10 steps to winning a government contract - Step 3
Bidding on a job
In Step 2 we discussed finding bid opportunities. Before we dive in, it's important to note that recent statistics show that in 2003 the federal government wrote 10.9 million contracts; 23 percent went to small businesses, meaning small businesses actually got $3 billion more work than they thought they would.
So you've gone through the process of finding the bids, sorted through all the keywords, visited FedBizOpps, and found the bid. What's the first thing you need to do? Remember, when you submit a bid to the federal government, even though the government provided you with all the information, it becomes your bid and the government will view it as if you put the entire package together yourself with no input from them.
The first step you should take is to read the solicitation. Skim through the document, and stick Post-it® notes wherever you find something you don't understand.
You need to look at certain sections. The package usually contains all the information and specs you need to bid, but if something seems to be missing or if you don't understand what is written, call the contact person named on the solicitation. Never bid on something you don't understand or have doubts about, and never assume something you don't understand.
Although several different bid formats are possible, the three most common ones are invitation for bid, request for proposal, and request for quote.
- Invitation for Bid (IFB). IFB is an advertised type of contract, also referred to as a sealed bid. It has no discussions, and the package is considered complete with all known information included. Usually this type of bid is for more than $100,000.
- Request for Proposal (RFP). An RFP is a negotiated type of contract. It allows you to discuss issues with the buyer or technical people, and you may be given the opportunity to change your pricing, technical requirements, and other factors in the process. This type of bid also usually is for more than $100,000.
- Request for Quote (RFQ). An RFQ is a request for information that may include price but is not a binding contract. Here's a tip: If you feel that you want to wait until the solicitation comes out before you bid on this, you may find out that the government has put a restriction on it that you can't comply with, so it's important to get your foot in the door right up-front. Become the expert. Again, this type of bid may be for more than $100,000.
Reading a Solicitation
So how do you read a solicitation? The most common form used is the Standard Form 33, which is the solicitation, offer, and award. When you sign this document, it becomes your offer to the government on that bid.
On this form, look at:
- The Contract Solicitation Number.
- The contract solicitation number gives you a lot of information.
For example, let's say the contract solicitation number is DAA345-04-R-9876. The first six characters (DAA345) identify the department or agency that has put the bid out. The next two numbers (04) are the year of the contract, and R identifies the type of solicitation. R is request for proposal, B is invitation for bid, P is purchase order, C is for contract, and Q is request for quote. At least two agencies use Z for special evaluation and approval.
- Block 1 to 8.
- This is the first part, which contains basic information about the bid and is filled out by the government buyer.
Block 9 to 11.
- This is the table of contents. It contains details about the solicitation and is the place where you will enter bid prices and information.
Block 12 to 18.
- This is the offer section that you fill out and return to the buyer.
- Block 19 to 28.
- This section is for the award signatures. The buyer/ contracting officer will sign it and send it back to you if you win the bid.
- Part 1, Section B (Supplies or Services, Prices and Costs), and Part 4, Section L (Instructions, Conditions and Notices to Offerors).
- This is the most important section of the bid for you because it's where you put together the information that you need to bid. Taking notes in this part might be a good idea—remember your Post-it notes.
- Part 4, Section I.
- This section tells you what the evaluation factors are-quality, speed of delivery, and price. This section also lists other important evaluation criteria, such as key personnel, technical capability, and transportation resources. Check these factors carefully to make sure you can comply with the contract.
- Part I, Section C (Description, Specifications and Work Statement) and Part I, Section J (List of Attachments).
- Section C gives you the buyer's general specifications. Check them carefully to make sure you can comply with all of them. Sometimes you might find differences between the requirements in Section C and the requirements in Section J; this is because Section J contains the attachments to the bid, which might include changes that affect the work statement in Section C.
- Part II, Section I (Clauses); Part I, Section H (Special Contract Requirements); Section D (Packaging and Marking); Section E (Inspection and Acceptance); Section F (Deliveries or Performance); and Section G (Contract Administration Data).
- These sections describe all the technical requirements you will need to perform for the bid. These requirements are different from those listed in Section C because they address special circumstances.
Other Bidding Tips
One thing we should mention is that the government is relaxing some of its packaging requirements for commercial-type items because the commercial packaging is sometimes superior to the government's requirements. Bottom line, the government now looks at commercial packaging as acceptable.
Also, if your company is classified as a small; minority-, woman-, veteran-, or disabled veteran-owned; or HUBZone-certified business, check off the appropriate box in Part 4, Section K (Representations, Certification and Other Statements of Offerors). The federal government has in place set-asides for these business types, so it's in the best interest of a business that qualifies for one to tell the government about it.
For all of these reasons, it's imperative that you read the solicitation. Most bidding mistakes happen because the bidder didn't read all of it to learn what he or she was getting into. Next time we'll look at what you have to do to write a proposal.
You can find technical data, or requirements, for bids at www.dscc.dla.mil/Programs/MilSpec/. Technical data includes specifications, drawings, standards, and any change to the end product. Most commercial businesses refer to the technical data as the specifications. You also might want to visit www.ilflexnet.com, a new Web site that offers information and links of interest to manufacturers.
As always, if you need more assistance, contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), which you can locate by visiting www.sellingtothegovernment.net.
Jim Kleckner is a retired acquisition specialist from the Department of Defense and owner of Government Contracting Assistance, 2168 Spaulding Ave., West Dundee, IL 60118-3521, 847-426-7003, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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