The Government of Canada, which spends about $20-billion annually on goods and services, faces an ever-increasing need to contract skilled professionals.
For those looking for new markets, this is good news. Since 2005, the Canadian government has been trying to do more business with small and medium-sized firms, including sole proprietors. Federal departments and agencies have offices throughout Canada that buy locally. Plus, National Capital Region tenders involving work that can be done remotely create more possibilities. Suppliers don't need to be bilingual unless the tender they're bidding on contains bilingualism requirements (many on-site contracts, like those filled through temp agencies, require some level of bilingualism, though).
Here are 10 tips to help you land Government of Canada contracts:
1. Take free government seminars and webinars. Get tips on writing proposals and more through free seminars offered by the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) across Canada. Check the events calendar at buyandsell.gc.ca, OSME's procurement portal for suppliers and federal buyers. Take a webinar from MERX, the Canadian public sector's largest online tendering system. Learn how to optimize tender searches, find partnership opportunities and more.
2. Register in the Supplier Registration Information database. Do this at buyandsell.gc.ca. This will give you your Procurement Business Number – mandatory to get paid by Public Works and Government Services Canada (the main shopping arm of government) and other departments. Update your supplier profile at least once every quarter, and add new commodities categories that apply to you. Buyers search mainly by commodities.
3. Employ short-, medium- and long-term sales tactics to improve your chances. The more ways a federal client can purchase your services, the better. See below.
4. Subcontract (short-term). By working for a company or temporary help services agency that already has a contract, you'll get federal experience if you lack it – a boon should you eventually bid on contracts yourself. Find sources through the new "Pre-qualified Supplier Data" section, updated weekly, at buyandsell.gc.ca. Or search "Awards" at MERX, the "Contract History" database at buyandsell.gc.ca, or Treasury Board's "Proactive Disclosure" section for all departments.
5. Get on source lists / government-wide procurement vehicles (medium-term). Source lists are for purchases of $25,000 and under. Approach departments/agencies that match your expertise. Touch base with departmental materiel managers (see a national list at buyandsell.gc.ca) or other managers relevant to your sector (check the online Government Electronic Directory Services). It's fine to phone materiel managers but e-mail other managers, since dealing with suppliers is not their main job. Also apply to get registered with relevant government-wide procurement vehicles, like Professional Services Online. For a full list, see buyandsell.gc.ca plus "Services for Businesses" on the main Public Works website.
6. Bid on tenders (long-term). Many – not all – requirements over $25,000 are posted on MERX. While proposals take time to prepare, they can pay off, especially if you win a standing offer or supply arrangement award. These lists of pre-screened, pre-qualified suppliers are good for three to four years or longer. Don't have government security clearance? Ask the buyer to sponsor you, should your bid win.
7. Market yourself. Let materiel managers and others know if you've been awarded a standing offer or are on a government-wide procurement vehicle. E-mail the project authority or contract authority on your standing offer/supply arrangement to let them know when you're available. Update them on new skills you've acquired and how you could help out the department.
8. Do your research. Check buyandsell.gc.ca for news. Read reports of departments you're targeting (like annual reports on plans and priorities). Stay abreast of Treasury Board policies relevant to your field. Check MERX daily for new tenders, and watch for "requests for information" or "letters of interest." These might offer a chance to be included on a list of potential suppliers to meet future needs. Or, they may ask for feedback on procurement developments. Such documents can provide business intel, like the recommendation in Public Works's proposed national communications services procurement strategy that social media be treated "as new media outlets for which related communications services can be acquired."
9. Know the Government of Canada fiscal planning cycle. The fiscal year runs from April to March. The first quarter (April to June) is for setting budgets. The second quarter (July to September) is for establishing programs and work plans. The third quarter (October to December) is for purchasing. And the fourth quarter (January to March), the busiest time of the year, is for wrapping everything up.
10. Be aware that new national procurement strategies are in the works. Public Works wants to simplify high-volume, low-dollar, low-risk contracts – that's 93 per cent of all contracts awarded. If you offer professional services, apply to get on Professional Services Online. This supply arrangement for contracts up to $76,600 (the NAFTA threshold) is being completely revamped, and looks like it will play a bigger role in future purchasing.
Marion Soublière of M.E.S. Editing and Writing Services in Ottawa is the author of Getting Work with the Federal Government: A guide to figuring out the procurement puzzle. For more tips, follow her on Twitter at @msoubliere.