Safeguard Your Path to Federal Contracts by Avoiding These Miscalculations

While a guaranteed formula for a winning bid remains elusive, there are common pitfalls that can be avoided. Continue reading to uncover these frequently encountered errors, empowering your company to navigate a clearer path forward.
Kizzy Parks and Neil McDonnell
Courtesy: EnvZone
By | 8 min read

It’s halfway to the end of 2023, and we’ve been living in chaos for a while. Everything is shaping up for the future that is anticipated to be very, very bad. The good news is the government now is ready to work with innovators to put these messy puzzles in the right places.

In July 2023, Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman announced that the Biden-Harris Administration exceeded its small business contracting goal of 23% in fiscal year (FY) 2022, awarding an all-time high 26.5% of federal contract dollars to small businesses.

This historic level amounts to a $162.9 billion investment in the small business economy – an $8.7 billion increase from the previous fiscal year.

There is cash out there for those who are hungry, but this is not for everybody. Even with the thought that every is well prepared, companies usually jump into these holes of bad luck that take away their opportunities to sip the glass of government contracts.

Hollow Pursuits – Chasing Agencies While Having Nothing to Serve

In federal contracting, sometimes we think it’s that same situation that you can’t win a contract unless you have experience. But that’s not totally the case because you can gain experience at the federal government from working with other companies, et cetera, before you go to an agency, according to Neil McDonnell, founder of GovCon Chamber of Commerce.

He emphasizes that experience can be gained by working with other companies and the federal government even before approaching an agency directly.

He recalled, “But I remember when I started that company, I did something incorrectly. You know, it’s not what I teach now, but I did chase agencies. You know, I came in; we were selling SharePoint, and I went knocking on agency doors, thinking I was going to go get prime contracts there.”

He also said, “I also had a 1099 right when I started my last company, the one I ran for 10 years. Right when I started it, I had a contract with Booz Allen, and it was a 1099 type contract. I always describe it like this: you have a W-2, which means you have a job with them, and 1099 individually means you’re contracting with them. Then you’ve got a 1099 with your company, and that’s basically the start of subcontracting.”

His point is, he had a 1099 contract with them for his company, but his company was supporting their internal needs. He didn’t even know enough back then to realize he could have piggybacked that into federal work.

SBA administrator is in a meeting
Courtesy: SBA

He never even went to knock on their door, and worse, he was actually supporting hundreds of billions of dollars of contract value for Booz Allen because his company was really good at SharePoint and the solutions the company built. So, he had access to all this stuff; he just wasn’t aware of the process.

He stated, “And then, but I did start growing my company pretty soon after I started it in the federal space as a sub to a small prime. But even that was kind of a lucky thing, and I say ‘lucky,’ which is ironic since I just talked a lot about relationships yesterday. But I had relationships with people that led right to a small business that opened the door for me to get into the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I was off to the races.”

He added, “My point for saying this, though, is even for me, if you look at me and think, “Oh, Neil’s got a lot of experience,” I do, because I’ve been doing it for a long time. But when I started my last main company, I was making some of the mistakes and running into some of the challenges that newcomers have.”

He suggests that focusing on one core competency is vital for success. He said, “your company started it because you guys are good at what you do. You need to rally around that and focus on one core competency. So, we could do all sorts of stuff like network engineering and other IT services, but we said SharePoint, and we just drove home that we were experts in SharePoint. And then we demonstrated that in every conversation we had.”

Another key point that is taken away from his experience is that it’s very crucial to build relationships with people in the game.

In fact, many contracts out there do not require experience; instead, they evaluate who they’re going to give the contract to base on cost. It could be based on certifications, most importantly based on who you know.

By creating your own ocean through networking, through relationships, through connections, you’re really able to bypass this myth that you need two years of experience.

Missed Opportunities – The Cost of Neglecting Relationship Building

“When it comes to the federal government, or even us, we like to do business with people we know, like, and trust. That is why we purchase so much from Amazon, because you trust them, I trust them, and the same goes for the federal government. Once they get to know you and like you and trust you, not only are they going to want to do more work with you, but you’re also creating your own ocean,” said Kizzy Parks, CEO GovCon Winners

She suggests that companies need to set themselves up so that they don’t have to worry about competing as much on or Unison or Nico, or any other website or platform that’s out there.

Instead, you circumvent the competition because an agency has gotten to know you; you have gotten to know them by expressing interest— who are they, how long have they worked there, are they married, do they have kids, do they have pets? By forming those different bonds, it shows them that you are interested in more than just getting a contract.

The same goes for partners, as shared by the CEO. “I came across someone recently, and one thing about him really stood out. He said, ‘I don’t partner with companies, I partner with people.’ I love that,” said Kizzy Parks

She continued, “I’m a people person, so that shows me it’s very important to get to know him and his wife, and he has a son, he just got a house, he’s in the middle of moving. All of those things are super important because he wants to partner with people.”

And by doing these things, people feel good about working with you, and they see you as the go-to solution. You become their Amazon. “Hey, are you able to provide janitorial services? Great. Are you able to maybe find someone to get us some new flooring? Great.”

And before you know it, you’ve not only begun to build out your company’s various verticals, but you also have a diverse set of great teaming partners. And the government appreciates the fact that you are always adding value to them.

