How does a small business land that giant federal contract?
This week, an expert at the D.C. chapter of the business mentoring nonprofit SCORE offers advice on entering the federal procurement process.
— Dan Beyers
The entrepreneur: When Maxie Gluckman was working as an elementary school teacher with Teach for America and interning for a spell at the Education Department, she struggled with how she could bridge the gap between policy and practice to address the educational inequities facing Hispanic students. The families she engaged in her classroom desired to get more involved in their children’s educations. However, the linguistic barrier — most had no English background — hindered their opportunities to do so.
“Many parents with whom I built strong relationships would ask me to teach them English and expressed their discomfort with walking into their child’s school without it,” she said. “They were unable to attend the free classes provided at local community centers due to complex work and child-care schedules. I knew that creating a holistic family support structure for students would lead to their accelerated academic growth, and I wanted to find away to do so and support these families.”
To address this need for a flexible language training solution, in 2014 Gluckman founded
Instructural. This Arlingtonbased company grew from her desire to improve the quality of global language instruction as well as to support bilingualism as a tool for academic and professional growth.
The challenge, Maxie Gluckman, founder and chief executive of Instructural: “Instructural is a labor of love. However, to support the community in a meaningful way, there exists the pressing need to obtain program funding. How can I as a smallbusiness owner maneuver the federal procurement process to take advantage of federal contracting and grant opportunities?”
“Businesses that want to work with the federal government
must familiarize themselves with acronyms such as SAM, NAICS codes, and DUNS numbers, which can be intimidating when just starting. Minority business owners must also learn how they can capitalize on set-aside requirements that government and large businesses are required to uphold.”
The advice, Karen Williams,
SCORE mentor: The federal government’s procurement process can indeed be overwhelming for a newcomer. Here are some steps to get you started.
Step 1: Establishing your firm’s corporate qualifications (past performance) in the private sector helps demonstrate to potential federal customers and/or prime contractor teammates that there would be a low risk in selecting your firm.
Step 2: Register in the System for Award Management (affectionately known as SAM) where information about your firm will be available to all government users and prime contractors.
Step 3: Research federal contracting historical data to help identify which federal agencies buy what you sell. Use the Federal Procurement Database System — Next Generation (FPDS) and USAspending.gov.
Step 4: Classify your company based on the established Small Business Administration size standards to increase your competitive position for smallbusiness preference programs.
Step 5: Develop what’s known as a Federal Business Development Plan. Focus initially on no more than three government offices that have posted contract opportunities for your product or services on www.fbo.gov or the agency Web site.
Step 6: Set up appointments with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) that support the agencies you have identified.
Step 7: Subcontracting to a large or midsize firm is a good way to develop past performance capabilities in the federal sector and offers opportunities for teaming. Most of the large firms have an outreach office focused on finding qualified small, woman-
SDB, HubZone and veteran-owned firms.
The reaction, Gluckman: “I appreciate the detailed outline of steps you provided as they have laid out an easy to follow path to success. In my experience working with the federal government, I have found that it requires patience and persistence, checking opportunities constantly on fbo.gov and SubNet through SBA.gov. I signed up for alerts directly related to my industry and have also reached out to individual government agencies to get forecasts for opportunities coming down the pipeline. Bidding on an request for proposals requires a lot of preparation; therefore, the sooner you know, the better.
“For Instructural, the key has been building strong partnerships in the education space. As a certified small, economically disadvantaged, women-owned business, I look to be a subcontractor when online language training is a part of the solicitation’s requirements. Focusing on partnerships allows for Instructural to reach a wider audience. We are confident that what we are providing will lead to effective and accelerated language learning — we look for partners that have the same vision and mission of providing high-quality and flexible service.” SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education. Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or request a mentor at www.washingtondc.score.org.
Maxie Gluckman founded Instructural, an Arlington-based company for language training.