Corrections or additions?
These articles by Melinda Sherwood were published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on September 29, 1999. All rights reserved.
Government Contracts: Now Better Deals
Small businesses tend to shy away from doing business
with the federal government because it has always been a tedious,
overburdened process, bogged down by the kind of over-specifications
that produce a $96 hammer. Today, however, big brother is a more
business partner, even for small businesses, says Madeline Britman
of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (973-353-5950).
"The Army and Navy used to have specifications for chocolate chip
cookies, they had a recipes, but now they can buy them from
says Britman. "They can buy hammers and screwdrivers from a
company. Now if it will do the job, they will accept a commercial
product, and the government buys just about anything, from food and
clothing, to nuts and bolts."
Britman will participate in "Marketing Your Business for Contract
Opportunities," one of the workshops that are being offered during
Trenton Small Business Week `99. Five days of free seminars and
events kick off on Monday, October 4, at the Fleet Bank networking
breakfast at Maxine’s Restaurant at 8 a.m. Britman speaks at 1 p.m.
at the Mary G. Roebling Building at 20 West State Street in Trenton.
Other speakers: Patrick J. Guidotti, manager of New Jersey
Office of Small Business, and Susan Hogan, a supplier development
manager at PSE&G. Call 609-984-3408.
Britman has worked at the Small Business Development Center for nine
years and holds a BS in chemistry from Douglas College, Class of 1960,
and a masters in industrial relations from Rutgers University. As
director of procurement programs, Britman helps state businesses
out if they are ready to sell to the government and try to get them
through the beginning steps with the state or the federal
A certain amount of contracts are set aside by both state and federal
government for "small business," defined differently at each
government level. In New Jersey, says Britman, a small business
fewer than 100 employees and annual revenue is not taken into account.
The federal government considers much larger businesses to be small
businesses, but it depends on the industry. "Manufacturing can
be up to 1,000 employees," says Britman.
New technology and new laws have made it easier to learn about
contracts, make a bid, and get paid. First, says Britman, the
is making a conscious effort to do better business by looking beyond
the bottom line. "Price used to be the most important thing,"
she says. "Now they are looking for best value, which means they
will take other things into account." A business’ past
including delivery history, product quality, and technical capability,
are all weighed carefully.
That might suggest a longer review period, but in fact, the Internet
has sped up the process considerably, says Britman. "Now that
electronic commerce is the thrust, the time has grown much
she says. "Routine items might only appear electronically for
three or four days, and within a week a decision could get made. It
used to be advertised for months." In addition, businesses are
no longer prohibited from using commercial tools, video for example,
to vie for contracts.
The government has sped up the payment process as well, says Britman.
"The government has prompt payment acts, so you know you’re going
to get paid on time," she says. Payment is mandatory within 30
days (federal) or 60 days (state) upon receipt of an invoice, and
the government is now issuing payment electronically. "Progress
payments" can also be arranged for larger projects that involve
ongoing labor costs.
For the small business interested in finding opportunities to sell
to government, Britman suggests the following:
in question, guarantied under the Freedom of Information Act (federal)
or Right-to-Know Act (state). Businesses can then see the figures
that won on a prior bid and create a strategy accordingly. "It’s
public information so you contact the agency and figure out who won
the contract last year and at what price," says Britman.
suggest a new company try to limit the amount of business with the
government to see if it’s going to pay off for them," she says.
"When you’re dealing with private industry they’ll continue with
you if they’re happy with you. But the government has to move around
and give others opportunities. I know businesses that have been doing
computer repair or support at one army base for 10 years, but they
still have to compete."
wins the contract. It’s still an important factor, says Britman.
can develop relationships with the people who are using your product,
if you are tenacious enough and decisive enough to know the people
who are making the real decisions," she says. "In federal
government there are small business specialists in just about every
government agency and they would be a person to help the small
person through the maze."
doesn’t like to write checks anymore so you should have a bank account
that will take electronics funds transfer," says Britman.
procurement. "If a contract opportunity is advertised
it will not be advertised somewhere else," says Britman. Among
the most useful sites, says Britman: the U.S. Small Business
website http://www.sba.gov , where government agencies search
for businesses that are registered; the University of Scranton
Resource Center http://www.ecrc.uofs.edu, a site commissioned
by the government for recruiting purposes that has nitty gritty
such as industrial codes that you will need to file bids; and
where all the government agencies are listed.
The New Jersey Small Business Development Center also offers
services for free.
you qualify: at least 51 percent of the company must be owned and
managed by either a woman or a minority. These businesses are eligible
for even more contracts.
out where you stand in the bidding process. "You can find out
whether you’re being competitive enough, can you go lower, or maybe
the government isn’t the right place for you," says Britman.
do a lot of preparation and understand how the government works."
And it’s getting easier to understand.
