ISC Conference 2012, Day 1—Getting work with the federal government

I’ve attended a number of “getting work with the feds” presentations, but Marion Soublière’s at the ISC conference was by far the most engaging, informative, and coherent of them all. Soublière is a writer and editor and the author of Getting Work with the Federal Government. In her talk, she outlined short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies that independent contractors can use to get government work.

Almost two hundred federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations will need the skills of writers, editors, and indexers, so the work is diverse and interesting. Best of all, the compensation can be quite good. With this spring’s round of budget cuts, many civil service positions were eliminated, meaning that the government will have to rely on more contractors to fulfill their needs. What’s more, many baby boomer bureaucrats are in a position to retire, so the opportunities are many.

Soublière dispelled myths that the government works only with large companies (in December 2010, 98% of suppliers were small or medium-sized firms); that you can only work for the government if you go through temp agencies; and that you need to be bilingual (most tenders ask for specialization in one official language or the other).

Public Works and Government Services Canada
does 85% of the shopping for more than one hundred departments and agencies, and 93% of these are what’s considered “low-dollar buys” (less than $25,000). PWGSC runs buyandsell.gc.ca—your gateway to a lot of government opportunities. It is also behind the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises, which offers free seminars about doing business with the Government of Canada.

One of the first steps to working with the government is to register as a supplier. Go to buyandsell.gc.ca, register in the Supplier Registration Information (SRI) database, and get your Procurement Business Number (distinct from your GST/HST business number), which you will need in order to get paid. The government uses the SRI for low-dollar buys. Be sure to keep your profile updated every quarter, because it could be deleted if it’s deemed dormant.

Next, join MERX. Even if you don’t want to bid on tenders there, you need to be able to sign in to see who has bid for them, and this information may lead to subcontracting opportunities.

Since bidding on a standing offer can take months, your best bet to get government is a multi-pronged approach with short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies.

1. Short term

Search MERX for “temporary help services.”

Try to subcontract to a firm that already has a Government of Canada contract. See the Contract History section of buyandsell.gc.ca to find suppliers who have been awarded contracts.

2. Medium term

See the list of departmental material managers on buyandsell.gc.ca, and ask to be added to their departmental source list.

Search the Government Electronic Directory Services site for managers in your field (i.e., communications) and contact them via email.

Approach other key contacts, including PWGSC procurement officers for your community (find these through the Procurement Allocations Directory on buyandsell.gc.ca) and PWGSC regional offices, which will tell you about opportunities in your area.

Apply to get registered in Professional Services Online, which handles buys up to $78,500. Soublière suggests that if you’re a sole proprietor, list yourself as the consultant as well as the owner; keep your per diems, dates available for work, and years of experience updated; and submit quarterly activity reports whether you received work or not.

3. Long term

Bid on standing offers and supply arrangements. Requests for proposals are usually for a one-time contract, and since bids take a long time to prepare, it’s more cost-effective for you to go for opportunities that offer ongoing work. Check MERX daily, and don’t dismiss multi-million-dollar tenders, which could be appropriate for sole proprietors if multiple standing offers are involved. Businesses can also team up to bid on a job.

Tips

  • Don’t bother bidding if you don’t meet all the mandatory requirements
  • Don’t use a solicitation document someone emailed you. If you don’t get on the document request list yourself, you could be disqualified.
  • Ask questions; all questions are circulated to everyone who downloaded the solicitation document.
  • Follow the instructions exactly. Mirror wording and sequence in the solicitation document.
  • Keep work samples handy.

If you don’t have security clearance and you have what the government considers “a possibility of a contract,” you can ask in a bid that a buyer sponsor you. Once you have the clearance, don’t let it lapse—it could take up to one year to renew.

Soublière notes that the more proposals you put together, the faster you’ll get, because much of the material becomes boilerplate. She also emphasizes the importance of marketing yourself—on a website, on LinkedIn, on Twitter. List your standing offers, and follow up with contracting authorities to remind them of your availability.

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This is just a summary of what Soublière covered in her extremely thorough presentation. More information can be found in her book and on buyandsell.gc.ca.

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