As the circulation director for Government Computer News, Mark Amtower noticed that no one had looked at marketing to the government as a "separate, distinct discipline." So in 1985, he started consulting firm Amtower & Co. to help companies shape their marketing messages for government buyers. Amtower is also a speaker, a radio show host and author of Government Marketing Best Practices.
Entrepreneur: Are a lot of entrepreneurs intimidated by doing business with the government?
Mark Amtower: Yes. When you're looking at the federal government, you're looking at the largest buying entity in the history of the world. That's frightening until you figure out what it's really about: niches. All you have to determine is where your product or service plays in that game. The government consumes every legitimate business product and service imaginable, including services as mundane as plumbing, yardwork and automotive repair.
Entrepreneur: How can entrepreneurs find out about government contracts?
Amtower: Something everybody can use is the Procurement Technical Assistance Program, [which has] 97 centers designed to help [entrepreneurs] understand the mechanics of coming into the government--what kinds of contracts are available, what a GSA schedule is, how the government buys and to whom you should talk. [Find the nearest center at www.governmentexpress.com under "Resources."]
Entrepreneur: What are common mistakes entrepreneurs make when approaching the government?
Amtower: Usually, entrepreneurs identify the agency they want to work with and find the [corresponding] Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. The biggest complaint from OSDBUs is that company owners come in and talk about what they do, how small they are, etc. They aren't asking about what the agency needs and how they can help. The other big problem is identifying the wrong potential client. The best thing to do is research upfront.