A majority of lawn care and landscaping companies start out focusing on residential work and as time goes on, they may branch into commercial work. However, DemandStar CEO Ben Vaught says landscape contractors are missing out on a particular market: government work.
According to Vaught, most landscape contractors are unaware of how they can quickly and substantially grow their business by responding to procurement opportunities.
“Unless it is known within the business that government work is out there, most simply don’t think to even look at government work as an option,” he says.
DemandStar is an online marketplace that connects over 400 state and local government organizations with thousands of local and nationally based suppliers.
It was launched in 1998 after a group of government procurement officers in Florida realized they could make the most of their tax dollars by reaching more suppliers, reducing paperwork and consolidating their processes.
The advantages of taking on government work include developing a secure form of revenue and creating a solid business reputation within the local community.
“Winning a government job can guarantee a revenue stream for a period of time,” Vaught says. “It can also help you establish a reputation in your community almost immediately, and in the event of a recession, government work can make the difference between hiring people or reducing your workforce.”
Some landscape contractors that are aware of government work still tend to steer clear of it based on the belief government contracts are only focused on the price, but Vaught says this isn’t always the case.
“There are several factors that go into awarding contracts, including small business/minority business status, reputation on past performance and, of course, location,” Vaught says. “It’s super important to always read the score sheet included in the RFP to determine what factors are used and then place your bid accordingly.”
Landscapers can access bids with ease by using DemandStar. To become a DemandStar supplier, landscapers simply sign up, register for their free agency and view the posted bids. Users can download the bid packages and conduct research online immediately.
DemandStar offers free access for one government agency. For landscapers wishing to grow outside their immediate municipality, they can bid outside their free agency for $5. Vaught says if you want bids delivered for landscaping work for every city DemandStar covers in a given county, the price is only $25 a year.
“This competitive pricing model gives our agencies access to our diverse supplier network instantly and allows our suppliers to grow without dramatically increasing their overhead,” Vaught says.
As for how to actually win the government bids, Vaught encourages landscapers to take the time to conduct research.
“Transparency laws require that every awarded bid is posted, and business owners who want to get a head start should always research previous awards for pricing qualified suppliers,” Vaught says. “We always recommend that our business owners research previous awards and to go back several years. This gives you an idea on what to bid so you don’t leave money on the table. You want to price yourself to win the business, but you don’t want to underbid either.”
Vaught adds that it is important for suppliers to read and understand how the bid process works. While in some case they are submitted electronically, others only accept bids by mail.
“Know the deadlines!” Vaught says. “You don’t want to put together an amazing bid package, only to find out that you didn’t submit it correctly, on time, to the right place or in the wrong file format.”
He also encourages landscapers to be patient when starting out, as the bid process takes time.
“Research gives landscapers insight into the competition, and helps you build templates that you can use and reuse to quickly bid on jobs,” Vaught says. “It’s important to start out small and build your reputation. Focusing on smaller jobs in the beginning will help you win more valuable jobs later – setting you up for success as you build your business. Consider working as a subcontractor for a general contractor or another government supplier in the beginning while you are learning the ropes.”
In order to stand out from other bidders, Vought suggests thinking outside of the box.
“Sure, you provide landscape services, but many agencies need emergency suppliers for tree and/or debris removal in the event of an emergency if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters like hurricanes,” he says. “If your business does pressure washing as part of its service, you might want to make sure you are also signed up to bid on graffiti removal.”