How to Win Government Contracts

Step by step plan on how to successfully sell to city and state agencies.

By Anne Field

How to Win Government Contracts imageEntre­pre­neur Lloyd Hawthorne launched his Bronx-based Golden Krust Caribbean Bak­ery in New York City in 1989, turn­ing it into a suc­cess­ful, nation­wide fran­chisor sell­ing pop­u­lar Jamaican fare. But his first really big break came in the 1990s, when he won con­tracts to sup­ply food to the prison at New York’s Rik­ers Island and the New York City pub­lic school system

The first thing is to get cer­ti­fied with the right program.

Of course, land­ing such deals with munic­i­pal­i­ties requires more than a good prod­uct. It calls for an under­stand­ing of how to nav­i­gate the sys­tem. To learn more about the intra­ca­cies of man­ag­ing that process, writer Anne Field talked to Jean Kris­tensen, pres­i­dent of Jean Kris­tensen Asso­ciates, a New York City–based con­sult­ing firm that helps small busi­nesses wend their way through the local bureau­cracy and win con­tracts with city agencies.

The key is hav­ing a plan. The first part of that plan should involve find­ing out whose buy­ing what—pinpointing your tar­get audience.

Imm­pre­neur: Most small busi­nesses would love to strike the type of deals Golden Krust signed. But how do you even get started

Kris­tensen: The first thing is to get cer­ti­fied with the right pro­gram. For exam­ple, most cities have pro­grams for women– and minority-owned busi­nesses. In New York, they’re offered through New York City Busi­ness Solu­tions. The pro­grams help gov­ern­ment buy­ers iden­tify women and minority-owned com­pa­nies they might want to do busi­ness with. But first you need to fill out an appli­ca­tion to be cer­ti­fied, includ­ing a his­tory of your busi­ness, ref­er­ences, and finan­cial information.

Ulti­mately, it’s a very valu­able mar­ket­ing tool that can dis­tin­guish you from other, larger com­pa­nies doing busi­ness with the city. Plus, most munic­i­pal­i­ties have sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money set aside specif­i­cally for minor­ity and women-owned businesses.

If you’re not women or minority-owned, you may be eli­gi­ble for other small busi­ness pro­grams your city might have.

 

Imm­pre­neur: What’s the next step?

Kris­tensen: The key is hav­ing a plan. The first part of that plan should involve find­ing out whose buy­ing what—pinpointing your tar­get audi­ence. Look at your city’s web­site—in New York, it’s nycity.gov—and find out who’s respon­si­ble for pro­cure­ment, as well as what they’re buy­ing. Munic­i­pal­i­ties are required to be trans­par­ent, so they all have such resources.

Say there are 50 buy­ers on the list. Some will include agen­cies that pro­vide a lot of infor­ma­tion about what they need and how to con­tact them; oth­ers will be less forth­com­ing. So, some will require more dig­ging than others.

No mat­ter what, it’s impor­tant to con­tact each one. You do that by mak­ing phone calls, send­ing e-mails, and fol­low­ing up with spe­cific questions.

*Are they inter­ested in buy­ing the type of prod­uct you sell?

*Who is in charge of pur­chas­ing that cat­e­gory of product?

*If you are a woman– or minority-owned busi­ness, make sure to iden­tify your­self that way.

For exam­ple, I’m work­ing with a com­pany sell­ing baked goods that’s inter­ested in sup­ply­ing to Rik­ers Island, like Golden Krust has done. So, I con­tacted the pro­cure­ment depart­ment for the New York City Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions and asked them to put us in touch with the per­son in charge of buy­ing bak­ery sup­plies. We’re now in the process of nego­ti­at­ing with them.

You need to develop a sales plan for the next year with events you’re going to attend, how you’re going to com­mu­ni­cate with buy­ers, and how you’re going to fol­low up.

Imm­pre­neur: What else should your plan include?

Kris­tensen: You need a com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­po­nent to your plan, with a blue­print for inter­act­ing with the appro­pri­ate agen­cies. It should include:

An account­abil­ity statement

* Con­tact information

* A descrip­tion of your business

* Codes the agency uses for your par­tic­u­lar type of product.

So, if you call and leave a mes­sage with a buyer, who doesn’t return the call, the next course of action is to send an e-mail with an account­abil­ity statement.

But also, you need to iden­tify ways to inter­act with buy­ers beyond send­ing e-mails. For exam­ple, make sure you go to events that buy­ers attend. In New York City, there are a num­ber of pro­cure­ment fairs each year where buy­ers from city agen­cies come to meet with small busi­nesses. And you need a plan for fol­low­ing up. Often, busi­nesses get busy and don’t do that.

The bot­tom line: You should develop a sales plan for the next year with events you’re going to attend, how you’re going to com­mu­ni­cate with buy­ers, and how you’re going to fol­low up.

Before you get started, make sure you have a good basic website.

 

Imm­pre­neur: Any­thing else to consider?

Kris­tensen: Before you get started, make sure you have a good basic web­site. It doesn’t have to be fancy. But you need a good way for peo­ple to com­mu­ni­cate with you. And you should have a professional-sounding domain name and busi­ness cards.  All that can set you apart from other com­pa­nies just start­ing out.

Related Con­tent
A Taste of Home, Golden Krust Caribbean Bak­ery
Advice from Low­ell Hawthorne, CEO of Golden Krust Bak­ery
Guide to Online Mar­ket­ing 
Find City and State Agen­cies 
More Win­ning Sales Strategies 

 

Immpreneur Empowering immigrant entrepreneurs

IMMPRENEUR.com is a website specifically created for immigrant entrepreneurs. The site delivers content, resources and tools to help immigrants launch, manage and grow successful businesses in the US. Learn how successful immigrant businesses were started, and how to build your own success by reading Immpreneur.