want to consider attending some networking events where government agencies and prime contractors have a presence, such as:

St. Louis Business Networking Breakfast
1st Thursday of each month
7:15 AM
JMRJ Catering
2800 Olive St. (Heritage House Apartments cafeteria)
Cost: $10

This is one of the premier networking events for small, women owned, and minority businesses in St. Louis: A great environment to network, ask questions, and conduct one-to-one meetings before and after informative presentations.

Contact Andrea Johnson (andrea.johnson@techguardsecurity.com) by noon the Wednesday before the luncheon to sign up to introduce your business with a 2-minute presentation to the group.

AFCEA (Air Force Communications and Electronics Association) Scott-St. Louis Chapter Small Business Committee

AFCEA Scott-St. Louis Chapter is the local affiliate of AFCEA International, which describes itself as "a non-profit membership association serving the military, government, industry, and academia as an ethical forum for advancing professional knowledge and relationships in the fields of communications, IT, intelligence, and global security."

The local chapter holds a monthly luncheon, usually on-base at the Scott Club at Scott AFB, IL, attended by prime contractors, military officers and enlisted, civilian government officials, and of course, small business!

The small business committee usually meets in a room off the side of the banquet hall, immediately after the luncheon. If you are interested in the Federal/Defense IT market, it is the place to be.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What is a HUBZone?

The U.S. Small Business Administration manages a number of programs intended to assist small businesses in accessing Federal contracts.

One such program is the HUBZone program, established by legislation authored by Missouri Senator Kit Bond, among others, in 1997-98.

H = Historically
U = Underutilized
B = Business

Are urban, rural, and tribal communities that have high unemployment rates and high poverty rates. In urban areas, they are defined by qualified Census tracts. In rural areas, they are typically defined by entire counties.

HUBZone areas in Metropolitan St. Louis:

(Source: http://www.sba.gov/hubzone/)

Please note: the HUBZone mapping application functions well in Microsoft Internet Explorer, but not consistently in Mozilla Firefox. So, use IE to check addresses to determine HUBZone location.

There is a two-part test to determine small business eligibility for HUBZone certification.

1) Principal Office must be located in HUBZone
Principal Office = Location where largest number of employees report to work

2) At least 35% of employees must reside in a HUBZone

You must apply online for HUBZone certification. Simply being located in a HUBZone is insufficient; you must be certified by SBA as a HUBZone firm in order to be eligible for HUBZone set-aside contracts, or to qualify toward contracting agency and prime contractor HUBZone goals.

Of course, before you can do this, you must have a currently valid profile on Central Contractor Registration (CCR).

Questions about HUBZone? Contact MO PTAC.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Getting Started with Government Contracting

It is important to have realistic expectations when starting to pursue government contracts for your business.

Some factors to consider:

*Is the government buying what I sell?
*How much of my product is the government buying?
While it is true government buys just about everything, it may not be in sufficient quantities to make it a significant portion of your business. Or, it may be such large scale that it would be difficult for you, as a small business, to complete the order/task.

*How long have I been in this business?
Past performance is a crucial component in evaluation of government contracts, especially at the Federal level. You need to be in business at least two years for most government contracts, and your company's past performance needs to be closely related to the industry in which you are submitting a bid. While there are always exceptions to the rule, if you are currently selling automotive spare parts, it is unlikely you will get a contract for selling computer software to the government.

*How much time am I willing to devote to pursuing government business?
Ideally, you could employ a full-time staffer for government sales. This is not always possible, and is unrealistic in a firm of five or fewer employees. So, often you will end up doing a lot of the legwork yourself, as the business owner. Also, even if you are not the one making all the marketing contacts, you will be the one signing off on the bids, so you want to make sure whatever you propose is something you can really do. After all, if you win a bid but fail to perform on the contract, you will probably lose not only that contract, but any future possibilities to get contracts from that agency and quite possibly from any Federal agency.

*Am I willing to provide information about my business to the government?
Depending on the size and type of contract, various Federal labor laws apply to Federal contractors that may not apply to other businesses. Sometimes this requires you to submit detailed information about who works for you and how much they are paid. Also, if you pursue a Federal certification such as 8(a)/SDB, the Small Business Administration may ask you for detailed information about the financial status of your business. State and local Minority-Business Enterprise and Women-Business Enterprise certifications typically require a site visit to ensure the business is legitimately owned and operated by a minority individual or by a woman.

*Am I current on my tax obligations to the government?
If you fall behind on payments to the IRS, those payments can be garnished from your contract. Similarly, if you fall behind on State tax payments such as unemployment insurance, State contracts may pay you less as a result of similar garnishment structures. It is especially important for government contractors to keep a close watch on your accounting practices and timely payment of taxes and other government obligations.

If you have further questions about these and other government contracting related issues, please contact us.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Condolences to Lynette Oliver

Lynette Oliver, receptionist / clerical support staffer in the Small Business Empowerment Center office -- she is our face to the world, so to speak -- lost her husband Jeffrey Oliver in a motorcycle accident last night (9/26/07) on State Street in East St. Louis, IL.

Our hearts and thoughts are with Lynette and her family and friends. Arrangements pending.