The US federal government runs on a different calendar that most businesses. While many businesses targeting consumers or selling to other businesses are pushing hard to "make the numbers" before the calendar year end of December 31, the federal government is ahead of the curve because October 1 starts the federal fiscal new year. While you may not hear Auld Lang Syne being sung or fireworks shooting in the night to signal the government's new year, businesses looking to beef up revenues and open new markets would be well-served to become familiar with the rules of the federal spending game right now.
Not Business as Usual
For those businesses already involved in federal contracting, you know that normally, there is a bit of a pause during October, and maybe even through December as the feds gear up for a new budget and we all wait for Congress and White House to agree on what will be spent in the new year. However, this is not a normal year
The Recovery (or Stimulus) spending now is in the final spending phase and BRAC spending has a "hard stop" coming up very soon. While the regular federal spend will see a stall, the Stimulus and BRAC projects will pick up the slack. Firms that have backed up with strategic, competitive bids have a real chance of winning more business than imaginable. Would you like proof?
Single Bidder Takes All
A recent report at the federal web site USASpending.gov stated that out of the total of $ 550 billion dollars spent last year with contractors for services and products needed to run the government, over $ 46 billion dollars went to companies winning bids where everyone could compete, but only one bid or offer was received . There were 277,123 contractors who found no competition , and they submitted 41,093 bids to win a total of $ 46,405,769,371 last year!
This is proof positive that there are many opportunities available where competition is not just reasonable, but non-existent. The lottery's tag line used to be "you have to play to win." With these federal contracting numbers, you can see that "you have to bid to win."
Not a Free For All
However, do not be mislead. This is not a situation where sloppiness, poorly-prepared proposals or high prices win. Much to the contrary, companies who prevail, will instead take the situation very seriously, and invest a great deal of time, energy and money to build relationships with all of the layers of decision-makers, fine-tune their back office accounting and pricing processes, learn the art of writing a winning proposition and weed through the scads of available lawyers to find the ones who are truly experts in federal contracting law.
Five Special Tactics to Kick Off the New Federal Fiscal Year
Check Your PPIRS Now
Because the federal government is risk-adverse, the stronger your record is regarding past performance, the better your chances are of winning. If your customers say nothing, or even worse, say bad things about you, you will not win the contract. PPIRS is a shared data warehouse of federal government report cards that detail a vendor's performance on current (or completed) contracts.
Contracting officers go here to see how you are rated. If you have high ratings, your chances are much better than winning the contract. If you have low ratings, you will not win a contract. You can see your record, but you can not see other vendor's records and nor can they see yours. For more information go to: http://www.ppirs.gov/ .
Craft a Powerful One Page Capability Statement
This document is the single most effective tool a company can use to open doors to contracting opportunities in the federal government. It is amazing how many business people fail to use this document. It is inexpensive to produce and can be created in Word or Publisher. A smart vendor will create different versions for every targeted agency, military base and prime contractor or teaming partner.
Dump the generic "three-fold brochure" mindset and instead craft a one-page document where you state a "results" focus using the government's statement of work terminology and keywords.
[Note: MEA magazine has made arrangements so that the reader may receive a free federal government-focused Capability Statement Template by emailing the author of this article.]
Does Your Web Site Say Stop or Go?
Contracting officers and program managers, the key decision makers, use the internet to research companies and their abilities. You will shoot yourself in the foot if you have music or "flash" on your home page. Why? These people are pressed for time and many work in an open or cubicle environment. When they click on a home page that has music, they will instantly exit and go no further. Music is not appropriate in this environment (unless you are a DJ, singer or musician).
Many web sites start off with a flash program on their home page. This causes extra steps or clicks to find government-related information. While this may be catchy in the private sector, it is another reason to exit because it wastes time and shows that the company does not understand the government market.
To be more effective, update your web site to include core competencies, past performance, differentiators. Incorporate these specific terms and fill your government-oriented pages with proof. Use the Capability Statement template as a guide. Throw out all the generic marketing speak and write web copy as if you are competing on a contract.
The Little Known Secret to Writing a Winning RFP Response
Entire books have been written about proposals and writing winning responses. However, today, you will increase your chances of winning if you make one powerful paradigm shift: Do not write to win but rather, write the response to be the last man (or woman) standing. The secret is that winners are chosen because they were not eliminated during the proposal grading process, not unnecessarily because they had the best idea or even best price. Learn this and watch your win ratio skyrocket.
Improve Your Procurement Translation Skills
The federal government spends billions every year with companies who look exactly like yours. If they say they do not have money, what they really are saying is they do not know or trust your firm well enough to give you the business. They may not be able to loosen up millions at a time, but they want to spend every dime through the entire fiscal year and will find all sorts of ways to buy from people they know and trust to do a good job.
It is your responsibility to become the kind of company that decision-makers feel comfortable choosing. You will start winning more contracts when you position your firm as the best choice, the least risky choice, and the most-experienced choice.
Bonus Tip to Win
Remember, as noted earlier, nine percent of federal contracts are going to single bidders. You will improve the chance of your winning when you use the scalpel, mirror and magnifying glass, and be ruthless to hone your proposal skills to win. Use the scalpel to trim the price, the mirror to see how you look to others and the magnifying glass to examine your accounting and pricing procedures, hiring processes and record-keeping. Whether you are competing against someone or just yourself, the higher you score and extremely mitigate the risk in doing business with your company, the more contacts you will win.