By Mark Amtower
Depending on where one starts his or her journey of doing business with the government, they can hear things that may not necessarily be accurate, and in some cases, intentionally inaccurate.
When you register at SAM.gov, you will get phone calls from some questionable people offering the magic elixir, telling you they can get you a GSA Schedule and it will bring in tons of money, real soon.
And that’s just the beginning.
I get calls frequently from the quarrelsome and contentious newbies (see John Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, chapter 5) complaining about not getting government work after visiting an agency Office of Small, Disadvantaged Business Utilization, getting a GSA Schedule, or perhaps burning incense. “But I was told…” is the way the conversation usually starts. And it often ends with, “it’s just not fair.”
“Fair” is an illusion and there is no “level playing field”, so let’s dispel some of these myths in the hope that some will see this article before they enter the market.
Myth Seven: 8(a), service-disabled, veteran-owned small business, woman-owned small business or some other set-aside status guarantees government contracts. Let’s be clear, there are no guarantees for anyone in this market. A set-aside status may help get access to bidding on some work, but it does not guarantee a win.
Myth Six: Winning a spot on an IDIQ or getting a GSA Schedule guarantees business. Winning a spot on an IDIQ is not easy, so most companies do end up making money, to greater or lesser degrees. But there have been some instances where a prime spot got the company zip, nada, zilch. On the GSA Schedule, making no money happens frequently. I started tracking GSA sales in the mid-1990s and the bottom third of the contractors made little or nothing. They just didn’t know how to sell from a Schedule.
Myth Five: End of fiscal spending, aka, “the feeding frenzy” or the “budget flush” is the best time to clean up. During the era of the perpetual continuing resolution, end of fiscal year spending has always been difficult for feds. Often they really don’t know how much money they’ll have come September. The experienced contractor knows to queue up potential business early, aligning the need, the money and the contractual vehicle with the client agency well in advance of September. If there are pockets of money left (and there will be), the agency will have pre-selected and prioritized places to spend it. The less fortunate contractor will be buying advertisements that will not likely pay dividends.
Myth Four: Meeting the CIO at some photo-op event will lead to preferential treatment. Among the calls I get are those asking which events people should attend, often preceded by “The CIO of X agency will be there…” CIOs are place-holders, often in the job for as little as 18 months. Meet the program managers and the career senior executive service folks, people who will be there managing programs and projects long after the CIO vacates for the next photo op position. There are events to be at, but those featuring CIOs are not often the best. Are some CIOs exceptions? Certainly.
Myth Three: Five inexpensive people straight out of college pounding the phones is a better approach than hiring one of those expensive, lunch eating BD people who are never in the office.
Make no mistake about it, this is a relationship driven market, and good BD people know key players in the agencies they work. They know when there is money, they know the contractual vehicles in play, and they have a good idea about when the deal will come to fruition. If you are selling #2 Ticonderoga pencils, you may have some success with the phone jockeys.
Myth Two: Sub-contracting is the easiest way to gain entry to the market. I have heard that SBA representatives give a list of primes to small businesses and say “Call these people. They need subs.” A cold call to a prime or an unprepared visit to an SBLO is the first step to be ignored forever by that prime. Primes have a short list of key factors that subs must bring to the table, things like a truly unique skill set required by the contract, relationships inside the client organization, a working knowledge of problems that agency is dealing with, and more. Your set-aside status is not at the top of the list.
Myth One: Entering the government market is fast, easy, lucrative and painless. When you register at SAM.gov your phone will ring. On the other end of the line you will hear a variation of this theme: “We can help you hit the ground running by getting you a GSA Schedule, winning you set-aside business, getting you on the “short list” of insiders and more.
When you hear these carefully crafted, hyperbolic assertions, hang up.
There is no magic formula and there are no short cuts for getting into this business. The only short cut is learning the market inside out, then focusing on your niche.
But make no mistake, it is a long-term game.