What All Small Businesses Should Know About Winning Contracts

Winning a federal contract is by no means an easy thing.  Though there are numerous publications of instruction available, none will guarantee you the award you are seeking.   Planning, patience, preparation, attention to detail and flawless execution are just a few of the attributes to be employed as you maneuver through the procurement process.  Mastering those elements that you control is certainly a first step, i.e. scrub the RFP, ask questions to resolve disconnects and clarify grey areas, follow the instructions in section “L” and ensure you address the evaluation criteria stated in section “M” .  Additionally, we can’t overlook the benefits of working early in the process and establishing relationships with the procurement personnel on the other side of the table.  You will also want to work on any leads you receive while identifying opportunities and follow through until you either max out the leads or you are asked to “cease and desist”

If managing federal contracts is new to you let me assure you that you will experience any number of setbacks on your road to contracting success.  Don’t be discouraged; get back up, dust yourself off and try again.  Be persistent.

The following lists several tips to help you get off “top dead center” in your efforts to identify, bid and win federal work:

  • Shore up your capabilities package, rehearse your elevator speech and update your marketing presentations, web sites, social media (Linked in) profiles
  • Avoid the shot gun approach.  It helps to be focused as you seek out business opportunities.  Center your search efforts on agencies and organizations that have an interest in what you are selling.  In other words, focus on the specific “needs” of the select agency/organization.
  • Seek out ways to establish a dialog with the targeted agency small business representatives.  Ultimately you’ll want to interface with the lead program/projects manager, the decision makers in the organization.
  • Develop partnerships and teaming arrangements if you find you are short on past performance or specific skills and abilities.


Try to applying these tips as you seek to identify business opportunities, market your company and build competitive proposals.   Practice to improve your skills and be ready for the success that will knock at your door.

Advice From Tom Stover on Subcontracting

Here’s a video of the late Tom Stover, founder of Stover & Associates, on subcontracting-

Video – Founder Tom Stover on Subcontracting

Winning that first Government contract is a real challenge for a small business.    A good place to start is subcontracting with a larger or more experienced company, where you and your employees can gain first-hand experience in some of the ins and outs of managing a contract.  A successful subcontract will give you a basis on which to build the “past performance” required when bidding on future contracts with the government.

What can you expect as a sub?  Or, from a sub?  You may be bidding on a contract where you’ll require a sub to complete the deliverables — how can you be sure the sub will understand what’s required of them, and be sure you won’t lose money on the deal?  Do you really need a subcontractor, or will a vendor be able to fill that gap?

Looking for subcontracting opportunities?  The SBA (Small Business Administration) has a listing by state of federal contractors who may need to use subcontractors in fulfilling their contracts.


Sometimes What You Know Can Hurt You

I ran across an article in the Washington Business Journal by Lee Dougherty, Attorney, General Counsel PC that showed an example of where “Incumbent Ego” can lead to losing a competition.  Mr. Dougherty cites a recent GAO Protest Decision where the incumbent contractor’s proposal “failed to provide adequate support” for their exception to the stated range of personnel required for performance of the sample task order, and as a consequence was rated as marginal.

I decided to read the decision to learn more, and this is certainly a case of ego getting in the way of success.  The RFP specifically instructed offerors to provide a complete explanation of why any exception was taken, what benefit would accrue to the government and its impact, if any, on the performance, schedule, cost and specific requirements of the RFP.  The incumbent’s proposal stated, “Because Team Piton’s partners are the current incumbents executing the work described in STO1 and understand intrinsically the current contractor support required, we take exception to this given range of 23-31 CMEs.”  They went on to state that the Government would experience significant savings due to their use of 18 CMEs.

Apparently, this contractor assumed that because they were the incumbent, the evaluation team would place great weight on their knowledge and insight and wouldn’t require an explanation of how they could perform the work requirements with a significantly smaller staff than was called for in the Governments own published estimate!

This brings to mind a story Tom Stover has told where an incumbent who had learned that an increase in base personnel may occur within the next year, which would increase the workload of their operation.  They based their proposal on the “anticipated” workload rather than the workload provided in the RFP and subsequently lost.

Incumbents can have a distinct advantage in a competition, but they can’t let “what they know” cloud their judgment.  Superior knowledge does not necessarily translate to a superior proposal!

Proposal Outlining 101

Remember your first exposure to “creative” writing?  The teacher often said, “Make an outline first, then start writing!” — Not a bad idea before you begin committing creative words to the hard drive.

