Where Is The Money?
(psst, the government has it!)
by Jim Bain
Success in business is all about finding the money. In today's economy, the private sector is reeling, but governments, both federal and state, seem to have money to spend and the desire to do so. The problem is that being a contractor or vendor to the government is a tough club to join. If you jump through the right hoops, and if you qualify, there are plenty of opportunities, but dealing with the bureaucracy can be a mind blowing experience.
In the fiscal year 2008, the federal government spent $550 billion for contracted goods and services. That's a lot of money! Twenty three percent (23%) went to small businesses. In fact, the federal government is the largest single buyer of goods and services in the U.S. The bottom line is that governments have money to spend. In addition to the more traditional "annual contracting process," special programs such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA or the Stimulus Program) are pumping huge sums of money into the American economy. And, because not every business is qualified, the field can be a little less crowded. It sounds like a great place to do business, and it can be. But, beware! It isn't for everyone.
To get started working with government follow these basic steps.
1) Get qualified
If your business qualifies for one of the many socio-economic disadvantaged business programs such as the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), the Women Business Enterprise (WBE), or the Disabled Veteran Owned Enterprise, you should certainly seek those designations. The numerous set-aside programs especially for those groups can give you a huge leg up when competing for contracts. If you aren't one of these special groups, you must still get qualified. Start by getting registered with the Central Contracting Registry or CCR. Then get entered in the Dynamic Small Business Search guide. Finally, go to the Fed Biz Opps Web site at www.FBO.gov to search for those opportunities that best match your goods and services. All of these contacts can be made through either the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) or the General Services Administration (www.gsa.gov).
2) Be patient
As compared to the private sector, government agencies have many more rules to follow and levels of approval before any decision can be made. Remember that the government has the extraordinary challenge of dealing with the change of leadership that occurs every four or eight years.
Imagine a huge company in the private sector that has not only a new CEO every four years, but a completely new executive group with new ideas, new agenda, and the desire to make their mark.
3) Become familiar with the cultural differences in government
Unlike the private sector where the budget is a guideline, government decisions on spending are restricted by an intricate budgeting process. If the government can't afford something in this fiscal year, it just waits until the new fiscal year and spend it then. It's as if they have a certain amount of money in the bank, can only spend that amount, and know that more money will be put in the "bank" at the beginning of the next year.
4) Market to the government just as you would to any other market segment
Do your research. What do the various government agencies with whom you want to work need? Who are the principle contacts? How can you network with them and others who have worked with them? Remember too, many large contracts are let to the private sector with the caveat that small businesses and disadvantaged business get a lion's share of the sub-contracts. Find out who is getting the large contracts and market your product or service to them. It's a great way to get started working with the government and build your experience base and reputation.
5) There ARE smart and hard working people in government
The myth that there are no such people is perpetuated by the difficulty government units have in building the documentation required to get rid of non-performers. As a result, there seem to be a few people in every department who don't pull their weight and are not held accountable for it. The whole department then gets a reputation for being inefficient, ineffective, or lazy.
Unfortunately, that reputation then tars some really dedicated and passionate people who may, in fact, be the large majority of the department.
Your job is to find those smart, hard working people. Keep looking, they're there.
6) Be patient, again
Even though government can be very slow to react and very slow to make a decision, when they do, the expectation is that the private sector can turn on a dime and carry out the directive. Accept it.
Live up to it. They will appreciate it and your reputation as a good firm with which to work will be built.
Success in business is all about finding customers who want what you have to sell and can afford to buy it. Governments, both federal and state, have all kinds of needs and a lot of money to spend. While it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and get qualified, it makes no sense to ignore the largest single purchaser of goods and services in the U.S., just because you don't know the rules. Learn the rules and get in the game. Your profit and loss statement will be glad you did.
James S. Bain, MBA, is an author, speaker, consultant, and coach. He is the founder of the Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. Look for Jim's soon to be published book, "Never Pass on a Chance to P- A Roadmap to Peace in Your Life." To hire Jim or find out more about the Falcon Performance Institute, please visit www.fpiteam.com or call 352-854-4015.