What does a veteran know about business? Turns out former military members often do quite well as business owners because of our discipline, respect for and adherence to processes and procedures, and our determination to see things through to the end. Perhaps you are considering becoming a veteran entrepreneur. Whether you decide to become a franchise owner, build your company from scratch or take ownership of a family business, you should consider whether your company offers goods and services that the federal government wants to buy.
The truth is the government buys just about everything you can think of. And it’s not just the obvious items such as general contracting/construction, training development, office supplies and vehicles. Here is a sample list of recently requested items that may surprise you:
- Aerobics and fitness instruction
- Document storage and reproduction
- Trash removal and recycling
- Shoeshine kits, hairbrush and comb sets, lint brushes
- Cosmetology instructor
- Lodging and conference services
- Meeting facilitation
As a bonus – being a Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) or Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) is an advantage. Federal agencies have procurement goals for doing business with VOSBs and SDVOSBs.
So, how does one “do business with the government”? As someone who is going that route herself, here is the down and dirty list.
1. The SDVOSB is a certifiable designation, so you have to go through a formal process to attain the designation. It’s not hard to do, but you do have to do it. The Department of the Veterans Affairs VetBiz page has a good explanation of the process
2. Get a DUNS number . It is a unique 9-digit identification number assigned to a business. It is free to obtain. You’ll need it for the next step.
3. Register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) website. You cannot get a government contract if you are not in the CCR. It is free to register.
4. Figure out which North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes are related to your business and make sure you associate them with your profile in the CCR. For example, if your company does junk removal and recycling you can look up NAICS codes for those services using “recycling”, “sanitation”, “hauling”, “garbage”, etc. as keywords. Be very thorough and pick as many NAICS codes as necessary even if it just touches on what you do. Read the next tip to find out why.
5. Once you are in the CCR, register in Federal Business Opportunities (commonly known as FedBizOps). You can set up watch lists for your various NAICS codes so you get daily/weekly emails with any Requests For Proposals/Presolicitations, etc. that are newly posted to FedBizOps. Agencies sometimes send out a blast email to companies with a particular NAICS code in their profile to alert them to an opportunity coming down the pike, so it is a good way to find out information early.
6. Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). They can give you advice, training, and help you make connections and introductions in the federal government. Most of their services are free. Some of their classes may cost a minimal amount ($25-100 depending on the topic).
7. Contact the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) for each federal agency you want to do business with. They are very helpful and it is their job to help you make connections within the agency and to explain “how to do business” with that agency.
8. Search each agency’s OSDBU web page to see if the agency has a “vendor outreach” day or other event where SDVOSB/VOSB’s can come to the agency and meet with various contracting officers from that agency (sort of like speed dating for contractors). There are also a lot of conferences you can attend (two good lists are at http://www.osdbu.gov/general.html and at http://www.fbcinc.com/search.aspx) to do a larger-scale meet and greet with a lot of federal agencies and other small businesses and learn something from the seminars offered at the conference. A lot of these events are in the Washington, DC area but several are held in other locations. Two big ones you should try to attend: 20th Annual OSDBU Procurement Conference, April 21, 2010 in Chantilly, VA (near Dulles Airport in the DC area), and there is a really big one just for veterans called the 6th Annual National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas July 19-22, 2010.
9. Decide if being on a General Services Administration (GSA) schedule is right for you. There are many different schedules, covering lots of different types of products and services. You can search for schedules by keyword at GSA’s eLibrary. For example, recycling services are covered under 9 different schedules. You can be on more than one schedule, and that eLibrary site will display which companies are registered under each schedule (a good way to check out your competition).
Basically, being on a schedule makes it easier for the government to do business with you because you are already “pre certified” in their eyes. Many agencies will look to schedule holders first when announcing opportunities (schedule holders have their own website where opportunities are posted that are not posted in FedBizOps). If it makes sense for your business, all the steps for the process and even video how-to’s are on GSA’s web site. However, the more specialized your product or service, the less sense it may make to be on a schedule. It is great for commodities (i.e., pens, lumber, gravel, office supplies) and highly competitive general services (i.e., janitorial services).
You can “get on the schedule” yourself and it is free; however, it is a 4-8 month process and a lot of writing and paperwork to get on a schedule, so don’t think you can do this in a weekend. Know that once you are registered in the CCR there are companies who will send you emails and snail mail offering to “help you get on the schedule”. They generally charge anywhere from $6,000-20,000 to do it. Many of them do offer free seminars on “how to do business with the government”, and those can actually be fairly helpful (some more than others). The PTACs also offer those kinds of classes for no or low cost and GSA has those classes for free as well.
Last but not least: the most important thing to keep in mind when trying to do business with anyone/any agency is that your status as a SDVOSB/VOSB is NOT what is going to get you a contract. You have to have a product or service that an agency needs, and you still have to sell yourself as the best provider of that product or service. Being a SDVOSB/VOSB is the “icing on the cake” because agencies do have goals for doing business with disadvantaged businesses. However, they aren’t just going to hand you a contract because of your status.
I just came back from a conference in Tampa for SDVOSBs and VOSBs and I cannot tell you the number of business cards I was handed that said something along the lines of “Bradley and Company – a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business” and NOTHING ELSE. One day from now when I am going through these cards I am not going to have any idea what Bradley and Company does. Are they a general contractor? A records and documents company? A seller of office supplies? One tidbit I learned in a class was to put my status (I am a VOSB and a WOSB – a Woman Owned Small Business), my DUNS, my CAGE code and all of my associated NAICS codes on my business card. I printed up a bunch of labels with that info and plastered them on the back of my existing cards. I also made a tri-fold prospectus for my company and put all that info on the back of the prospectus as well. I use those cards and marketing materials when I attend the vendor outreach days/conferences so the contracting officers know what I do from the front of the card and how to do business with me from the back of the card.