Identify Your Potential Government Contracting Customers
There are several ways to locate government agencies whose needs match what you can provide.
Once you go through the process of thinking about your business in terms of the end items that you are capable of providing for the government, you are ready to identify prospective customers: the buying offices within the federal government that have a need for your product or service.
A simple rule of thumb is that if the item is a commercial-type or general-purpose item, there is a good chance that the General Services Administration (GSA) buys it for both the military and civilian offices. Think of the GSA as the "Sears and Roebuck" of the government. This doesn't mean that the military or a civilian office won't be using the product; it just means that the GSA may issue the contract, and other government offices, both military and civilian, can buy off of that contract.
Examples of such products and services could be anything from furniture products and services, cleaning supplies, copier equipment, hardware and appliances to marketing, media, and public information services; paints, pest control, financial services, and training and travel services, just to name a few.
If the item or service is predominately military in nature, then one of the Department of Defense buying offices would be the place to go. The same is true for civilian agencies; if energy related, you may want to check out the Department of Energy as a probable customer.
Locate Governmental Customers Through the FedBizOpps Website
One way to locate potential government customers is through FedBizOpps (Federal Business Opportunities), the official website listing of all federal government contracting opportunities and awards over $25,000. Government buyers are able to post information about their business opportunities directly to FedBizOpps via the Internet at www.fbo.gov.
This website is updated every business day, with approximately 500-1000 new notices being posted on a daily basis. In addition to identifying specific government buying offices (your potential customers), you can also use this website to find the person within each buying office who is there to answer questions and provide information to small businesses looking to sell to that office.
Here's how to proceed. For demonstration purposes, let's assume that you want to identify the government buying offices for the Department of Energy:
- Go to Federal Business Opportunities.
- Go to the FedBizOpps website.
- Click on the FedBizOpps Vendors/Citizens button and select "Register now."
- Choose whether you want to find an agency by acronym (e.g., DOE) or alphabet listing. Note: To get to information about the Department of Energy (or any other "Department of ..." listing), look under "D" for Department, not "E" for Energy. Also note that you can get a listing for the Department of Defense (DoD) only in the "Alphabetic Order" area.
- If you choose to find the agency by Acronym, the government buying offices for the agency you chose will be listed on the left-hand side of your screen. If you choose to find the agency by Alphabetic Order, click on the appropriate alphabet group, scroll down to the agency that interests you (e.g., Department of Energy), and click on "Offices" next to the agency to get to the list of buying offices.
- To find the Small Business Office liaison or coordinator for the buying office you are interested in, click on either the "Posted Dates" or "Class Codes" heading that appears next to the particular office to get a list of current bid opportunities for that office. If you open any one of the synopses, it will list Point of Contact information for that particular opportunity. Just contact the person who is listed and ask for the Small Business Office associated with that government buying office. The Small Business Office can answer any questions and provide more information about that buying office's requirements.
Now that you have identified your customers within the agency that interests you, it is useful for you to note, for future reference, that there is a variety of other meaningful information available to you here. Although you aren't quite ready to pursue live bids quite yet, when the time comes, you can also get synopses of current bid opportunities for that particular office grouped by posted date or classification code, as well as the location of the buying office.
Options for Locating Government Buying Offices
One way to locate government buying offices is to pick up your local phone book, search the blue
(or Yellow Pages) under "Government, federal," and then look for a
listing for the purchasing office or small business office. If neither
of these offices is identified, then call the office(s) listed and make
an appointment to meet with them.
Once there, introduce yourself and your company, and provide the
buyer with your business card and a listing of the supplies and services
you can offer. If you have one, also provide the URL of your business
web page. This gives buyers another opportunity to see who you are and
what you can do.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. Find out what products and services
they buy. If they don't buy the product or service that you are
offering, ask them to refer you to an office and a person that does.
Then later, use the first contact as a referral to the next. For
example: "I recently talked to Joe/Mary and they suggested I talk to you
for help in bidding on government contracts. What products and/or
services do you buy?" This helps establish credibility with the new
contact. It is important to get names and numbers for future use.
If you have already registered your business with the government,
let the buyer know that. Over time, be sure to follow-up with the buyer
to see if there are any new solicitations you can bid on and, in
addition, to ingrain your company's name in the buyer's mind.
Subscribe to a Bid-Matching Service
Instead of doing the work yourself, you can subscribe to a "bid
matching" service to provide you with leads on bids and prospective
customers. The bid service, with your help, will develop a company
profile using keywords and government product and service codes to help
match your company's capabilities to the needs of the government.
Using that profile to screen for suitable leads, the bid service will
then search on the Internet for opportunities and will also get bid
opportunity information directly from the government. You will receive
the leads by e-mail, and all you have to do is decide whether to bid.
However, keep in mind that this service only provides the leads; it will
not help you understand a particular bid. Also, remember that they are
getting this information from the same sources you can search on the
Internet yourself. If your going to pay someone, make sure you get some
You can locate a bid-matching service by searching on the Internet
under "bid matching service," or by asking for a referral from the small
business specialist in the government buying office or from your local
PTAC. Since bid lead services are usually not close by, contact is by
phone or e-mail.
Work with a PTAC
This method works much the same way as a bid-matching service, but
costs you nothing (you are already paying for it with your tax dollars).
Stop in the Procurement Technical Assistance Center
nearest you, sign up to be a client, and get your prospective buyers
and bid leads through the PTAC. Their automated systems scan hundreds of
government and commercial websites, delivering emails with the latest
As you go through the process, the PTAC will be available to answer
your questions or will refer you to someone who can. It can also get
copies of specifications and standards for you at minimum cost and do
some market research. In addition, it offers training in government
procurement practices through seminars and conferences and assistance in
understanding e-commerce. To locate the PTAC nearest you, go to the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers website, which has easy-to-use listings with up-to-date contact information.
Using a bid-matching service or a PTAC actually identifies customers
and gets bid leads in one step. Some leads will not prove to be biddable
for a variety of reasons, but the leads themselves will give you a lot
of useful information on an item, including the buying office. It "jump
starts" you in the process.
As you identify government buyers, keep in mind that there are two
parts of the federal government to look at: the Department of Defense
(DoD) and the Civilian Agencies. As we mentioned earlier, the DoD is the
largest buyer, but you may not fit there. Don't worry if you don't;
remember that "green is green."
A list of the major government buying offices, both military and civilian, is available at Win Government Contracts. Additional information may be found at business.gov and USA.gov.
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