SAM Registration is Free; Be careful what you pay for

No need to pay high fees for government contracting registration – free help is available!

The first step in pursuing government contracts is registering in the System for Award Management (SAM), the federal government’s vendor database. Some agencies – such as FEMA – have their own databases as well. Small businesses contractors may also seek special certifications, such as 8(a), Woman-owned, Veteran-owned and/or HUBZone, or want to explore the potential for a GSA Schedule contract.

A number of for-profit assistance providers target small business owners unfamiliar with – or confused by – the various government registration and certification processes. They market their services energetically, sending official-sounding emails directing small business owners to sign-up for their services to be registered/certified, etc – for a hefty fee, of course. Commercial websites (.com websites, in other words) are just that — commercial. When a commercial website advertises to help you with the process of registering to do business with the government, there’s almost always going to be a fee involved. By contrast, government websites (designated as .gov) offer free advice and registration.

Remember: There is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor. Repeat – there is NEVER a fee to register as a government contractor. And there is free and low-cost help available to get you through the process.

Some commercial enterprises target companies as soon as they begin a government registration process.  Because SAM and other vendor databases are public, for-profit providers can  obtain contact information almost as soon as it is entered and send automated emails with messages like “Your registration is not complete.  Contact us immediately,”  which can be mistaken for a government notice.  When the small business clicks the link – or calls the number provided – they are prompted to sign-up for assistance, usually at a cost of hundreds of dollars.

One commercial website ran an aggressive advertising campaign directed at businesses, soliciting vendors to fill out a “FEMA Contract Registration Form.” Once the form was filled out and submitted on-line, applicants received the following message: “Thank you for submitting your information. We will be in contact with you shortly. Click below to make a payment of $500.00 for this service.” By clicking on the “Buy Now” button, they were directed to a site to pay $500.00 via a PayPal account for “FEMA Registration.” Other marketing campaigns by similar outfits have targeted Veteran business owners, etc.

Please know that neither SAM, FEMA or any other government agency charges money to register as a vendor.

Free help with SAM Registration

Many business owners can navigate SAM, FEMA and other registrations quite successfully on their own. For those who’d like help with registrations, certification applications or any other government contracting issue, Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs) provide and free and low-cost expert assistance with registrations, certifications and all other aspects of government contracting, offering classes, one-on-one counseling, bid-matching services, advice on proposal preparation, matchmaking/networking opportunities and much more. Many PTAC counselors have backgrounds in government acquisition offices or prime contractor government contracting departments, so they bring real world experience to help you.

For those companies that need more basic business assistance, Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) provide the same kind of hands-on, personalized help for general business operation topics. Because small companies must make every dollar count, it’s smart to leverage these services that are provided through non-profit, federal-local partnerships for the specific purpose of supporting small businesses.

Of course there are circumstances in which it makes sense for a small business to pay a consultant for specialized legal or financial help or for intensive project development, and there are many qualified professionals to choose from. As with any business decision, thorough research into qualifications, costs and realistic expectations and deliverables are key to determining the right solution for your business. Never let yourself be pressured into a hasty decision or enticed by an “easy fix”. Careful due diligence is always the best investment you can make.

Success in government contracting requires a long-term strategy and ongoing commitment. The U.S. government wants the government marketplace to be accessible to all capable small businesses and has put in place resources to help you. There is NEVER a fee to register as a government vendor.

To receive assistance with any aspect of vendor registration with any government agency at no cost, please feel free to contact a PTAC near you.

Selling to State and Local Governments

PTACs across the country were surveyed as to their top tips for selling to state and local governments. Here is what their procurement experts recommend:

Do your research. Determine to which agency or agencies you want to sell, visit their website and find out how they do their purchasing. Do they have a purchasing department, or can each department do its own purchasing? Are there certifications or preference designations you should pursue (ie: in-state, small, small disadvantaged, woman-owned, veteran-owned, etc.)? Do they use DUNS numbers, NAICS or NIGP codes? There is a huge variance in purchasing practices among states, and even among counties or cities within the same state. Learn how your target market operates.

Create a one page Capability Statement which lists your capabilities, tailored to match the mission of the agency you are targeting. It should also include information such as your DUNS number, CAGE code, NAICS codes (4-5 maximum) and any certifications your business holds if your target agency uses such data, as well as the size of your business and a few pictures of what you do. Keep the language simple and straightforward and be specific about what you do. NEVER show too many capabilities. Make a separate capability statement for each of your specialties. If you provide both plumbing and carpentry services, then have one capability statement for each of those. Keep it simple and to the point.

Identify the path to the buyer inside each agency you are targeting and send that buyer your Capability Statement with a request to forward it to the appropriate end user, copying you on that email if possible. If agency buyers send you a solicitation, always thank them, even if you decide not to bid on it. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you will continue to receive solicitations from them in the future.

Contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) for help with all of the activities noted above. PTAC counselors are familiar with state and local government purchasing practices in your area. They can help you determine which agencies to target and how best to market your company. Many PTACs also hold “match-making” events to connect local businesses with city, county and state government buyers. Best of all, their help is available at low or no cost. To learn more about PTACs and find the one nearest to you PTAC, visit

More about Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs)

Ninety-eight PTACs – with over 300 local offices – form a nationwide network of procurement professionals dedicated procurement professionals working to help local businesses compete successfully in the government marketplace. Funded under the Defense Logistics Agency’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program through cooperative agreements with state and local governments and non-profit organizations, PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, bringing to bear their knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs.