In my 13-ish years in this arena, it’s no surprise that things change rapidly – especially during the pandemic. Over the years, though, there has been some consistency. Those consistencies are usually the common mistakes made by emerging government contractors that, at times, cause them to throw in the towel and give up.
Naturally, resulting in a colossal waste of time, money, and resources spent chasing contracts thus far. Avoid going down the same rabbit hole by changing your habits now to give your small business a fighting chance. If you need assistance or clarity with any of the below, we offer coaching and training, as well as market research reporting/ training that will assist you in getting the answers you need to avoid these mistakes.
Here are the most common mistakes made by small businesses the day I started in this arena and even still continue through the present day:
Not Responding to Sources Sought Notices
About 10% of all opportunities in the System for Award Management are Sources Sought Notices. A sources sought notice is a market research tool used by the government to determine whether or not a small business can perform the work. If at least two small businesses do not respond, it will not be set-aside.
Last year alone, this resulted in a $20B small business loss in dollars awarded to a large business because nobody responded during the market research phase to justify setting the contract aside. Why would you give $20B away to a large corporation?
Do yourself and all small businesses a favor and RESPOND TO THE SOURCES SOUGHT NOTICES!!! Or you can’t complain about the dollars going to large corporations.
Bidding Too Fast
You indeed have to bid to win, but bidding before you have intel or a relationship could lead to your small business becoming a “One-Contract-Wonder” (or two, if you’re lucky) though eventually, you’ll be left wondering why when you were off to such a great start, did federal revenues seem to fizzle out.
The answer is that you skipped a few steps. Everyone gets lucky once in a while, but when done correctly, the revenue only increases. Be sure to gain intel on your targeted market, which entails knowing who your buyers are. Don’t try to focus on 100 agencies at once. Choose based on the highest probability of procurement for YOUR business. This requires you to know who your competitors are. All of this can be determined through market research.
My favorite source is usaspending.gov, though it’s helpful to be able to interpret what you’re reading too. When it comes to building a strategy from the data, you’re going to need to learn how to cross-reference. The best learning tool I’ve ever used that helped me thoroughly with this tedious analysis of federal data is Govology e-Courses, specifically those presented by RSM Federal’s Joshua Frank.
Not Communicating Value Proposition through Differentiation
You might think the best way to rattle off your capabilities is to start with your set-asides. You’re wrong. Your status means nothing when it comes to differentiating yourself apart from your competitors, and this is a very competitive space. You must be able to communicate your value otherwise by focusing more on what makes your services or products unique, not your race, gender, or military status.
You’ll find that a successful contractor doesn’t have just ONE capability statement. They have several. If you’re going to pay someone to create these, pay someone to create something custom that you can edit over and over again. (Pssst … we offer this for a fraction of the rate of your typical one-time design purchase.)
Not Tailoring Your Materials to Your Audience
I’m sure you’ve been told throughout your life that you should “tailor your resume to the job you want,” and this is no different. If you’ve done your homework on the agency you’re targeting or hopefully meeting with, you’ll learn the language they use might differ from that in which you’re used to using.
You might notice that they prefer a certain pricing type or contracting method for your products or services. Using what you learned to tailor and communicate quickly that you’ve done your homework is a great way to make a good first impression. Remember, you have SIX seconds to make a good first impression – the average amount of time someone will spend looking at your capability statement.
Searching for Opportunities by NAICS Code
You probably are frustrated by the amount of time you’re spending sifting through irrelevant opportunities, none of which are related to what you do. That’s probably because you’re using NAICS codes, designed specifically for budget tracking purposes, not to differentiate what you actually do.
A better way to search is by PSC code or even by keyword. Market research by keyword will show you what PSC codes are used by the government for your contracts. There is no amount of money that you can dump into a bid-matching system that will give you more accurate results than learning this process. If you’re not great at it or don’t want to learn it, hire someone who does or outsources it! It needs to happen.
Not Talking to Enough People
After your market research is done, you know your market, and you know your competitors. Reach out and have conversations with your targets. Build a strategic plan on subcontracting and look for opportunities to team and partner. Don’t look at a solicitation and say, “I can only do 65%, so I can’t bid.”
Look at that solicitation and say, “I can do 65%; I only have to fulfill 45% … Who can do this that would bring value to the proposal?” and REACH OUT TO THEM. Have a conversation. Kick rocks over and see what crawls out from underneath. You never know; after a couple dates, it might lead to a long-term relationship that is mutually beneficial and lucrative.
If you don’t reach out to your government buyers, you exclude yourself from all micro-purchases and some simplified acquisitions. Your Small Business Liaisons will become your best friends when you make time for outreach to your targeted agencies. If you don’t target in advance, you can see how you’d be wasting a lot of time in this step.
You should be at least 3-6 months ahead of a solicitation. If you’re targeting a long-term IDIQ, longer. Your competitors have started preparing next year’s proposal from last year’s solicitation. The solicitation, after all, IS your template. They require you to respond to each requirement in the order they’re written. They write the format, and they make the rules. All you have to do is follow the instructions.
If a solicitation is open and you know your market, you have a reasonable expectation of who will bid on it. Reach out to them in advance because, to include you on their subcontracting team, they must know who you are before the bid is due. If you know a company has a contract that you want, try first to engage as a sub before going after it directly. Frequently, the prime contractor is vested in increasing their performance – this goes back to communicating your value proposition and differentiating. The same rules apply here.
If you’ve followed your targeted agencies and primes on LinkedIn, you’ll be in the loop with upcoming engagement opportunities. These could include Industry Days, “Pitch Days”, events, educational seminars, match-making events, etc., so if you’re not planning ahead, there’s no better time than the present to get engaged and start now.