When the U.S. Air Force announced it would be replacing the Minuteman III land-based nuclear missiles at three bases in the West, it opened up a new opportunity for small businesses in Wyoming to obtain government contracts.
The updates will begin at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne in the next several years, which gives Wyoming businesses a chance to get familiar with the requirements for working for the government ahead of time.
But where to start?
Navigating the paperwork, government codes and applications that qualify a business to bid on government contracts is something Mandie Larson, vice president of sales and marketing for Nature’s Composites in Torrington, is familiar with.
Larson suggested any small business that wants to get into government contracting work should seek the help of the Wyoming Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which works under the heading of the state’s Small Business Development Center. PTAC offers advising, training and education to small business owners interested in obtaining government contracts.
“PTAC is the best thing that ever happened to me when it comes to government contracting,” Larson said. “I would have been lost without them.”
For starters, Larson said any small business that wants to work with the government has to fill out a System for Award Management form at beta.sam.gov, and getting all the correct information gathered can be easier with the assistance of someone who has knowledge of the system.
“I would not have gotten through it without PTAC,” Larson said. “I call them every year for them to help me with my renewal.”
Janean Forsyth Lefevre, program manager for Wyoming PTAC, said the mission of the organization is to help people navigate getting registered to work with the government.
“The goal is to connect businesses with government contracting opportunities – benefiting the government by having diverse suppliers and vendors and contractors, and benefiting communities by boosting economies,” Forsyth Lefevre said. She helps businesses find contracts not only with the federal government, but also state and local governments.
She said she will have a preliminary meeting with a business to help them determine if government contracting is right for them. If it is, she helps them make sure they have everything they need to register. Then she will meet up with them again for about an hour to help walk them through the online registration.
Forsyth Lefevre said the help PTAC offers is free and confidential, noting there are third parties who will offer to help businesses complete the registration, but they charge a fee.
She said getting registered is a bit of a process, but obtaining a government contract can be great for certain businesses.
“Say you are a business that has some capabilities that the government’s looking for – the benefits can be huge,” she said. “Some of the contracts that come out are incredibly lucrative and can lead to more and more business. The government’s a really great customer to have. They simply pay you on time.”
Working on a government contract can also lead to other benefits, she said.
“Entering into the government marketplace not only can start to connect small businesses with prime contacts with a contracting agency, it can also start broadening their network laterally,” she said. “You are going to meet other contractors in the marketing space, and there are often opportunities for teaming and subcontracting. It can open up a whole new world.”
She invited small businesses to participate in PTAC’s free Lunch and Learn training opportunities on Zoom, which she said was a great way to connect with other contractors in the state, while gathering tips and insight on government contracting.
“I’ve seen some partnerships build out of those opportunities,” Forsyth Lefevre said. “A joint venture or a team could sometimes go after a bigger contract than you would on your own.”
While businesses that offer services like construction or soil work might come to mind first when government contracts come up, Forsyth Lefevre said there are many other businesses that qualify to get a contract. From embroidery businesses who make patches and insignia for uniforms to sign makers who make national forest signs, there are many small businesses working with the government.
“The U.S. government is like its own gigantic city in that just about anything sold out there is probably bought by someone somewhere within the government,” she said. “With the right mindset – being really tenacious, being really patient, being willing to jump through some hoops – just about anyone could be successful at contracting.”
Larson said having a government contract has been incredible for Nature’s Composites. She said being successful means keeping two giants, and she doesn’t mean the kind that tromp through the forest. She’s talking about two giant-sized customers that can help keep small businesses in the black.
For Nature’s Composites, a manufacturing company that creates composite fencing and decking from recycled milk jugs and wheat straw, one of those giants is the government.
Larson said having the government as a customer can be helpful to a small business for a very specific reason.
“The government is always spending money,” she said with a laugh. Larson said her company has had success with contracting with the Kentucky Corps of Engineers to provide composite fencing to go around a lake.
She said if a small business is just starting out looking for government contracts, she would advise them to look in their own local area, rather than across the country.
“A lot of small businesses don’t have the money to travel,” she said. “Start local and then spread out.”
She suggested looking for contracts with local federal agencies or nearby military bases. She said doing a great job with your first five contracts is vital to being a success in government contracting. Delivering what you said you would on time is key.
She also explained that getting into the contracting business isn’t a story of instant success.
“It’s very time consuming,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen in the first six months. It is something you have to continuously work on and keep your eyes out for those contracts. The government doesn’t necessarily come to you. You have to go to them.”
Once a business has worked with a government agency, Larson said it is helpful to keep in contact with them, even if it is just a friendly email every couple of months with something like a company newsletter that keeps the agency familiar with the business name.
Forsyth Lefevre said it is also important to remember that working with the government is actually just working with people.
“The government doesn’t buy things, people buy things,” she said. “Often times, it’s your neighbor. A lot of the work that Wyoming contractors do – with the Forest Service, with the BLM, with the national parks – those folks live right down the street from us. They’re our friends and our neighbors. Understanding that human element of contracting can really be a benefit to a company.”