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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

RFIs should unite small businesses. Here's why

The exchange between the audience and the panel was brief but insightful.

I had been asked to be the luncheon speaker at the annual small business forum of the Global Business Network Association, a group dedicated to helping small business get into the federal market.

I showed up in time to listen to the last 15 minutes of the panel just before lunch. It featured an official from the Homeland Security Department and an official from the Office of Personnel Management. They were there to offer insights on how to do business with their agencies.

The question had been about tools to raise your profile with government agencies, and one of the points was the importance of responding when agencies issue notices for sources sought or requests for information.

Agencies often are doing market research to see if there are enough small businesses that can meet the need or the requirement they are trying to get filled.

The advice went beyond making sure your individual company responds but the recommendation was to make sure other small businesses respond as well.

Why would you want your potential competitors to respond? Wouldn’t you want to keep a potential opportunity all to yourself?

Not in this case. It’s important to keep in mind the purpose of an RFI doing market research on small business capabilities. You want to reach out to your network and other small businesses and get them to respond as well – even if they are companies you’ll end up competing against – because a strong response increases the likelihood that the contract will be targeted to small businesses.

It’s a mistake to assume that more than one company will respond.

A second piece of advice dealt with sending in unsolicited proposals. The best time to throw one over? During the government’s third quarter.

The third quarter is when agencies are gearing up for the fourth quarter when they will be trying to spend what’s left of their budget. During the fourth quarter, agencies are more likely to award a sole source contract.

But you need to make sure your unsolicited proposal is compelling and meets an agency need.

And that was one piece of advice that came up several times and one that I repeated during my luncheon talk – know your customer, understand their problems, communicate, communicate, communicate.

A quick note on the Global Business Network Forum: They are small group with just under 100 members. But it is a very collegial group led by Michael Davis of Davis-Page Management Systems and Craig Hanford of Hanford Consulting.

Unfortunately, the group’s website is down right now, but if you are interested in connecting with them, let me know and I’ll facilitate.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 02, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Reader Comments

Thu, Jul 3, 2014

Nick, good advice. I advise small businesses and they complain that they do not have time to respond to RFIs. This post by you should underscore the advice I have given many SBs.

Thu, Jul 3, 2014 Kristina Tanasichuk United States

The Government Technology & Services Coalition, is a non-profit group of over 140 companies working with our Federal agency partners on exactly this topic -- improving the RFI process and market research generally -- on behalf of small AND mid-sized companies. Helping the government understand that value of different sized companies, in addition to assuring that the government receives the best possible solutions is still difficult. We have developed a business development exchange in addition to an emerging small business group focused on new opportunities and relevant teaming. Additionally, GTSC is working to assure that innovative firms and commercial enterprises contribute to the RFI process to help the government flesh out their research more thoroughly. It is a difficult balance between "fairness" - assuring that everyone has a shot; and more robust discussions with companies that know what they are talking about and can assist in helping the government understand their options and trade-offs.

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