Most well written Government Requests for Proposal (RFPs) will provide just the outline that the Government is looking for to support the source selection evaluation.  This outline is usually contained in a section of the RFP entitled “Instructions to the Offerors” or some similar title such as “Instructions, Conditions, and Notices to Offerors.”  For example, here is an extract from a RFP stating what is required in Volume III of the proposal to be submitted:

L.3.1.3 Required Content Volume III – Technical and Management Requirements

Tab 1:  Technical Approach
Offerors shall provide a Management plan which includes an organizational chart to meet the requirements of Attachment C/Performance Work Statement including the description of all labor categories.  In addition, Offerors shall detail their capability to hire, train, motivate and retain personnel.  [Emphasis added.]

What a great start to the proposal outline!  The Government is telling us just how to structure our proposal.  For example, we could start out this way:


1.0              TAB 1:  TECHNICAL APPROACH

1.1    The Management Plan

1.1.1           Our Organization Chart for this Effort

1.1.2           Our Labor Categories

1.2    The Company’s Ability to Hire, Train, Motivate, and Retain Personnel

You can envision going through the Instructions to the Offerors (ITO) as it describes the content of each proposal volume and building the complete outline for your proposal.  In a perfect world, that is how it is supposed to work.  The ITO reflects how the Government evaluators want to see your proposal to make it easier for them to evaluate your submission.  Nevertheless, in the real world, the ITO may have some strange order to how the material is to be presented.  You can challenge the layout during the time for questions; however, chances are that the pride of authorship will prevail.  Frankly, we do not recommend wasting a lot of time in trying to work a change to the ITO unless there is a substantive problem that should be addressed.  If the Government wants a specific order for the information to be presented, then go with the flow!

Sounds easy up to this point, but…!  There is always seems to be a “but.”

Now is the time to look at the evaluation criteria provided in the RFP under a section often entitled “Evaluation Factors for Award.”  A well written RFP will have evaluation criteria that follow the ITO.  That is, if the Government wants you to address your Management Plan per the ITO, then they will also provide the criteria by which they will evaluate your input.  In fact, the Government can only evaluate your proposal using the stated evaluation factors.  Otherwise, they stand the chance of a protest by not following their own rules.  The “but” is that additional information about your proposal content can be, and often is, introduced in the RFP section dealing with the Evaluation Factors for Award.  For instance, in the RFP used as the example from which the extract was drawn to show the ITO for Volume III, an inspection of the evaluation factor for the Management Plan revealed:


Sub-Factor T-5: Management Plan: The ability to initiate, manage, and fulfill the contract requirements.  The Government will evaluate Offerors on their overall management approach, such as planned management of the project and responsiveness to customer needs, but also on the following specific criteria. [Emphasis added.]

a)       Staffing Plan.  Offerors will be evaluated on its demonstrated ability to staff the project with cleared personnel, provide reach-back capability (or other means) to accommodate surges in work requirements and quick reaction to fill vacant positions.

b)       Subcontracting Plan.  The Offeror shall be evaluated on its plan to subcontract appropriate work (if subcontractors are proposed), and manage vendors to ensure conformance with requirements and performance of operations in an efficient manner.

Hmmm!  Neither subparagraphs a) nor b) were specifically mentioned in the ITO.  Not an uncommon occurrence.  Not to worry – Just modify the outline for Volume III.  For example:


2.0              TAB 1:  TECHNICAL APPROACH

1.1    The Management Plan

Add the Required Topics to Your Outline

1.1.1           Our Organization Chart for this Effort


1.1.2           Our Labor Categories

     1.1.3           Our Staffing Plan

     1.1.4           The Subcontracting Plan

1.2    The Company’s Ability to Hire, Train, Motivate, and Retain Personnel

Off we go.  Now is the time to begin committing creative words to the hard drive!  What’s the lesson learned?  Provide the Government everything they ask for in both the ITO and the Evaluation Criteria!  Remember, you will be evaluated in accordance with the Evaluation Factors for Award.  Make sure they are covered in your proposal!

