For years I have been jealous of competitors who are part of the elite group of companies that work with the federal government. This year however, I’m turning my envy into action. After thorough research, Web Courseworks has begun working towards becoming eligible to contract work with the government. My motivation for sharing our journey stems from my frustration of pulling requests for proposals off FedBizOpps, but realizing that without a GSA Schedule everything listed on the site was useless information on projects that were most likely already spoken for. Knowing I’m not the first person to find the process a bit overwhelming, I hope to explain how to make it as painless as possible to undertake.
So, what is a GSA Schedule? A GSA Schedule is a contracting number that provides the necessary eligibility for companies to work on government projects. By filling out the appropriate solicitation form based on the type of schedule you are hoping to obtain, you are able to submit an offer for your product or service. Once a GSA Schedule contract is awarded, the company is then qualified to start marketing their product or service to the government and win contract awards. Agencies prefer this method of contracting because they know they are getting an approved product or service with an already established price tag. Explore more about the process on GSA.gov.
We debated at Web Courseworks whether or not we wanted to take on the initiative ourselves or solicit outside help. Even with how comfortable we became with taking on the project, the benefits of working with someone who knew the ins and outs of the process emerged the best option.
Before jumping into filling out a solicitation form I mentioned, I suggest doing some research. Decide which single Schedule is best for your product or service. View the complete listing of types of Schedules and download current competitor Schedules on GSAeLibrary.gsa.gov. Check out what contracts your competitors have been awarded in the past through sites like USAspending.gov. Decide if you can compete with the offerings already available to the government. Often, companies offer discounts to the government. GSA Schedules are public information, so you will be able to view competitor pricing information and other data not usually so readily available. The obvious downside to having this information at your fingertips is that once you have a GSA contract, your information is available to the public as well.
After completing our initial research, our next step was registration and certification. This pre-step to filling out the solicitation form includes registration and certification through the following links: DUNS, CCR, ORCA, and Past Performance Evaluation.
Next, choose and respond to a solicitation. Once you submit the solicitation to the correct GSA Schedule you identified in the research phase, it is sent through the review process. The offer will sometimes be returned to the vendor for corrections and clarifications. It then goes through a pricing negotiation and is eventually approved and the GSA Contract is awarded.
If this doesn’t have too much appeal, consider if you actually want your own GSA or if you would be better off as a subcontractor to someone who has one. Being a subcontractor can be an easy way to for small businesses to get involved in government projects. Web Courseworks has subcontracted in the past, but decided having our own GSA Schedule was worth the effort. Learn more about Subcontracting through GSA.gov.
While this overview is a good resource for understanding the basics of the GSA Schedule process, there are a number of additional resources worth seeking out. Here in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Procurement Institute (WPI) provides technical and marketing assistance to area businesses looking to sell their products or services to the government. After several conversations with WPI, I had a firmer grasp on the process and a number of good contacts I could reach out to for further information.
One of the best recommendations I received was that if you’re in Washington, DC, start circulating and make connections with the agencies you’re looking to work with. On one of my recent trips there, I sat next to a veteran lobbyist on a Monday morning celebrity flight of sorts with Senator Herb Kohl and Congressman Paul Ryan. My discussion with the lobbyist solidified my conclusion that I needed to start networking in DC. Yep, it is a “who you know” place. With each trip to DC, the puzzle seems to make more sense. Yep, it is a game of sorts that requires you to be a student and learn.
I looked like quite the rookie dragging my luggage around Capitol Hill (note to self, next time have a better plan for storing it while making rounds to different WI and agency offices). I met with Governor Walker’s Office Federal Liaison Officers whose role is to assist WI business owners with working with the government. At the Senators’ offices, I began explaining my business and I could tell by the facial expressions that they were screaming “rookie” and why? One said, are you here for an ““ask”?” I replied, “No, just to explain who we are, what we can offer.” I soon learned an “ask” comes into play when you have a specific reason to ask someone for their business, assuming you have a GSA Schedule.
The rookie mistakes on this GSA trip to DC were numerous, but when I make another trip out there and know what I’m asking for, I’ll be much more comfortable. In the end it comes down to what you know and who you know. Right now, working on getting the rest of our solicitation form completed, figuring the rest out one step at a time.
The catch to all of this GSA Schedule talk: having a GSA doesn’t guarantee you any work and if you aren’t able to secure contracts, you’ll lose your GSA. Look forward to the next blog post on GSA when I’ll address how to make the most of your GSA once you have it.