SMBs are big thinkers…but are they thinking about the government?

New e-guide brings the prospect of lucrative government contracts within the SMB’s reach.

Small businesses are born of big thinking – the brilliant concept, the leap of faith, the confidence to pursue a dream, and the ambitious plan. Certainly, most small business owners I work with indeed have plans to expand, and those plans could include anything from opening a storefront in a new location or marketing to a wider geography or demographic.

But I think more SMBs should be thinking big, in truly exponential terms, when planning for growth, because it – just like their business dream – is within reach. If an SMB learns the tips and tricks of going after contracts with local, state and federal government agencies, it opens itself up to a world of growth opportunities.

Here’s why: the U.S. government, which has committed 23 percent of its budget to small business spending, is the single largest buyer of products and services in the country. But the process for pursuing a contract with the government can be so complex that the Obama administration recently signed legislation to provide small businesses additional assistance in going after this lucrative work.

This is the type of customer that can make a massive difference in your revenue potential, but not every SMB knows how to successfully compete for government work. Microsoft recently sponsored the 2013 edition of the Procurement Opportunities Guide, produced by Braddock Communications. This e-guide (free for download here) demystifies the government procurement process by providing invaluable, practical information about:

· The criteria government uses in awarding contracts

· Effective government marketing strategies

· The role technology can serve in scaling your business for dramatic growth, and

· Special programs for small businesses who want to work with the government.

Many organizations that share our commitment to small business success also helped to make the Procurement Opportunities Guide a reality. I’d like to acknowledge the passionate support of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), the Association of Small Business Development Centers (ASBDC), the National Small Business Association (NSBA), the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC) and the Minority Business Roundtable (MBRT) in our efforts to make this resource available to as many SMBs as possible.

Big, entrepreneurial thinking has taken you to start your small business, and I encourage you to explore how much further you can go. The pursuit of a government contract isn’t for everyone; even with support, it requires diligence and stamina. But, above all else, it requires a real desire to propel your business to new heights. Do you have that desire? Then access the Procurement Opportunities Guide now to once again turn your business dream into a reality. 






For more tips and information on how technology can support you and your business, follow me on Twitterhttp://twitter.com/Cindy_Bates) or follow Microsoft SMB on Twitter (@MicrosoftSMB) and Facebook (Microsoft SMB).

Procurement Corner: Capability Statements ……. ”Building Your Brand”

As you continue building your one-page business Capability Statement, remember that your primary goal is demonstrating your best value and creating lasting impressions, i.e., branding your business. Secondly, target reducing the amount of time that buyers will need to research your company by highlighting key information about your capabilities, products and services. Provide critical need-to-know information up front, make it easy to read and, always remember that more is not necessarily better, never over-embellish and, leave nothing to interpretation!

So, after completing your “What sets (your company name) apart from the competition” section, focus on demonstrating how you are “qualified” to offer/sell your products or services to government agencies (federal, state or local) and/or their authorized prime contractors. In my example, I have chosen “products” rather than “services” but you can merely substitute the appropriate information for whatever it is that your company offers. As stated above, making the buyers’ job easier is one of our main goals, so in this section include specific information about your company that gets that job done. A good start is your DUNS number and CAGE code (bold font), followed by the NAICS codes that clearly represent your company’s commodities/services. Oftentimes, buyers search using NAICS codes so be sure that the ones you have chosen adequately reflect your business. Some business owners have a tendency to create what seems to be an endless list of NAICS codes. Generally speaking, I usually pass over them and move on. Include the appropriate “product manufacturing” codes for those products that you offer that are manufacturer brand specific and for which you are authorized to sell. These codes are usually used for federal procurements (see example). This will be a good place for any other notable information such as GSA schedules, certifications, etc. Keep it easy-to-read, never overcrowd. You might consider adding a simple border around this section merely to highlight it and make it stand out a bit more.

Next, references. Compile a short but powerful list of some past/present representative customers. It’s good to include commercial, industry and government if you have them. This helps demonstrate diversification, financial stability and generally, reduced risks. It should be obvious, but ever include any entities or agencies that you have not done business with. To do so could severely jeopardize your credibility, and once lost, you will be hard-pressed to win it back. Don’t make your list so long that you lose your readers attention (or put them to sleep!).

Now, I suggest that you take the time to review all of your information. Consider adding “color” where appropriate, i.e., light colors to “accent” certain areas or just to break up the monotony of a single dark color throughout. If you have some additional space, you can add other pertinent information, but don’t go crazy!