Federal Contracting Acronyms



AAR After Action Report
ACAT Acquisition   Category
ACO Administrative   Contracting Officer
ACQ Acquisition
ACS Assistant Chief of Staff
ACWP Actual Cost of Work   Performed
ADA Americans with Disabilities Act
ADPE Automated Data Processing Equipment
AI Action Item
ALIN Agreement   Line Item Number
ANS American National   Standard
ANSI American National   Standards Institute
AVBS Automated Best Value System


B/L Bill   of Lading
B&P Bid and Proposal
BAA Broad Agency Announcement
BAC Budgeted Cost at Completion
BAFO Best and Final Offer
BAT Best Available Technology
BD Business Development
BDO Blanket Delivery Order
BMM Business Matchmaking
BOA Basic Ordering Agreement
BOS Business Opportunity   Specialist
BPA Blanket Purchase Agreement


CA Cooperative Agreement
CAD Computer Assisted Design
CAGE Commercial and Government   Entity
CAO Congressional Affairs   Office
CAS Cost Accounting Standards
CBI Confidential Business   Information
CBO Congressional Budget   Office
CCDR Contract Cost Data Report
CCR Central Contractor   Registration
CDD Contract Delivery Date
CDRL Contract Data   Requirements List
CEA Cost Effective Analysis
CFR Code of Federal   Regulations
CFSR Contract Funds Status   Report
CICA Competition in   Contracting Act
CID Commercial Item   Description
CIO Chief Information Officer
CLIN Contract Line Item Number


CM Configuration Management
CMM Capability Maturity Model
CMMI Capability Maturity   Model-Integrated
CMO Contract Management   Office
CMT Contract Management Team
CO Contracting Officer
COB Close of Business
CONUS Continental United States
COR Contracting Officer   Representative
COTR Contracting Officer’s Technical   Representative
COTS Commercial Off-the-Shelf
CPAF Cost Plus Award Fee
CPARS Contractor Performance   Assessment Reporting System
CPFF Cost Plus Fixed Fee
CPIF Cost Plus Incentive Fee
CPN Contract Payment Notice
CPR Cost Performance Report
CRADA Cooperative Research and   Development Agreement
CY Calendar Year


DACA Days After Contract Award
DARO Days After Receipt of   Order
DARPA Defense Advanced Research   Projects Agency
DCAA Defense Contract Audit   Agency
DCMA Defense Contract   Management Agency
DEL Delivery
DFARS Defense Federal   Acquisition Regulation Supplement
DHS Department of Homeland   Security
DI Document Identifier
DIC Document Identifier Code
DID Data Item Description
DLA Defense Logistics Agency
DLH Direct Labor Hour
DOC Department of Commerce
DOD Department of Defense
DOE Department of Energy
DOI Department of the   Interior
DOJ Department of Justice
DOL Department of Labor
DOS Department of State
DOT Department of   Transportation
DUNS Data Universal Numbering   System
DVD Direct Vendor Delivery
DZ Dozen



EA Each
EB Electronic Business
EC Electronic Commerce
ECP Engineering Change   Proposal
EDD Estimated Delivery Date
EDI Electronic Data   Interchange
EDOP Expedited Delivery Order   Process
EEO Equal Employment   Opportunity
EFT Electronic Funds Transfer
EO Executive Order
EOM End of Month
ETA Estimated Time of Arrival
ETC Estimate to Complete


FAQ Frequently Asked Question
FAR Federal Acquisition   Regulation
FAS Federal Acquisition   Service
FASA Federal Acquisition   Streamlining Act
FFP Firm Fixed Price
FFRDC Federally Funded Research   and Development Center
FIPS Federal Information   Processing Standards
FISMA Federal Information   Security Management Act
FLSA Fair Labor Standards Act
FMS Foreign Military Sales
FMV Fair Market Value
FOIA Freedom of Information   Act
FPI Fixed Price Incentive
FPL Federal Procurement List
FSC Federal Supply   Classification
FSN Federal Stock Number
FSS Federal Supply Schedules
FTE Full Time Equivalent
FY Fiscal Year
FYI For Your Information


G&A General and   Administrative
GAA General Agency Agreement
GAO Government Accountability   Office
GBL Government Bill of Lading
GFE Government Furnished   Equipment
GFM Government Furnished   Materials
GFP Government-Furnished   Property
GOCO Government Owned,   Contractor Operated
GPO Government Printing   Office
GSA General Services   Administration
GSARS General Services   Acquisition Regulation Supplement
GWAC Government-wide   Acquisition Contract


