Thursday, February 26, 2009

What’s Up, Doc?

If you’ve been watching the news at all lately, you have probably noticed the trend towards discussing the finer points of the stimulus package. The Obama Administration has successfully pushed their plan through both the Senate and the House in order to pump more money in the declining US economy. Among the issues many federal employees are fearing is that with the passage of this package their jobs will be outsourced, as the Bush administration did in 2003.

President Obama has stated numerous times that he will not outsource federal jobs. The stimulus package, for instance, is pumping money into repairing government buildings and facilities, actions that are traditionally contracted out and not completed by federal employees anyway. With that in mind, now is a great time to be a government contractor! However, on the flip side, it is also a difficult time to be one. As stated in The Washington Post by Joe Davidson, “The stimulus package will generate more business for government contractors at a time when government contracting is coming under greater scrutiny.” This scrutiny, which all contractors must face, is due to the past ten years of abuse that was allowed during the last administration. It is inevitable, but is much worse for companies that have already encountered difficulties within the field.

But how will the Obama administration fix and prevent the abusive tactics that many contractors have implemented? On Tuesday, February 24, 2009, President Obama discussed how lawmakers will be implementing different procurement processes for government contracting. The specifics have not been stated yet, but there is talk of cutting back significantly on overpaying individuals and on greater monitoring of award decisions and amounts.

There is a bright side to this scrutiny, though. For instance, bigger names have a harder time winning contracts, especially the smaller ones. Small businesses will be favored throughout the bidding process even more. However, and I cannot stress this enough, it is critical that contractors are aware of their market and product prices. In many cases, the federal employee goes into the negotiations with a set price range that he is allowed to purchase within that we the contractors are unaware of. One must ensure their price is competitive; if your price is above what the government is asking, they’ll automatically disqualify you and move on to the other bids. If it is too high, you may not even be eligible to compete on future contracts!

Recently, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich) proposed a bill that would require defense contracts to be reexamined if they are over the original cost estimate by 25% or more. Many large contracts can be recalculated as needs change and over time, but the government wants to crack down on excessive increases. The Department of Defense awards contracts based mostly on weaponry and technology; if the government is taking a stand against overspending on DoD contracts, then ones awarded in other departments are undoubtedly soon to be significantly be cut back as well.

The government generally decides the price range based on what they feel the material and labor costs should be. Usually, the federal employee assigned to the contract has appropriate estimates. The government wants contracts to be done easily and cost-efficiently, however, they understand that there needs to be a profit or small businesses won’t work with the government any more.

While the Obama administration is cracking down on the problems typically associated with federal contracting, there is nothing stating they will stop hiring contractors. In fact, time and again they have explicitly stated they want to hire MORE small businesses. If anything, the process might involve more paper work or red tape, but for the most part, contacting will continue. So long as the small business contractor follows the bid guidelines and offers competitive prices, there will be no shortage of contracts for the small business owner!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hassles with Uncle Sam

This morning I woke up and was excited to do my job. I know, that's an odd statement, but I was. Today is a good day to be a government contractor. The Obama stimulus package is unleashing hundreds of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy in the coming months and years, and now is a great time to get started. However, businesses that want to become government contractors need to be aware of the risks and difficulties involved.

We are often asked what ‘hassles’ are involved in government contracting. Many business owners have never tried to do work with the government before and so don’t truly understand what is involved. What benefits are there to using a program like ours? What $70,000 are people talking about?

Our goal is to help small business owners become government contractors without all the hassle of actually having to be one. There are quite a few difficulties that can make it impossible for many small business owners to be able to reasonably do it on their own (hence only about 2% of small businesses DO!). There is the lengthy waiting process – certification can take quite a while, and then it will likely be months before you get a contract. Just doing the paperwork and qualifying for the certifications can take more time than a lot of business owners have.

Add to this the cost of training and hiring someone (like me!) full-time to handle the contracts and you are starting to look at a serious investment. Training courses and materials can and do run as high as $15,000 – no paltry sum for anyone. Many small businesses simply can’t afford to float the cost – months of preparation, overhead, and paychecks before a single contracting dollar comes in. Your business would have to learn what to bid on, how bidding works, who to talk to, how to process payments… The list goes on.

Gateway to Government has done this already. We already have the certifications, the course material, and the experience to get your small business contracts and recognized within the community. We don’t look at just Federal government contracts either – Gateway to Government is registered and looks at contract opportunities within larger contractors as well (such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc.) so that all available opportunities are scoured. In fact, some of these names are usually the ones associated most with government contracting and most in the public eye.

