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Posted 12/20/2017

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By Eileen L. Williamson

The Society of American Military Engineers hosted its Small Business Conference for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry from November 15-17 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a first time attendee, I learned some valuable tips that were shared repeatedly among attendees. They are captured here.


1. Environmental work and sustainability have varied meanings.

Every project listed below uses the words environmental or sustainable – we must communicate to narrow that focus.

  • Improving or protecting wetlands and waterways for fish, wildlife or endangered species
  • Cleaning up a site identified as a superfund site or contaminated with hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste
  • Constructing or renovating a facility to meet LEED certification standards, incorporating environmentally friendly materials, methods or resources
  • Conducting air quality or noise testing in a facility
  • Conducting water quality testing for rivers, streams, aquifers and even facility drinking water 
  • Optimizing energy efficiency or incorporating NetZero measures
  • Designing landscaping that doesn’t require watering and captures rainfall and gray-water for reuse
  • Undertaking a project that requires special permitting because of its proximity to lakes, rivers, streams or protected wetlands
2. Answer requests for “Sources Sought”
When an agency advertises sources sought, it isn’t simply “resume-banking”. Businesses and those advertising business opportunities should communicate to better understand each other’s needs and qualifications.

3. Be thorough
Contract opportunities should be thorough and clear about needs and expectations. Proposals should be detailed and specific to the advertised requirements. We can all be guilty of copying and pasting at times but thorough review for facts, figures and accuracy is as important as a review for spelling and grammar.

4. Team up
Partnering and joint ventures are excellent opportunities to grow your skills, capabilities and experience in other markets.

5. Get listed
Be sure you are listed in the Dynamic Small Business Search Database. Update your listing, profile, capabilities, etc. This is as important as answering the call when sources are sought.

6. Set goals
Know your company’s capabilities and limitations. Focus on quality over quantity when pursuing project work. Perhaps an opportunity is right up your alley but in an unfamiliar location and another project is in a location where you have considerable staff and talent but may present challenges. You can apply for both but you may be more successful if you can present to the agency a stronger argument or if you spend more time focused on how you will overcome the challenges if selected for the work.

7. Look ahead
Don’t just study the FedBizOpps

website. Look for and ask for contracting forecasts from agencies you already work with. While a forecast opportunity isn’t a guarantee, it helps you know what types of projects are on the horizon and what types of project portfolios you should focus on developing.

Did you know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division posts its Contracting Opportunities Forecast online?

The Northwestern Division also makes Contracting Opportunities available on Twitter @NWDUSACE with the Hashtag #FedBizOpps 

8. Look beyond a project’s location

Projects are often put out for bid by the contract specialty type. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosts Centers of Expertise for Environmental Remediation projects, fuels projects, etc. This means the Kansas City District or Omaha District might be advertising for a contract in New Mexico, New Jersey or South Carolina.

Get to know who lets contracts by the contract type rather than the contract location.

9. Get to know your Procurement Technical Assistance Center
The Procurement Technical Assistance Center and Small Business Administration office are there to help. During the last day of presentations, Jackie Robinson-Burnette told a story about a business owner who was no longer able to support some of her contracts due to an illness. She essentially signed over the legal obligations of her contract to another contractor. With a little advice and assistance from the PTAC, she may have been able to sell her business rather than give it up.