The process to land government bids takes a lot of thought, organization and paperwork, but the headache could be worth it
Working with the government can be great, but it can also be a complete nightmare.
On the plus side, it is guaranteed work. And if the pricing is good, these contracts can be worth a lot of money. But on the other side, working with the government is incredibly hard and the paperwork alone might make you insane.
I wish I could say that there is an easy step-by-step guide to working with the federal government, but that is never the case. It is basically a shot in the dark. But I will say that the first contract is always the hardest. And once you have taken that step, the process becomes a lot easier.
First, you have to find the work. There are multiple websites on which government jobs are posted. Some are free but there are some you have to pay to access. They also call restrooms everything from chemical toilets to latrines to vault toilets to temporary structures, so the search can take some time. If you don’t have time for all of this I recommend you pay for a search agency to do the work for you. Bidsync and GovCB.com are two that I have used and had really good results.
Once you have something on hand, be sure you have some free time. Government bids can range from a simple handful of pages to 150 pages of legal terms and FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) that can leave you cross-eyed.
The second step is to gather all of your information. The good news is that most government agencies require the same forms. So the first round will be a little brutal, but you will be able to reuse most of these forms in the future. You will need to have the following for most forms or websites, so make sure you have this information on hand:
- Legal Company Name
- Mailing Address
- Contact Information
- Tax ID Number
- NAICS Code
- Dun and Bradstreet Number
- CAGE Code
Third, each government website will require usernames and passwords that are long and ever-changing. I actually have a file in my phone with all of these because I can never remember them all. These passwords change every month or every ninety days, so you have to stay on top of them.
In my experience, most government bids and registrations occur during the wintertime, when I have extra time on my hands. I have also had really good luck using the help desk that each government website and agency provides. You might wait on hold for a while but they will always answer your questions. For example, Dun and Bradstreet is extremely helpful, and so is Sam.gov, which is the website for payment on government contracts. Some agencies are so well staffed they actually pick up on the first ring.
Another resource for help is the contract administrator. Once you are awarded work, that administrator wants you to keep it. Otherwise they have to go back out to bid. So when you have questions, they should be your first stop. If they can’t help you, they will put you in touch with the people who can.
Government work is largely made up of paperwork, which can be really frustrating and time-consuming. But it can also result in huge jobs like pumping all the toilets at a local base or being awarded an air show, which then orders hundreds of toilets. Don’t let the paperwork scare you away from potential work. But make sure you have the staff on hand to back up that work.
About the Author: Alexandra Townsend is co-owner of A Royal Flush, based in Philadelphia.
Have you done any work for the government? What was the experience like? Any tips for others?