Over the last 35 years, I have had thousands of companies approach me about becoming a government contractor. As a result, I feel that I have the experience necessary to tell you like it is. Government contracting is not for those that are not in it for the long haul. For example, it takes time to build relationships, learn the government language, learn how to capitalize on your proposals to win contracts, get through the numerous databases that the government uses, and ultimately time and experience to become successful.
Mistake #1 – Not Performing Market Research
Market research is not just something you do when putting together your business and marketing plan. It is a necessary step to ensure that you spend your valuable time and resources appropriately. The number one resource that any business does not have enough of is time and money. Marketing your business to a government agency that does not use your product or service is a waste of not only your time (And the Governments) but also your money. If you had spent just a few hours performing market research, this would not have happened. Also, you could have already reached out to a Federal Agency that does use your products or services. Marketing to the wrong agency happens more than you realize and is very frustrating not only for you but also for the government representative. Remember that you only have one chance to make a Great First Impression. What do you think that the government representative’s impression of your business is going to be?
Mistake #2 – Limited Bonding Capacity
For general contractors, the number one limiting factor for this business is bonding. Without bonding, they cannot bid on a contract. Yes, commercial projects usually do not require bonding. Therefore, most new construction companies will not even know that they need bonding. But if you reviewed a few solicitations you would see that bonding is a common requirement on all contracts. Also, reaching out to several free resources, they would have informed you of the bonding requirement and provide a listing of bonding agents for you to contact.
Mistake #4 – Government Contractor With No Past Performance
Trying to get a government contract without any past performance is not feasible. Your chances of winning a contract are less than 1%. The most significant help you can do for your business is to get as a minimum a few commercial deals before bidding on government contracts. For one thing, it is much easier to get a commercial contract than a government contract. Secondly, contracting officers are going to question any business that happens to win a contract without any past performance. The government may consider your proposal a pass-through to the experienced contractor, or worse, not even consider your proposal because you don’t meet the past performance requirements. Also, if you happen to win, they may request a Certificate of Competency (COC).
Mistake #5 – Teaming with Another Business
Now don’t get me wrong. Teaming with an experienced business has a ton of benefits. However, it also has a ton of pitfalls. For example, I have seen qualified companies take advantage of a small business. The experienced business may offer to use their bonding on your joint proposal. However, in exchange, since their bonding is at risk, they are going to insist on an agreement (either written or oral) to protect themselves. Remember that a written agreement protects both parties, however, if the agreement has stipulations that restrict your ability to meet the required self-performance requirements on the contract. Or you are not in control of the project that is an issue. The experienced business is not necessarily trying to stop you from completing the project. Again, they are protecting their bonding because without bonding, and you can’t get a government contract. Also, the experienced business may not know the rules for small businesses. You, the non-experienced company, ensure that whatever agreements you agree to do not stop you from complying with federal regulations. You must be willing to stand up for yourself. That may entail hiring an attorney to protect yourself.
Mistake #6 – Get 8(a) Certification with Less Than 2 Years’ in Business
Let’s be honest here. Most businesses that come into the 8(a) BD program that have less than two years in business at not utilizing the 8(a) programs to its fullest. Why? Because they don’t have the clientele, resources, or experience to capitalize on the program. I have had several small businesses tell me that they wished they had waited to come into the 8(a) program until they more established. Why wait? Because to fully benefit from the program you need to be able to continually market your business and perform the work. It would be ideal to be able to hire an experienced employee that can help you through the process. I have seen many businesses come into the program and get a contract to perform the work; they have no money coming in until then get the next job. If you could hire an employee with experience, then you can utilize their contacts to get a constant workflow into the business. Steady cash flow can help you grow the business.
I am not trying to distinguish your burning desire to become a government contractor. What I am doing is trying to open your eyes that proper preparation is vital to have the best possible outcome. As they say, preparation is key. Government Contracting is an extremely competitive marketplace. You must prepare to achieve your end objective of becoming a government contractor. Yes, even with proper preparation does not mean you will be successful. That is the life of an entrepreneurial. You take risks for the chances of the ultimate award.
So, do yourself and your business a favor and take the time to perform market research. Please wait to get 8(a) certified, and spend that time getting more past performance. Also, wait on teaming with an experienced contractor until you have performed at least 20 contracts. By then, you should be comfortable knowing what the government expects from you, and your past performance and the question of being overly reliant on the subcontractor may not come into question. Finally, save every penny that you can to keep in the business. You will need the money if your business requires bonding. Also, the additional revenue can ensure steady cash flow.
Until next time be safe.
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