By Marion Soublière
The Government of Canada, which spends about $20 billion yearly on goods and services, faces an ever-increasing need to contract skilled professionals. More than 25 per cent of boomer bureaucrats will retire from or leave the civil service over the next few years, according to a Dec. 16, 2010 Globe and Mail article.
Since 2005, the Canadian government has been trying to increase the amount of business it does with small and medium-sized firms, including sole proprietors. Today, the federal government’s central vendor database, the Supplier Registration Information (SRI) system, features more than 110,000 businesses. But that’s far fewer than the 2.4 million business establishments that Industry Canada statistics show operate in Canada.
Ultimately, this is good news for Toronto entrepreneurs looking for new markets. In Ontario, the federal government is a major player, with offices from more than 30 departments and agencies located throughout the province. Ottawa is also a fairly close commute from T.O., opening up possibilities to contracts in the National Capital Region.
Register yourself as a supplier
To tap into the federal market, first register as a supplier at buyandsell.gc.ca, the procurement portal of the new Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME). This will give you your Procurement Business Number — mandatory to get paid by Public Works and Government Services Canada and other departments. Public Works shops for more than 100 federal departments/agencies.
Update your SRI profile once every quarter, and add new commodities categories that apply to your business. Buyers search mainly by commodities.
Use short-, medium- and long-term strategies for getting work
Go for a multi-pronged sales approach to boost your chances of landing contracts.
1. Short-term (temp agencies / subcontracting)
2. Medium-term (source lists / government-wide procurement vehicles)
3. Long-term (standing offers / supply arrangements)
Short-term: Get contracts, and federal experience if you lack it, by working for someone else. This could be through a temp agency / consulting firm that holds a standing offer / supply arrangement award to supply temporary help services to the Government of Canada. There are 88 such firms in Ontario (excluding the National Capital Region). Find their contact information by searching “Awards” in MERX (www.merx.com), the Canadian public sector’s largest online tendering system. You could also subcontract to a company that already has a federal contract. To learn about contracts awarded, search “Contract History” at buyandsell.gc.ca, MERX, Treasury Board’s “Proactive Disclosure” section for all departments or “Proactive Disclosure” reports on individual departmental Web sites, and/or www.disclosed.ca, run by the non-profit www.visiblegovernment.ca.
Medium-term: Get on source lists for low-dollar buys ($25,000 and under) with departments/agencies that are a good fit with your expertise. Touch base with departmental materiel managers (find Ontario contacts at buyandsell.gc.ca) or other managers relevant to your sector (check the Government Electronic Directory Services, tinyurl.com/GoCEDS). As a courtesy, e-mail managers other than materiel managers – don’t phone them. Also apply to get registered with government-wide supplier databases / procurement vehicles that suit your skills. Some, like Professional Services Online, accept new suppliers any time. Others “refresh” their databases only every 18 to 24 months or so. Scan MERX for refreshment notices. A few coming up this summer and fall are for the Task and Solutions-based Professional Services, and Learning Services vehicles.
Long-term: Most federal contracts valued at or above $25,000 ($10,000 for printing) are posted on MERX. While proposals take time to prepare, they can yield more benefits in terms of the dollar value and length of contracts. Standing offers, for example, are multi-year. Supply arrangements usually do not have time limits.
Take free seminars and Webinars
OSME seminars: Sign up for free seminars on writing proposals, getting security clearance, and other aspects of doing business with the Canadian government. Find details on Toronto seminars at buyandsell.gc.ca. OSME’s Ontario Region website highlights additional seminars, including those in other Ontario cities and towns.
MERX Webinars: MERX offers hour-long Webinars to help suppliers learn how to optimize tender searches, find partnership opportunities and more. See “Government Seminars” at http://www.merx.com for details.
Marion Soublière’s book, Getting Work with the Federal Government: A guide to figuring out the procurement puzzle (iUniverse, 2010) is available from Amazon.com, Chapters.ca and www.kobobooks.com.