Photo illustration by J.P. Trostle

As a small business aide, we know that the government wants to focus on businesses like yours for the next several years to help stimulate the economy. Statements by President Obama and many others in the administration have said time and again that small businesses are the future of government contracting.

Gateway to Government cares about the small businesses that come to us. Each of our partners wants to grow and expand their business – and it is both our job and our desire to help with that. You are all a part of the Gateway to Government family and if you need help on a contract, we’ll be here, eager to help.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Step 7: Final Thoughts

Hello again readers, and welcome back yet again to Gateway to Government, the small business resource for government contracting. Over the past week I have been writing a new tip each day on government contracting. Well, it has been a long seven days but I think everyone should have learned something from our Seven Steps series! Today we finish up with the final, and in many ways most important step to being a successful government contractor.

Step 7 – Relax!

In the past I have noticed that business owners and employees tend to start to panic as the prospect of government contracting is raised or comes near. Don’t! Stress causes mistakes, difficulties, and shorter life-spans. If you are reading this, you know that contracting is a valuable step for any business to take, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think – Gateway makes contracting easy for you.

We’ve taken all the necessary steps to make sure your contracting experience is as painless as possible. Don’t worry, with Gateway the process is simplified and we eliminate the hassle of bidding, as well as give you some major competitive advantages in the federal contracting arena. We can provide answers or solutions to any questions, comments, or concerns you may have. Gateway guarantees that contracting through us will be as simple as 1, 2, 3 – so stay calm, relax, and get ready to get started!


"The question is not and should not be whether or not the government buys your products, because they do. The question is whether or not they buy it from you."

Gateway will help you to make sure that they do!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Step 6: Don't Use the Deadline

Welcome back to Gateway to Government’s blog and the Seven Steps series! I hope everyone had a pleasant weekend and is ready to continue learning how to do business with the government through the Gateway program. Today we will take a look at how deadlines can impact government contracting.

Step 6 – Don’t Wait Until the Last Second

Though this may seem like another obvious idea, time and time again we have seen people submit their information just minutes before the deadline – only to find a major problem with no time to correct it. Every government bid and every bid we send you will have a deadline – a date and time – prominently displayed. This 'timestamp' is the absolute last chance to submit your information – if the bid is not full, complete, and accurate or is not received by that deadline, all of the time and effort you have put into your project will have been to no avail. The government will NOT accept late bids! Delivery or sending timestamps are also not important – it is when the document is received that matters, not when you mail it. If your bid gets delayed in the mail, or you get a flat tire trying to deliver it just before the deadline... Too bad! For this reason it is highly recommended that none of our clients use the final deadline.

By sending your details in well ahead of this time, we can work out any kinks or issues there may be with your submission. We review all of the bids and make sure they arrive on time in the right hands. This will help to ensure that your bid is submitted in the best possible fashion and that your experience is as painless as possible!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Step 5: Bid to Your Capabilities

Welcome again to Gateway to Government’s blog. Today is step five in our Seven Steps series. Today we will look at the bidding process; deciding what to bid on is obviously important. Many companies have gone out of business because they took on a task too large for them or went broke waiting for the government to pay them!

Step 5 – Don’t Bid on Something You Can’t Do

This may seem like common sense, but sometimes what one thinks is expected in a contract isn’t. Review everything and make sure that your business is capable of all of the elements, both technically and financially! I have heard of many cases where small companies put in a bid and won a great government contract but ended up going out of business because they couldn’t support the finances while waiting to get paid (in most instances, the government pays after job completion).

Once you have read the fine print and asked all of your questions, review the entire contract again. For instance, one contractor (not one of our members!) lost over $18,000 on a bid because they hadn’t realized that they needed to train others to help with installation of their product. They though that they were going to be able to do all the work themselves!

Again, reading the bid requirements is vital to knowing what your company can and cannot fulfill. Examine the requirements and compare them to your capabilities, then review your business’ financial situation – can you afford to float the full cost of the contract potentially for months while awaiting completion and payment? While Gateway does its best to send bids related to your business, it is ultimately up to you to review the bid and decide whether or not your company can handle the contract.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Step 4: Ask the Right Questions

Good morning yet again to everyone and welcome back to Gateway to Government’s blog, filled with tips and advice for our partners and small businesses wanting to do work with the government. As you know, each day this week I have been focusing on one step which will help you maximize your advantages so that your business can get and maintain government contracts. Today is step number four in the Seven Steps series.

