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Local businesses learn the ins and outs of eVA and selling to government


The process of selling goods and services to state and local governments in Virginia is different than selling to private business owners.

There are no early morning networking breakfasts, no after-hour cocktails and few business card-trading sessions with prospective clients.

“Save the paper for those who matter,” said Kimberly Madison, marketing and outreach manager for the Virginia Division of Purchases and Supply for the Department of General Services. “It is a challenge for businesses to come in and switch how they normally do things.”

Madison led a class in Woodbridge on Tuesday, April 4 designed to show local business owners how to

sell to the state. The key to the class is learning about “eVA” — on online procurement tool used by the state for all purchases. Everything from printing supplies to doughnuts is purchased through the system by the state’s 245 government agencies and colleges and can be used by the 770 local governments in the state.

With more than 13,000 users, the eVA system is not only complex; it’s powerful. The system is designed to provide “deep” transparency, to show users what agencies are purchasing products, who’s selling, and for how much they’re selling their services.

“I use eVA to learn how people are pricing business, because a lot of companies under-price so much to win the contract, then they can’t fulfill the business, and then what are they going to do?” said Usma Khan, vice-president of the Savera Works staffing agency.

Khan used eVA to respond to 12 requests for proposals from the state in the fourth quarter of 2016. She won some small bids under the system’s “quick quote” feature that awards purchases between $5 to $100,000 to micro businesses with up to 25 employees, or small businesses with up to 250 employees.

The state usually awards that business to the company that bid the lowest price. When it comes to more substantial proposals — business that is not necessarily awarded based on price — Khan was not as successful at winning these bids.

“I came today because I wanted to learn what I was doing wrong, and why I wasn’t winning,” she said.

It’s a competitive marketplace for businesses selling to the state. Those who win, said Madison, must be explicit. It’s not sufficient for companies seeking to win work for the state to enter something vague like “consulting work” into the job description field of eVA.

“What are you going to do? Are you going to come in and teach a class? Then that’s what you enter,” Madison told the class.

Inceptima is a federal contractor who has done work for the federal government and has won work from the state in the past, too. Tuesday’s class armed Yomma Sarhan, a business development consultant at the firm, with new knowledge on the multiple features of eVA, and how it caters to small businesses.

“This information is not something you can find online easy,” said Sarhan. “Now I’ll be ready to go back to the office and get working to enter more bids.”

Mark Olsen has been doing landscaping work for Prince William County for 25 years. When he started his Old Town Landscaping company, he served the private sector. Over the years, he’s converted his business to working exclusively with the local and state government.

He’s the guy to call when the lawn at a fire station needs trimming, or brush from a government-owned property needs clearing.

“The county discovers there is a task that needs doing, then they decide if they are going to take the job in-house or hire us to come out and do it,” said Olsen.

If it hires his company, Olsen and his crew survey the area and produce a quote for the work. If accepted, his crews get to work.

Keeping a stable labor force that allows his company to complete the jobs he wins, as well as offering competitive rates helps to keep his selling relationship with the government sustainable.

Virginia spends about $7 billion each year soliciting more than 16,000 bids from registered users on eVA. That’s about 90% of all spending statewide.

Registering for eVA is free and can be done on the website.

The Prince William County Department of Economic Development, the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity (SBSD), and the Flory Small Business Center, Inc. presented the “How to Sell to the Commonwealth of Virginia” workshop. The two-hour workshop was designed to educate small, woman and/or minority business owners and Service Disabled Veteran firms about opportunities to sell their goods and services to the Commonwealth and local governments.

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