If you ever wondered how your small business can increases your chances for success winning contracts for local anchor institutions like Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade Schools, Florida International University, University of Miami or Miami Dade College, read on. This post is for you.
Florida SBDC at FIU offers a range of opportunities to learn about government contracting, including one-on-one consulting, and in 2020 helped entrepreneurs win $78 million in contracts. But the small business development center also brings together experts for on-demand webinars on a host of entrepreneurship topics, including government contracting. Recently, FSBDC at FIU brought together procurement experts from Miami-Dade County, Miami-Dade Schools, FIU, UM and Turner Construction to offer small businesses advice on putting their best foot forward to win contracts.
These agencies dispense millions of dollars in contracts and you can find what they buy in the procurement sections of their websites. “We buy everything from pans to helicopters,” said Lawanda Wright-Robinson, of Miami-Dade County. At Miami-Dade Schools, “just about everything you can think of,” added Junior Anderson. They both rattled off areas like maintenance, security, janitorial, food-related contracts, IT, transportatoin, transportation maintenance, landscaping, print work, etc.
Here’s some of what they had to say.
Get set up: Be sure you are properly legally established and your paperwork is in order. Register as a vendor with the anchor institution and register in their bid programs, said Wright-Robinson. Go to networking opportunities, get to know the departments you may want to bid with. You want to talk with the folks who will be doing the buying.
Relationships matter. “Register and engage with us to get your foot in the door. We are still old school – we believe in relationship building,” said Amaruy Genao of Turner Construction.
Honestly assess your capacity. Make sure that you have the capacity to do everything the the contract is asking for, that you are reliable and cost effective. “You need to understand the scope of the bid and ask questions during the Q&A time period,” said Wright-Robinson. “Don’t shortchange yourself.” To come up with the best pricing strategy, look at past bids for the job, all public record, said Anderson. You need to make sure you have the assets, bonding, insurance and experience requirements for the job, added Barbara Cotto of StartUP FIU Procurement.
Go to the pre-bid meeting. It’s not mandatory and many people skip it – don’t! That’s when you can ask as many questions as you want before the question period closes and the cone of silence begins. Not only that, but that is the time to speak up — sometimes based on feedback from pre-bid conferences, the contracts actually get amended in favorable ways.
Starting small is smart. If you are new to contracting, start with smaller jobs, what Cotto calls low hanging fruit. These often go out with a Request for Quote but not full bidding. “We are looking for small businesses to provide for these needs,” added Lindsay of UM.
Start early. Begin your research even before it has been put out to bid, because you can look at the previously performed contracts for that work. Be informed and educated, Anderson said.
Read the bid carefully, including all attachments. It’s surprising but many small businesses don’t. Prepare a complete and thorough response, said Lindsay. To do that, do your research, unnderstand your competition and perfect your elevator pitch. You should be succinct and precise and be able to explain why you are the best for the job in less than a minute, Anderson said.
Follow up. That’s a big one. Meet someone at a networker that may be useful in your quest? Follow up. After the pre-bid meeting, follow up. Keep the lines of communication open — don’t assume anything.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. People don’t usually win their first contract. Learn from the experience and try again. “Quitters never win, but winners never quit,” said Anderson. “Be prepared, do your homework and follow up.”
Each of the organizations also explained the vast benefits of certifications and how they work at their organizations as well as answered questions from participants on all kinds of contracting topics. Watch the webinar for much more about this topic.