4 Tips for Bidding on Your First Government Contract

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4 Tips for Bidding on Your First Government Contract

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Consumer demand may remain sluggish in Alberta, but the provincial government is still pouring stimulus dollars into the economy, to the tune of billions annually. And though most government contracts go to big corporations—a significant percentage of all government spending is set aside specifically for small businesses.

The process of winning a provincial contract can be painstaking, long, overwhelming, and certainly competitive, but the potential payoff can be huge. If you’re interested in government work, how can you get started?

The Alberta Small Enterprise Association (ASEA) recently conducted a survey of 500 entrepreneurs who were government contractors or actively pursuing a contract. A panel of three small business owners and two government officers gathered as part of an all day event on March 31, 2016 to discuss the survey’s findings with more than 100 small business owners and to offer their tips to make government contracting easier for your business. Here’s what they had to say:

Start small. This was the No. 1 tip from successful small business contractors. Government agencies view past performance as a key indicator of potential success, and to get your foot in the door, you should bid on projects worth as little as $3,000. A good strategy is to start by subcontracting. More than half of all the surveyed provincial contractors said they got their start by pursuing these opportunities. “Find out who the larger prime contractors are, and offer to provide your services to them,” says Milt Cramb, president and CEO of Juventus, a business consulting firm based in Lethbridge.

Do your research. “Many small business owners think that the government’s not going to buy what they have,” says Darcy Emes, president of ASEA. “[But] they buy almost everything.”

Much of your research can be done online. The first place to start is registering yourself on theAlberta Purchasing Connection database, where you can create a profile making it easier for government procurement officers to find your product or service.

Knowing your specific target market will also help, says Randall Lebolo, president of Lebolo Construction Management, a construction company in Red Deer, Alberta, whose business is now 90 percent government contracts.

Stay persistent. In the survey, contractors reported that it took almost two years on average to win their first federal contract. “Preparing for a government contract is like training for a marathon,” Emes says. The most successful contractors unsurprisingly invested the most time and money in the bidding process—an average of $56,000 in cash and resources during 2014, according to the survey. 

Cultivate relationships. “You think of the provincial government as this cold entity, and that it’s all about putting together a big proposal, but it’s still all about relationships,” says Gerry Rodgers, president and CEO of Creative Display Solutions, a trade-display company in Edmonton, Alberta, that has bid on five contracts. Relationships with government procurement officers are crucial.

Partnerships with other small contractors are also important; bidding for contracts as part of a team is another good strategy for getting started.

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