How to succeed at the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization

At a recent networking function I attended, representatives from several companies had an opportunity to stand up and introduce their respective firms. Three of them talked for their allotted 30 seconds about their socio-economic status.

What was missing? Not one of those three speakers mentioned what their company did as a business.

For years I have been talking to officials from federal Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization about this topic, and the fact is many companies have unrealistic expectations.

Every official I spoke with had the same complaint: many of the company representatives coming in to see them had not done their homework, did not know whether or not their products or services fit the agency’s needs, did not understand the agency’s mission and often expected to leave with a contract based on the socio-economic status of their company.

In order to ensure a first visit that is worthwhile for all, start with these tips.

Before your visit:

  • Go through the agency website to learn as much as you can about the agency and its mission.
  • See what contracts the agency prefers. Does it have its own contracts?
  • Does what you provide match with what that agency needs?
  • Find and read the Office of Management and Budget 300 Submission.
  • Prepare a one-page document to leave behind that details your company information, your area(s) of expertise, NAICS codes, experience and key personnel bios.

During your visit:

  • Do not go in talking about “me” or “my company” – be prepared to ask intelligent questions that will give you background info.
  • Do not expect a contract by visiting an OSDBU; they do not make acquisition decisions.
  • Do not think you are entitled to a contract simply because you are a HUBZone, 8a, women-owned, or service-disabled veteran-owned business.
  • Do expect to be treated fairly and with respect.
  • Do expect to learn about the agency’s mission and challenges.
  • Do expect to learn where you might fit into its mission.
  • Do expect to learn who the decision-makers are.
  • Do expect to learn how to get access to them.
  • Do expect to learn what contract vehicles the agency prefers.
  • Do expect to learn who the good and bad incumbents are.
  • Do expect to learn which large prime contractors are working there and who their small business liaisons are.
  • Do expect to get access to the agency’s Forecast of Contract Opportunities.

After your visit:

  • If the agency is a good target for your services, stay in touch and do what was suggested.
  • Send a “thank you” email.
  • See if the OSDBU is on LinkedIn, GovLoop or Facebook and make a connection.

The successful first visit to an OSDBU is not for giving hand-outs. It is to listen and learn. You have to be proactive, know your niche and know where it fits for this agency, and ask good questions.

For this article I picked the brains and websites of Judy Bradt at Summit Insight and Scott Denniston, former OSDBU at the Veterans Affairs Department and now owner of Scott Group. His contribution forms the major part of the “during your visit” portion. He is also a great resource for companies entering the government market.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

Reader Comments

Fri, Sep 24, 2010 Amtower

All- thanks for the feedback- positive or otherwise. The overall point is to go in with your eyes and ears open, and having done your homework. Jonathon - harsh? I don't think it is harsh to ask contractors to do homework before a meeting with a government office. If you fidn that harsh, there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. And I cannot ask an OSDBU to resoond to this - as government officials they would need to get permission to say anything offical on this web site. But Scott Denniston, who provided me background for this, is a recent graduate of the OSDBU ranks. He also advises small business now as a consultant. I have had a couple calls & emails from current small business officers applauding this article. And I have no idea by what you mean about I didn't reference contractors in this piece. As for the anonymous comment on using the set-aside status: I don't doubt that some contractors look for this on occasion. The program managers (contractors) I speak with prefer small biz partners that can perform significant, albeit special, tasks.

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 Eileen Kent Chicago

I think this story is spot on when the OSDBU has been at the agency awhile, they can especially be helpful when you ask about these critical points Mark says: *Do expect to learn what contract vehicles the agency prefers. *Do expect to learn who the good and bad incumbents are. *Do expect to learn which large prime contractors are working there and who their small business liaisons are. *Do expect to get access to the agency’s Forecast of Contract Opportunities. But you have to ask for this information, so use Mark's notes here and create a series of interview questions before you walk into talk to them. Another one I would ask is: "I offer assistance to Project Experts in the following areas(pick one that describes your typical project manager): HR, Facilities, IT, Engineering, Environment, Energy, Sustainability..." Who should I call on at this agency who has an equivalent title? Do you know them? Tell me about their background...What's their number, title, address, email address, department location..." OSDBUs are a great start, but don't let them lead you by the nose. Ask the direct questions Mark gave above and then the most critical...."Who Uses What I Sell? Who Needs My Services Here? Who Makes Decisions about __________." The savvy OSDBUs will know, but they won't give you the info unless you ask for the info. If they say they can't give you that info, you need a little more time to develop a trusting relationship with them, or nose around their agency website a little deeper and find the end user names yourself. ....and finally, if you have a bad experience with an OSDBU, move on or around them and find the FOIA officer or call directly on the department who needs your services. Don't let them be your gatekeeper. Good Stuff! Eileen Kent

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 Tom Johnson Set-Aside Alert

Mark has brought together an excellent outline here. And contrary to the last comment, the OSDBU executives are playing a serious role in the acquisition process in many agencies these days. OSDBU's are putting it on the line when they can say they know 3 or 5 or 10 small businesses that can effectively do quality work, and at good rates. Acquisition officers are now taking them seriously and putting more work out as set-asides.

Wed, Sep 22, 2010 Jonathan Herndon

Mark, these are extremely harsh comments. Please respond or better yet, ask an OSDBU rep to respond. What is clear is that contractors will not speak "truth to power" or even "truth to influencer"

Tue, Sep 21, 2010

Just a quick observation, speaking as a small federal contractor with one of the SES classifications. It's been my experience that the established primes and the agencies don't really pay much attention to a small business trumpeting their product or service; after all, the big established firms probably already offer the same thing. They only seem to sit up and pay attention when you lead off with your SES classification. Pushing our classification has opened doors that a services one-pager didn't.

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