Canada's governments account for 40% of every dollar our nation produces.
Yet many small businesses don't even consider the public sector as a market for their goods and services, and in doing so, may limit their opportunities for revenue and growth.
They may not equate "government" and "customer," or think that dealing with governments requires special knowledge or too much paperwork, or they may have been put off by recent procurement scandals in Ottawa and Toronto.
Yet with the federal government alone purchasing more than $12 billion in goods and services each year on behalf of 140 departments and agencies, and with tens of thousands of contracts being awarded annually, from aircraft to paper clips, few small businesses can afford not to look more closely at doing business with government.
So how can you get business from government?
Here's a primer of what every small business should consider.
The first place to look is the Government of Canada's homepage for companies large and small that want to do business with Ottawa. This site is an on-line primer that spells out the basic rules and answers many questions you'll have.
It also discusses two key concepts about selling to government: the first is "Registering" and the second is "MERX".
If you want to do business with the federal government, you'll have to give them details about your business and its capabilities so they can assess for which contracts you can be considered.
Fortunately, the registration process has been streamlined in recent years, you only have to register once in order to be considered for virtually every piece of government business your company would be considered for. You can do this on-line at the Supplier Registration Information (SRI).
You can still register off-line if you don't have Internet access, although it involves phone calls and faxing. But this is just another argument for getting on-line if you aren't, because all levels of government in Canada - municipal, provincial and federal - have now moved their contracting and bidding processes on-line. This includes federal and provincial government, as well as MASH, the acronym for Municipal, Academic, School and Hospital. In other words, almost everything that isn't strictly the private sector.
This brings us to the second concept: MERX which lets you know about specific business opportunities with the public sector.
MERX, which is an acronym for the Montreal company, Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc. is Canada's official, public-sector electronic tendering service. Its technology has governments in the U.S., Mexico, Japan and Australia looking at it for ways to provide their own businesses with a centralized, transparent and affordable electronic tendering service.
It will cost you $29.95 to sign-on with MERX, which will notify you when an opportunity of interest to your company comes up for tender. MERX can let you know about opportunities for Canadian companies to bid on business abroad, or inform you on the outcome of contracts and bids.
There are tens of thousands of contracts listed on MERX with 1,000 new ones listed each week.
There's a myth that MERX is only for big business and big contracts. The reality is, over 80% of its customers belong to Canadian companies with fewer than 50 employees.
So if you're looking for new markets here at home, take the first steps discussed above and find out more about doing business with government.
After all, why overlook the organizations you've been doing business with for years - the governments you pay taxes to?