#146: How to Land Writing Contracts in the Public Sector: An Insider’s View

I’m often asked about freelance writing opportunities in the public sector.

I know the opportunities exist. But until I talked with this week’s guest, I didn’t know what these opportunities looked like … or how to go after them.

That’s why I’m so excited about this episode.

My guest is Katie Taylor, CEO of Untold Content, a writing consultancy based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Katie works with clients in government, healthcare, engineering, industry and science. And a big part of their work over the years has been with government agencies.

In our conversation, you’ll learn about the opportunities writing for the public sector, including government agencies. Katie gives us a great primer on what these contracts are about, what they look like and some practical steps for getting started.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Katie Trauth Taylor is CEO of the writing consultancy Untold Content, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

While pursuing her PhD in rhetoric and writing at Purdue University in Indiana, Katie found that technical writing, professional writing and public rhetoric captured her interest.

When she finished her PhD, she landed a tenure track position at Miami University in Ohio. While working there, she landed some consulting work in writing and organizational storytelling in the public, corporate and nonprofit sectors.

As her consulting work grew, Katie decided to leave academia to start her own company.

Tell us about the work you’ve landed in the public sector

The public sector refers to government entities and agencies. The government contracts out a lot of its products and services to small businesses. In fact, government entities and agencies have targets they need to meet for awarding contracts to small businesses.

The market of small business contracts is as large as the government market itself.

Katie and her team have won a number of contracts with the Veterans Health Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She has also pursued RFPs from her local city. RFPs are also issued at the state level.

Governments are often looking for grant writing support, technical writing support and publication support. They have a need for writing support for annual reports and research reports.

All government initiatives must be publicly accountable. As a writer, you’re often creating deliverables that support that accountability. You need to translate expert insights so that public audiences can understand them.

What does the average public sector contract look like?

Most public sector contracts for writing consultants are one-year contracts. They have a set hourly rate and a total billing amount that can’t be exceeded. They may have the option to add on additional years as budgets are approved.

For longer-term contracts, Katie’s team will embed itself in the organization. Part of their value is in imagining additional written deliverables that will help the organization achieve its goals.

The public sector is hungry for people who’re creative and not burned out.

Strong technical writers who can communicate complex processes are especially valued in the public sector.

How do you get started in this market?

All the standard advice you hear about running a writing business also applies here. You need a clear business concept and good branding. You need to communicate the services you provide.

Once you’ve done your homework, you can pursue public sector work in two ways:

1. Become a prime government vendor

As a prime government vendor, your organization directly bids on government opportunities. If you’re awarded the contract, you’re considered a prime government vendor.

2. Become a subcontractor

As a subcontractor, your organization partners with other entities to bid on government opportunities.

Both of Katie’s Veterans Affairs technical writing contracts were won as a subcontractor to Purdue University. Universities will often serve as prime vendors for government contracts.

Today, Katie is also partnering with engineering firms and technical service providers to bid on government contracts. Writing is often embedded into these larger projects.

If you’ve never done government sector work before, you should start by positioning yourself as a subcontractor.

To become a subcontractor, you need to have a capability statement. Your capability statement has to follow a particular format. Untold Content has a capability statement template and explanatory post on its blog.

Contracting officers will need to see your capability statement. You can also send your capability statement to government agencies and prime government vendors.

What’s a good way to give this process some direction?

For local government contracts, you can look at your city’s RFPs and contracting opportunities. Some cities will put you on a list and send you opportunities. Some will publish opportunities on a webpage, and you’ll have to search. Find out if you can get registered with your city.

At the federal level, any contract over $25,000 has to be published on FBO.gov. You can search for solicitations. You can also search to see who’s been awarded contracts and who bid on them. It’s a good way to identify prime government vendors.

Other tools: Bid Match sends daily alerts on your selected keywords.

BidView is an app that combines every state and local opportunity in Texas.

If your business has any kind of special designation (e.g. minority owned, woman owned, veteran owned), this can provide direction to your networking. For example, Katie’s firm was awarded Women-Owned Small Business certification.

The Small Business Administration can also help you find and bid on government contracts. Google “SBA contracting” for more information.

If we want to approach a government vendor that’s been awarded a contract, should we send a warm prospecting email?

If a vendor has already been awarded a contract, it probably already has a team in place for that project.

But by searching to see which vendors are winning what kinds of contracts, you can see the kinds of contracts vendors take on and what kind of writing services they might need.

You can also search for opportunities that are a good fit for a particular prime vendor. You can then bring that opportunity to the vendor and offer to partner.

This process of proposal writing can be time intensive. By partnering with others, you sharing the burden.

Once you establish a track record, this process becomes a lot easier.

Where can listeners learn more about you and your work?

Katie’s firm: UntoldContent.com

Capability statement template: https://untoldcontent.com/capability-statement

Check for opportunities on their page for writers. They’re growing their team.

Email: [email protected]


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