Big business is doing its duty in fostering diversity
in the marketplace by putting women and minority-owned businesses
on their list of "most-wanted" companies for procurement.
To that end, many of the largest corporations have built diversity
development programs, says Herbert K. Ames, Mercer County’s
director of economic development. "I saw a list from UPS that
was a whole page’s worth of goods and services that they purchase
and look for small, minority-owned and women-owned businesses to
he says. "Staples is another one that has a good diversity
Bristol-Myers Squibb has an excellent program."
Ames will introduce several small businesses to representatives from
the area’s largest companies, including UPS, Merrill Lynch,
Squibb, Staples, and PSEG. The program, sponsored by the Mercer County
Small Business Forum, is "Corporate Contacts for Procurement,"
and it is set for Friday, October 8, at 8 a.m. at the Sovereign Bank
Arena on South Broad Street. The event is free, part of Trenton Small
Business Week `99. Other attendees include Robert Prunetti,
Mercer County executive, William Mate, outgoing head of the
Mercer Chamber, and corporate participants from AT&T, NY/NJ Minority
Purchasing Council, McGraw Hill, NJ Transit, Johnson & Johnson, Merck
& Company, NMSCD of PA-NJ-DE, and Revlon.
Ames hopes to get companies in Mercer County to do more business with
each other. "When we had our last Small Business Forum meeting
I had people from major companies come up to us and say that we want
to get in with these businesses," he says. "Through some very
long meetings with some diversity development directors we found out
that they really didn’t have many Mercer County businesses on their
bidders list. We want to change that. The small businesses need to
know that the large business is looking for them, and the large
needs to know that the small business is out there."
Ames estimates that the larger corporations have set aside between
$100 million and $300 million for diversity program spending.
this meeting on the 8th, businesses will have a corporate contact
in certain large companies that they can call to seek out
If you haven’t received certification as a small or minority-owned
business, now is the time to contact the SBA. "I think that the
corporations will request that these businesses be certified,"
says Ames, "but that’s up to each individual corporation."
The Middlesex County Department of Human Services is
seeking vendors to provide personal assistance services to
adults with physical disabilities who reside in Middlesex County.
The services provided include direct personal care, but the department
is also looking for transportation vendors and social workers. The
deadline for Request for Proposals is Friday, October 15. Call
Just as desktop programs bring publishing to the masses
so too new video editing software is making it possible to produce
corporate video, DVD, and CD-ROM on a basic PC. Instead of spending
a million or half a million dollars at a major studio or production
house, a business need only spend a couple thousand dollars for a
comparable product at one of the new multimedia start-ups, says Brian
McKernan, editor-in-chief of Videography magazine. "Assuming
they have creative talent, they can do the same level work that people
did with $1 million three years ago," says McKernan, who speaks
on "The Changing State of Business Media" at the Moving Images
Professionals meeting on Thursday, September 30, at 6:30 p.m. at Good
Time Charlie’s in Kingston. Cost: $10. Call 609-394-4818.
Some of these small homegrown multimedia shops can buy gear for
that cost $5 million just a few years ago, says McKernan. "It’s
a consequence of the computer revolution and it’s a big business,
even in Hollywood," he says. "A great deal of this work is
being done out of boutiques, in some cases in people’s homes."
Bronx-born McKernan received a BA from the State University of New
York in Oswego, Class of 1976, where he was introduced to the media
business via a primitive cable network owned by the school. "It
gave us a chance to cut our teeth on the new technology," he
He moved to radio, as an announcer near Syracuse, but returned to
New York City city following "the worst winter in 100 years."
He worked for Omni magazine and Broadcast Management Engineering
before joining Videography, one of the oldest and most respected
in the industry.
Now McKernan faces issues that would daunt the editor of any
magazine. "Our most important challenge is to provide for our
readers the most profitable information for now to be successful
he says. "How do people cash in on the Internet, or DVD? How do
we transition from analog to digital? How does everyone manage the
change to HDTV?"
The media explosion of the last decade has made it possible to imagine
a situation in the near future in which television — as we know
it — no longer has a monopoly, says McKernan. "You have
raised on television now raising a generation on Internet," says
McKernan. "The Internet’s streaming video may be compelling enough
to take viewers away from broadcast television."
As the technology matures and the media proliferates, businesses can
expect to have numerous inexpensive options. "A client may ask
you on Monday to do a linear video tape, and on Tuesday they want
DVD, which is interactive, and on Wednesday they want streaming video
for the Internet," says McKernan. And all for less than what a
business might have spent on a simple video.
McKernan’s advice to businesses seeking out production house for
CD-ROM, Internet, or DVDs:
has access to the equipment, the equalizing factor becomes the
says McKernan. "There are certain constants that don’t change.
You have to have story to tell, you have to have a beginning middle
and an end. As the motion picture industry proves, you can have the
greatest movie in the world, but if you don’t have a story, the
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