Lessons learned from the front lines as a federal proposal writer, $30 Billion in government contracts later.

Welcome to Government Contracting for the Rest of Us. I am glad you are here. If you want to know more about me, Michele Atkinson, check out the About page.

Before we dive in, let me share something with you. I’ve been seriously thinking about starting this blog for a long time, but something has always stopped me. To be honest, I just didn’t want to do it wrong.

I can explain. In all of my years of professional writing, every word that was published had to be perfect. Millions of dollars were always on the line, and the words I wrote represented the entire qualifications of a company that expected results. The pressure was real. I was up for the challenge. And to me, the way to write great proposals is obvious (more on this later).

Writing a blog on the other hand, is different. First, there is no evaluation criteria. And will I be judged for typos, improper punctuation, or weird sentence structure? I mean, if I claim to be a writer, even my posts should be perfect, right?

I got over it. There will be mistakes. I don’t care. (ok maybe a little)

Introduction: The WHY

I believe in making government contracts more accessible to small businesses. Especially the small businesses that are capable of performing truly excellent work, but just aren’t experts in the art/science/trickery of government procurement itself. If you are reading this, you might be one of them.

Every year for the past 12 years I’ve listened to senior leaders from agencies across the federal government talk about how they aren’t meeting their small business goals. Then I’d spend the rest of the year talking with small businesses about how hard it is for them to win federal contracts, even though they have the certifications, capabilities, staff, and qualifications needed to successfully perform the work. I do my best to make the connections, tell their stories, and ultimately — win them contracts. At the end of the day, though, this is just a drop in the bucket. For every company I’ve met, or written a proposal for, there are countless others who simply gave up on government contracts because it was too complicated. Or too expensive. Or just not worth their time.

Meanwhile, we hear stories in the media about how some jerk who IS an expert in government procurement managed to pull off another fraud scheme and line his pockets with tens of millions in taxpayer money by pretending to be a service-disabled Veteran.

THIS is why we are here:

If that guy can get win contracts based on lies, the real Veterans with real companies and real capabilities should be able to compete fairly and win contracts too.


Let’s look at the definition of a “Small Disadvantaged Business” according to the Federal Register.

§ 124.1001 What is a Small Disadvantaged Business?

(a) General. A Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB) for purposes of any Federal subcontracting program is a concern that qualifies as small under part 121 of this title for the size standard corresponding to the six-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code that is assigned by the contracting officer to the procurement at issue, and that is owned and controlled by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. Unless specifically stated otherwise, the phrase ‘‘socially and economically disadvantaged individuals’’ includes Indian tribes, ANCs, CDCs, and NHOs. A firm may represent that it qualifies as an SDB for any Federal subcontracting program if it believes in good faith that it is owned and controlled by one or more socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

What is a Small Disadvantaged Business - My version

  1. An exceptional small business who learns that there is money to be made from the federal government. The message: there are contracts set aside for small businesses in a whole slew of socio-economic categories, and the government isn’t meeting their goals for these set-aside contracts! (this is true)

    The business invests time and money into certifying as a HUBZone, 8(a), or SDVOSB, with the belief that contracts will be easy to come once they are certified. Then nothing happens. Hustle, time, money, hustle, nothing.

    Sure, a set-aside and a certification can make everyone feel like they are doing something to help these businesses, but if they aren’t actually succeeding, then the disadvantage is still there. It just shifted.

  2. A business that is disadvantaged because they don’t have a strong network in the industry, aren’t an incumbent, don’t have any former government officials doing BD, and don’t have someone actively trying to make connections for them. None of this is written on the SBA website, by the way.

This is the first post. If you liked it, please tell your friends!