Fleeing the cubicle: How to get a government contract for your SMB

Think you're ready to cast off the cubicle walls and blaze your own trails? If you're starting your own business and want to know how to hit the ground running, you may want to look into government contracts.

There's no doubt that there are downsides to obtaining a government contract, with mind-numbing bureaucracy leading the list. But if your small or medium business is awarded a government contract, it can help your business grow exponentially.

The good news is that a certain percentage of government contracts must go to small businesses as a means of providing aid for those businesses to build a stronger foundation.

Here are some tips for locating government contracting opportunities:

  • Contact the Small Business Administration's Web site. The SBA site offers information about government contracting, including several free online courses offered to help prospective and existing entrepreneurs understand the basics about government contracts.
  • The government makes its needs publicly known through such media as the Commerce Business Daily, a publication listing numerous government contracting opportunities.
  • According to Entrepreneur.com, a surefire way to get your foot in the door at a federal agency is "to identify a product or service the agency needs - but that it doesn't know it needs and which you sell."
  • Consider state and local governments as an alternative to the federal government directly, especially if you are just getting started. Cities, counties, and districts often provide more opportunities for small businesses than does the federal government.

There are some things you must be prepared for when entering into contracts with the government. Here are some of them:

  1. The rules of government contracting are covered in the 1,000+ pages of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which were created based on decades' of the government's contractor experience; These regulations were compiled in order to counter every viable scam any business could drop on it.
  2. You must register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), which is the federal clearinghouse for vendors, including small businesses.
  3. Because the government relies on references, or past performance in the government industry, when narrowing down its contractor options, it's difficult to obtain a first-time contract. If you haven't started as a subcontractor working for another company that has already obtained the prime government contract, Small Business Buzz suggests "considering established 'mentor protege' programs, in which a large business helps a small business get started in government contracting. Or you could partner with another company.
  4. Don't underestimate the power of the government. If the government is unsatisfied with a job you're done or a product you've supplied, it will exhaust all resources to get you to pay for it.

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.