Selling your services to the federal government

Last evening the Editors’ Association of Canada’s B.C. Branch meeting featured speaker Walker Pautz from Public Works and Government Services Canada’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME), who gave us some resources to sell our services to the Government of Canada. OSME also gives these presentations monthly at Small Business B.C.

I was at the EAC pre-conference workshop about bidding on government contracts, presented by three EAC members, and I was wondering if the branch meeting’s presentation would essentially be a rehash of that information, but came away from last evening with some information I didn’t know.

Background

PWGSC buys goods and services for all other government departments; individual departments can buy up to $25,000 themselves without going through PWGSC. (I didn’t know about that last part; for individual freelancers who are looking for small contracts, going directly to the departments may be a better strategy than bidding through MERX.)

Finding opportunities

To do business with the federal government, register on the Supplier Registration Information system. This process gives you a Procurement Business Number (PBN), which allows you to register in other databases, bid on contracts, and get paid; a PBN is mandatory for doing business with PWGSC.

Seek out bid opportunities—Requests for Proposals or Requests for Standing Offer, usually—on MERX or Professional Services Online (for contracts up to $76,600). Each good or service is assigned a commodity code, otherwise known as a Good and Service Identification Number (GSIN). You can search the databases by keywords or GSINs.

On MERX, you can sign up for email alerts of relevant opportunities. You can also view who else has downloaded a particular bid opportunity; this allows you to scope out your competition but may also create some opportunities for subcontracting or partnering.

Some government sites like the Translation Bureau will allow you to sign up as a supplier directly.

B.C. doesn’t post on MERX; it uses B.C. Bid, so check there as well.

Bidding

When putting together a proposal, follow the instructions on the RFP or RFSO, keep your pitch clear and simple, and have your proposal edited and/or proofread. Make sure you meet the minimum mandatory requirements, and check the closing dates to make sure you have time to get your bid in. (You are allowed to submit revisions to your bid before the closing date—something I didn’t know.) Don’t assume that evaluators know who you are even if you’ve done business with them in the past.

Each bid will have a single contact to which you can send questions. That person will compile all questions into an amendment to the initial RFP/RFSO.

Some RFPs and RFSOs will leave out some of their legal language and instead refer you to the Standard Acquisition Clauses and Conditions (SACC) Manual.

Most RFPs/RFSOs will ask you to keep your technical and financial proposals separate. Some will require security clearance; you don’t need to get this ahead of time, but you will have to get it if your bid is successful. Once you have it, though, you can use it for other opportunities over a set number of years.

After closing

If your bid isn’t successful, you can request a debriefing from a contracting authority within three weeks of the closing date; the contracting authority will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your bid.

If you have issues and concerns, you can contact the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman.

Smaller contracts

To get contracts under $25,000, the best thing to do is to market directly to individual departments, the same way you would market to a private client. To find contacts,

On each department’s site, you can see past contracts that have been awarded

Even if you become a prequalified supplier by successfully bidding for an RFSO, you still have to market yourself, because the contract authority is probably not the end user of your services. Mentioning that you’re a prequalified supplier can help things along.

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