Do you have a DUNS number? What’s your primary NAICS code? Have you made a standout SAM profile?
Just getting into government contracting can be daunting to a business that hasn’t entered that arena before. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information out there to help businesses large and small understand and navigate the field of government contracting. The best part? Most of the information is available free.
As a presenter in the free online “Government Contracting 101” course available through www.sba.gov put it, “Knowledge is everything: You don’t know what you don’t know.” Jumping into government contracting without doing a little research can cost businesses time and money. But getting up to speed isn’t hard; the Small Business Administration offers several online classes and online guides to help a business understand the process.
The Alaska Procurement Technical Assistance Program, or PTAC, is also a valuable resource for businesses venturing into federal contracting. The national program was set up to help companies navigate the government contracting process, said PTAC program manager Carolyn Pratt.
Pratt said PTAC assists anyone, from a business interested in learning how to find contracting opportunities, to helping bidders decide whether to protest an award, to contractors that are dealing with a payment issue.
Pratt said she’s seen a general uptick in interest in federal contracting after the numerous presentations from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District representatives. At a conference in March, after presentations from Lockheed Martin, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation Federal and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were well attended. The three organizations are working together on the Long Range Discrimination Radar project at Clear Air Force Station.
Pratt said she sees several recurrent problems for companies new to contracting. One common problem is simply not meeting minimum requirements, such as being registered in the federal database System for Award Management (or SAM), or having a Data Universal Numbering System (or DUNS) number, which is needed to establish a business credit file with the government.
Another common problem is that businesses don’t expect the government payment cycle, which can be significantly longer than commercial business cycles — think 90 days versus 30 days. And if an error is made in the invoice, the process can take longer, even if the error is not the fault of the contractor.
A third common problem, she said, is that businesses may overestimate their ability to perform the task. Like most problems, this issue is generally avoidable if the company keeps an open line of communication with its contracting officer.
“Sometimes a company gets scared, or they’re trying to backpedal and cover up what their challenges are. In many cases, these can be resolved by contacting their contract officer,” she said.
PTAC is holding monthly workshops titled “Are You Ready If Opportunity Knocks?” in Fairbanks through the fall. The workshops are every second Thursday at the Alaska PTAC office at 3750 Bonita St. in Fairbanks.
Nancy Porzio, the Small Business Administration Alaska District director, said her office is also seeing an increase in interest in federal contracting and is hearing from businesses new to federal contracting. Her office works to help them with the basics and steers them toward other programs that might be helpful.
“They need to know about bonding,” Porzio said of new businesses seeking to get into federal contracting. SBA promotes a surety bond guarantee program to assist small businesses.
“They need financing,” she said. SBA offers financing to businesses through the 7(a) Guaranteed Loan Program that works in partnership with local lenders.
“We fund all aspects of a business operation to include working capital. That is critical when a company is seeking contracts,” Porzio said. “And one of the critical areas that we focus on these days is having mentors.”
The SBA has a new mentor-protege program for any firm that qualifies as a small business, she said. Having the help of a company that has been through the contracting process can make a huge difference to a new business or a business new to government contracting.
For companies that qualify under the minority-owned or other 8(a) rules, SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program can be a useful tool. It’s a nine-year program in which a business meets regularly with SBA specialists who perform regular checks on numerous aspects of their business, from making sure employees are treated well to checking that the business has filed appropriate taxes.
“We’ve been pretty successful helping these businesses get off to a good start. We do see, when they go through the 8(a) program and get into contracting, their success rate goes sky high,” Porzio said.
SBA offers monthly 8(a) orientation classes on the third Wednesday of each month. It also offers a “First Friday” workshop series the first Friday of each month with various topics. Both are held at the SBA Alaska office at 420 L St., Suite 300 in Anchorage.
For more information on the programs and services of the SBA, visit its website at www.sba.gov/ak.
Rindi White is a writer for MARCOA Media Alaska.