How to Prepare for a Small Business Office Visit: Mark Amtower

Agencies’ small business offices can offer a wealth of information about government contracting opportunities if you go in with the right approach. Mark Amtower offers tips on how to prepare for and follow through on a productive meeting with one of these offices.

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Every federal agency has a small business office, the entry point for startups and small companies that want to sell their products or services to the government.

The main function of the OSDBU (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) is to meet with small contractors and advise them on working with their agencies. Any small business can request a meeting, but they must be scheduled in advance.

OSDBUs can be very helpful if you go in prepared. If you go in unprepared, the officers will be much less receptive and you will probably have a short visit.

Once you have a meeting scheduled, there are several things you should do in advance, at the meeting, and afterwards.

Before You Go

Understand that your small business status is NOT your competitive advantage. It’s true agencies need to meet a certain quota of small business vendor use, but the person you’re meeting with wants to know what your company can do to solve their immediate problem.

Know what you bring to the party. What is your company’s key competitive advantage or skill? How does this fit with what the agency buys? Is your skill or product clearly stated in your marketing materials and on your web site? Do you have any government contract experience—prime or sub?

Know how the government buys the thing you’re selling. Is it a GSA Schedule or another contract vehicle? Does the agency step into contract set-asides for small businesses?

If you are new to the market and don’t yet have access to any contracts, understanding which contracts this agency uses is helpful. If you have access to a contract the agency doesn’t use, you need to map out a strategy to get access to the right contract. Each agency has contract preferences.

Resources that will answer the above questions:

  • Research the agency website, especially anything to do with procurement. You are looking for information on contracts the agency uses and names of key personnel. Look up the personnel on LinkedIn and either follow them or connect with them.
  • Search the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) to see which contracts the agency prefers.
  • Find and read the Office of Management and Budget 300 Submission (aka Exhibit 300). The OMB 300 outlines the upcoming capital expenditures, including the acquisition of IT and professional services. If you are an IT company, read the OMB 53, which is tailored to IT services. Every government department is required to submit both the OMB 300 and 53. After reading those, you need to decide, does what you provide match with what that agency needs?
  • Prepare a one-page document to leave behind that details your company information, your area(s) of expertise, NAICS codes, experience and key personnel bios, contact info, pertinent certifications, contracts, and current and past federal clients.
  • Follow the agency (as a company page) on LinkedIn.

At the Meeting

Have a plan going in. That means using the information you’ve obtained about the agency and its needs in the meeting. Don’t go in talking about “me” or “my company.” Instead, be prepared to ask intelligent questions that will give you useful information.

Don’t expect a contract by visiting an OSDBU. They don’t make acquisition decisions. Don’t think you are entitled to a contract simply because you’re in a set-aside category—HUBZone, 8a, women-owned, or service-disabled veteran-owned business.

Do go in with the right attitude. Expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Expect to learn about the agency’s mission and challenges. Expect to learn where you might fit into its mission. Expect to learn:

  • who the decision-makers are and how to get access to them,
  • what contract vehicles the agency prefers and who its incumbent vendors are,
  • which large prime contractors are working there and who their small business liaisons (SBLOs) are.

At the meeting, you should be able to get access to the agency’s Forecast of Contract Opportunities. This is a document prepared by the agency regarding anticipated activity on their current contracts—a map of where the spend will occur.

Pro tip: Try to learn at least partial answers to some of these questions ahead of the meeting. The more you know before you go, the more likely you will leave with useful information—information that can lead to business!

After the Visit

You should know by the end of the meeting if the agency is a good target for your services. If so, stay in touch and do what was suggested by the small business officer. Reach out to anyone recommended by the OSDBU and connect on LinkedIn. Send a thank-you email. See if that particular office is on LinkedIn and connect with it.

Keep doing research about what you learned about the agency. Monitor the government media regularly to see what they are doing, and sign up for any news alerts you can find regarding that agency. There are a myriad of information sources available.

If you are new to government contracting, be patient. Invest in your education through legitimate sources, learn how to respond to RFQs and RFPs before actually bidding, leverage LinkedIn to find key personnel, and finally….network, network, network!

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