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Yvonne Berg

If the Government of Canada is not on your list of potential customers, you may want to re-think your sales strategy.

One of the largest buyers of goods and services in Canada, with annual purchases of $15 billion to $20 billion, the federal government represents a huge market opportunity for small businesses.

Consider this: The Government of Canada secures 475,000 contracts, working with 300,000 suppliers, every year. The majority of the country's companies are small and medium-sized businesses – there are 2.4 million SMBs in Canada, compared with about 13,000 big corporations – so smaller firms are getting an increasing piece of the government-supplier pie.

Thanks to a recently revamped system, dealings with the government have become more transparent and accessible to small-business owners who want to bid on federal contracts. Coupled with simplified online access to opportunities and the bidding process, the new, user-friendly system goes a long way toward eliminating previous frustrations expressed by small companies.

From financial services and information technology, to manufacturing and construction, there are many opportunities, but you need to know how to identify them, how to find the right contacts, and how the system works, including the procurement process.

Here are some guidelines.

Set up an account

Companies that are interested in becoming a supplier to the federal government must first register on the Public Works and Government Services of Canada (PWGSC) "buy and sell" website – the new procurement site for buyers and industry suppliers. PWGSC helps more than 100 federal departments and agencies define the goods and services they need, and identify contractors to meet those needs. After registering your Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) information, business number (BN) or GST/HST numbers, the buy and sell website guides users through the steps necessary to do business.

Seize opportunities

Opportunities can be identified both by promoting your goods and services through the online system or by responding to requests for proposals. Most often, government departments looking for contracts under $5,000 hold their own competitions – rather than going through PWGSC – so it's a good idea to get your company listed directly with the departments that need your goods or services.

The online system that advertises government contracting opportunities to potential bidders is called the Government Electronic Tendering Service (GETS), operated as MERX by Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc. Most contracts worth $25,000 or more are advertised on MERX, including requirements subject to international trade agreements.

Online efforts are also being anchored by a $40-million investment in the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program (CICP), which was created to help innovators bridge the pre-commercialization gap for products and services by awarding contracts through open, transparent and fair procurement processes to entrepreneurs with pre-commercial innovations.

Know the end users

By spending time getting to know the end users of your offerings, you can better meet their requirements in your bid. Research your government market and focus your marketing energy on the right people. Most departments designate one person as a technical authority or co-ordinator for a particular product or service. Use government phone books and departmental organization charts – ordered from Canadian Government Publishing – to pinpoint potential areas of business.

Contact materiel managers, who are responsible for identifying their departments' requirements, forwarding requisitions to PWGSC, and figuring out specifications.

Rely on mentors

Many business advisers have experience helping companies navigate the federal system in order to secure contracts. Mentors can support your business efforts, while helping your company avoid common mistakes.

Particularly at a time when the economy is seeing a resurgence, business opportunities with the federal government will continually increase. Seizing these opportunities is crucial to help bring a small business to the next level of growth.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Paul Rivett is director of client services at the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham , a not-for-profit organization that provides no-fee adviser services to small businesses across the Greater Toronto Area.