You don’t need your mom to tell you the importance of proper etiquette for everyday life. At the very least, you know not to chew with your mouth open. However, you might need this guide to teach you proper business to government etiquette when pursuing federal contracts.
After all, there are some things you can do in the private sector that you can’t do when you’re working with Uncle Sam.
Even worse, one of the violations on this list can…land a person in federal prison.
So if you’re looking to:
- Secure working relationships in the federal government.
- Leverage federal contracting to grow your business.
- Know the proper communication procedures when talking to federal agencies.
You’ve come to the right place. Here are the top 6 do nots in business to government etiquette.
Plus, at the end of this list is a FREE offer for your business.
Let’s get to it.
5. Do Not Ask Stupid Questions
The Q&A phase of a contract is one of the greatest benefits of the federal sector. Basically, if you have a question about a solicitation, the contracting officer is obligated by law to answer it. They are also obligated to share that answer with everyone bidding on that solicitation as well.
Here’s where that can go all wrong.
Ever hear the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”?
Well, there couldn’t be a saying more inaccurate in the English language. Instead, it should be:
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question, expect the one that has already been answered.”
So during the Q&A phase of a solicitation, what would exactly count as a stupid question?
Let’s say that on FBO or on APP, you find a combined synopsis/solicitation for rubber ducks. Then, during the Q&A phase, you ask the contracting officer, “How many rubber ducks do you need and what color?”
It turns out, that in the body of the solicitation, it was specified that they wanted 100 yellow rubber ducks.
What does that say about you?
By asking such a question, you basically told the contracting officer that you did not read the solicitation. You told them that you have a hard time with directions. You communicated that you’re going to be a hassle to work with.
Remember, in federal contracting, it doesn’t always come down to price. You could submit what’s on paper the lowest bid, and a proper bid, but if they don’t feel confident about you, that contract will go to someone who they do feel confident about. This is their job that’s on the line.
What’s the take away? There’s three of them.
- Always read the solicitation closely.
- Always read the solicitation closely.
- Always read the solicitation closely.
Then you can start asking questions.
4. Do Not Send Anything but Plain Text Emails
What do I mean when I say “plain text”?
A plain text email is exactly as it sounds. No images, no links, no attachments, just the message itself.
What’s the point of doing this?
It should be no secret that Uncle Sam takes cybersecurity seriously. With that being said, having links, graphics, attachments, and signature lines in your email can get it automatically blocked.
When reaching out to a contracting officer via email, your safest bet is just a plain text email. Keep it brief and keep it to the point. Remember, no matter which mode of communication you’re taking, always have an objective behind it.
An email that can’t be received is basically…useless.
Also, speaking about cybersecurity measures, did you also know that your company’s website might also be blocked by government agencies? It might even cost you a contract as well.
We’ve got more ground to cover about etiquette in this blog post, but if you’re worried about your website being blocked by government firewalls, you might want to check out the Simplified Acquisition Program.
Basically, it’s a service provided by US Federal Contractor Registration which will provide you with a federally formatted website (aka an online capabilities statement) that gets past government firewalls. This way you can maintain an online presence for your government customers with a peace of mind.
There are more benefits that come with the program (which you can read about in the link above), but let’s continue.
3. Do Not Constantly Pester Contracting Officers
So you’ve stuck to the plain text format and you’re getting responses from an agency.
About once per quarter, you should always reach out to your potential federal buyers. This way you can maintain a presence and build a bit of familiarity. Be known, but don’t be too intrusive. Constantly emailing a contracting officer back and forth is…well…bad.
On a basic level, it’s just plain annoying. Do you like getting your inbox spammed?
No. You don’t. No one likes getting spammed. It builds a feeling of resentment toward your business.
Secondly, if you’re currently working on a contract and blowing up the contracting officer’s voicemail and email…it flat out makes you look like you have no idea what you’re doing.
They hired you because they believed that you were a professional that can get the job done. Plus, contracting officers have a lot on their plate. Do you think your contract is the only one they’re dealing with?
Imagine if you hired a plumber for your home. How worried would you be if they were constantly shooting you text messages throughout the day and asking various questions while working on your house?
You would feel kind of uneasy. You’d be wondering, “Does this person really have an idea with what they’re doing?”
Again, take the time to make the rounds when it comes to reaching out to contracting officers. Do it too much and you will seem like a pest. If you’re on the job, make sure the majority of your questions, if you have any, are answered early on.
2. Do Not Be a Sore Loser
Losing does not make you a loser, your attitude is what determines that. If you’re the overly competitive type and can’t handle losing, well, you need to leave that mentality at home before you go pursuing contracts. There is no excuse for any spite or a bad attitude because you didn’t win a contract.
Not winning a contract is quite arguably one of the most important steps for succeeding in this sector.
That’s right. In order to get better, you need to chalk up a few losses. Plus, in all likelihood, you won’t win your first bid. In fact, most contractors don’t get awarded until 12 to 18 months of throwing their hat in the ring.
If you didn’t win a contract, simply request a debriefing from the contracting officer, and thank them for their time. That’s it.
With a debriefing, you will find out exactly why you didn’t win the contract. And guess what? You can use that information to improve upon your bidding process and be one step closer to winning your next or even first federal contract.
More than anything, the government wants to build solid business relationships. They want people that they can continue to work with. Just keep improving, have a good attitude, and you will get far in this sector.
Plus, don’t do or say anything malicious toward your competitor. Yes. I used the term “competitor,” but in this sector, there are so many opportunities as far as subcontracting and teaming. The person who just took home the first prize might be a future collaborator.
If you do have a legitimate complaint, like one where there was a breach of ethics, then you’re heading into bid protest territory.
1. Do Not Engage in Any Potential Conflicts of Interest
Alright, now we’re finally on the one that can land someone in jail and severely diminish your future in federal contracting.
You know that bribes and kickbacks are just flat out illegal. There’s no need to explain that in a blog post. You would never (I hope) approach a public servant with money for a quid quo pro deal.
There are, however, actions that might not seem like a traditional bribe as we think of it. In fact, they might just seem like friendly gestures that you offer to your clients in the private sector.
For example, during the holidays, you might send the people you do business with special gift baskets as a token of goodwill. On the other hand, if you do the same toward an agency that has awarded you a contract, this can be considered as a bribe.
It may be a common practice in your industry to take potential clients out for a business dinner or even play a few rounds of golf with each other. Again, this is a big NO in the federal sector.
When dealing with public servants, you may need to put on an entirely different hat. At the end of the day, it’s best to avoid gifts at all costs. On top of that, you don’t even want to create any hints of favoritism or fraternization.
For those curious, here’s just a brief rundown of what gifts federal employees can accept:
- Gifts under $20 per occasion and up to $50 per year from any one source.
- Gifts because of outside relationships (family or longstanding friendships).
- Events where there is no fee for attendance.
- Light refreshments that are not part of a meal (aka coffee and donuts).
- Holiday and greeting cards.
Within these limits, there are cracks in which you can start building name recognition within an agency. You can potentially just ship in a $10 box worth of pens or some other type of cheap swag with your logo on it. Also, holiday cards are great for maintaining a presence among all of your clients, both government and the private sector.
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