The below article was provided by the Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (APTAC).

The first step in pursuing government contracts is registering in the federal government’s vendor database, known as the System for Award Management (SAM).  Some agencies, such as FEMA, have their own vendor databases as well. Potential small businesses contractors also sometimes seek special certifications, such as 8(a), Woman-owned, Veteran-owned and/or HUBZone, or they may wish to explore the possibility of a GSA Schedule contract.

There is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor.  Repeat – there is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor.  And there is free and low-cost help available to get you through the process.

A number of commercial enterprises target small business owners unfamiliar with – or confused by – the various government registration and certification processes.  They market their services energetically, sending official-sounding emails directing small business owners to sign-up for their services to be registered/certified, etc – for a hefty fee, of course.  Commercial websites (.com websites, in other words) are just that — commercial. When a commercial website advertises to help you with the process of registering to do business with the government, there’s almost always going to be a fee involved. By contrast, government websites (designated as .gov) offer free advice and registration.

One commercial website recently ran an aggressive advertising campaign directed at businesses, soliciting vendors to fill out a “FEMA Contract Registration Form.” Once the form was filled out and submitted on-line, applicants received the following message: “Thank you for submitting your information. We will be in contact with you shortly. Click below to make a payment of $500.00 for this service.” By clicking on the “Buy Now” button, they were directed to a site to pay $500.00 via a PayPal account for “FEMA Registration.”  Other marketing campaigns by similar outfits have targeted Veteran business owners and those seeking SAM registration using information gleaned from these government databases.

Please know that SAM and FEMA do not charge any money to register as a vendor. And neither does any other federal agency.

Many business owners can navigate SAM, FEMA and other registrations quite successfully on their own.  For those who’d like help with registrations, certification applications or any other government contracting issue, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) provide free and low-cost expert assistance, offering classes, one-on-one counseling, bid-matching services, advice on proposal preparation, matchmaking/networking opportunities and much more. Many PTAC counselors have backgrounds in government acquisition offices or prime contractor government contracting departments, so they bring real world experience to help you.  For those companies that need more basic business assistance, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide the same kind of hands-on, personalized help for general business operation topics.  Because small companies must make every dollar count, it’s smart to leverage these services that are provided through non-profit, federal-local partnerships for the specific purpose of supporting small businesses.

Of course there are circumstances in which it makes sense for a small business to pay a consultant for specialized legal or financial help or for intensive project development, and there are many qualified professionals to choose from.  As with any business decision, thorough research into qualifications, costs and realistic expectations and deliverables are key to determining the right solution for your business.  Never let yourself be pressured into a hasty decision or enticed by an “easy fix”.  Careful due diligence is always the best investment you can make.

Success in government contracting requires a long-term strategy and ongoing commitment.  The U.S. government wants the government marketplace to be accessible to all capable small businesses and has put in place resources to help you.  There is NEVER a fee to register as a government vendor.

To receive assistance with any aspect of vendor registration with any government agency at no cost, please feel free to contact a PTAC near you.

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