Tips on finding 8(a) contract opportunities

The federal government is the largest buyer in the world, but how do you know what agency will buy what you sell?

What do government agencies buy and where to locate opportunities?

The federal government buys everything from office supplies to missiles. No matter what your product or services are, chances are there is a federal agency that buys it. But you can’t sell your products or services to the federal government if you don’t know which federal agencies are buying and what their needs are.

Here are some tips for finding 8(a) contract opportunities:

  • The federal government operates an online service called SAM.gov. This single entry, government wide Web site, announces available business opportunities and is a powerful tool to help you become successful in government contracting.

You can narrow down your search for 8(a) set-aside contract opportunities or set-up an account to automatically receive targeted opportunities via email. We suggest that you specifically look for 8(a) opportunities that are in the pre-solicitation or sources sought phase as most of the other phases are too far along in the procurement process already.

Agencies use a variety of means for purchasing items. 8(a) firms should become familiar with how those buying offices advertise these requirements and then monitor them closely. Most government agencies have common purchasing needs. The government can realize economies of scale by centralizing the purchasing of certain types of products or services.

  • Visit the https://sam.gov/content/opportunities. It contains every federal procurement that has ever taken place.  You can search and find out which federal agency is buying your products or services, the names of your competitors who were awarded past contracts, their dollar value, location, NAICS code and more.
  • Visit the USASpending.gov web site. USAspending.gov is the official source for spending data for the U.S. Government. Its mission is to show the American public what the federal government spends every year and how it spends the money. You can follow the money from the Congressional appropriations to the federal agencies and down to local communities and businesses.

Once you have an idea of who you can sell your products and services to, your local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) (http://www.aptac-us.org/) may offer workshops for small businesses to acquire a basic understanding of the federal government procurement process. Some locations also offer services such as matching a firm’s capabilities with federal solicitations advertised in FedBizOpps, information on subcontracting opportunities, one-to-one technical assistance in completing bid packages and other paperwork, etc.

When Will the Agency Buy It Again?

As stated above, most agencies publish procurement forecasts on their web sites. Procurement forecasts are wish lists of proposed contract opportunities that may or may not come to fruition. Procurement history may be more reliable. If they’ve been buying it for years, they may continue to buy it. You may want to try to identify knowledgeable officials at the buying agency and then ask for their opinions. But again, their information may be subject to change. Much of what an agency buys depends on their budget. You should also develop a good rapport with buying agency officials.

One of the most important things that you have to do next is to convince the buying agency that they should buy from you. If the buying agency is using a competitive procurement process, why should it consider using 8(a) procedures? You must show that your business is competent, capable and reasonably priced. Make it in the buying agency’s best interests to contract with you.

If the buying agency is currently using 8(a) procedures, why should it contract with you and not some other 8(a) firm? How will you provide better service, better quality or better prices? What is it that you can do to either solve the buying agency’s problems, or prevent problems from occurring, or provide insight into problem solving more than any other firm? Show them what you bring to the table.

Selling to the federal government is not that much different from selling to the private sector. It all comes down to marketing. Your 8(a) status is a marketing tool that allows you to get your foot in the door at buying agencies, but you must use the tool wisely. Unless you have an unlimited marketing budget and personnel, you will have to decide which and how many agencies to target. Realistically, an 8(a) company can effectively market only three, four, or at most, five agencies. Which agencies you decide to market will depend on the factors discussed above.

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