The Ultimate Guide To Win Federal Contracts

Where To Start, What To Do, Who Can Help

Introduction

Want to win Federal contracts? Congratulations! You’re in the right place. The Federal government almost certainly buys from companies like yours. Whether you have expertise, services, or products, the world’s biggest buyer could be your next customer.

What to do, who can help, and your best resources, depend on where you are right now. In this post, I’ll be sharing ideas and resources you can use for the three most common starting places for success. 

Pick the situation most like yours, and jump in!

  1. Sage and Intrepid: Your established, thriving, business has over $5 million in revenue but you’re new to Federal. You want “The Way” to invest time and money in the right place to get on the fast track to wins.
  2. Scrappy and Hungry: You’ve got 1-5 years of Federal experience (prime, sub, or both) and over $3 million in revenue. You want more wins — in your current agencies, new ones, maybe more vehicles, and more prime work.
  3. Fresh and Feisty: Your business is less than a year old, or you have under $1 million in revenue. You’re keen to find your first Federal wins!

Established business, new to Federal

Situation 

You’ve got a great track record serving large corporate clients. You’re ready to grow, and want that kind of success in the Federal arena. You’ve heard horror stories that have kept you away…until now. You’re convinced you can make a difference for Federal buyers, and want to know what it takes to figure out the game. It’s time. You’re willing to invest if this is the right move. 

What you want to know…

You want to know the opportunity, the investment, and how long it will take to meet your goals.

How to approach Federal business

You already have nearly everything you need to be successful. Why? Because your years of experience open the door to building trusted Federal relationships just like you do every day in the corporate arena. Once you learn the way to bring your know-how and warmth to Federal buyers, you’ll find everything else easier — and more familiar — than you ever imagined.

Ask yourself: Do we have products or services a Federal buyer needs at the price and quantity they require, and can we deliver perfectly and on time? If the answer is a resounding YES:

  • Decide whether Federal business fits your plans to grow your company
  • Get the overview of how the Federal government does business
  • Choose your prospects: pick 3-5 agencies, at most, where you’ll focus
  • Create your goals, plan, timeline, and resources you’re willing to commit

The 10 “R’s” you need to know

Here’s a quick summary of what to expect. I’ll share what’s free and easy, what you might want help with, and where you can expect to invest.

  1. Registration: You’ll need to register your company on SAM.gov. This is FREE and usually takes no more than a half hour. Don’t let anyone charge you for doing this.  You also want to learn about, and, if you’re eligible, apply for, appropriate small business preferences. If you meet certain definitions, then you could have advantages over larger competitors.
  2. Research: Get your competitive analysis done so you know everything that’s going on in your niche: who buys what you do, how they buy, how much they buy, and who they buy from now. Only then will you be able to focus on the right prospects with confidence. Candidly: focus, or you’ll go broke.
  3. Readiness: now you can build the right Federal team. Expect to invest in a combination of training for your own people and likely some outside experts, to tackle key functions like sales, proposals, compliance, project management, HR, billing.
  4. Relationships: Good news! Contrary to popular misconception, Federal wins aren’t driven by how many proposals you can pump out. Federal sales is just like every other kind of business you’ve ever one: it’s a relationship game. Once you learn who’s who — what I call the “Players and Layers Methodology” — you can sort this out fast, and save a whole year of expensive messing around. This is something that you can learn a lot faster with some help than figuring it out hit-or-miss.
  5. Resilience: How long DOES it take to win, and what does it cost? While you might get lucky and rack up a couple of early wins fast, Federal business is a long game. Data shows that the average company takes over a year to win their first Federal contract. BUT the good news is that, on average, 67% of companies who win a first contract win more Federal business within 12 months of winning the first one. Companies spend anywhere from $30,000 to $233,000 on business development and operations in the course of 12 months on the road to those wins.
  6. Response: Besides selling and developing relationships, you have to put yourself out there. Participation includes not just proposals but also pre-solicitation activities like Requests for Information, Sources-Sought, and Industry Days. This will take time and money. 
  7. Report: You’ll have compliance and reporting requirements, not only for sales but also for things like certifications, audits, and, in DoD, Cyber Security. It’s a cost of doing business.
  8. Request: That is, ask for consideration! How about a capabilities demo? A facilities tour? An introduction — who would you call if you were me? Who else do you know who we should talk to? Debrief (win or lose): What could we do better next time?
  9. & 10. Rinse & Repeat!

Resources

  • Established business owners who want to know the lay of the land love my book, Amazon #1 Bestseller Government Contracts Made Easier (Second Edition). The book is an easy read, full of practical tips you can use right away, and best practices proven to win millions in Federal contracts. Check out the book HERE
  • If you’re pretty sure you’re in, then let’s cut to the chase and talk. My clients generally have been in business more than five years, have more than $5 million in revenue, and have close to five people involved in sales and business development.
    My private program is The Federal Business Intensive. Find out more HERE.
    If you think we might be a fit to work together, book a chat via this link.

