Have you ever tried finding business opportunities with the State of Florida?
I’ve worked for the State of Florida for the past eight years in IT divisions, finance/accounting, and procurement. In those different positions, I have seen how state government operates from many different perspectives. One group I have dealt with almost the entire time is small businesses trying to get in and work with the state. The most common theme I hear from these businesses is how it is very complicated trying to figure out how to get an opportunity to work with the state. It can be a daunting task, but it can be done.
My job is to help businesses learn how to find business opportunities with state agencies. Our system, MyFloridaMarketPlace, is one of the most advanced eProcurement systems in the country. Businesses can register in one system and then be able to work with any of the state’s agencies. This is great for the businesses, especially small businesses, but getting registered is only the first step. As a small business, you are just at the beginning of the process to start working with the state after you register in the system.
The most common question I’m asked is how to really start getting the opportunities from the state. My response to that is, “have you developed a marketing plan for state buyers?” The overwhelming response is no! When you developed your initial business plan, there probably was a marketing aspect to the plan. Why would state government be different? Another reason to develop a marketing plan is the state’s 90,000 other registered businesses. You need to stand out with the state agency buyers. You want to be the first person they think of when they need to purchase the product or service you provide. This is called TOMA, or top of mind awareness.
State buyers have specific needs like any other sector. State buyers usually have more policy and procedure they have to follow to make purchases, but other than that they would be similar to your other customers.
There is a great deal of information available, but I thought I would take all the information and try to put it together in a series of posts. Keep in mind, the information I’ll be giving is available on the internet for the public to find, but I think I can pull together the biggest pieces and present them in a logical format. My goal is to make it as easy as possible for small businesses to have the best chance of working with state agencies. This way you don’t have to interpret Florida procurement laws.
To be honest, it feels a little strange writing about work topics from home. But this way I’m not having to follow a style guide that may not be the most up-to-date and I can be much more conversational in my writing. One thing I do want to be clear about. Build your cake elsewhere and let government business be the icing on your cake.
Types of Purchasing Agreements
In Florida, there are three main types of purchases. My suspicion is that other states are similar, but I haven’t done a great deal of research on other states yet.
The three types of purchases are:
- State Term Contract
- Formal Solicitation
- Informal Solicitation
State Term Contracts are statewide agreement that is put together for use by all agencies. This is based on analysis of past purchases by the agencies. This agreement type pools the state’s purchasing power to drive costs down. If your company is ready to support a contract of this magnitude, these are great because the agencies are required to make their purchases from the STCs. These are usually multi-year awards, between 3-5 years, with some renewals built in. These are established and managed by the Division of State Purchasing in the Department of Management Services. STCs are procured through an ITN, invitation to negotiate or an RFx method. RFx is a request for proposal, etc.
Formal Solicitations are for purchases greater than $35,000. By law, these purchases must follow a formal solicitation process. This means the request for the purchase must be publicly posted (there is a system where are formal solicitations are posted) and any business can provide a response. These purchases are normally conducted by agencies and result in what we call an agency term contract.
Informal Solicitations are agency purchases that are less than $35,000. Informal solicitations are not required to be publicly posted. These are the types of purchases where the agency buyers need to know who you are.
These are the ways the state purchases. Now that you have that information, you will need to figure out where your company falls into those different purchasing vehicles. This will help you determine your marketing focus.
In the next post we will discus some basic marketing and communication methods and techniques that will help, not only with the state agencies, but in general business.