This article also appears on MSP Mentor.
The tough part about working in the public sector (whether it’s local government, education, law enforcement, or even the federal government) isn’t necessarily the work itself. It comes from getting the opportunity to do the work. Because of the layers involved in working with local government, a lot of providers don’t specialize in it or may simply avoid it all together. There’s red tape, plenty of bureaucracy, and a slew of various requirements like background checks and other security necessities. Still, there can be some real opportunities when working with the government.
We spoke with Guy Baroan, president of managed services firm Baroan Technologies, about his experience working with local governments. His advice for those hoping to work with the public sector boiled down to a few key things.
Be ready for red tape
It’s not easy to start working with government. As Guy says, you need to meet certain standards in order to be eligible to bid on projects,
“You have to be a legitimate business—you can’t have anything against you as a business, you can’t have filed for bankruptcy, you need to be a real up-and-up company. You also have to go through some training, particularly if you’re talking about law enforcement, and you have to be able to sign FBI background checks for anybody that’s going to be working on the account or anybody in the company who might be looking at information on the network.”
Note: requirements vary based on locality, township, and so forth, but there are some requirements for federal governments listed on this site.
Be patient with processes
You won’t likely be given a ton work right off the bat, but if you perform well, there’s a snowball effect that could allow you to do a lot of business with many different towns and cities. Guy explained it this way:
“If you’re legitimately trying to help people out, you’ll be able to get in and once you’re there, you’ll unlock all sorts of opportunities. Lots of towns know other towns, once you’re in with one you’ll start to get referrals because they’ll be happy with the service.”
Be patient with budgets
One of the biggest things Guy noted is that government simply works different than businesses in some ways, and in particular, when it comes to budgetary constraints. He explains it like this,
“[Government] is not like a business where money could be allocated if needed. A town has a certain amount they could spend in a given year and they use state contracts for equipment they need, but it has to be budgeted and approved. If they want to go above what the allowable yearly expenditure is, they have to start getting bids. The challenge is that you’re working with a client and even if you’re doing a great job, they don’t usually want to exceed the costs they have and they may not want to go out to bid at all.”
Government budgeting can be tricky, but Guy mentioned that in some cases they can actually provide you with more work in the long run, “Because of the budgeting and approval process, [the government entity] may or may not be able to do it all in a short amount of time. The benefit is that you potentially have lots of long-term projects that are coming up consistently.”
There are a variety of compliance requirements that affect different industries whether it’s SOX in the financial industry or HIPAA in the healthcare field, but whatever the case, they’re typically not so different. “The thing about HIPAA and those types of requirements is they’re essentially just really straightforward, very good security practices,” Guy says, “A lot of the skills are transferrable to other industries, whether it’s government or businesses. If you have these skills, you’ve already taken huge steps toward working with other industries.”
Once you have compliance in a few industries, you’ll be empowered to work with nearly any client type, regardless of their various regulations, and that includes those in the public sector.
After you get a few opportunities in the public sector, you’re in. Do a great job and you’ll get more work and even more opportunities for various entities. Guy sums it up nicely, “When you look at it all, it can seem overwhelming. But if you’re willing to take your time and learn, these government opportunities can be very long term.”
Photo credit: succo via Pixabay