At this point you should engage a few professional and personal acquaintances for a candid review. Be sure never to take “constructive criticism” personally. All observations are positive. Once reviewed and finalized, you now have a great marketing tool. Use it in hardcopy as a “handout” or electronically as an introductory and branding mechanism.

As mentioned previously, there’s nothing “sacred” about my format or content. Both are merely based on personal preferences from my experience with government/prime contractor procurement. Keep them simple and easy to read, nothing to interpretation. Besides conveying the limited amount of information on your business card, it needs to clearly set you apart from your competition. When I read yours, it should convey that AHA!!! that I’m looking for!!

Click here for a sample capabilities statement.

Remember, there’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Which is yours?

Scott Sealing is a Procurement Consultant with the UH SBDC (TX) and an ASBDC member. He also works closely with the UH PTAC (TX) and is an APTAC member. He specializes in counseling small businesses through the rigorous process of registering with government agencies, and then researching and bidding on government contracts. He also provides SBIR/STTR proposal development support. Scott has over 28 years of procurement and logistics experience working for A&D prime contractors on federal contracts. He supported NASA contracts in NM, TX, FL, AL CA and, DoD contracts in NM and CA. Scott is a certified Supply Chain Management (SCM) Professional (SCOR) and is certified in the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt curriculum. He has authored white papers on SCM and conducted domestic & international presentations for government, industry, and academia on procurement and supporting government contracts and, on the effective application of SCM tools & techniques.

Responsive vs. Responsible

Do you know the difference between being responsive and being responsible? When it comes to government contracting, you have to be both.

Being responsive means giving the government exactly what it wants. When a government buying agency invites vendors to submit a bid, it has very specific requirements in mind. If the agency is looking for paper drinking cups, don’t submit a bid for plastic cups, even if you think the plastic ones would be better. If the government wants the cups shipped in quantities of one hundred packaged in poly bags, don’t propose to send batches of five hundred in cardboard cartons. The time to offer alternatives is before the invitation to bid is issued.

Being responsive extends to preparing your bid according to the instructions. There is typically a very specific cutoff date and time when bids must be received in the buying office. If the agency has specified a receipt time of three o’clock and your bid package doesn’t arrive until five minutes after three, your bid is not responsive and will not even be considered. This may sound harsh and even unfair, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. The idea is to give all bidders the same amount of time and an equal opportunity to gather information and prepare their bids. Also remember that much of the government’s business is now transacted electronically, but there are still specific rules to follow and deadlines to meet. Pay close attention to all requirements.

Being responsible, on the other hand, refers to your capability to provide what the government needs. You might think that if you’re the low bidder you should win the award. But sometimes the buying agency has concerns about your ability to perform as promised, especially if you have no prior experience working on a government contract or if the job is particularly difficult or costly. You’ll then undergo what’s called a pre-award survey. The government team will evaluate your management staff, production personnel, equipment and facilities, financial wherewithal, overall technical skills and quality control practices. They’ll look at past contracts, both government and private sector, and your track record for on-time delivery. If the pre-award survey team doesn’t find enough evidence to convince them that your company would be capable of successful performance, you will not get the contract.

If you’re a small business, however, you can appeal. You’ll be given the option to apply for a Certificate of Competency (COC), which means that the SBA is called in to conduct a further examination of your company’s capabilities. If the SBA overturns the pre-award survey team’s decision and issues a COC, the contract in question will be yours. A caveat: Carefully consider whether it is in your best interests to seek the COC. You don’t want to win the contract only to encounter problems completing it. It may be better to make any improvements suggested by the pre-award survey team, and look for future bidding opportunities.

Responsive vs. Responsible: For government contracting, you need to be both.

Proposal Preparation

Anyone who has invested hours of time and precious manpower into writing a proposal – and has not been successful in winning the contract award — knows the frustration involved. You wonder what you did wrong, what you did right, and what you should do differently next time. Sometimes it just takes a few tries before you’re able to get your foot in the door, but there are steps you can take to better position yourself for when the next time rolls around.

The first thing you should do is ask the buyer for a debriefing to provide you with an overview of your unsuccessful proposal’s strengths and weaknesses. If possible, arrange for a face-to-face meeting so you can ask questions; otherwise, request a written report. When you’re working on your next submission, take all the feedback you receive to heart.

Proposal preparation takes a lot of time and effort, and you want to expend your energies wisely. Assign someone the task of searching for opportunities and have a mechanism in place to quickly determine if the opportunity is right for your company. Only go after work that you know your company can handle well, and that includes having the time and resources to prepare a winning proposal as well as being able to meet both the specifications and the schedule.

