As an entrepreneur you’re focused on a lot—from building your team and acquiring customers to managing the inevitable ups and downs of life as a startup. But have you ever considered selling your products or services to the federal government? When people hear the term “government contractor,” many think about large defense contractors like Lockheed Martin or Boeing who build missiles or jet engines. So just what is a government contractor? A contractor is simply any business that sells goods or services to the government and every year the federal government buys roughly $500 billion a year on everything from paper clips and linens to rockets and leadership development training.
There are plenty of free resources available to help you determine whether your product or service is a fit for the government market. There are a number of legal and administrative steps required to become a government contractor, so the first step is to investigate whether there is enough demand in the government market to pursue becoming a government contractor. While contracting with the government can be a complex legal exercise and isn’t for every business, it can be a game-changer if there’s a product/market fit.
Contracts for Woman-Owned Businesses
Every year the federal government sets aside nearly 25% of all contracting dollars for small businesses—5% are set aside for woman-owned small businesses (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged WOSBs (EDWOSBs). It was recently reported that the U.S. Government finally met its 5% goal after 20 years—in the preceding two decades the government had fallen short of this target.
These special government certifications—WOSB and EDWOSB—can be obtained by businesses which enables them to compete for set-aside contracts. These certifications can be obtained through the Small Business Administration (SBA) or one of its approved third-party providers (Cautionary note: Be careful if you choose to pay a third-party provider. Make sure that they are affiliated with the SBA).
Is the Federal Government Buying What You’re Selling?
Before you invest the time and money required into becoming a government contractor, make sure it makes sense for your company by analyzing the market, determining whether the federal government buys your product or service, and how you’d sell it profitably. There are a few simple and free ways to determine the product/market fit.
- Search FedBizOpps for contract opportunities. FedBizOpps, which is short for Federal Business Opportunities, is a government-run database of contract opportunities. Every contract valued at over $25,000 is listed on FedBizOpps. It is not the most user-friendly site, but it will assist you with your market research. Perform some keyword searches on the products and/or services you offer. This will provide you a sense of what the federal government is buying and how much they’re spending.
- Talk with your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). PTACs are publically funded organizations whose mission is to help local businesses compete in the government marketplace. They offer an array of free services and counsel to get you started in the government contracting world. There are 98 PTACs with over 300 local offices across the United States. You can find the PTAC closest to you here. Schedule an appointment with your local PTAP. Meet with a counselor and describe your business. Solicit their feedback on which federal departments and agencies buy what your business sells. Their feedback will be another data point as you work to size the federal market. Other great free resources include SBA’s Small Business Development Centers and SCORE.
- Find a current WOSB and talk to them about their experience contracting with the federal government. Your local PTAP could help you find a WOSB. You can also search via LinkedIn or Google. Ask them about the pros and cons of contracting with the government. Tell them about your business and get their feedback on the product/market fit. Don’t neglect this step. It’s important to speak with someone who’s “walked the walk.”
Becoming a government contractor is a major strategic decision—requiring significant research and deliberation. Follow these three steps to assess the product/market fit and whether the government market is right for your woman-owned business.
Tom Skypek is the co-founder and CEO of GovBizConnect.com, an online network for government contracting professionals. Prior to founding GovBizConnect, Mr. Skypek worked as a client engagement manager and business developer at Booz Allen Hamilton and SAIC. He was a 2010 Nuclear Scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a 2010-2011 Washington Fellow at the National Review Institute. His writing has been featured in Bloomberg Government, Washington Technology, The National Interest, RealClearPolitics, and elsewhere. He has also appeared on Federal News Radio.