Friday, November 1, 2013

Selling to State and Local Government. Where do you start?

Are you trying to navigate the maze of government contracting?  Do you think you are ready to sell to the government?  First be honest.  Here are some questions to think about before you start submitting bids.
Signing up can be a maze!
Image:  WikiMedia

  • Are you ready?  
  • Could you realistically fulfill a big order or job?  
  • Do you have the cash flow to order supplies and/or merchandise to fill that order?  
  • And get paid 90 days after completion (and often after the General gets paid)?  
  • Are you proficient in filling out forms and doing business online?
  • Are you familiar with prevailing wage and other reporting requirements?
  • Do you think the Federal Government wants to be your first customer?

If you do not have any past experience or cannot figure out how to get your foot in the door, you might consider trying to get some traction by doing business with your state and local government agencies.  Local governments generally have a purchasing department, advertise in the legal section or post bids online. Purchasing officers are great connections to make.  The dollar amounts may differ from state to state on public bid notices, but the process is similar.  

Here is a very short rundown on finding out how to do business with Washington State, and Spokane area agencies.  Your Spokane Business Advisors can help lead you through these processes if you need help, please call to set up an appointment. 

Washington State

There are two portals that agencies throughout Washington post bid opportunities.  Both sites require a simple registration.  Some agencies use one or both.  In my experience, WEBS is easier to sign up, navigate and review bid announcements.  


Washington's Electronic Business Solution (WEBS) https://fortress.wa.gov/ga/webs/

The WEBS site lists many bids from community colleges, some county agencies and others that you might not think about like the University of Washington and Washington State Patrol.  

Many of these bids list the contracting officer, and you can also sign up for any alerts or to be notified of any changes or addendums.  I recommend checking weekly or every other week.  I have noticed a lot of the RFP/RFQ's have a short turnaround time, unlike the Federal government notices.There are a few tricks to WEBS.  


First, when you register, you indicate your business commodity codes and location codes.  The default searches only those codes.  I recommend that when you log in, you search 'All Commodities" and "All Locations" so you don't miss something that may be coded differently than your selections.

The other tip is to use the "back" button, rather than the arrows.  On occasion, using the back button will take you all the way out and you have to sign in again.

Here is a sampling of open bids (as of 11/01/13), ranging from services, public works projects, supplies, consulting and more:

  • Armored car services
  • Banking Services
  • Classroom A/V
  • Nutrition Consultants
  • First Aid Training
  • Landscaping, Janitoral Services
  • OB-GYN Services
  • Remodel baseball dugout
  • Used golf cars
  • TI Calculators


Public Purchase:  http://www.publicpurchase.com/gems/sd81,wa/buyer/public/home


This website is a larger portal that some Washington agencies, like the Spokane School District, use.  It has a limited free edition.  It is very apparent that they encourage paid subscriptions.  In some cases, you can locate the bids on the agency website.  The nice feature of Public Purchase is that it does have a search feature to review past awards. 


Small Works Rosters (Also called Vendor Lists)

Some cities and government agencies encourage contractors and firms to register on a Small Works Roster or Vendor List.  The benefit to registering is that many times, a public agency can refer to the list if the estimated dollar amount of the project is under the state bid law.  For example, if you register your electrical contracting firm and they need an electrician for an emergency repair job, they can call someone off the list rather than having to bid out the work. 

Last year, Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC), a non-profit organization that has been serving Washington local governments for more than 75 years, has helped agencies streamline this process. As recognized local government experts, MRSC has developed a statute-based roster service that maintains public agency individual small public works rosters (RCW 39.04.155) and consultant rosters (Chapter 39.80) within a shared database and assists businesses with the roster application process.

319 Washington cities, counties, and special purpose districts use MRSC Rosters, including 143 Cities, 11 County Governments, 46 Fire Districts, 25 School Districts, 14 Ports, and 30 water/sewer districts. A full list of participating public agencies can be found at http://mrscrosters.org/PartAgencies.aspx.  Not all agencies participate; in those cases, a business owner would need to register with each entity.  


Sample Legal Ad
Call for Small Works Roster

Other

For certain fields like Architects and Engineering, some agencies will have a separate roster.  For example Spokane Public Schools has a Small Works Roster and an Architects and Engineers Roster that is advertised annually (2013 RFP was on their website on 10.29.31). Typically these are required to follow Washington State Public Notice laws and are advertised in the Legal Section of the local newspaper.  One way to find out when the notices are usually advertised is to review current or past notices.

Get to know the General Contractors
A lot of federal contracts are awarded to general contractors.  It can be helpful to join the Association of General Contractors (Spokane region) or other type association.  These types of associations usually offer an affiliate membership for certain types of businesses, and also often are a designated location for plan reviews.


Federal Contracts  

Start the SAM registration process!  If you are not familiar with SAM, it is the main registration portal for the Federal Government.  It was previously known as Central Contractor Registration (CCR).  It is not an easy registration process and can be time consuming.  I would recommend signing up sooner than later if you intend to pursue federal work.  

I recommend clients print out the step-by-step instructions first, then you can get everything you need together before you sit down and tackle the registration.  You’ll need detailed information on banking, NAICS codes, company owners, etc.  If you were in CCR, your CCR username will not work anymore. https://www.sam.gov/portal/public/SAM/


You first need to get a DUNS number.  This is available FREE and you can call or go online.  Do not pay (sometimes you get routed to a business that tries to sell you something…do not pay).  Use the links on SAM to get to the correct agency that issues DUNS numbers. 

Download the SAM Full User Guide, print it out and make notes.  It will help as you are filling in the information online and actually make things go faster. 


I would also recommend taking the “Introduction to Government Contracting” class offered through our local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).  


Idaho

State of Idaho purchasing.  According to the website, 
"We manage all aspects of contracting with vendors to provide products and services to state agencies. We also provide purchasing training for state purchasing personnel. Most large purchases, formal, sealed bids, and proposals over $100,000, are processed by our office. Generally, smaller purchases (quotes under $100,000) are handled by the individual state agencies."
Idaho lists current statewide contracts and in some cases you could review your competitor's award pricing. Washington awards are not as easy to locate.To view bid opportunities, first register online

Think ahead

If you are just starting out, continue to build your business so you:

  • are adequately capitalized;
  • work any kinks in your bidding and pricing out; and 
  • make connections.

One of the most important things is to plan now if you want to start bidding on government jobs. The registration process can be cumbersome and there can be hold ups that could cost you a contract.  You do not want to risk future jobs by being unprepared if you cannot deliver.