Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the KoBE Government Contracting Quarterly Business seminar, focused on the basics of federal government contracting. Several companies in attendance were either newly formed or looking to branch into what could be a very lucrative target audience: the federal government.
A whole new world...
Observing these companies, I noted the similarities to how Occasions, Inc. was at the beginning of our venture into federal government contracting. Back then, cofounder Beverly and I wished we had a roadmap to guide us in this world that was so different from commercial contracting. Instead, we had to learn from many pitfalls and, over time, establish great resources and invaluable contacts.
During the 2008 financial crisis, as commercial clients began downsizing, Occasions Inc. turned to federal government contracting as a way to diversify its target audience and cultivate a steady revenue source. Diving wholeheartedly into the federal government contracting world, we soon realized it would not be so easy.
A lesson learned…
Occasions, Inc. started by joining the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program, which promotes economically disadvantaged companies in the federal contracting market by reducing competition and eliminating the lengthy bidding process. So, we thought that once we secured our 8(a) certification, contracts would come flowing in! Well…we were wrong.
Beverly and I discovered that there is such a thing as entering the 8(a) certification program too soon. We found that companies who excelled in this program already had experience marketing to the government, had cultivated contacts within their target agencies, and/or had past performance on government contracts. We were starting from square one, and the 8(a) certification program only lasts for 9 years.
So we got to work.
The first years were spent learning how to navigate the federal contracting system, and it wasn't until the end of our second year that we won our first 8(a) sole source contract. Despite this achievement, we still struggled with targeted marketing, drafting government responses, and acquisition regulations. It was during our fourth year of the program that we stumbled upon our saving grace.
A fantastic opportunity…
The 8(a) Mentor-Protégé program is designed for successful businesses to enhance their protégé's capabilities through guidance, financial assistance, and support in government contracting. Many 8(a) certified companies do not take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and, in fact, Beverly and I didn't know about the Mentor-Protégé program before being approached by Westat, Inc.
It didn’t take much to convince us; good business owners know the value of expert help. Gaining Westat, Inc.’s guidance at this critical juncture was a tremendous turning point for Occasions, Inc's roadmap into the government contracting space. Our mentor educated us on government policies and regulations, guided us in revamping our financial and timekeeping systems, strengthened our infrastructure, and helped us gain past performance as a subcontractor. The assistance and education received was invaluable and equipped Occasions, Inc. with the knowledge and tools to confidently pursue not just federal government contracts, but local and state contracts as well.
Are you a government contractor or interested in becoming one? I would love to hear about your experience with the government contracting world. And I’m always happy to share more of my experiences to help others along the way.
And if you haven't already, please follow Occasions, Inc. on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
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