How to Become a Federal Government Contractor

Find a step-by-step list of how to get your business ready to bid on and win federal government contracts.

Get Your Business Ready for Federal Contracting

Each year, the government awards hundreds of billions of dollars in federal contracts to businesses to meet the needs of federal agencies and the military. The government’s goal is to award at least 23 percent of those contracts to small businesses.

To sell your products or services to the federal government, your business must meet specific requirements. Although the contracting process can seem complicated and overwhelming at first, the government provides lots of information and tips to help you learn to compete as a federal contractor.

Find Sources of Federal Contracts

There are several different ways you can find opportunities to do business with federal agencies and the military.  You can use these resources to get a sense of the federal marketplace for the products or services your business offers.

 

Prepare Your Business for Federal Contracting in 8 Steps

Make sure you read through all of the steps in the list before getting to work. This will help you understand your timeline and what to expect from the process. You may also choose to reorder these steps to fit the specific needs and timing of your work.

  1. Decide if federal contracting is a good idea for your business. Consider factors including whether your company has enough time and resources to invest in the process. GSA’s Vendor Toolbox can help you make the decision.
  2. Research the demand and pricing for your product or service within the government. Determine demand for your products or service with the Contracting Opportunity Finder, FedBizOpps, or the GSA Forecast of Contracting Opportunities Tool. And use the Contract-Awarded Labor Category (CALC) site to get an idea of hourly labor rates in federal contracts.
  3. Avoid costly errors and potential legal problems by researching the regulations and laws for federal contractors. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers resources that can help you learn about the responsibilities of federal contractors. You can also contact a Procurement Center Representative (PCR) for assistance and counseling.
  4. Create a business plan. It should include a marketing plan, staffing details, and a calculation of how much money you expect your business to gain from the contract.
  5. Look up the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code for your industry. You must know your six-digit NAICS code to compete for federal contracts.
  6. Determine whether your business is eligible for any special labels (set-aside types) or programs. If so, you can compete for additional contracts that are “set aside” by the government for small and/or disadvantaged businesses. You may also receive preferential treatment when competing for contracts, depending on the specific set-aside type(s) you qualify for.
  7. Register for a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) code. You must have a nine-digit DUNS code to compete for federal contracts. The government uses this code to track your company’s credit record. This system is managed by Dun & Bradstreet, which is a private company. Registration is free for federal contractors.
  8. Register in the System for Award Management (SAM). You must have a SAM account to compete for federal contracts. The government uses this system to store information about your business, including certifications, so it’s important to keep your SAM profile updated. Registration is free.

Note: While learning about contracting, you may see information online about the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), however, this system was replaced by SAM. Currently, contractors only need to register in SAM.

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How to Bid on a Federal Government Contract Solicitation

Once you’ve completed the steps to get your business ready for federal contracting, you can begin the steps for searching for and responding to contracting opportunities.

  1. To find a federal contracting opportunity that’s a strong match with the products and services your business is prepared to offer, start your search with the Contracting Opportunity Finder. This tool is geared to businesses new to federal contracting. You can also search for contracting opportunities that are posted through individual agencies or on FedBizOpps, which allows you to register to receive notifications when opportunities that match your business products or services are posted.
  2. Read all of the documentation about the contracting opportunity very carefully. Every opportunity is different and reading all of the information is extremely important so you’ll understand the requirements.
  3. Make sure you’re responding to a solicitation rather than a presolicitation, which is often just a request for information and not actually a request for offers. If you need help understanding what certain contracting terms mean, visit the Contracting Opportunity Finder glossary.
  4. Ask questions--don’t guess. Before you submit your material, get your questions answered by reaching out to the agency contact person listed in the solicitation, or a Procurement Center Representative.
  5. Submit the requested forms and technical, past performance, and pricing information in the appropriate format by following the instructions in the solicitation. (Only the person legally authorized to enter into contracts for your business should sign forms.)
  6. Prepare to negotiate your best offer with the government. Make sure you know the pricing you included in your offer and have a strong understanding of the requirements listed in the solicitation.

A federal agency may reject or seek clarifications on your submission if it is incorrect, unclear, incomplete, or late. Many contract submissions are unsuccessful for these reasons. Give your business its best chance by responding to the solicitation on time and correctly the first time.

After You Submit an Offer

The government usually takes 30 to 120 days to review submissions. A Contracting Officer (CO) handles each review. Generally, contracts are awarded based on multiple factors, including

  • How responsible and responsive a business is
  • How technically acceptable a proposal is
  • Past performance references
  • Pricing and terms of the proposal

Once your offer is reviewed, you will receive a response from the government. The response could let you know your offer has been accepted or rejected, it could be a request to schedule a meeting to negotiate terms, or it could be a request for more information. If you do not receive a response from the government within three months, reach out to the contact person listed in the solicitation.

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