Selling to the federal government can seem daunting for many small business owners. However, the market is lucrative – approximately $100 billion in contracts are awarded annually to small businesses – and once you have your foot in the door, it can be a profitable, long-term revenue source.
SBA has numerous resources and programs to help small businesses get established in this space, including the Government Contracting Guide and the Government Contracting Classroom. If you’re new to this market, you can also check out Selling to the Government – Get Started with these 5 Steps.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, the next step is getting to know the influencers and buyers in this market. This is easier said than done, however, and requires time, perseverance and planning. Here are four strategies that can help you develop a long-term business development strategy in the federal marketplace, based on the power of relationships.
Find a Mentor in the Federal Contracting Sector
Mentor-protégé business relationships are a great way to partner with someone who has already achieved success selling to the government. A mentor can help you gain access to decision-makers and opportunities that would be almost impossible for you to do alone. Two notable government-run programs are:
- GSA Mentor-Protégé Program – This is designed to encourage prime contractors to help small businesses succeed in government contracting and enhance their ability to perform successfully on government contracts and subcontracts. This program is open to all small businesses (click here to determine if you qualify as “small”).
- SBA Mentor-Protégé Program – If you qualify for SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program (open to businesses considered socially and economically disadvantaged), then you can take advantage of the SBA Mentor-Protégé Program. It pairs your business with a mentor who has success in federal contracting, which can lead to potential joint ventures.
- Join Associations and Groups – The federal government contracting space is populated with industry groups and associations that hold regular networking events and seminars that are often attended by agency and department-specific government officials. The government wants to know what the private sector can do for them. So, much like a trade show in the private sector, events give you an opportunity to meet movers and shakers, learn what’s new on their agenda, and get insight into potential contracting and sub-contracting opportunities. Sample associations include ACT-IAC, AFCEA and Women in Technology (for the tech sector), Women Impacting Public Policy, and the National Association of Small Business Contractors.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Social Media
LinkedIn has numerous groups to help build relationships between government contractors and agency officials. Don’t be surprised to find these officials actively using LinkedIn to learn more about contractors and set up meetings. So be active and make sure your profile is robust and up-to-date.
Twitter is also an enormously useful tool for staying on top of an agency’s news, their shifting dynamics and goals. Most government agencies are on Twitter now.
Network and Connect via Events
The government is hugely proactive in using its own sponsored forums to meet potential contractors – breakfasts, “table top” events hosted on-site at agency buildings, and industry days are great ways to meet government buyers. Industry associations also hold regular events, notably in and around the Washington, D.C., area. Even if you can’t grab more than a quick handshake with your target official, make sure to hand out business cards and follow up with a LinkedIn connection request. This takes you beyond networking to a connection that may count down the road.
Remember to do your homework before you choose which events to attend and, most important, find out who’s going to be there. Selling to the government is a niche business, so targeting the right individuals; understanding their roles, challenges and needs is essential before you sign up to attend!
The Bottom Line
Remember — relationships are everything in this business and it takes time and perseverance to lay the groundwork and build connections and trust. But that long-term investment can lead to even longer-term gains.
If you sell to the government, what relationship-building tips have worked for you? Post a comment below or on the Government Contracting Discussion Board on the SBA Community.
- 5 Tips for Tentative Networkers – How to Make Connections Online and Offline
- Successful Government Marketing – A Primer for Small Business
- Selling to the Government: Five Tips for Becoming a Subcontractor and Getting Your Foot in the Door
- Getting Started in State and Local Government Contracting; A Small Business 101
- Women Business Owners – How to Win your Share of Government Business
Written by: Caron Beesley