HBCUs Historically Black Colleges and Universities
HCA Head of Contracting Activity
HQ Headquarters
HR Human Resources
HUB Historically   Underutilized Business
IA Information Assurance
IAW In Accordance With
IDIQ Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity
IFB Invitation for Bid
IG Inspector   General
IQC Indefinite Quantity   Contract
ISO International Standards   Organization (or International Organization for Standardization)
ISSA Inter/Intra Service   Support Agreement
IV&V Independent Validation   and Verification
IT Information Technology
KM Knowledge Management
KSPH Keystrokes per Hour
LAN Local Area Network
LOA Letter of Offer and Acceptance
LOB Line of Business
LOE Level of Effort
LOP Letter of Procurement
LT Lot
M&IE Meals and Incidental Expense
MBDC Minority Business Development Center
MBE Minority Business Entrepreneur
MILSPEC Military Specification
MIL-STD Military Standard
MOA Memorandum of Agreement
MOU Memorandum of   Understanding
NAICS North American Industry Classification System
NARA National Archives and   Records Administration
NASA National Aeronautics and   Space Administration
NASFARS National Aeronautics   Space Administration FAR Supplement
NDI Non-Developmental Item
NIIN National Item Identification Number
NIST National Institute of   Standards and Technology
NLT No Later Than
NSN National Stock Number
NTE Not to Exceed



O/A On or About
OCONUS Outside the Continental   United States
OCR Optical Character   Recognition
OFPP Office of Federal   Procurement Policy
OMB Office of Management and   Budget
OPM Office of Personnel   Management
OSDBU Office of Small and   Disadvantaged Business Utilization
OSHA Occupational Safety and   Health Administration
OWBO Office of Women’s   Business Ownership


P/N Part Number
PAR Payroll, Accounting and   Reporting System
PCO Procuring Contracting   Officer
PCR Procurement Center   Representative
PEO Program Executive Officer
PES Professional Engineering   Services
PID Procurement Item   Description
PIN Personal Identification   Number
PIV Personal Identity   Verification
PK Package
PL Public Law
PMP Program Management Plan
PO Purchase Order
POA&M Plan of Action and   Milestones
POC Point of Contact
PPIRS Past Performance   Information Retrieval System
PR Pair; Peer Review(s);   Purchase Request
PRDA Program Research and   Development Announcement


QA Quality Assurance
QAB Quality Assurance Program
QBL Qualified Bidders List
QC Quality Control
QMS Quality Management System
QPL Qualified Products List


R&D Research and Development
RD&D Research, Development and   Demonstration
RDD Required Delivery Date
RDDTE Research, Development,   Demonstration, Testing and Evaluation
RFB Request for Bid
RFI Request for Information
RFID Radio Frequency   Identification
RFP Request for Proposal
RFQ Request for Quotation



SADBUS Small and Disadvantaged   Business Utilization Specialist
SAT System Acceptance Test
SBA Small Business   Administration
SBAC Small Business Advisory   Committee
SBDC Small Business   Development Center
SBIC Small Business Investment   Company
SBIR Small Business Innovation   Research
SBSA Small Business Set Aside
SDB Small Disadvantaged   Business
SDV Service Disabled Veteran
SDVOSB Service-Disabled   Veteran-Owned Small Business
SEC Securities and Exchange   Commission
SF Standard Form
SIC Standard Industrial   Classification Codes
SIN Special Item Number
SKN Stock Keeping Number
SKU Stock Keeping Unit
SOO Statement of Objectives
SOP Standard Operating   Procedure
SOW Statement of Work
SSA Source Selection   Authority
SSA Social Security   Administration
SSN Social Security Number
STTR Small Business Technology   Transfer Program


T&M Time and Materials
TBA To be Announced
TCO Termination Contracting   Officer
TD Technology Development
T for C Termination for   Convenience
T for D Termination for Default
TIN Taxpayer Identification   Number
TINA Truth in Negotiations Act
TIPS Technical Information   Packages
TQM Total Quality Management
TTN Technology Transfer   Network


U/I Unit of Issue
UCC Universal Commercial Code
UPC Universal Product Code
USC United States Code
USG United States Government


V&V Verification and   Validation
VAR Value   Added Reseller
VC Venture Capital(ist)
VSC Vendor   Support Center



WAWF Wide Area Work Flow
WBC Women’s Business Centers
WBE Women’s Business   Enterprise
WBS Work Breakdown Structure
WOSB Woman-Owned Small   Business


XO                                                                                      Executive Officer


YOB Year of Birth
YR Year
YTD Year to Date