Column: Matching small businesses with big buyers

Question: I've grown my business from a very small home-based enterprise to a successful small company. Now, I would like the opportunity to bid on jobs for the government or even some large corporations. Does SCORE have some suggestions on how to get my foot in the door?

Answer: Agencies at all levels of governments often choose small businesses for products and services. In fact, many designate certain projects or annual purchasing volumes for small-sized vendors. Not surprisingly, this makes for a highly lucrative, highly competitive market. But, because of the intricate procurement process that these organizations must follow, it can be sometimes difficult for a small business to get buyers' attention.

For nearly a decade, the public-private Business Matchmaking initiative has provided opportunities to make those all-important connections and navigate the world of government contracting. At Business Matching events held around the country each year, small business owners can land one-on-one appointments with key officials from hundreds of major corporations and agencies.

Another venue is the Victory in Procurement (VIP) program, sponsored by American Express OPEN, the financial services company's small business division. Day-long VIP events provide attendees with interactive workshops on relevant government contracting topics, networking opportunities and keynote speeches by officials and industry experts.

These programs guarantee the opportunity to state your case directly to decision-makers. If you've never sold to large corporations or government agencies, this is an excellent starting point. Best of all, Business Matchmaking workshops and events are free. You can search events, register, and set up to three appointments at www.businessmatchmaking.com.

Larry Curell, owner of Better Deal Printing, worked with his SCORE counselor to obtain some large contracts. "My success came in the form of attending the matchmaking events and using several strategies," he said. "I budget for and spend quite a bit of time traveling to each of the matchmaking events across the country. I always leave with great leads and spend time networking.

"I also go the website for each company or agency and register as a potential supplier - they then reach out to me when there is a need that matches what we offer. And don't forget the OSDBU (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) for each government agency - they match small businesses with the agency buyers."

Curell follows these steps for success:

1. On-time delivery is a must. By building a track record of trust with the buyer, you rise to the top of the list when it comes to the next purchase. If you fail once, they will likely stop using your company.

2. Make life easy for the contact person you are dealing with. Don't just tell them what you can do for them; show them the value you bring to the transaction and how it will benefit them and their company.

3. Build a relationship with the potential client. It may take up to two years to get your first small purchase order from the government or large corporation. Once you establish a reliable reputation and develop a relationship, you will eventually be awarded larger and larger contracts.

4. Know that nothing will happen overnight, but persistence is key when dealing with larger corporations and the government. If you attend one event and leave without a purchase order and then give up, you will surely fail. It takes time, a little bit of money and a whole lot of persistence to succeed.

Ask your SCORE counselor for help with selling to big buyers. Don't have a free SCORE mentor yet? Go to http://northernarizona.score.org, call 928-778-7438, or email scoreoffice@scorenaz.org.