If your firm wants to do business with the government, you must be prepared to jump through many hoops and negotiate wads of red tape. Criteria are strict, and deadlines abound. But all the hassle will be worth it in the end; if you land your first contract and provide quality services, you could be looking at an ongoing partnership with a secured revenue stream.

Getting started
Your first step is to contact the government procurement office with which you’re seeking to do business. In many cases, the office will have a Web site that addresses FAQs and offers downloads of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and documents describing project scope.

The next step is to determine what category of business you want to break into. Project categories include technical support, systems maintenance, and configuration management, as well as education/training in support of the solutions or personnel.

Next, you may need to determine the “up-to dollar value” category that best applies to you. Small projects below a specified dollar amount—say, $25,000—may not require legislative approval. If high-ticket projects are your forte, be aware that they may require approval from the legislative body. Check out how the agency appropriates funds; it’s all public information and attainable.

Get your questions answered
Government procurement agencies may hold informational meetings or vendor conferences to provide clarification for companies preparing proposals. Attend these conferences if they’re offered. You can also submit questions directly to the procurement agency. (RFPs generally include details for inquiries.) The more thoroughly you understand what the agency is looking for, the more competitive you can make your proposal.

Hit deadlines and nail the criteria
Watch the deadlines carefully. Deadlines may be imposed in many sections of the RFP—for instance, there may be one date for inquiries and another for contract submission. Ask questions early in the game to allow time to investigate and redirect. Remember, the time frame may be very short—perhaps as little as 15 days from the date of publication.

Likewise, pay close attention to the contract criteria. Perhaps 30 percent relates to resume/experience issues, 30 percent relates to certification credentials, and 40 percent to pricing. Hit all criteria requirements by the deadline. (You might have to hustle to pull this off.) The procurement agency will rate your proposal on a scale based on the accuracy of the requirements, so provide the criteria in full detail. Brag about projects, and list business references that understand the quality of work you provide.

Make sure you submit your best proposal in the necessary presentation standard (perhaps a sealed bid is required). Government agencies follow policies and will generally adhere to cut-off dates. In other words: you snooze, you lose!

Contracting with government agencies isn’t plain and simple. It’s a complex maze to be conquered if you want to get into the game. You need to roll up your sleeves and be ready to dig. Pay attention to all the details. Get your best contract staff to review the proposal.

Once you’ve got your foot in the door with your first contract, you’re on your way to building a lasting business relationship. When you know the IT business strategy of a governmental agency, you can begin to plan and grow with them. The more successful you are at on-time delivery and quality performance, the better your chances of becoming a valued business partner.

Barbara Dutile is a government IT specialist.

Getting a piece of the government pie

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