Where do you geographically start your business development focus? Should it be anywhere or near your base i.e. where you live?
When I first started my business I was living in Atlanta and I had business relationships that were strong in Houston, Texas and Oak Ridge, Tennessee as I had lived in both places and sold services to customers in those markets. I elected to go to Oak Ridge, Tennessee because I could drive there within 3.5 hours and that allowed me to make single day trips to save costs and to begin to build relationships for my company based on former relationships established with other companies.
I also elected to go to Oak Ridge versus Houston because I had been involved in a community organization as a speaker, volunteer and donor consistently since 1995 even when I was no longer doing business or living there and thus I had connections that were beyond business. This is very important as people like to help people who are caring and giving and seek to leverage their success to promote the well being of others which is the core of my existence. You need to determine where your network will open doors for you. The federal government goes through a process to solicit bids for goods and services and in theory that is all you need to do is respond to those Request for Proposals (RFPs).
Yet the old proverb of it is not what you know but who you know works in both the government as it does in the commercial sectors. Yes your reputation and quality along with competitive pricing makes a difference but if the customer does not know you they may not want to take the risk and select another firm who they know.
There are several incidences where companies have had great proposals and a great reputation but another firm was selected as the government seeks to minimize their risks in selecting an unknown. This tends to be more of an issue in the delivery of services such as IT or administrative support as they want to make sure you will take care of your employees and be responsive to contract terms. This can be overcome by your past performance and references from other government contracts but if you are just starting out it is very important for them to get to know you.
You need to meet the small business representative who should be able to help you identify the contracting officers who are responsible for buying your goods or services and ideally connect you to the direct buyer of your goods or services. For example if you provide janitorial services then the director of facilities or resource management is the ultimate buyer.
This will require repeated trips and you should also seek to find out about industry days or pre-solicitation conferences that will provide you an opportunity to learn more about the specific opportunity to provide janitorial services or become their onsite IT support provider or other goods or services. It will also allow you to meet other competitors who could potentially become teaming partners on this procurement or future opportunities. Finally it provides another medium to wave the corporate flag so you become a known entity when your proposal comes across the desk to be evaluated.
Initially I recommend that you seek to stay within driving distance to extent possible or where you can obtain very reasonable air fares. However, if you have a strong connection on the other side of the United States i.e. you live in New York but your strong ties are in California go west! As you evolve you will need to demonstrate your ability to operate in other states as it indicates the maturity of your infrastructure to handle those dynamics. In that regard, starting local and in one state allows you not to get so overwhelmed with different state laws for payroll or franchise taxes.