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9 tips for getting government contract dollars

As founder of Government Business Solutions, Lourdes Martin-Rosa is a small business owner who has been generating income from government contracts for a decade. Her $3+ million company provides event management and human resources solutions to government agencies. Eager to help other women business owners do the same, she has been advocating on behalf of the women’s procurement program for 12 years and serves as an American Express OPEN advisor on government contracting.

Contracting can be a lucrative revenue booster for women-owned small businesses, Martin-Rosa says. “It can be very important to have a strong customer like the federal government.” In fact, while fewer than 2 percent of all small businesses that contract with the government generate revenues in excess of $1 million, 42 percent of women-owned small business contractors generate that much or more, according to recent American Express OPEN government contracting survey.

But there are 83 industries (see WOSB program applicable NAICS codes), everything from meetings to manufacturing, in which women-owned businesses are being underutilized, Martin-Rosa says. She hopes that a new law signed last week will boost opportunities for women contractors. “We need to spread the word and make sure women get on board,” she says.

Wearing her American Express OPEN government contracting advisor hat, Martin-Rosa offers these tips for getting into government contracting, which apply to any kind of small business:

1. Register your business to get your business noticed by government agencies whether it’s for federal, state, or city contracts. For federal contracts, register your company at the SAM.gov portal—short for System for Award Management. Registration is free but requires specific company data, such as a DUNS number and NAICS code.

2. Certify your business to gain a competitive edge in government contracting. For federal contracting, visit www.sba.gov to determine if your firm qualifies for any small business certifications.

3. Learn which government agencies buy your types of products and services before responding to any solicitation. Find out who the federal government buys from and for how much at USAspending.gov.

4. Use all available resources to find information that will save you time and money. For federal contracting, you can find how-to articles, guides, videos, and tips on how to do business with the government on American Express OPEN Forum. You'll also find free monthly webinars at Give Me 5, a website for women-owned businesses seeking federal contracts created by Women Impacting Public Policy and American Express OPEN.

5. Team with another small business owner to improve your chances of winning contracts. A study by American Express OPEN found that business owners that team with another business win 50 percent more contracts. Teaming can also help novice business owners gain the experience and credibility they need to win contracts. To find teaming partners, visit USAspending.gov and Federal Procurement Data System for a wealth of past-performance information that lets you see buyers and competitors.

6. Search on Fed Biz Opps for “sources sought” notices, which are synopses posted by agencies that state they are seeking possible sources for a project. Although they are not solicitations for work or even requests for proposal, “sources sought” notices present a great opportunity for you to call attention to your firm’s capabilities. Part of an agency’s market research, responses are used to justify set-aside requirements.

7. Sharpen your elevator pitch. When courting customers—even Uncle Sam—it's critical to summarize your firm's capabilities clearly and briefly. A successful pitch includes, but is not limited to, a company overview, core competencies, past performance, differentiators and company data.

8. Do your homework. Each one of the hyperlinks provided here will help you in becoming a successful small business government contractor, however, you must do the due diligence it takes to arm your firm with the knowledge needed to succeed.

9. Last but not least, government contracting is something small businesses should at least consider. Why? American Express OPEN research shows that government contracting can help boost a small business to become a high-growth company—47 percent of small businesses active in government contracting reach the $1 million revenue mark, compared to just 5 percent of small business overall and 1.8 percent of women-owned businesses.

The Small Business Administration also offers these local resources for women-owned businesses:

Small Business District Offices

Women’s Business Centers

Small Business Development Centers

Procurement Technical Assistance Center

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