Q We've received orders from government agencies, such as the Navy, but we'd like to do more. How can we be proactive and break into the government's supply chain?

Barbara Staib
Safe Home Products
Iowa City, Iowa

The U.S. government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the world, so if you're looking for growth, you're looking in the right direction. There are two ways to break into the government's supply chain: selling directly to the government and selling to prime contractors that are selling to the government. Either way, there are a few different places you can go for help.

Every federal agency has a small-business office, staffed with specialists who can tell you which prime contractors are looking for your products. (A list of those offices is at osdbu.gov/offices.html.) Make a good impression, and a specialist might even reach out to prime contractors on behalf of your company, says Cecelia McCloy, co-founder and CEO of Integrated Science Solutions, based in Walnut Creek, California.s Integrated Science Solutions is the prime contractor on a five-year, $24 million project for NASA, and McCloy says she always picks up the phone when a specialist calls.

Another great place to find advice is your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (aptac-us.org). There's one of these centers in almost every state, and their sole goal is to put you to work for the government. PTAC staff members can help you get the proper small-business or woman-owned certifications. They host regional contracting events. They can also tell you which government agencies might need your products, even at the state and local level.

Whether you are pitching your services to the government directly or to another company, make sure to highlight your past dealings with the Navy and other agencies. And pitch the fact that Safe Home is a small, woman-owned company. Out of the $340 billion in contracts it awards each year, the federal government tries to send at least 23 percent to small companies, including at least 5 percent to woman-owned small businesses. Large companies that do work for the government are expected to reach similar goals when recruiting subcontractors.

Finally, you should join networking groups focused on government contracting, McCloy says. She has made valuable contacts through the Society of American Military Engineers and the National Defense Industrial Association. "We've won one contract through these contacts so far," says McCloy, "and in the long run, there will be more."