Construction services make up a large share of government requirements at all levels, and there are many types of jobs contractors can bid on. To get the work, you need to be regularly bidding on government contracts. Bidding means responding to requests for proposals, or RFPs. By making your RFP response timely, complete and descriptive, you can improve your chances of winning government contracts. Here’s how.
A government agency will release an acquisition plan that specifies the work required and its budget. While developing the AP, the agency also does vendor outreach to locate interested contractors. Next, the agency releases an RFP. You can find these RFPs at government bidding websites and at your local and state government agency procurement offices. Once you find the RFPs that fit your expertise, you are ready to start bidding on government contracts.
Assess Your Business Readiness
Everybody in construction wants to work with others who know what they’re doing. The government is no exception. In some ways, the government is more challenging to break into than other contracting forms. The key criteria for success are:
- History of delivering quality on time and on budget;
- A strong reputation within your construction sector;
- History of working as a sub with existing government contractors; and
- Thorough knowledge of the government contracting rules and procedures.
When going for contracts with the federal government, there are a couple of other ‘should-haves,’ like:
- Contacts or relationships within the federal contracting community, such as previous work as a sub with existing federal contractor companies, or two years’ experience in government work;
- The willingness and ability to invest between $80,000 and $130,000 to land the first contract.
Many government contracting construction companies started out small. By taking on low dollar contracts, they had a chance to learn the systems and get to know the people who develop the APs and RFPs.
Other successful contracting companies approached government contracting as a long-term project. First, they set themselves up with an ample supply of private work. Then they developed their government contracting plans, often spanning at least two years. When they started bidding on government contracts, their planning paid off because they had taken time to become experts at the government contracting process.
Pick Your Entry Point
Just as in regular contracting, you have options when bidding on government contracts. You can approach it as a general contractor or act as a subcontractor for other government contractors.
The Small Business Administration has a website called SubNet where you can find contractors looking for subs. Contractors with subcontracting plans are also available here. The GSA has a subcontracting directory, and the Department of Defense maintains a listing of prime contractors. You can use that list to find subcontracting opportunities with established DOD contractors.
The federal government also tries to involve small businesses with its small business set-asides. The government automatically sets aside contracts for small businesses on projects with values of $150,000 or less. You can also find sole-source set-asides for unique services and products you might supply as the sole vendor.
If your business fits into special categories, you have other options. You can find set-asides for business development and for special geographic zones. If your business is woman-owned or disabled veteran-owned, there are set-asides for you as well. Besides the federal government, there are many government contracting entry points with your own municipal, county, and state agencies.
Government RFPs come with hard deadlines, so it’s important to recognize them and comply. Make your searches for RFPs match your expertise. Avoid starting an RFP proposal on projects you have less chance of winning.
The second aspect of RFP timeliness is their ‘surprise factor.’ Agencies will issue RFPs requiring quick turnarounds. Take steps to act fast on RFPs fitting your expertise. For instance, once you know an agency’s required submission format, make a template that includes all the standard information you are likely to submit for any RFP response to that agency. This will allow you to focus on the information unique to the project.
Besides providing all the company information required, you must prove your solution’s superiority. Just don’t give away too much. If a procurement agent likes the key factor that makes your proposal unique, they might ask other bidders if they can supply the same. So it’s a balancing act of providing enough information to add value without making that value a commodity any bidder can deliver.
Point out how you are best positioned to deliver the project, and be sure to answer all the questions the agency asks in the RFP. Include customer testimonials that match the project type and scope of the RFP.
Descriptive Bidding on Government Contracts
RFP proposals can get very gray and boring without visual support. Images and graphs can help tell your story. They can better show technical details while doing it more effectively than words. Use words familiar to the agency and include their logos or property images to custom-tailor the proposal.
While details are important, you don’t want to get too descriptive when discussing pricing. The agency is always going to look for ways to get the price down. Don’t provide details that would make it easy to cut into your margin. Price items at a high level, just like when doing a schedule of values. Then leave some room in your prices so the agency can come up with savings as they slice and dice the numbers.
Finally, at every government level, you will have rules to follow, so use all the contracting resources supplied by the agency to understand those. If they offer training materials, use them. When you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.