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Ask CJ – Mining for Gold in Government Contracts

Q: “I have started to expand my business and go after government contracts.  Do you know how I can grow that quicker?  I have been focusing on contracts with the State.”

A: When I first started to learn about government contracting, it totally overwhelmed me.  I was especially intimidated about the idea of doing business with the federal government.  It seemed so elusive and convoluted.  What type of business gets government contracts?  Where do you even start? 

NH Division of Economic Development Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine J. Davis

I attended a two day conference in Washington, DC a couple of summers ago all about federal contracting and realized that it isn’t all that mysterious or difficult after all.  It does, however, take time and a concerted effort.  Doing business with the government is just like doing business in the private sector; you have to work for it, create and maintain relationships and provide a quality product or service at the right price.  If you abuse the relationship by slacking off on quality or jacking up the price, you will lose that business.  The good news is that the government needs just about every good or service that you might provide.

If you are already doing business with the State of New Hampshire, you should be familiar with the basics but for those that may not be you can visit our website, www.nheconomy.com/ptap to learn about the services our government contracting group offers.  The services listed below highlight the offerings with the NH Procurement Technical Assistance Program:
• Identifying Business Codes (NAICS, SICS, FSC & PSC)
• Registering on all appropriate web sites (CCR, SBA & ORCA)
• Matching a firm’s product or service with that being purchased by the federal government
• Interpretation of solicitations
• Obtaining specifications
• Locating Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARS, DFARS & CFRS)
• Process Management Skills
• GSA – General Services Administration schedules

The first step is to get your business registered and identify the codes that are related to your business.  The PTAP group can help you with this process and the services are free.  They also will help you navigate the system and get through the infamous “red tape” that can be daunting in the beginning.  It is great that you are soliciting the State for business but there are plenty of other government contracting opportunities on the federal level right here in the State of NH.  The Air National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are just a few federal agencies with a NH presence.
 
I spoke with the director, Dave Pease, to see what’s new and exciting in government procurement.  Dave and his group work with every type of business at every stage of government contracting.  Since his arrival four years ago the agency has grown in their access to and knowledge of the resources available to the business community.  He strongly suggests that if you worked with them in the past but think you may have outgrown their services that you give them a call and see how they can continue to help your business.  He also mentioned an upcoming “matchmaker” that will take place in Burlington VT http://www.dodneregional.org from October 26th-28th.  It is a great opportunity to get in front of a lot of agencies in a short amount of time.

I spoke with several businesses that sell to the government; American Toners who sells almost exclusively to the government, SmartATI an emerging government contractor and Envirosystems.  I asked all of these women-owned businesses what suggestions or insight they could offer.  Lori Smart of Smart ATI listed her six “P’s” of doing business with the government; Planning, persistence, paperwork, working with prime contractors (to start), past performance and payoff.  Lori said it takes more time and effort than she had envisioned but after several years they are beginning to reap the benefits.  She also said that getting on the General Services Administration (GSA) schedules was a good way for them to advertise their products and services to the government.  The GSA is a tool that can help open doors as it is a list of pre-approved vendors that allows government agencies to do business from $100-$150,000 without going out for open bids.  Of course getting on the schedule requires an intense investment of time.  No free lunches that’s for sure. 

Janice Cobb of American Toners shared that it takes work, time and a willingness to change if you want to go down this avenue.  “You have to be willing to change with the times or you will be dead in the water.”  Petra Karbe of Envirosystems also stated that success comes from offering high quality products or services, excellent service and a competitive price.  Being woman-owned may open doors but you still need to prove you can do the job and do it well.  Apparently doing business with the government isn’t that different than doing business with the private sector after all.

Whether you have been in business for 20 years or just getting started, we have the resources and the expertise to answer your questions. You can e-mail me at Christine.Davis@dred.state.nh.us. I look forward to hearing from you.

Christine J. Davis works for the NH Division of Economic Development as a resource specialist serving businesses in Rockingham and Strafford counties. Her role is to provide the support needed for businesses so that they may remain viable and growing entities in the community. Ms. Davis lives in Exeter with her two daughters.  When not performing her work or parenting duties she can be found on her bike, in her garden or headed down Water Street in Exeter with her girls to get an ice cream.

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