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11 Ways Federal Buyers Will Find Small Business Contractors in 2024

business development Jan 09, 2024

 If you are a small businesses seeking federal contracts in 2024, you must prioritize your visibility and attractiveness to federal buyers. If they can't find you, they can't buy from you!

The first step in the 7 Step Process for Federal Success is making your small business visible and easy to find. When federal buyers are looking for a partner to meet their program requirements, you want to be the first company they see.

Next, your business profile must be "attractive enough" to hold their attention, must have a cleared, focused offering, and show you understand the buyer's needs.

Join Neil McDonnell for a 'behind the curtain' preview at how federal agency buyers really do their market research and what you need to do to capture their attention and be competitive in 2024.

Government Contracting: What Federal Buyers Really Want from Small Businesses

➢ 06:34 

Federal buyers are very clear about what they need from their industry partners:

  1. Proven Experience
    • Can you prove you have been paid for similar work in their agency?  Or in another federal agency?
    • If not, do have you an established track record in the commercial sector?
  2. Risk Reduction
    • Federal agencies are looking for companies that will minimize their risks. They will avoid anything that might introduce new risks.
    • There is always some risk in projects and contracts, but the buyer needs to confident you'll be able to help them manage or reduce that risk.
  3. Partners to Help Them Achieve Their Agency Mission
    • Federal agencies need vendors who are committed to contributing to the success of the agency mission, not just there to make money. This is much more than a transactional vendor relationship.
  4. Agency Raving Fans
    • Federal buyers want to see you have done the research to really understand the agency challenges and goals.
    • Did you review the latest Strategic Plan and Annual Report from the previous fiscal year to see what we've accomplished?
    • Have you looked at OIG reports for our agency and downloaded our key management challenges, so you understand the challenges we're facing?
    • Do you understand the long range goals and objectives? Are you familiar with priority action items  – even at a high-level?
  5. Financial Stability
    • Buyers need to know you can handle a 30-60-90 payment delay, if it occurs for any reason (like a government shutdown!).
    • They need to know that your employees are taken care of and there is no risk or disruption to the contracted work.
  6. Contract Vehicle Holders
    • Federal buyers prefer vendors already on the contract vehicles they will be using. For example, Navy buyers may give preference to businesses on Navy Seaport Next Generation to shorten the process.
    • Of course, they want the most qualified small business, but they prefer those already in the system.


What Federal Buyers DON'T Want from Small Businesses

➢ 12:38  

Buyers will not consider:

  1. Rookie Businesses
    • If your business has no federal experience, you should start by subcontracting under other small businesses. Government contracting can have significant bureaucratic burdens that are not required in the commercial marketplace.
    • By subcontracting, you can learn the #govcon ropes from experienced firms, establish your past performance and build your network and reputation.
  2. Companies Who Sell Everything (but not 'one thing')
    • Successful companies have focused core competencies with clear and compelling offers that are easy to identify and understand.
    • When you 'niche down', buyers are more likely to believe you fit their needs. Selling everything indicates you're 'a master of none'.


THE PROCESS: How Federal Buyers Find Small Businesses

➢ 14:49 

The 11 Step 'Shortlisting' Process

Recruiters 'swipe left and right' to rapidly reduce the volume to a limited qualified pool of applicants. Federal buyers shortlist using NAICS codes, keywords, socio-economic tags, whether you responded to the request exactly as requested, etc.

The preliminary screening is not usually done by project experts. With over 300,000 small businesses registered to sell to the federal government, their process has to be fast and efficient. Every federal buyer searches for thousands of buyers for thousands of different contracts every year.

Shortlisting is a way to advance a sufficient number of qualified vendors to the next phase of review.




  1. Contract Incumbents 
    • Can current contractors support the requirement?
  2. Contract Vehicle Holders
    • Can they support this need?
  3. Recent RFP Responders
    • Can any firm who has responded recently fill the need?
  4. Recent RFI Responders
    • Can any firm who has responded recently fill the need?
  5. Personal Favorites
    • Do I already know of preferred small businesses that can support this need?
  6. Other Contracting Officers
    • COs will turn to their colleagues for recommendations about vendors they've used in the past.
  7. Agency Supplier Portal
    • Are there qualified vendors registered in our in-house databases? (instead of looking externally?)

➢ 24:09 


  1. DSBS
  2. Sources Sought
    • 'Sources Sought' notices invite vendors to demonstrate interest in the agency's requirement.


  1. SBA
    • If all else fails, federal buyers can ask SBA District Offices to help them engage industry to find qualified vendors.
  2. PTACs
    • Federal buyers will reach out to PTACs (now called APEX Accelerators) to see if they have clients that might support the need.
    • Learn more here


3 Ways to Rise Above Your Competitors

➢ 24:55 

Here are three ways to increase your visibility and rise above your competitors when federal buyers look for firms like yours.

  • Embrace Social Selling
    • Buyers are active on LinkedIn, social media platforms and the internet. They are searching for vendors and posting about immediate and upcoming opportunities. Be sure to maximize your digital marketing to raise your visibility, demonstrate your subject matter expertise and expand your network. 
  • Register in Supplier Portals
  • Respond to RFIs
    • Respond aggressively to RFIs or Sources Sought Notices. When you respond with the highest quality response to opportunities in your core competency, buyers will begin to notice.

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