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Successful Government Subcontracting Requires Finding the Right Primes

Filed under Government Contracting. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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How to improve your chances of being a subcontractor on government contracts by identifying the right prime contractor.

Before you even think about actually making a bid on subcontracting work, there are some things that you need to do to improve your chances for success. Finding the "right" prime (i.e., one whose products or services match your capabilities) and effectively presenting yourself and your company are going to take a little forethought and more than a little preparation.

We have found that the most effective way to begin finding subcontracting work with a government prime is to:

  • identify the primes that have government contracts and regularly use small business subcontractors to satisfy their contract goals
  • get the name(s) of who to contact at each company

There are two main directories on the Internet that can help you get started.

First, you can find information about the prime contractors that have contracts with military government agencies at the Doing Business site. Click on "Subcontracting Opportunities with DoD Major Prime Contractors" and then the state that interests you. This directory is issued annually by the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and lists, by state, the names and addresses of DoD prime contractors that have military contracts, the product or service line that the company provides to the DoD, and the name and telephone number of each prime contractor's Small Business Liaison Officer (SBLO).

An important part of the SBLO's job is to provide informational assistance to small businesses about subcontracting matters. They can tell you about past, present, and future purchases at their contractor locations.

In many companies, the small business liaison (or coordinator or director or similar title) is much like the government buyer: He or she is the person in the company who sources and/or works with subcontractors. Therefore, after you have done all your research and preparation work, this is more than likely the person (or one of the persons) that you have to market to.

A second directory that provides prime and contact information is at this SBA site. Here you will find a list of the names and addresses of the primes that have civilian contracts as well as the type of business and the name and phone number of the person you should contact for each prime. You can view or download the entire list of prime contractors or just the list for a particular state.

Think of these contacts as the front door to that company. Even if you don't fit into the plans for government-related work of the companies you contact, you might be able to get involved in their commercial work or, perhaps, both. After you prepare your presentation, you will want to call, visit, or write any contact whose business has products or services that might offer subcontracting opportunities for you.

Work Smart

There is no business in the world that is totally self-sufficient and does not depend on other businesses to create leverage, discuss issues and problems, and learn from one another. One of the most missed sources of leads, information, and advice is your peers.

You should go to business and chamber events (and any other event, for that matter, that relates to the improvement or advancement of your business) where you can meet with other businesses in your community. This is a rich source of information and you'd be surprised what you will find out.

However, as with any organization or group you join, you will only get out of it what you put in. If you only go to one or two meetings a year, don't expect much. Instead, become involved--better yet become a leader. Volunteer for events and functions. Join a committee; become its chairperson.

Prepare For Your Meeting With a Prime

Before you meet with a prime or its liaison person, you first have to do some homework. You have to learn more about each prime that interests you and take a closer look at the competition and your very own company.

Work Smart

Note that there are other directories on the Internet that might be able to help you find the right primes as well. For example, you can find one at the Treasury website that lists the prime contractors for the Department of the Treasury whose contracts require subcontracting plans as well as the names of their contact people. A search for "subcontracting directories" or other similar term might yield still others that interest you.

At this point, you may be thinking, "Wow, what a lot of work! Isn't there another approach I can use to find the primes with subcontracting opportunities, and what are they going to expect; what will they be looking for?" Well, here's a short list.

  • On Time—Do what you say you will do.
  • Quality—Understand and meet all of the requirements.
  • Price—Be competitive.
  • Communication—Do it.
  • Technology—Invest in order to meet the above requirements.

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