By Gerri Detweiler
Looking for more landscaping clients? Try the government. There are thousands of landscaping jobs posted throughout the country, and with a little effort, you could end up with a steady client who pays on time!
Myths about becoming a government contractor
A lot of landscaping business owners falsely assume that they have to offer the lowest bid to win a government contract. In fact, the federal government chooses the bid that best suits its needs, and that often isn’t the lowest bid.
Many also think there are too many hoops to jump through to get a contract. True, there are some steps you have to take, but the fact that it’s not easy means competition might be lower than it would be for a local commercial job. Putting in the effort could pay off big time.
Many business owners also worry that their government client will take too long to pay invoices. In fact, the federal government has processes in place to pay contractors in a timely manner – usually in 30 days or less. State or local government agencies may have similar policies. Can you say that about all your current clients?
How to win government contracts
Now that you’re convinced that government contracts are worth a little effort to get, let’s look at what exactly that effort requires to position yours as the winning bid.
- Get registered
There are a few places you’ll want to register to ensure your qualifications for a government contract. The first is SAM: System for Award Management. Once you create an account, you can search for landscaping jobs all over the world.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a D&B D-U-N-S number since it’s required when you bid on jobs. It’s free to request one. Finally, look up your North American Industry Classification System number (NAICS). Each industry has a specific six-digit code, and you’ll need it as part of the bid process.
- Get your business’s ducks in a row
The government doesn’t want to work with companies that seem to be fly-by-nights. That means you need to ensure that your company has a solid business plan, history of happy customers, and good credit.
Why good credit? Because each government contract, be it state, local or federal, will have different requirements – you may need to obtain a surety bond. There are many different types of surety bonds, but essentially they give the government assurance that should you not complete the contract as required, the government can recover damages or losses covered by that bond.
To get that bond, however, your credit will likely be checked – possibly both your personal and business credit. Your credit may also be checked in the bidding process or when applying for business insurance, which you may be required to have. The lesson here? Make sure your personal and business credit scores are up to snuff.
- Start your search
The next step is to look for contracting opportunities. The SAM system mentioned above is your primary source for open jobs. There are also third-party sites, such as GovernmentBids.com, you can use.
If you are willing to work as a subcontractor for a business that gets its own government contract, you can find these opportunities on SubNet.
- Make sure you’re qualified
Much of what disqualifies applicants from the government contracting process is not ensuring they meet project requirements. Rather than waste your time (and the Government’s) bidding on jobs you don’t qualify for (maybe they only want organic pesticides, which you don’t use), take time to read through the requirements on the job to ensure you can comply with them.
As you find jobs for which you want to apply, also read carefully through the application process steps to make sure you follow instructions to a T. And don’t be afraid to ask questions; usually, there is a point of contact listed on the project.
What to expect next
Depending on the urgency of the project, it may take 30 to 120 days before you hear back on a bid. Typically, you’ll get a response whether your bid was accepted or not, and you may be contacted to provide more information or to negotiate your rate.
If you don’t hear back after three months, you can contact the person listed on the project so you know whether you’re still in the running, or to find out why your bid was rejected. Use that knowledge to help you win the next project on which you bid.
Gerri Detweiler has been guiding individuals through the confusing world of finance and credit for more than 20 years. She is the author or coauthor of five books, including her most recent: Finance Your Own Business: Get on the Financing Fast Track. Gerri serves as the education director for Nav, an online platform that matches small business owners to their best financing options and gives free access to personal and business credit scores.