With the U.S. government poised to increase its IT spending—to $23 billion by 2005, according to Gartner—prudent consultants might be preparing to get into the government game.

To find out the first steps to landing government contracts, we contacted two industry experts, Stephen G. Charles and Matt Price. Charles is the cofounder and executive vice president of immixGroup Inc., a company that, among other services, facilitates the sales process between its clients and government buyers. Price is a principal consultant at NOC Builder, a Dallas-based consulting firm that develops network management solutions for network operating centers. He helps find government contracts for the company.

From these two sources, we culled three steps to begin your government procurement process:

  1. Register with the proper agencies.
  2. Define a government sector or sectors in which your firm can market itself effectively.
  3. Develop relationships up and down the chain of command in those sectors.

Both Charles and Price agreed that the best strategies for procuring government work are to focus on a specific area of government and concentrate on a specific niche offering. Additionally, Price suggested smaller firms might want to partner with a larger firm to help secure contracts.

First of two parts

This article is the first in a two-part series about the government procurement process. It addresses the registration process and defining a government sector and specialty. Watch for the second installment next week.

Get your contract vehicles in place
The first step for any firm is to target a government sector and complete the registration required to sell to that sector. It’s important to become familiar with its procurement rules and regulations, Charles said. If you’re selling to a state or local government, you may not have to deal with a lot of red tape, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Both Charles and Price recommended that firms get registered with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), the contractor and vendor database system used by the Department of Defense (DoD). Although the CCR was originally created for the DoD, it is gradually being adopted by several other agencies, including NASA and the Department of Transportation. To find information about your state or local government’s requirements, try the State and Local JumpStation, offered by Fedmarket.com, an online community for government buyers and vendors.

Beyond that, Charles said the best action to take is to become a registered vendor with the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government’s purchasing agent. Registered vendors will acquire one of the GSA’s Federal Supply Schedules, contracts that allow federal customers to contract directly with commercial suppliers for products and services. Whether an agency is ordering clipboards, IT services, or peanut butter, it does so through the GSA. By registering with the GSA, firms make it easier for potential clients to buy from them.

Vendors with GSA schedules are prequalified and have negotiated their pricing through the disclosure of their commercial pricing practices. Because the process can be complicated, Charles suggested that firms outsource this process to a consultant with experience in that arena. For example, he said that some firms go out of business because they failed to disclose or justify why a particular customer might have gotten a better price for a product.

“If you don’t do that, the government just gets the best price you ever gave anybody, and that pricing then becomes public information that’s up on the Web,” he said. “So this process can actually drive your prices down all across the country. This is where people make million-dollar mistakes.”

Define an agency or sector where you can offer unique value
As consulting firms register with the proper agencies, they should also be defining their strengths as an organization and how they differ from their competition. They need to identify a handful of government agencies that can benefit from their expertise.

For example, Price’s consultancy, which has been working to procure government contracts for less than a year, has narrowed its focus to local and state agencies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area that have a need for network operating centers.

Consultants who fail to focus their efforts run the risk of spending their time meeting with potential government clients who ultimately won’t choose to use their services. It’s important to find a specific agency to which you have something to offer and then get to know the decision makers, Charles said.

Price said he subscribes to bid match services that supply businesses with a daily batch of RFPs that may match their company’s services. He said that, without focus, it’s easy to become lost in all the details.

“These bid match services will provide you with 100 RFPs every day,” he said. “If you only spend a little time on each one, you’re not going to get too far. You can spend most of your time just researching opportunities.”

Do you have advice to offer?

This article came about as a result of member Ben Woelk asking for advice on procuring government work in a recent discussion. Having completed one federal government job that came about outside the RFP process, Woelk’s firm has bid on several more only to find that it’s in competition with 50 or 60 other firms and has little control over the process once a proposal has been submitted. Do you have advice for rising to the top of the heap? Send us an e-mail or post your comments below.