According to the Small Business Administration, during this last recession there were more entrepreneur and small businesses started then any time in recent history. Why? Because many of the disillusioned laid off workers decided that they were not going to work for a company as an employee anymore. They wanted to determine their own fate and destiny, or work in a field that more closely aligned with their values or passion, so they started their own business enterprise. Along this growth, many of these new businesses, as well as those who were well established, started looking at government as a potential client. With private industry controlling its spend and a shrinking economy, it was recognized that government will always make purchases. As an organization that serves the needs of many, government still needs to operate during good times and bad.
As the former Purchasing Agent for the City of San Diego, I oversaw the purchasing and contracting activities of over $1B (yes, B!) worth of commodities, services and construction. And I can tell you that governments – both local and federal – buy a lot of different kinds of stuff. Year in and year out…all year long. Whether it is flak jackets and ammunition for police; chain saws for fire fighters; fertilizer for park and recreation, office supplies for libraries, graphic art for the water conservation program, pet food for animal shelters, or consulting services for management, the needs and wants are far and wide.
However, government can be a difficult client to understand. The sales cycle is a long one, often taking months to finally obtain a contract. The rules can be complicated, with long proposals and confusing terms and conditions. In addition, just navigating the various departments and hierarchy to find the right person to meet can be a challenge by itself. But it is possible. And as someone who works with companies trying to garner government business, it’s a matter of learning some new skill sets and an underlying persistence that will eventually help you win and retain this lucrative business. And the best part…once you land a government contract, it usually comes with a long-term commitment of at least five years or more. That’s a good backbone income stream for a small business.
To explore whether you think government might be a prospective client for your business, here are three first steps:
1) Research the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) or National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) to see how your services or goods fall within the procurement codes that codify the different categories or types of purchases that governments. Just looking at the long list of codes will open your eyes to the many types of commodities that government is interested in purchasing.
2) Go online to the City or County in which you know live or work and see how to register as a vendor. There is no cost – it’s FREE – and once you register, any bid opportunities that pertain to your company will automatically be emailed to you. There is no obligation, and merely keeps you in the loop of seeing the potential prospects from that organization. I would suggest that you register on several sites. For instance, if you live in the City of Carlsbad, then register with their site, but also register with the City of San Diego, City of Del Mar, County of San Diego and City of San Marcos. This will provide you with multiple opportunities that are very close to your place of business.
3) Attend a local “how to do business” class that is offered by a local government purchasing department. They routinely provide outreach classes, particularly for small, minority or woman-owned businesses. It is a free way to learn about government opportunities and be exposed to the network of government agencies who might be looking for your services.
Remember, you have something to sell and government might be buying your service. Why let that local, and sometimes big, client go by without some type of consideration?
About Your Columnist
Tammy Rimes is a featured columnist for Women Taking Charge, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence, where she covers how anyone can become spectacular at what they do. Tammy Rimes owns Hacienda de las Rosas Winery, featured on the front page of USA Today, and winner of the 2014 San Diego Reader’s Poll of Top 5 Wineries in San Diego County. Tammy is the author of “Drink Fine Wine…Ride Fine Horses – Leading the Life of Your Dreams,” a book that provides a fun and informative guideline on how anyone can begin their own dream life.
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