On its surface, the government contracting process seems similar to sales in the private sector: A vendor finds an opportunity, draws up an offer, then submits a proposal. Dig deeper, however, and you will discover a plethora of contracting rules and requirements business owners often find daunting. Do not get discouraged by the paperwork. With over $500 billion awarded to contractors annually, the federal government offers lucrative opportunities for the businesses prepared to compete for them. The most popular and straightforward option to get started with government contracts is through obtaining a Government Services Administration (GSA) Schedule. Sometimes referred to as a “hunting license,” a GSA Schedule is in actuality a government-wide federal contract: It shows an agency which products services are available by industry and vendor. The GSA eLibrary is the online home for federal acquisition. Think of it like an Amazon.com for the U.S. government. Just as Amazon lists products by department, GSA lists available contracts by Schedule. Once your business makes it onto the Schedule, any federal agent that searches the eLibrary can find your offer—including your business information, available products, and pricing—and purchase directly from you. Regardless of their convenience, not all Schedules bear fruit. Before you begin, make sure your business has what it takes to generate profit through federal contracting. Consider these questions to determine whether getting on a GSA Schedule is the right move for your business:
Is Your Business Eligible?
In order to obtain a GSA Schedule, your business must meet the criteria for eligibility. The government wants to ensure your company has been in business for two years, and that your products are commercially available and produced—or “substantially transformed,” that is, a major manufacturing process must take place—in the U.S., or a “designated country” with which the government holds a trade agreement. You will also need to demonstrate your business’ past performance by obtaining a Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) DUNS number and complete registration on the System of Award Management (SAM), the government’s database of suppliers.
Where Do You Belong?
As mentioned above, the GSA eLibrary lists vendors by Schedules pertaining to various industries, such as Medical Equipment, Transportation, and Information Technology. Within each Schedule are several subcategories that index contract offers by various products and services, which are then broken down by vendor. Schedule 70, for instance—General Purpose Commercial Information Technology Equipment, Software, and Services—comprises twenty-five separate categories, some of which contain further sub-categories. Do your research to find out not only where your business belongs on the list, but what your competition looks like. Note that the GSA differentiates contractors based on socio-economic indicators. Government agencies are more likely to consider your business if it fits any of the following profiles:
- Small business
- Woman-owned business
- Veteran-owned business
- Service disabled veteran owned small business
- Minority owned small business
- SBA certified as doing business in a Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Zone
What Can You Offer?
The more you can offer, the better your business will perform with the GSA. Use as broad a scope as possible when determining which products and services you can list on a Schedule. Just like in the B2B arena, winning a contract often comes down to price. If the marketplace is crowded—e.g. a thousand GSA Schedule holders in the same Schedule—an agent may issue a solicitation to every company on the Schedule. In this case, your price is a key determinant of your success. Not all Schedules are created equal. Cooperative Purchasing is available to agents for two Schedules: Schedule 84 (law enforcement and security projects) and the aforementioned Schedule 70. This means an authorized federal or state department can procure products and services from these Schedules without having to go through the usual budgetary and regulatory hurdles—whenever they like, for any reason, with any available funds.
What Connections Can You Leverage?
Connections inside and outside the government are highly beneficial for contracting through GSA. Determine whether your business can subcontract any of its products and/or services—if your subcontractor has connections, they will try to sell to the government, saving you time and resources. Once you are on a Schedule, consider how you can market your business to federal agencies. You can find local agencies, military bases, and other federal buildings in your area at USA.gov’s A–Z departments and agencies directory. Cultivating a relationship is as easy as picking up the phone. You may also decide to use a liaison—many businesses with GSA Schedule contracts employ in-house or third-party marketers to create connections and sell directly to federal agencies.
Getting on a GSA Schedule is an effective foundation for contracting with the federal government, but requires patience and careful strategic planning. You do not need to go it alone. Consult with an experienced government contracting attorney, like the ones at Offit Kurman Attorneys at Law. We can help you navigate the hurdles of winning government contracts, and achieve your federal contracting goals. If you have any further questions about pursuing a government contract through GSA or other questions related to government contracting please contact Edward Tolchin Esq. at: firstname.lastname@example.org | 240.507.1769 Government contracts attorney Edward Tolchin’s practice is focused on government contracting, Business litigation, and technology matters. In government contracting issues, Mr. Tolchin represents prime and subcontractors in contract negotiation and formation matters and in disputes involving both government and commercial business issues. He has been involved in procurement cases before many of the federal and state boards of contract appeal, Government Accountability Office, Small Business Administration, United States Court of Federal Claims, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and other federal and state courts across the United States. His Business litigation practice involves large and small matters in federal and state courts and before numerous arbitration panels. In the technology arena, Mr. Tolchin has assisted in disputes, licensing, and business development matters for clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. You can also connect with Offit Kurman via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn.