4 Tips for Veterans Transitioning to Government Contractors
Posted in Uncategorized on December 5, 2017
In 2016, the U.S. federal government spent more than $390 million on goods and services to support and maintain its massive infrastructure. From low-tech/no-tech goods and services that keep commissaries stocked, to super-high tech specialty skills in cyber-security, the federal government employs thousands of contractors to meet its wide range of needs.
If you are an entrepreneurial-minded veteran, you may be in the perfect position to find your niche and make some impressive income as a government contractor.
Tips for Veterans Transitioning to Government Contractors
Also working in your favor is the fact that the U.S. federal government sets goals for utilizing specific demographics of service providers. In fact, federal agencies are required to fill approximately 23% of their contracts with work from small businesses.
The agencies also have set goals to work with HUBZone (small businesses located in “distressed census tract areas”), Service-Disabled Veterans (SDVOB) businesses, small disadvantaged businesses (SDBs) and women-owned small business (WOSB). If any of these categories apply to you or your company, there is even more incentive to break into the world of government contracts.
Below are four tips to keep in mind when starting work as a government contractor.
1. Count your military knowledge and experience.
From lingo to timelines to understanding the culture, your time in the military can be an asset in understanding how those in charge of government budgets confront challenges. You probably know from your own experience that certain deals and decisions can take a much longer time than in the civilian or commercial world, but that once you have established a trusted working relationship, it can take you far.
Potential government customers will value the fact you understand the constraints, guidelines and stipulations they operate under, and they will feel that much more comfortable working with you, knowing they aren’t having to start from square one. Additionally, on a more practical level, you may have developed certain skills and subject matter expertise (SME) in areas like communications, shipping, transportation and a wide range of other skills from your MOS. Similarly, if you have completed successful projects in the civilian or commercial world, it is helpful to include that as background information during your bid.
2. Do your research.
When preparing your approach into the entrepreneurial world of being a government contractor, you should not only consider your own interests, but ensure there is an ongoing need for your services. Spending time reviewing historical government spending data to ensure that agencies are indeed regularly spending money on what you’d like to provide. It’s advisable to narrow your search into areas that you’re most likely to win contracts and build on your success from there, rather than casting a wide net to a diverse list of proposals and contracts.
Other resources that give you insight into business opportunities available include:
- FedBizOpps: Federal government procurement opportunities of $25,000 and more (you can sign up for email alerts for upcoming contracts)
- Federal Procurement Data System
- State and local government websites
Additionally, being knowledgeable on, understanding and being willing to comply with federal procurement rules (FAR) will take you far in building trust with your potential customers. Title 48 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) has published uniform policies and procedures for acquisition to be used by all executive agencies. When a potential customer sees that you understand the applicable rules, it is a sign that you will most likely be a more efficient and useful contractor, who will require less oversight and training. Additionally, you can avoid many costly pitfalls by understanding FAR regulations. Once you’ve proven yourself reliable, this success will help carry you into future contracts for years to come.
3. Register for certification and training.
There are several ways to add additional credibility to your company and to your proposals, including certifications and trainings. However, some are absolutely required to be completed before you can even begin to apply for government contracts. For example, you must be registered with the System for Award Management (SAM) – previously known as the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) supplier database – to submit bids for government contracts. Additionally, if you let the certification lapse, it may take you even longer to get paid for work you have already completed. Registration firms like U.S. Federal Contractor Registration can (for a fee) help you in completing or renewing your SAM registration, as well as physically process the forms (SAM registration provided by the government is free but does not include the processing actions). You may also wish to leverage the firm’s tools – like a SAM certified logo for your email communications – that make it easier for government agencies to check your certification.
Additionally, your state may have its own set of registration and certification requirements. Remember that government agencies at local and state levels also have need for contractors and service providers; don’t forget to check those opportunities that may be smaller but build working relationships and momentum to larger bids. It’s a good idea to contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to learn more about your state’s requirements as well as get free help with your SAM registration, attend workshops and participate in free one-on-one counseling.
4. Sell yourself and network.
Just like the commercial world, whom you know in government and contractor circles can be important in knowing about and landing contracts. Consider registering with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and leverage its extensive amount of information on becoming a successful government contractor, including how to create a business plan and a list of upcoming networking events. Attend tradeshows and also consider creating one or more capabilities statements – with information presented based on your potential audience – as well as your bio, certifications, registrations, past performances.
You may also want to leverage these business relationships to act as a subcontractor to another business that has already won a contract. Again, starting small and gaining several examples of your successful work will help build your momentum and also show future employers that you can and will be able to work successfully for years to come.
Be persistent and don’t be discouraged; the average organization sends in four government bids before winning its first contract.