Grow Fed Biz

Why Should I Pay Attention to Sources Sought and RFIs?

Responding to Sources Sought

Our Federal buyers want to get to know us before we invest the big bucks to write those big bids!

Pre-solicitation activities like Sources Sought and Requests for Information open the door to building the relationships we need to succeed.

Here’s how  we know. 

Skip Blackburn, capture expert and CEO of BIT Solutions, points out that “…at 22.3 percent, many Federal agencies are not meeting their small business goals, falling short of the cumulative goal of 23 percent.” That shortfall represents billions.” Agency-by-agency, a number of agencies are well under the 23 percent goal. Furthermore, SBA negotiates individual agency goals annually, and establishes higher targets for many agencies.

Sources Sought and Request for Information 

Sources Sought and Request for Information (RFI) listings, posted by government contracting officers in, are early signs of opportunities coming to market. They give potential bidders a heads-up of pending requirements, and indicate that program and contracting offices are seriously getting ready to announce a new Request for Proposal (RFP). There are 20-30 of these notices posted every day in!

Your responses to these notices reassure the contracts staff that capable small business contractors have noted the requirement and are prepared to bid. Enough small business responses provide an impetus to set the opportunity aside for small business, and what set-aside category will meet the rule-of-two.

Your response helps your Federal buyers shape the requirement — and make it easier for them to choose you — when you emphasize why your leading skills and unique resources set them up for a successful project outcome. You can feature new solutions, proposed metrics, staff depth or the value of past performance on similar work. You can stress the value of having certain industry certifications or best practices or the need for unique tools or machines to guarantee meeting the specs.

When Sources Sought Don’t Align

Blackburn notes that “…If you’re a small business, and you do not respond to a Sources Sought Notice (SSN) that aligns with your organization’s capabilities, you’re missing an integral step to the business development and capture process.  The Government posts SSNs to determine if there are specific small business capabilities within the marketplace that can support the requirements the Government needs.” He laments that many BD people think “…it isn’t a real opportunity”; he goes on to ask “Or is it?” 

We are firm believers in the importance of taking time to respond to these notices. Here are some reasons why:

  •         The government is asking you to demonstrate your expertise.
  •         The response is generally short, often a few pages, and the format is prescribed
  •         No pricing analysis or estimates are required
  •         Your response puts your company ahead of others just by the fact that you have responded.
  •         Firms that submit a competent Sources Sought are more likely to get the RFP as soon as it is released.
  •         Your Sources Sought response does not commit you to a proposal when the actual RFP is released.

Rule of Two

Responding to Sources Sought and RFIs should just be part of doing your homework and pursuing good business practice. 

As Blackburn notes, “At a minimum, this response is an opportunity to introduce your company to the Government. You are provided an opportunity to present your current and potential capabilities as a supplier or service provider. Although most SSN responses are limited to two or three pages, utilize this opportunity to demonstrate how competent your small business is; you can do a lot in just two to three pages. Accomplish this by being specific, to the point, and identify how your company’s capabilities directly align with the requested services.” 

But remember that the Rule of Two requires that there be at least two capable, responsible small businesses that are likely to bid. That can work both for and against you. It’s in your favor if at least two respond and the opportunity is set aside for a small business category. It works against you if you are the only respondent and the contracting officer has no way to award a sole-source contract. One small business strategy is to make sure at least one competitor or complementary firm will respond to notices of interest to you. 

Blackburn’s final tip: “After you’ve submitted a SSN response, make it a point to follow-up with the small business advocates at that particular Agency. As a small business, they are your advocates, and work to support the Federal customer to utilize small businesses. In a revolving door environment, your continued networking with small business advocates will help better position you for possible discussions with the Federal customer, increased set-aside opportunities, and possible sole source opportunities for specific small business designations.” We agree.

About the Author: Tom Johnson is the publisher of Set-Aside Alert and the president of Business Research Services. Set-Aside Alert is the nation’s leading news source for anyone working in the small business Federal contracting environment. With subscribers in every US state and territory, Set-Aside Alert serves as an invaluable resource for small contractors, prime contractors, consultants, and government agencies. Business Research Services also produces directories of 8(a) and HUBZone firms. Tom has authored several books and guides — all with a focus on small business in Federal contracting. In his previous career, he successfully negotiated over 100 GSA Schedule contracts for large and small businesses in a variety of industries. Tom is an alumnus of Purdue University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering and a Masters of Science degree in Industrial Administration. He served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps in positions at HQ, US Army Materiel Command.

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