GSA Schedules are becoming more and more popular with government acquisition offices. Recently, we have seen DoD using them to fulfill small business goals, project managers using them to buy goods/services fast, and companies finding success as short listed solicitation recipients because they have a Schedule.
This popularity coincides with GSA cracking down on those companies that have Schedules with low or no sales. Cancellation of Schedules is becoming more common. Also, rejection of proposals is becoming more common as well. So, the time is right for those companies who have the opportunity to be successful GSA Schedule holders, to increase sales to the government using the tool of a GSA Schedule. Lower competition and higher use is a good combination for many companies not yet on Schedule.
However, as with most things in life and business, timing is crucial. Jumping into building your proposal for a GSA Schedule needs to be correctly timed. There are two considerations 1) current government customer need and 2) government fiscal year. We will talk about both these considerations to help you assess when the time is right to begin working on, and then submitting, your GSA proposal.
1) Current Customer Need
If you are already doing a great job of networking and connecting with government customers, you are in a prime spot to submit a successful proposal for a GSA Schedule. More importantly, you are in a prime spot to gather sales under a resulting awarded Schedule. If you have a customer who flat out is calling you saying “I have to put this requirement on Schedule” or “How fast can you get a Schedule?”, I hope it would be obvious that your company needs to submit your proposal ASAP to get your Schedule. Don’t worry about timing, just make sure that the government customer is serious about their intent to funnel work your way. GSA will move your proposal up on the review and negotiation list if you have a federal customer, with a decent SOW and timeline for award, who is willing to contact GSA to let them know they’re ready to use you. Depending on whether or not you get consulting help (I know companies who successfully win GSA Schedules on their own, sometimes it takes them a year though) it can take a bit of time to build your proposal. With help you can definitely get a proposal completed in two weeks. The long pole in the tent is waiting on GSA. Review and negotiation times vary, but plan on 4-6 months at a minimum between submission and award. Even with the important customer call, it can still take 4 months. It is very dependent on the Schedule, some take 12 months, so if you have a customer who says “Can I buy now?” and you’re a year out, you have to help foster that relationship until GSA comes through.
2) Government Fiscal Year
We are starting the prime government purchasing season. Between now and September 30th, buying will be ever increasing. If you don’t fall into #1 above, think about your timing. Because of the time it takes to build a proposal, have it reviewed, negotiated, then awarded (again reference #1 above), you will most likely not see an award until the next fiscal year. As we know, the beginning of the fiscal year is usually the slowest time of the year for government spending. So if you submit a proposal now, it probably will get in Q1, and your clock for reaching the required sales goals starts at the worst time. You should instead use the time between now and the end of the fiscal to foster relationships and work other purchasing avenues. Use the slow time of the beginning of the next fiscal year to build a complete and easily awardable proposal; one that can be submitted by the end of Q1. That way, you will most likely have an active GSA Schedule (and hopefully willing buyers) this time next year to kick off sales immediately at high-buying time, and reach your sales quota sooner. One caveat to this would be those Schedules that may be 12 months out for review. The solicitation for the Schedule you are looking at should tell you the anticipated processing time.
Although it can be frustrating to see many opportunities go towards GSA, the government will still be spending money next year. In the long run, good timing will only help your company be a successful GSA Schedule holder.