1-5 Years In, Want More Federal Wins

Situation

You’ve invested time and cash and sweat equity into winning Federal business over the last five years, and you’ve got the wins to prove it. Maybe you want to move up from sub to prime as well as win work in new agencies. Bravo! Maybe you’ve got a GSA Schedule, and/or pursued other contract vehicles, and have activated all the small business certifications that you’re eligible for.  You might be partway through your 8(a) eligibility, or growing strongly in many of your small business NAICS codes as SDVOSB or WOSB. Federal’s been good to you, but you know you could do so much more. 

What you want to know

You want the best resources and tactics you can get to take your Federal wins to the next level…the sooner (and more cost-effectively) the better.

Your best approach to Federal business

Your easiest wins are right in front of you, and right next door to that: through deepening relationships with the clients and primes you’re working with right now, and moving what I call “one ripple out” from the agencies where you’re performing strongly. 

10 tips for growing your Federal business this year

  1. Set goals — for your month, your quarter, and your year…and write them down! Harvard Business School research shows that people who have written goals achieve TEN TIMES the results of people who have goals but don’t write them down.
  2. Ask for the business where you are: ask your current clients, “How else can we help?” And ask for referrals! Awkward? Easy. Here’s what to say: “My business is growing and we’re looking for new projects. If you were me, who would you be talking to?” Hint: Practice saying this until it feels natural.
  3. Know their easy button: Research past Federal contract data to find out which contract vehicles your customers like to use most, and make sure they can get to you through those vehicles.
  4. GSA Schedule: love it or leave it. Concerned about losing your GSA Schedule due to lack of sales? Here are the five steps you need to take. If your target agencies actually don’t use GSA Schedules, then maybe it’s okay to let it go. Either way, decide. Then act. 
  5. Reach your Players at all the Layers in every place you want to win work. See all five in this infographic
  6. Team tactically: you don’t have to be on every contract vehicle your customer uses. Use free past Federal contract data (here’s how)  and see which contract holders your customer does the most business with. Ask your customer a little bit about which ones they like best and why. Which ones would you genuinely like to team with?
  7. Show your Federal buyers gratitude — including with gifts. You read right! BUT READ THIS FIRST. The gifts you can give your Federal buyers are very different from what you can give a corporate client. 
  8. Celebrate! Research shows that celebration builds resilience, and goodness knows we need that. Find out more about the power of celebration HERE.
  9. Buff up your win rate:  Research shows the average Federal contractor has a 25% win rate. How could you do better? Sometimes, bidding less means winning more. Tighten up your bid/nobid checklist. Get tips on my webinar, “To Bid Or Not To Bid?” and my  complimentary toolkit.
  10. In a new agency or office, start small; be persistent. Your power win might not need any contract vehicle. What could you do for less than $250,000? Become a Simplified Acquisition superstar.

Resources you might need now

Quick tips

Live and On-Demand Training 

Join my list to get invited to live webinars I host, and view some past webinars on-demand HERE.
You might particularly like:

I recommend these among my 90-minute on-demand courses hosted on Govology:

In-Depth Training

Tap these on-demand power programs RIGHT NOW, here.

  • Building Blocks of a Winning Proposal Start to increase your win rate today. You get four hours of on-demand training on ten tactics proven to drive hundreds of millions in Federal wins, as well as an action guide you can use right away. Even if you’re working with a professional proposal team, you’ll spend less time and money on the road to your next wins. >>MORE
  • Building Your Business From The Inside Out: This private, half-day, online training is perfect for teams who want to build your Federal business by helping your field team create deeper relationships (and better service) for clients who already know, love, and trust you.  >>MORE
  • Make This Federal Q4 Your Best Ever. Close the business you’ve always wanted by leveraging your past performance and relationships with the Q4Slam. This 90-minute training and action guide delivers ten proven techniques and an action guide that our clients use to win millions of Federal contract dollars. >>MORE

Some other partners I recommend

New Business, New to GovCon

Situation

Just launched your company, and getting started in the Federal market? Congrats! There’s SO much to do and learn. You’re in the right place. I want you to be successful! Are you working at another full time job right now? Do you want to be a business owner and invest all the time and money to build a company and have employees? Or are you a technician with skills and you want someone to hire you?

If all you have is time and skills, but no financial capital to hire anyone to help you, and no relationships within the Federal government with people who would be keen to hire you based on skills and reputation, then starting a business focused on Federal contracting will be extremely challenging, especially if you have near-term bills to pay, a mortgage, and a family to support.