Step 4 – Ask The Right Questions

Asking questions is vital to government contracting. There are many types of questions that can and should be asked (for a more detailed rundown, click here). However, the wrong questions or ones posed to the wrong person can be destructive to a business’s chances at getting a contract, so be sure that you know what – and who! – to ask. Be sure to know exactly what it is you want to know. Going into this process with any sort of ambiguity can be disastrous... Without a definitive sense of the goal, your questions can easily lead to more confusion.

In addition, if you ask a question about a contract you are working on or a solicitation you intend to bid on, get it in writing. Anything said verbally or informally is not binding, and action taken based on what is said is not legally defensible. Also make sure that the person you ask is the right person – an answer given by someone without the proper authority over a contract is the same as an answer given by, say, your grandmother. Or the five year old down the street. Or anyone else; unless given by someone with the proper authority, an answer, even in writing, is useless.

In short, if you are going to ask a question, make sure of four things:

1) Exactly what you want to know,

2) How to ask (context, beware of ambiguity, etc. more here)

3) Who to ask,

4) Get it in writing!

If you as one of our members have ANY questions about how to proceed at all, please contact us. We are here for you and we want to help. Gateway knows what to ask, who to talk to, and wants to make your experience with government contracting as hassle-free and painless as possible. If anything about the bidding or contracting process is confusing, please don’t hesitate to contact a member of our team anytime – if we don’t answer immediately, we will get back to you as soon as possible. We want your business to grow and prosper through this lucrative market as much as you do!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulus Plan Benefits Small Businesses

USA Today's expert, Steven Strauss, announced on February 16, 2009 that the Stimulus Plan will be helping out the Small Business sector more than most Americans thought. He actually had a"call to arms" for businesses to become contractors as soon as possible so they could benefit from the money being pumped in the state and local economies. He even outlined how much money is going where...

• $16 billion for construction and renovation of schools
• $2.4 billion for "family friendly" military construction projects — family housing, childcare facilities, etc.
• $500 million to secure dams, bridges, and tunnels
• $4.6 billion for water and hydro power projects

As he states in his article, it's not just construction businesses that can partake at the government trough; look at:—

High Tech

• $9 billion to increase access to broadband, especially in rural communities
• $ 5 billion to computerize health records


• $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation
• $160 million for investments in maritime transportation
• $160 million for investments in maritime transportation
• $160 million for investments in maritime transportation
• $160 million for investments in maritime transportation
• $1.3 billion for investments in air transportation
• $1.1 billion for investments in rail transportation
• $160 million for investments in maritime transportation
• $830 million for repair and restoration of roads on park, forest, tribal, and other public lands


• $2 billion for redevelopment of foreclosed homes
• $2 billion for affordable housing

Green Technology

• $6.4 billion for environmental cleanup
• $6 billion for sewer, and drinking water systems
• $40 billion to for development of clean, efficient, "American" energy
• $6 billion for repair of federal buildings using green technology
• $613 million for energy efficiency upgrades and construction of alternative energy projects, including wind and solar

Now, as many as you already know, Gateway to Government can help your business take full advantage of this opportunity. Steve is right; there has never been a better time than now to join federal contracting. However, getting these certifications, the right connections, and all the other bits of red tape involved with contracting can take a lot of time. One of the many benefits of working with Gateway is that we take the hassle out of bidding. We can help your business get contracts NOW instead of later. Why wait? Gateway can offer your business a solution that will increase your profits. Don't hesitate; contact us TODAY to get your fair share of the stimulus plan.

Step 3: Price Yourself to Perfection

Hello everyone! Welcome yet again to another installation of Gateway to Government’s Seven Steps for Successful Contracting. Each day this week I will focus on ways you can gain an advantage over competitors and maximize your small business’s chances of getting government contracts. Each step will examine different aspects of federal contracting, all with the goal of increasing your business. Today is Step 3 of 7, focusing on how to price your bids for government work.

Step 3 – Realistic Pricing

As it would be with any business venture, the pricing of your product or service for government contracting is very important. With government, pricing is not always the only factor (some contracts are based on ‘best value,’ but it is always a strong consideration. Contracts worth thousands, even millions of dollars have been won or lost literally by a one-cent difference in bid price. Research your product and know what it is worth – but don’t cut so thin that you aren’t going to make any money! Remember to include your costs, overhead, time, and profit into the price, just as you would any other contract. However, be careful – in some circumstances, the government can come back to you and ask for documentation explaining how you can to your pricing.

