The government can be an excellent customer for small businesses. A vast range of goods and services are purchased not only by the federal government, but also by all cities, county, and state government agencies. Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, sponsored by the Department of Defense, are available in many communities to help small businesses get government contracts.
In order to get government contracts, you must learn how to be a part of the system. Each government entity has its own procedure, which can make the process tedious and difficult. Start off by making contact with the purchasing agent of the agency or department in which you are interested. You will generally receive forms to get on the vendor list. Being on the vendor list does not, however, guarantee any contracts. At that point, you need to do your homework—stay in contact with the purchasing agent, market your company to the department, and keep track of the current contracts. Daily issues of the Commerce Business Daily advertise federal contracts of $25,000 or more. Back issues are also online.
State and local contracts are advertised in other venues. Contact your state and local agencies to learn how to keep up with contracts of interest. Some state contract registers are on the Internet.
When a suitable contract is advertised, you need to respond correctly. Sometimes a formal proposal is required; sometimes an informal bid will suffice. It depends on the agency, size of contract, and other requirements. Make sure you follow the procedures exactly as outlined in the request for proposals. Any deviation can be grounds for rejecting your bid.
You can also do business with the government by getting a subcontract with a prime contractor, the company that won the contract. Lists of prime contractors are available; ask the purchasing department.
In some cases, it may be advantageous to get certified as a small business or a woman-, minority-, or disabled-veteran-owned business. Contact your local minority business development center or small business development center for information on how to do this.
The federal government is currently in the process of changing to a system that simplifies the procurement procedure and reduces paperwork. Eventually, the entire procurement process will be done almost entirely through computers.