“Teaming allows a small business to leverage the expertise of a group of firms to win the work,” Dyer said.
James Kanter, who heads business development for the Miami office of Lockwood, Andrews and Newman, a national architecture and planning firm with locations throughout the U.S., looks for certain criteria when making a decision on which small business to team with.
“First and foremost, I look for small businesses with established client relationships,” said Kanter. “For example, if I’m chasing work with a county agency, I want to have small businesses on the team that have relationships with that agency.”
Next, Kanter looks for a niche. “If a small firm specializes in a niche service that I need on the team, it is a firm that I would strongly consider joining forces with to win a government contract.”
For Dyer, choosing which small businesses to team with also involves passion, a strong portfolio and excellent references “because when our vendor and subcontractor partners are successful we are successful.”
To be successful in teaming with large prime contracts, small businesses are often asked to be exclusive to one team or another.
“It’s a business decision that you have to make,” said Garth, who is also president of Garth Solutions, a small business that has focused on diversity consulting for the past 10 years. “In my business, we almost always go exclusive to a prime. One, because it helps us to establish a deeper, more meaningful relationship with prime firms and two, because going exclusive also gives a chance to negotiate a better piece of the overall pie for your business.”
Garth acknowledges that small businesses that go exclusive to one team are taking a chance. “I’ve been on teams where we’ve gone exclusive and won and it’s been the other way around, where we’ve lost and were completely shut out of the work. So it is a calculated risk and you’ve got to weigh your options carefully.”
Other tips for success
Winning government contracts isn’t easy, but seasoned small business owners like Ross of Ross Engineering sometimes learn the hard way.
“When you’re going after a job and you team with a larger company, you may run into a situation where they use your firm because you’re a certified women-owned business,” said Ross. “But then when that company wins the work, you don’t hear from them again and you never get a piece of the pie.”
Ross recommends establishing your firm’s role on a team in advance and getting a teaming agreement if you can. “Teaming agreements are good because it clearly defines what you will be doing on the team,” said Ross. “You can negotiate to get a percentage of the overall contract or a set number of hours that you can bill for or even a portion of the scope of work that is designated specifically for your company.”
If you find yourself in that situation, Ross recommends following up often with the prime contractor or the government agency. “It’s up to you to make sure that you contact the prime contractor on a regular basis to get a status on the project and try to get work that was designated for your company.”
Louissaint adds two additional potential pitfalls often overlooked by small businesses that pursue government contracts. “Government agencies pay a bit slower than the private sector, so I advise firms to know the payment cycle and invoicing processes for a particular government agency before pursuing the contract,” she said
Small businesses should also understand that ideas, concepts and work product they pitch or produce for government agencies is public. “If you have a concept, idea or technology that you consider proprietary, there are sometimes steps you can take when pitching government, depending on the agency, to ensure that your concept is protected,” said Louissaint. “Those steps are usually outlined in the RFP or request for proposal that you submit. Read it carefully prior to submitting anything that you don’t want to be made public.”
Use the SBA’s free resources
If you’re a small business considering going after government contracts, “we have the counselors that can help your small business and there is no charge for this service,” said Brooks of the SBA. “We also have resource guides, free classes and workshops that small business owners can tap into.”
The SBA also works closely with SCORE to provide assistance to small businesses. SCORE is a national network of over 14,000 entrepreneurs, business leaders and former company executives who volunteer to mentor small businesses through local chapters.