The government always expects a discount; however, they don’t want you to sell yourself short. President Obama recently said “small businesses are the backbone of our nation's economy and we must protect this great resource.” His statement affirms that while the government does expect you to give a good price for your service or product – generally under the MSRP for goods, for example – it doesn’t have to be under its value. Many contracts are awarded solely on price, so be sure that you can be competitive! However, as you know, not all of them are. Gateway will indicate which projects are based on price, and which are on ‘best value,’ meaning that other factors are evaluated, and what they are. Factors can include delivery time, performance history, and a wide range of other possibilities, but all will be detailed in the bidding documents.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Step 2: Research and Know Your Material

Good morning again everyone! Today we see the second installment of Gateway to Government’s Seven Steps series. These steps are designed to help you as a small business owner or employee to gain an advantage over your competitors in the field of government contracting. Each step will look at a different but useful aspect of doing business with the federal government.

Step 2 – Research

Research is vital to any business venture, as we all know. Would you as a small business owner leap into anything without knowing a little bit about it? A little bit of background research can go a long way with government contracting, and can make the vital difference between winning a bid and languishing in the pool of those that ‘just bid.’

Take a few minutes to do some research on what the bid is asking for. Is it looking for a product that will be chosen purely on price? Something as simple as a Google search can turn up pricing from your competitors! Is the price you offer competitive enough to go up against other contractors, or do you compete on service? Delivery time? Bulk goods? Know what your competitive advantage is and you will be able to leverage it.

In addition, know what you are talking about. As you’ve seen here and so many times before, background research is very important. Be sure that you know your products and services and are knowledgeable in the area in which you are bidding. Not knowing the latest advancements in your field could be the reason you won’t get the bid – such as recommending the most ‘up-to-date’ Windows 2000 or XP, when actually Windows Vista is the most recent release.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Seven Steps for Successful Starts

Good morning everyone, and welcome back to Gateway to Government's blog, where we will post tips and tricks to doing business with the government our way.

Today is the first in a series of
Seven Steps which can help you get and win government contracts - which as you know can be quite a prize for any small business owner, especially in today's economy. Each new step will give advice on how to proceed with contracting - some of them may seem like common sense, but even the best of us can sometimes overlook the obvious! Just remember that we at Gateway take the hard part out of government contracting, making it quick and easy for all of our partner members.

Step 1 – Fully Read and Understand the Bid Requirements

First things first: know what is required! Individual bids generally have specific terms and conditions, so every contract opportunity - be it RFQ, RFP, IDIQ, Quick Quote, or any of the other options - has unique bidding requirements. It is the responsibility of the vendor (that's YOU) to carefully review and ensure that all of the requirements are met. Make sure you are capable of meeting
all of the requirements of the bid before you submit it!

We at Gateway have seen some contracts with extremely...
unusual requirements. If the bid documents state that you should have your workers on-site wear a company photo ID, pinned to the left side of their blue jackets, you can’t ignore it. If everything has to be signed in triplicate and then two copies faxed to North Dakota, one to Looneyville (yes, that's a real place - in Texas), and then have three originals shipped to Alaska in a banana crate, you have to be willing to do it.

Obviously, most contracts
won't have such arbitrary requirements. Generally, there are a few clauses which are seen over and over, such as the one requiring all workers to be U.S. citizens or have valid work permits and documentation, or the buy American act, which dictates that all products used are made in America.

You have to comply with
every part of the contract - there is generally no negotiation on bidding requirements. Sometimes these rules can seem a bit extreme, but if you just read over the requirements summary we send you completely before bidding, there won’t be any surprises in store. One of the benefit of being a Gateway member is this requirements summary - rather than having to hunt through dozens of pages and look up FAR clauses and other referenced items, we put it all out there for you, short and sweet.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Federal Contracting: Terrifying Prospect or Lucrative Opportunity?

The federal government is well-known as the largest purchaser in the world. It uses so many products and services that it is literally a market in and of itself – the range of things the government purchases for its needs is so diverse that many companies exist entirely to sell to the government. However, the labyrinthine sets of rules and procedures can make it a terrifying area of business for the uninitiated.

The first United States government purchase was performed in the 1770s, when General George Washington directed Philip J. Schuyler to buy weaponry from Major Duncan at Schenectady, with a guarantee to pay for the goods upon delivery. Since then, opportunities to sell to the federal government have expanded greatly; though a large portion of the federal contracting budget is still set aside for military and defense purposes, more money is spent on a much wider range of opportunities that most people realize.

Believe it or not, currently only about 5% of businesses in the United States actually do business with the government. This is despite the fact that it generally spends, on average, over a billion dollars a day, on everything from janitorial services to dog treats to IT services to research. Why is that?

