Federal Contracts 101: Four Steps for Finding Federal Contracting Opportunities

By Global Services on Friday, May 24, 2019

As a new Federal contractor, you may be overwhelmed by the sheer number of Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that the Government issues. How do you choose where to focus your efforts? In this article, we’ll give an overview of how to get started finding and selecting the right federal contracts for your company to pursue.

1. Make sure your company is ready to bid on Federal contracts

*In order to do business with the Federal Government, you must first be registered in the System for Award Management, or SAM.

But before you can register in SAM, you’ll need a DUNS number. A DUNS (Data Universal Numbering System) number, issued by Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), is a unique identifying number assigned to your company.

*(Note: For the first time in over 20 years, GSA is moving to a new system of identification, known as SAMMI numbers. The switch-over is expected to be completed by December 2020. Until then, D&B’s DUNS numbers are still required for SAM registration).

Once you’ve registered in SAM, you will also be issued a CAGE Code, another unique identifier.

2. Focus your efforts on specific Federal customers

New Federal contractors often want to sell to “the Government.” That’s not wrong, exactly, but it’s a goal that’s too broad to be useful.

The Federal Government is a massive organization, divided into three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Most Federal procurement comes from the Executive Branch, which itself comprises 15 departments and 60+ independent agencies, boards, and commissions. Selecting which of these potential customers to focus on is vital for effectively assigning your business development resources. Which customers will want to purchase the goods or services you provide?

To start, USA.gov provides an A-to-Z index of Government departments and agencies with brief descriptions of and links to each entry. At USASpending.gov, you’ll find detailed records of where and how Government spending has taken place so far. And at Acquisition.gov, you can find links to procurement forecasts by agency. Finally, many agencies include procurement-relevant information on their websites, so if you’ve narrowed your search to a particular agency, you may find important information by visiting their site.

3. Find Federal contracts

Once you’ve gained a solid understanding of which parts of the Government you want to target for sales, it’s time to begin searching for opportunities.

*Your primary resource here is currently beta.SAM.gov. (Note: In late 2019, the legacy FedBizOpps or FBO portal migrated to beta.SAM.gov as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate the functions of various Government websites under SAM. In the future, the functionality from beta.SAM.gov will be made part of SAM.gov and no longer considered a beta version. At the time of writing, beta.SAM.gov is still the correct URL for locating contract opportunities).

Nearly all contracts valued over $25,000 are required to be posted to SAM. A notable exception is that opportunities posted to eBuy, which is open exclusively to GSA Schedule holders, are not required to be placed on SAM. This is one of the reasons why many companies choose to get on schedule.

At the time of writing this post, there are currently over 93,000 active Federal opportunities on SAM! Fortunately, SAM has robust search capabilities, which enable you to search by keyword, agency, region, NAICS code, and more.

There are also paid subscriptions, such as GovWin and ePipeline, you may choose to purchase; these tools are maintained by private-sector companies and focus on providing Government opportunity research and data. While you may decide these tools are worth the expense, they’re not required; it’s entirely possible to locate winning opportunities through SAM, word of mouth in your industry, among your current customers, and so on.

4. Know what kinds of Federal contract opportunities to look for

The best time to start pursuing an opportunity is when it’s still in the Request for Information (RFI) stage. At this point, the opportunity is still early in the procurement process, so you have time to work on building your relationship with the customer. And if your RFI response is strong enough, you may be able to influence the development of the eventual RFP in ways that favor you.

For instance, your RFI response might help the Government decide to set aside the procurement for your particular socioeconomic category (Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) or Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), for instance). The Federal Government has certain target goals by socioeconomic category, so it benefits the Government to set a contract aside when there are enough qualified firms within a category (like yours!) to bid.

Likewise, the information you provide about your industry might help the Government decide on a desired solution that aligns with your firm’s core competencies and differentiators. This can give you a major leg up over your competitors before the RFP even comes out!

The next best thing is to find a good opportunity that’s in the Draft RFP stage. At this point, it’s later in the procurement process, so you don’t have quite as much time to develop the customer relationship, and your competitors may already be somewhat ahead of you in this regard. Nevertheless, it’s still early enough that you can catch up on relationship-building, and can develop a winning solution and compelling proposal response.

By the time the Final RFP is released, it’s already late in the procurement cycle. If you find a great opportunity that just came out, it may still be worth pursuing. But if the Final RFP has been out for a week or two, it’s likely too late for you to catch up with your competitors—better to focus your business development and proposal resources elsewhere, where the odds of a win are greater.

Next steps

Have questions about where to go next? Have you found the perfect Federal contract opportunity and want to go after it? Contact Global Services today to learn how we can help!

*NOTE: Content updates were made to this blog on January 15, 2020 to reflect the migration of the FBO portal to beta.SAM.gov.