So, they don’t think of you as a transactional partner, but as a value partner since they know you. And when they know someone, they are eager to collaborate with you. It is not only a monetary transaction.

That’s why getting to know small business representatives, contracting officers, teaming partners, and anybody else who is connected to or involved with a different opportunity.

Hiring a Proposal Writer When the Mission Remains Uncertain

Federal contracts can be an excellent means for a small organization to obtain funds and can have a big impact on their potential success. Obtaining a grant is not simple; you must submit an application that will impress the organization providing the money, and there is frequently fierce competition.

America's Seed Fund conference
Courtesy: America’s Seed Fund

Only 8% of grant requests are funded, and with odds like that, this is not something you want to do on your own. Hiring a professional grant writer can boost your chances of receiving much-needed money since they understand the complexities involved in grant bids and can make your proposal sparkle.

Large corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Amazon, all have a significant proposal writing team.

However, what’s important is understanding the actual opportunity. Is it potentially wired for someone else? What are the evaluation criteria? Do you have a relationship with the agency?

When it comes to an opportunity, if you respond no to all of these, having the best proposal writer in the world is pointless because you will still lose. Instead, concentrate on comprehending the various opportunities.

Before bidding on any government contract, it’s critical to understand exactly what the contract requires and whether your company can meet those requirements.

“Oftentimes, companies will go after a contract without fully investigating what type of work it is that they’re going after,” Sundee Peterson, assistant program manager of the Eastern United States at Strategic Resources, Inc. said. “The more you know about the type of work being done, the better able you are to meet the deliverables specified in the government contract.”

And when you are done in identify your function in the upcoming process post contract winning, and also all the requirements needed to be clear on the path to the grant, you can hire a proposal writer and the process of collaborating with that writer will be much easier since you have a deep understanding about what are you about to do.

Cutting Corners and Ignore the Contract Compliance

TSA lead officer
Courtesy: TSA

Government contractor rules highlight the capacity to follow the tight requirements outlined in federal and state compliance procedures. Failure to follow the compliance program criteria could result in a vendor losing the ability to bid on future government contracts.

Without proactive internal controls and a comprehensive compliance monitoring system, the contractor could expose itself to unnecessary risks such as prosecution, penalties, and jail time.

As shared by Kizzy Parks, “your CM registration, your Sam update, responding to an opportunity, applying for a set aside, working on actual contracts, getting paid—all require you to follow the government’s instructions.”

“While I understand sometimes it can be frustrating, I get it, however, think of it as a test. Every single time you follow the instruction, Times New Roman 12, Arial 12, no more than three pages, don’t forget about the margins—1 inch all around—every single time you follow these instructions, it shows a government agency that they should work with you,” she added.

Because they’re thinking, “This vendor can’t follow instructions on the proposal, then how are they going to be able to execute the work?” she said.

Unfamiliar with the world of government contracting, business owners will discover that complicated laws apply while doing operations with government officials. Government contractors must follow the Federal Acquisition Regulations, a complicated set of rules that govern federal agencies’ purchase operations.

FAR’s purpose is to ensure that the agency’s procurement processes are consistent and carried out in a fair and equitable manner.

While the concept of compliance is very simple, the practicalities of complying with a maze of frequently contradicting standards makes it difficult for organizations to achieve this basic goal.

However, since everything is still a must, it’s important to follow these standards in other to be considered a well-prepared vendor.

Taking On Too Many Hats – Making the Process Slower

You may have heard someone mention that business entrepreneurs wear multiple hats. This is a pretty common sentiment, and it is often shared by entrepreneurs. It’s a metaphor for the fact that they must take on many different roles within the firm.

When you’re initially starting out, it’s common to wear the hats of Business Development, sales, proposal writer, HR, Finance, marketing—please help me—you’ll be doing it all.

However, this can lead to certain troubles. For instance, a business owner may be terrific at creating new products or connecting with the local community. But he or she might feel overwhelmed with all of the financial details and trying to secure loans.

He or she may not understand how to run the office on a daily basis. A business owner who tries to wear too many hats can intentionally slow down the company, when it would have been wiser to hire someone with more knowledge in that specific field to take on those responsibilities.

In this case, bringing on a financial advisor could free up more of the person’s focus and energy for the things they do best.

Department of Homeland Security warehouse
Courtesy: DHS

In many ways, this also relates to the legal steps required to launch a firm. There may be a lot of complicated paperwork, and you want to avoid making mistakes. That is why working with a specialist team that concentrates on this area of the law can be beneficial.

In order to grow, organizations who are able to get rid of all of these hats and only focus on being the boss and on Business Development are the companies, especially if you’re an 8(a), who skyrocket.

You will expand by letting go of operations, sales, marketing, and human resources and focusing solely on meeting with clients, organizing partnership tips, building your pipeline, and being the ambassador for your firm.

Kimberly Kidd, who is the president and CEO of Fillmore Contracts emphasized that the work of the owner is far away from doing technical tasks, but being able to secure resources to perform work on any type of contract.

She said, “I didn’t necessarily have the experiences open the company with HVAC experience that was not my background. However, as an entrepreneur, as an owner, my background was in being able to secure resources in order to perform work on any type of contract. So, as an owner, I didn’t have to put myself in there to do the work as an employee I looked at it as I’m going to hire the Personnel necessary to do this job.”

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