The U.S. government is the country’s largest consumer, spending nearly $589 billion each fiscal year on contracts. Entering such a large market may seem daunting, but a huge opportunity exists in that market with the federal government’s goal of dedicating at least 23 percent of its dollars to small businesses. Government agencies get “small-business credits” for contracting with small businesses, and additional credits when that small business is woman- or veteran-owned, or is a disadvantaged business.
In the government market, being a small business can provide a competitive advantage. The General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule program is designed in part to help small businesses compete head-to-head on a level playing field for government business. Because of increased exposure to federal agencies, ease of ordering procedures and the possibility of participating in teaming arrangements with other schedule contractors, more than 30 percent of annual sales from the GSA Schedule program goes to small-business contractors. According to the GSA, any government purchase between $3,000 and $100,000 (in some cases, up to $250,000) must be set aside for small businesses. Moreover, the GSA Schedule offers the lowest cost of entry into the government for a commercial supplier, regardless of size.
If you’re not on the GSA Schedule, now’s the time to act, especially with the advent of a new administration. Every new administration appoints a transition team and every presidential transition team gets a majority of their products and services through the GSA Schedule, from office furniture and vehicles to BlackBerry devices and carpeting. Once you have a GSA Schedule contract, you’ll find additional advantages outside the government market. A GSA Schedule contract number demonstrates that you’re a trusted business—a seal of approval from the federal government. Here’s how to make the most of your GSA Schedule contract and maximize your exposure to potential buyers.
Maximize all Schedule investments. Start with only one contract number. One number will let you sell to the government, worldwide, for five years and to nongovernment entities that use the GSA Schedule. Howard University and The Red Cross, for example, look to the GSA Schedule for suppliers.
Use the Schedules e-Library. When you’re awarded a GSA Schedule contract, your company name, contract number, service or product, Web site are automatically listed in the Schedules e-Library on the GSA Web site. This is a listing of the latest contract award information. While there is nothing you need to do to be listed, you can take advantage of the listing once you’re there. First, make sure all the information is correct and make sure your keywords are accurate. Provide a link to your own commercial Web site. Government customers can search by keyword, contract number, special item number (SIN), etc. Customers can also search by socioeconomic status. If you own a small, disadvantaged, woman-owned and/or veteran-owned business, it’s in your best interest to ensure this information is available and accurate. Government buyers may come to you based solely on your business size.
GSA Advantage!®. Once you have a GSA Schedule contract, make sure your company and product information is available through GSA Advantage! This is an electronic shopping and ordering system for the government—an online catalogue. You must populate GSA Advantage! yourself. This is a commonly forgotten task. Companies get so caught up in celebrating their contract award(s), they forget to take advantage of free marketing opportunities.
e-Buy is an e-must. e-Buy is a component of GSA Advantage! It is an online RFQ (request for quotation) tool to help both the contractor and buyer obtain a more targeted response to a service or product request. It works by sending you an automatic notification when an RFQ has been issued in your service or product area. If, for example, an office within the Department of Health and Human Services needs copier maintenance, copier companies participating in e-Buy are automatically
e-mailed that RFQ.
GSA offers free marketing. GSA’s bimonthly magazine, MarkeTips, covers acquisition programs, training and upcoming events. GSA Schedule holders are entitled to free advertising in this publication. Bear in mind that the wait for ad space is usually quite long.
The No. 1 way to stand out among the thousands of GSA Schedule suppliers is to demonstrate your ability to be a stable provider. Show that you’re experienced and engaged in government for the long haul. Show that you’re reliable, trustworthy and that you’ll provide whatever support will be necessary now and for the foreseeable future.
Bill Gormley is president and chief executive officer of the Washington Management Group (www.washmg.com ), a leading GSA Schedule contract consulting services firm.