Every federal agency has a small business office, the entry point for startups and small companies that want to sell their products or services to the government.
The main function of the OSDBU (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) is to meet with small contractors and advise them to work with their agencies. Any small business can request an appointment, but they must be scheduled in advance.
OSDBUs can be very helpful if you go in prepared. If you go in unprepared, the officers will be much less receptive and you will probably have a short visit.
Once you’ve scheduled an appointment, there are a few things you should do beforehand, at the appointment, and afterwards.
Before You Go
Realize that your small business status is NOT your competitive advantage. It’s true that agencies must meet a certain quota of small business salespeople, but the person you’re meeting with wants to know what your company can do to solve their immediate problem.
Know what you bring to the party. What is your company’s key competitive advantage or capability? How does this fit into what the agency buys? Is your skill or product clearly expressed in your marketing materials and on your website? Do you have any experience of government contract-prime minister or sub?
I know how the government buys what you are selling. Is it a GSA schedule or another contract vehicle? Does the agency go into small business contracting?
If you are new to the market and do not yet have access to any contracts, it is helpful to understand which contracts this agency uses. If you have access to a contract that the agency does not use, you need to devise a strategy to get access to the right contract. Each agency has contract preferences.
Resources that will answer the above questions:
- Research the agency’s website, especially anything related to procurement. You are looking for information on the contracts the agency uses and the names of key personnel. Search for staff on LinkedIn and either follow them or connect with them.
- Search the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) to see which contracts the agency prefers.
- Find and read Office of Management and Budget Submission 300 (aka Exhibit 300). OMB 300 describes future capital expenditures, including the purchase of IT and professional services. If you are an IT company, read OMB 53, which is tailored for IT services. Every government department is required to submit the OMB 300 and 53. After reading them, you need to decide, does what you offer match what that agency needs?
- Prepare one a page document to leave behind those details your company information, your area of expertise, NAICS codes, key personnel experience and biographies, contact information, relevant certifications, contracts, and current and past federal clients.
- Follow the agency (as a company page) on LinkedIn.
Make a plan to enter. that means using the information you received about the agency and its needs in the meeting. Don’t talk about “me” or “my company”. Instead, be prepared to ask intelligent questions that will yield useful information.
Don’t expect a contract by visiting an OSDBU. They don’t make purchasing decisions. Don’t think you’re eligible for a contract just because you’re in a special category – HUBZone, 8a, women-owned or service-disabled, veteran-owned business.
Go in with the right attitude. Expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Expect to learn about the agency’s mission and challenges. Look forward to learning where you can fit into his mission. Expect to learn:
- who are the decision makers and how to reach them,
- which contract vehicles the agency prefers and who are its current sellers,
- which major prime contractors are working there and who their small business liaisons (SBLOs) are.
At the meeting, you should be able to access the agency’s Forecast of Contract Opportunities. This is a document prepared by the agency in relation to the activity envisaged in their current contracts – a map of where the expenditure will be made.
Pro tip: Try to learn at least partial answers to some of these questions before the meeting. The more you know before you go, the more likely you are to walk away with useful information—information that can lead to business!
After the visit
You should know by the end of the meeting if the agency is a good target for your services. If so, stay in touch AND do what the small business officer suggested. Contact anyone recommended by OSDBU and connect on LinkedIn. Send a thank you email. See if that particular office is on LinkedIn and connect with them.
Continue to do research about what you learned about the agency. Monitor government media regularly to see what they are doing and sign up for any news releases you can find about that agency. There are many sources of information available.
If you are new to government contracting, be patient. Invest in your education through legitimate sources, learn how to answer the required questions and requirements before bidding, use LinkedIn to find key personnel and finally….network, network, network!