CRESTVIEW — Advanced Aerial Operations soon starts its first government aerial surveying and mapping job.

It’s a contract with city government and, as far as government contracts go, it’s not huge. However, for owner Mario Werth, it’s a start, and he is optimistic it will lead to bigger things for his Crestview-based drone operation.

Werth needed guidance through the government contracting procedure, and advice came surprisingly cheap.

He consulted the no-cost Procurement Technical Assistant Center of the University of West Florida’s Small Business Development Center.

“We assist small businesses with local, state and federal contracts,” the center’s statewide program manager, Jane Dowgwilo, said. “Then we help them with post-award administration and support.”

With the demands of running a small business, Werth lacks time to visit Pensacola to consult with Dowgwilo. Therefore, government contracting specialist John DiGiacomo came to him.

“All of our one-on-one consulting services are at no cost to the small businesses,” Dowgwilo said. “They love that. Small businesses are usually under very tight overhead.”

BEST AND WORST

“Getting a government contract is the best thing that can ever happen to a company,” DiGiacomo said. “It can put them on a playing field that is on a level that they’ve never been at. But it can also be the worse thing that can ever happen to them if they’re not prepared.”

Based out of UWF’s Fort Walton Beach campus, DiGiacomo coaches business owners from Pensacola to Panama City. About 85 percent are, like Werth’s, small businesses.

“Mario has gone through everything that needed to be done,” DiGiacomo said. “He has been awarded a contract. He’s done everything right. He followed our advice, which is really important.

“Sometimes businesses don’t follow our advice and they land in a situation where it takes them longer to be awarded a contract.”

COMMON MISTAKES

Some business owners new to the process don’t take the time to prepare to fulfill a government contract.

“The biggest mistake is wanting to move too fast,” DiGiacomo said. “Everybody wants to get their contract today instead of planning on how they’re going to respond to a government contract.

“If they get a contract that’s too big, maybe they didn’t give themselves enough time to deliver. A contract can really bite you if you don’t read the entire thing.”

And don’t just read it once, DiGiacomo advises.

“Read it again. Then read it a third time,” he said. “You’re going to miss something, including the evaluation process.... If the government wants a sprocket with 32 teeth on it, you can’t give them a sprocket with 31 teeth. They’re not going to take it.”

SERVICES

In addition to one-on-one consulting services, the SBDC’s Procurement Technical Assistant Center offers workshops and classes. Most are free.

“We may charge a nominal fee (for such seminars) but up here in Northwest Florida, we tend not to,” Dowgwilo said.

The center also offers clients a no-cost bid search service that matches contract requirements with companies’ capabilities.

“It scans 30-40,000 bid opportunities that are out there every day,” DiGiacomo said. “We create a profile for the company and that profile tells us what they do and what product or services they provide. That profile goes out and searches for matches. Every day they have opportunities waiting in their inbox.”

FINDING CLIENTS

Despite the benefits, many business owners don’t take advantage of the center, Dowgwilo said.

“A lot of businesses are so focused on their business they’re not picking up on our services,” she said.

To introduce the Procurement Technical Assistant Center, DiGiacomo regularly attends business events, such as the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast meetings.

“It’s really vital for them to understand the process,” he said. “There’s a reason why companies that do business with the government are successful. It can be very profitable but it takes time to do. You’re not going to do it in 30 days.”

“It’s just starting to work for me,” Werth said. “John helped me with the proposal writing. Now I was able to gain a purchase order and I just signed a contract with local government.”

As he gets used to being a government contractor, Werth plans to seek future contracts, perhaps as a subcontractor for a bigger contract.

“With the bid service, I can check in on bids all the time,” Werth said. “Once I see one that interests me, he (DiGiacomo) can give me advice on how to respond. I put in quite a few bids already.”