"The Dos and Don'ts of Government Contracts" – Conference Coverage for American Express Open

When it comes to winning government contracts, it's all in the details. These 6 tips can help your company get the attention—and business—of the U.S. government.

By Andrea Carneiro

Government contracts are a ripe opportunity for small businesses, but navigating those opportunities can be daunting for even the most seasoned business owner. At a recent American Express OPEN for Government Contracting: Success Series event in Miami, experts shared their advice to help companies win contracts with the government. From solicitation to execution, here are the dos and don'ts of perfecting your plan—straight from those who have done it.

1. Do set a target.

No one can be everything to everyone. Casting a wide net when it comes to contracts can leave many businesses paralyzed at the starting gate. Rather, focusing on specific agencies in a targeted, concentrated way will help to speed up the process. “Don't take a shotgun approach," said Lebolo Construction Management owner Randy Lebolo, whose company received their first contract within four months of their 8(a) certification (a Small Business Administration program aimed at small socially or economically disadvantaged businesses). “We concentrated on the General Services Administration (GSA) market [which constructs, manages and preserves government buildings]. We met with every General. We drove them crazy." For Lebolo, small chances eventually led to larger opportunities.

But just designating that target can be tricky in and of itself. “Ask, 'Who buys what I sell?'" said Denise Rodriguez-Lopez, American Express OPEN adviser on teaming. “The answer is not always obvious or intuitive." What agency buys the most security guard services? Surprisingly, it's not the TSA, but the State Department, said Rodriguez-Lopez. And who buys the most milk? According to Rodriguez-Lopez, it's not the Department of Education, but the prison system.

2. Don't underestimate your capabilities.

Though many businesses looking into contracts are familiar with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the standard used by federal agencies in classifying business establishments, what they may not realize is that not all contract codes are easily decoded. Rodriguez-Lopez advised small businesses to set up alerts for contracts within their capabilities via NAICS codes, but emphasized that the codes should be as specific—and as creative—as possible.

Rodriguez-Lopez recalled a business she worked with that had extensive experience selling generators. When a contract came up for someone to teach government employees how to work with generators during emergency operations, the company missed out on a large contract when the contract was classified under “educational training," not “generators."

Read the full story in the American Express Open Forum.

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