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Looking for tips on government contracts

Has anyone submitted a proposal for any one of the government agencies for software contracts? I have been thinking about doing this for a while, but always got confused about where to get the specific information about the subject and what the expected proposal should be.
So if you have had any experience with submitting and getting a software contract, I'd appreciate pointers or tips.

Some specific questions I had:
- I'm an individual (not a company), can I submit proposals or do I have to be a company in order to submit?

- Are there samples of proposals that got the contract? I am interested in the level of details.

- What's the rule of thumb for putting a dollor amount on the proposal? There's ususally a max $ for the contract, should I ask for that? are there advantages/disadvantages for asking for less?

- What are the advantages and disadvantages of making a living from this line of work, vs traditional working for a big corporation?

- Has anyone used those consulting services that claim they can help write proposals for you and get you the contracts? Are the claims valid? or is it a waste of money?

- How long do people ususally spend time on writing the proposals?

Thanks in advance!

RN
Friday, March 19, 2004

- I'm an individual (not a company), can I submit proposals or do I have to be a company in order to submit?

Ask your government what they require

- Are there samples of proposals that got the contract? I am interested in the level of details.

There are no samples

- What's the rule of thumb for putting a dollor amount on the proposal? There's ususally a max $ for the contract, should I ask for that? are there advantages/disadvantages for asking for less?

Cost + Profit

- What are the advantages and disadvantages of making a living from this line of work, vs traditional working for a big corporation?

Advantage: potential for more money. Disadvantage: less job security

- Has anyone used those consulting services that claim they can help write proposals for you and get you the contracts? Are the claims valid? or is it a waste of money?

Some people have used them, and some of the claims are valid and some invalid.

- How long do people ususally spend time on writing the proposals?

Two hours, 15 minutes to four months.

Couldn't Resist
Friday, March 19, 2004

> I'm an individual (not a company), can I submit proposals or do I have to be a company in order to submit?

You probably *should* be a company, even if it's not required.  It will just look more professional.

It's not too difficult to incorporate (as a corporation, LLC, etc.)  There are various sites that will take care of the paperwork for a few hundred dollars.  However, there are various consequences that come with incorporating (tax, record keeping, annual filing, etc.) so you should probably buy a book or two on the subject before filing.

Robert Jacobson
Friday, March 19, 2004

Take a look at this first.
http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20040318.html

Doug Withau
Friday, March 19, 2004

I've done some gov't contracting, but all my work has been sub-contracting for larger companies.  All through people I just happened to know.

A lot of the gov't contracts are open bid and there are a couple of websites that list them:

http://www.fedbizopps.gov/
http://cbdnet.gpo.gov/
(they're a little burried)

One of the people I worked for said you could request to see the winning bids (FOI I think) but could be mistaken on that.  I can tell you it's difficult to win if you're not established and/or already doing similar work.

I think it's difficult to break into as a one man operation; you might have better luck hooking up with an established company, then maybe go it alone once you've got some contracts under your belt.

Lee
Friday, March 19, 2004

There are sties that will Incorporate/LLC you for a fee.  Or if you're in NJ at least, you can bypass those places (which will still be happy to take your money) and do it online directly with the state.

https://www.state.nj.us/treasury/revenue/dcr/filing/leadpg.htm

Ken Klose
Friday, March 19, 2004

Wow Doug, that Cringely article is certainly required reading. A fixed price contract with incomplete, secret specs. No wonder no one is happy.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, March 19, 2004

In a previous job, I worked as a Sales Engineer for a linux hardware company. We did lots of work for government agencies, both state and federal. Each has it's own challenges. Keep in mind that we did hardware (everything from high end Linux workstations to cluster computers), so my experience may be a bit different than yours.

A lot of the federal contracts have some really extra-ordinary requirements, which seemed to indicate that they were targeting large companies. Many of the larger ones required on-site installation and maintenance, which effectively shut out small and mid-size companies. Note that in almost all cases, the lowest bidder is the one chosen, so economies of scale work mightily against you here.

Most contracts for jobs appropriate for a small or medium-sized business have to be developed with contacts at the specific agencies (specific defense groups, NOAA, DOH groups, etc) rather than at large bid sites. Better to develop business relationships there, which will cost you money in the short-term, but pay off in the long term. Or, develop relationships with larger government contractors, who can outsource components of bids to 3rd parties. This is particularly useful if the business is woman and/or minority owned.

Two things that all government jobs had in common:

1. Huge amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy. This will absolutely kill your profit margin.

2. They take forever to pay you. You will never be paid on time.

Doing profitable business with the government is possible, but for small businesses, it is a long term investment of time and money that may or may not pay off.

Wayne Earl
Saturday, March 20, 2004

A lot of medium ot large companies will also insist on  onsite installation and maintenance.

One reason in the case of government is the nightmare of paperwork involved in letting the vendor take something back to base to repair :)

But the main reason is to avoid dealing with multiple vendors who keep on passing the buck to each other. If you have everything set up by the same company it's clear where the responsibility is.

Another thing you will find is strangely worded contracts that are in fact aimed to favour a certain vendor, and more importantly, exclude another. If you are a private company you can simply refuse to deal with a company that gives rotten service. If  you have to follow government guidelines it becomes a little more difficult.

And you often find that the company that wins the contract then sub-contracts everything out to the vendor from hell anyway!

Stephen Jones
Sunday, March 21, 2004

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