If the former, then your quest includes not only talking to people you already know who would be willing to hire you, but also putting together “the band” — your close, trusted, talented, friends who have skills you would trust with your reputation and your business, who you could place with a client and know that they would do agile and cyber as well or better than you.

What you want to know: Is the Federal market right for you?

If you’re not sure, then dabbling — going to small business events and conferences, throwing a proposal over the wall, signing up for an expensive data subscription — is going to just eat up your most precious resource: your time.

Budget a certain amount of time and money to invest in exploring what success will take so you can confidently make one of three decisions:

  • Yes: these are the buyers we are meant to serve, and winning this business is aligned with my vision for growing the company
  • Not right now: We definitely have expertise or products Federal buyers need, but we don’t have the resources to market, sell, propose, perform, and produce right now. Once we have the mix of time, people, money, experience, and resources, we’ll revisit this.
  • Nope: Now that we know what’s really involved, we know for sure that our best opportunities are elsewhere…and that’s just fine.

Your best approach as you begin to pursue to Federal business

If you know that the Federal market is your destiny and central to your plans to grow the business, I’d sum up your keys to success as: 

  • Make the most of your sweat equity: Tap free and low cost resources, including some listed below, and get help to come up to speed quickly.
  • Handle your own registrations as you learn the ropes.
  • Find out what certifications you’re eligible for, get them, but don’t expect certifications to bring you business. 
  • Do your market research to focus on a few buyers in your local area.
  • Start with small requirements and be persistent. 
  • Federal business is a relationship game. Start with people you know, but realize who you don’t know and need to know. Look at relationships in a structured way (see “Players and Layers” YouTube or Infographic)
  • Past performance/experience lowers perceived risk. Show your prospects examples of recent problems you’ve solved or products you’ve provided that are most similar to  requirements that your prospects have today.
  • Don’t expect that big teaming partners will feed you. They not only expect YOU to bring THEM business, but they are almost as risk-averse as Federal buyers, and can be even harder to reach.
  • Play the long game. The average time to win a first contract is 12 months…and there are no guarantees. Companies invest anywhere from $30,000 to $233,000 in that time period. What’s in your wallet? 

Five resources to tap

If we were to meet in person or chat live, here’s what I would suggest. 

     #1. The next best thing to having a sit-down with me is to get my book and workbook. I say this not to sell books, but because people tell me these tools really helped them get on track to success!

     #2. Live and on-demand webinars
You can join my list to get invited to live webinars I host, and view some past webinars on-demand HERE.
You might particularly like:

I recommend these among my on-demand courses hosted on Govology

     #3. YouTube: I’ve got some content for you there, and you’ll find lots more from other experts

     #4. Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (find yours at www.aptac-us.org). They have great resources for free or low cost classes, courses, counseling, and contacts.

     #5. Right now, Summit Insight doesn’t offer small group or private consulting services for early-stage companies. But others do! Consider the services and programs of some of my partners:

Frequently-Asked Questions

     #1. We are small, doing business in commercial, early stages in Federal. How do we identify opportunities, pipeline & BD?

     #2. Is teaming one way to get into Federal contracting? What should we do, and how do we connect with Primes

  • Teaming partners expect you to bring business so go back to step one and not only identify your buyers but invest time in getting to know them and start by building a track record doing small jobs at the level of micro purchase and simplified acquisition.
  • Once  you have a larger piece of business to bring them, they’ll be interested to talk to you and take some margin to let you use their vehicle.

     #3. We don’t have 8(a), any GSA Schedule or other contract vehicle. How do we approach Federal contracting and what is critical in the roadmap to aggressively pursue business?

  • If you have no contract vehicles, go back to step one. Data shows how your target customers purchase and you can see who does business purchasing what you do even without contract vehicles.
  • Past Federal contract data also shows you which of the large primes have the contract vehicles that your target buyers use!

     #4. As per NAIC codes, we are small. Do we need to engage a Federal consulting firm or subject matter expert to help in BD/Capture/Teaming to get started?

  • You do not need to hire an outside business development team — nor subscribe to a pricey data service with “leads”. You will get better results and ultimately spend less when you do it yourself. Your Federal buyer wants to get to know you, not your hired gun. Promote from within and then invest in the training they need to win the business. Your best candidates are the people on your team who know what you do, who are experts in their technical field, are people your customers love to talk to, and who genuinely love and care about your customers.

Conclusion 

Wherever you are on your Federal journey, I want you to be successful. I don’t do everything — not by a long shot. But, after over 30 years in the Federal arena, I probably know someone (or more than one) who does. 

  • Bookmark this post…because you’ll be back!
  • Share the link on social media and with friends
  • Let me know what questions you’ve got or resources you’d like to suggest, so I can keep growing this over time.

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