If you’re new to government contracting one of the first things you’ll need to do is understand the maze of government terminology. Even if you are a regular user of FedBizOpps, there is a good chance you still find it confusing.

The absolutely first code to crack is the Solicitation Type on posted federal opportunities. The Solicitation Type field, as you’ll see below, is often less than accurate. What it should tell you, at a glance, is exactly one thing: “Should I read this notice?” Here’s the short version:

  1. Award – Super easy to understand. This is the list you want your name on.
  2. Combined Synopsis / Solicitation – This is a real, live, actual deal. Most opportunities classified this way are going to actually happen. All of these should include specifications for the product or service and a due date for the proposal. A “Combined” means the agency is expecting a proposal or quote from you.
  3. Sources Sought – A Sources Sought notification almost always means “Small Business Sources Sought.” The government is loosely required to “set-aside” a certain percentage of their procurements to small businesses. (This small business “requirement” has many, many exceptions, and there are many, many workarounds, but the general idea is sound.) Sometimes the solicitation will specify explicitly that they are looking only for small businesses (or 8(a), HUBZone, …) to respond. (Even if it doesn’t say “only small businesses” it means only small businesses.) If a Sources Sought opportunity is in your wheelhouse then you’ll want to add it to your watchlist to manage. Sources Sought is your chance to “get in early.”
  4. Pre-solicitation – Covers nearly everything else. In some cases, it’s really a “Special notice.” In others, it’s a Request for Information (RFI). Sometimes, the Pre-solicitation is, surprisingly, a pre-solicitation – meaning, the “real” solicitation isn’t released yet.
  5. Special Notice – Could mean anything (unless you’re GSA). Often this is a way to post a “sole source” notification which means you aren’t getting the deal. Other times it’s simply a notification of a follow on contract – again, you aren’t getting this one. In some cases (GSA in particular) it’s a Request for Quote or a notice that a RFQ is going to be issued. Still other times the description for the “Special Notice” will begin with the phrase “This is a combined synopsis/solicitation…” Really. (One of our favorites: F3PT710034AG01. The description reads: “this is a streamlined combined synopsis/solicitation…)
  6. Synopsis / Solicitation Amendment – This is either a change or a cancellation. Most of the time these aren’t top-level items, but rather listed (in both Bidspeed and FedBizOpps) as changes to a solicitation. When they ARE top-level items, it’s almost always because someone mistyped the solicitation number. (W912EP-10-Z-0007 vs. W912EP10Z0007). Just for reference, this doesn’t happen much – for example, there are 272 “Synopsis / Solicitation Amendment” items out of 256,352 total items as of February 18th, 2010.

Now What?

In general, you’ll want to concentrate on numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 (Synopsis / Solicitation, Sources Sought, Pre-solicitation, and Special Notice). You need to keep “Special Notice” in your list, especially if you sell to GSA, even though many of these are really “sole source” notices. (GSA has a fondness for Special Notices.)

We’ve tried to make this easy in Bidspeed. To do this, we have a concept of an “Active Solicitation.” Bidspeed defines an “Active Solicitation” as being one of the four important types: (Synopsis / Solicitation, Sources Sought, Pre-solicitation, and Special Notice), NOT archived, and with a response date EITHER in the future or missing.

In Bidspeed, most of the time, you’ll want to keep the “Active Solicitations Only” filter applied. (Click ‘Active Solicitations Only’ on the Filters menu.) This dramatically narrows down the list. Add your NAICS, Class Code, Distance, Date, Agency, Full Text filters to this list. (This isn’t really possible on fbo.gov, one of the many reasons Bidspeed users are happier than non-Bidspeed users.)

Just so you know, a missing response date does not mean what you might expect. Many times, pre-solicitations that are really presolicitations don’t have a response date. These are still interesting and often you’ll want to add them to your watchlist as they are going to become opportunities that you’ll need to manage in the near future.

See? Easy once you know how to crack the code. So, go ahead, get cracking.

If you want a way to get started then you should try Bidspeed. It won’t cost you anything for the first 30 days and after that it’s less than $0.63 a day. Click here to read about plans and pricing.