The rules governing the federal procurement process are incredibly intricate. If the contracting field is new to you, you are going to find out just how difficult it can be – this is one of the most complex arenas that there is in business. Fortunately, there are plenty of people and businesses willing to help, and it is possible to acquire a working knowledge of the process, policies, and procedures that apply to your business and how to navigate the government contracting arena.

One piece of good news is that the government tries to do a lot of its business through small contractors. The U.S government has federally and legally mandated goals and procedures designed to favor small businesses. Every federal agency has a small business contracting goal – a percentage of its budget each year is ‘set aside’ specifically for a variety of types of small businesses, ranging in amount depending on the agency. Businesses are eligible for these set-aside goals if they fit the description, be it small, woman-owned, minority-owned, or any in a wide array of other categories.

Small contractors can work with the government without a large office staff or support system, but only if they understand how everything works. Unlike other customers, you cannot simply walk into a government office and make a sales pitch. There is a huge array of protocols that must be met before you can do business with the government – but if you know your rights and are familiar with government programs, contracting can be extremely lucrative for anyone willing to accept the time, effort, and expense of getting started. You also don’t have to do it alone – there are many companies out there willing to direct you along the correct path and to help you get going.

Everyone knows about the current declining economy, said by some to be the worst since the Great Depression. Small businesses should definitely consider utilizing government contracting as a source of income. The federal bailout means that there are going to be hundreds of billions of dollars of extra contracting money spent in the next few years. These dollars will have to be spent somewhere – and not all of them are going to be on the multi-million dollar contracts – the companies that win the large contracts started out winning small contracts. Your business sells products or services that the government buys, and the time to get started with federal contracting is now. In short, federal contracting is
both: a terrifying prospect AND a lucrative opportunity. Navigating the maze can be dangerous but the risk is well worth the potential reward!

Working with Gateway to the Government, your business can penetrate the complex web of doing federal contracting. Through our partnership program, you gain access to everything – all of the advantages of the small business set-aside programs and the lucrative field of contracting – without having to accept the huge amount of time, effort, and expense of getting started.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Independent Thinking

I remember in grade school the teachers always encouraged independent thought. They wanted you to ask questions, think critically of the material, and try to find and solve any problems. Except poetry. I swear, no matter how often I tried to interpret Frost, Dickinson, or any other great American poet I was always wrong. Eventually I gave up; I followed the same ol’ format everyone else did and wrote horrible little poems involving stereotypical flowers.

Some days it felt like that.

College was different though. On the first day of English 101, my professor let us out within the first ten minutes of class… so that we could go somewhere on campus and just watch. Ah, yes, talk about well-spent education dollars! However, as a freshman, it was a great way to start college: sitting by one of the many fountains on campus, writing down what I saw, enjoying the sunny day. It was calming – until I had to turn in the assignment. I was afraid of what the Professor would say of my writing. Did I write about the right topic? Was my grammar correct? Did I misinterpret the meaning of the ripples in the fountain?

Luckily, I had one of the best professors my school had to offer. He encouraged actual independent thought and creativity. The everyday A-B A-B A-A rhyme style bothered him, as did anything remotely close to “a rose by any other name.” The whole semester consisted of breaking habits we had formed in grade school, such as trying to write to please the teacher instead of to please ourselves. Granted, he did want us to try to be appropriate and to follow the guidelines, but the more creative it was, the happier he became. He loved teaching his students that whatever they wrote could be art; they just needed to trust themselves.

He looks so snazzy in his suit.

I was thought of this professor the other day as I was browsing a news site and came across an article discussing Joe Lieberman and a new contracting committee. As some of you are aware, Senator Lieberman (I) is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. On Friday, January 30, 2009, he created a sub-committee that will oversee federal contracting and named Senator Claire McCaskill (D) from Missouri as the chairwoman. He hopes that this committee will prevent governmental monetary waste and contracting fraud.

I can’t help but wonder what this mean for small business contractors. The DoD, DoJ or any other section of the federal government isn’t going to stop offering contracts to companies strictly because of this new committee. If anything, it will help prevent larger corporations from asking for excessive dollar amounts or adding extra clauses to contracts, which can give smaller businesses more of an opportunity. Senator Lieberman’s struggle to shift the thought processes on government contracting and replace them with something different and less corrupt by traditional thought made me think of my English professor. He wants someone new – your small business – to have the opportunity to display your product to the government, letting out your creativity, without the constraints traditionally associated with government contracting. Lieberman’s committee will not hinder the amount of contracts awarded; if anything, I think it will increase the amount small businesses receive.