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With government spending at all levels now at an unprecedented $5.5 trillion, it's no wonder that businesses large and small have joined the competition for government contracts. Many companies begin by bidding on federal procurements, but the size and complexity of these projects can be overwhelming. There's a better place to start your quest for government contracts: at the local level.

No matter where you do business, you'll find local opportunities for government contracts. They're more limited in scope and generally involve fewer regulatory requirements, so they're a better fit for most small-to-medium-sized businesses. Here are some strategies that can give you a competitive advantage locally.

Know Your Business. What hard-to-find expertise does your business offer? Can you demonstrate past success with similar projects? A local government agency won't know why your business is best-suited for the job unless you tell them in your proposal.

Demonstrate Value. Do more than summarize your past projects in your proposal. Describe how your products or services benefited your clients — for example, by saving them money, increasing revenue, or helping them solve a problem. Demonstrating value is even more important if you lack government-contracting experience.

Stand Out From Your Competitors. They're the same companies who compete with you for private-sector contracts. Make sure your proposal highlights what sets you apart from your competitors…without mentioning them specifically.

Get to Know Your Buyers. In government contracting, relationships are critical. Take every opportunity to meet the agency decision-makers. Attend networking events in your area, use government contact information to make marketing calls to the decision-makers (just like you would in the private sector), and be sure to attend the pre-bid conferences for the procurements you're pursuing, so that you can see not only who'll be evaluating the proposals, but also who you're competing with.

Let Others Get to Know You. Your reputation in the community can work to your advantage in local bids. Always make sure you deliver and are known for excellent service, good value and sound business practices. Build your local reputation by participating in community business and charitable events. And, if appropriate, ask private-sector clients to write a positive review on local websites such as CitySearch or Yelp.com.

Winning a local contract award may not transform your business overnight, but it can be the ideal first step in what could become a lucrative long-term source of revenue from government work.