When you do identify an opportunity that you want to pursue, thoroughly read and review the requirements. This may sound simplistic, but you would be surprised at how many people don’t do justice to the initial reading. Be sure that you have all the information you need. The work requirements should be very explicitly stated, and there should also be instructions on how to prepare the proposal. If there is anything you don’t understand, or if information is missing, ask questions.

Whether you will be writing the proposal yourself or with the help of a team, it’s a good idea to first develop an outline listing all the key components to be included in the proposal. Also determine a timeline for gathering information and putting the proposal together, and note how much weight will be given to each section when the proposal is being evaluated. And if you are using a team of writers, it’s best to ensure that same or similar writing techniques are being used to ensure continuity of flow and repetition avoidance.

Your proposal will typically include technical, management and cost proposal components. This means addressing:

  • How you will meet the requirement or solve the stated problem, 
  • Which people at your organization will be responsible for the work and why. 
  • How you are going to spend the money if you are awarded the contract. 

When you actually begin writing, think in terms of selling your services. Convince the reader not just that you are capable of providing what is needed, but that your company is clearly the best choice for the job. Always have someone knowledgeable review your proposal in terms of whether it is correct, complete and convincing before you submit it.

Procurement Corner: Capability Statements…….”Setting Yourself Apart”

I have been writing about building a one-page Capability Statement for your business to optimize your marketing strategy. Personally, I consider it a “best practice” for branding your business and creating solid lasting impressions. 

As mentioned previously, there’s nothing “sacred” about my format or content. Both are merely based on personal preferences from my experience with government/prime contractor procurement. Keep them simple and easy to read. Besides conveying the limited amount of information on a business card, it needs to clearly set you apart from your competition.

I suggested that using a logo is good, but it’s wise to keep it small to conserve valuable space. Underneath the logo, I added “the usual” general contact information followed by a concise (3-4 sentences) “Capabilities Statement”. This is where you begin branding your business. Always highlight your business type, describe what exactly it is that you “bring to the table”, value-added and, years of experience. How you state it though is critical. You want it to trigger the reader’s interest to keep him/her reading!

Our next section should be entitled: “What sets (your company name) apart from the competition?” Following that, use short bulletized discriminators that not only complement your Capabilities Statement, but take it to the next level. Always avoid repetition, “over-used” words and mundane business clichés (“dependable, reliable, proven, experienced, etc.”). They put readers to sleep! The objective here is (quite literally) “SETTING YOU APART FROM THE COMPETITION”. Make this your branding “AHA”. Our goal should not be trying to level the playing field, but rather to widen the gaps between the players!

And finally, since “best value” is becoming an increasingly more popular methodology for evaluating proposals and contracts, keep that in mind and make your discriminators profound. Be direct about what your best value is. Unique as possible but not “flashy”. What would impress a buyer to choose you? Once again, simple is better – 5 or 6 easy to read but precise bullets. Start with one or two key-words followed by a short but notable description (target < 10 words per bullet). Never shrink font size to increase word count. More is simply not necessarily better! Be creative, be incredibly honest, and never over-embellish.

A couple of generic examples (but you will need to add your own creativity):

· Partnered Solutions – we partner & collaborate with general contractors creating custom solutions

· Gold Standards – revered for our professionalism and industry expertise

· Best Value – awarded ‘2011 Most Successful Newcomer’ to the General Services Administration (GSA)

· Delivery-PLUS – we ensure free on-time delivery to any job site destinations across the globe

· Comprehensive industry experience – subject-matter-experts offering industrial & engineering guidance

· Product variety – “one-stop shop” for FULL LINE of trusted manufacturers & branded products

You get the idea. So set yourself apart / generate your “AHA”.

Remember the music from the movie “JAWS”? 
Great example of a profound discriminator because you immediately think of the movie every time you hear it! 
This is section 3 in our series. Capability Statement section 4 for this series will resume in the August 2012 Blog 
Capability Statement example through this month’s section:

Scott Sealing is a Procurement Consultant with the UH SBDC (TX) and an ASBDC member. He also works closely with the UH PTAC (TX) and is an APTAC member. He specializes in counseling small businesses through the rigorous process of registering with government agencies, and then researching and bidding on government contracts. He also provides SBIR/STTR proposal development support. Scott has over 28 years of procurement and logistics experience working for A&D prime contractors on federal contracts. He supported NASA contracts in NM, TX, FL, AL CA and, DoD contracts in NM and CA. Scott is a certified Supply Chain Management (SCM) Professional (SCOR) and is certified in the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt curriculum. He has authored white papers on SCM and conducted domestic & international presentations for government, industry, and academia on procurement and supporting government contracts and, on the effective application of SCM tools & techniques.