Finding freelance work with Canadian governments

By Luigi Benetton

Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal governments buy billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services every year that they can’t make or perform in-house.

Freelance writing figures among those services, so in December I, along with a few other freelancers, attended three workshops offered by the Ontario Government. Each had a different focus, namely:

I’ve been to the event previously, but I found there was so much work involved in getting government work as a contractor that I didn’t follow up. Indeed, seeking government work seems like a full-time job in itself.

Nobody meant this process to be so much more convoluted than that for getting work in the private sector. Considerations like ensuring equal opportunity to all vendors and respecting various international trade agreements (since the government can buy from non-Canadian vendors) ties the government’s hands.

So this time I went with the aforementioned small group of freelancers in the hope that we could make sense of our seminar notes, figure out the right followup questions to ask, and encourage one another in our quest to break into this market.

A road map for freelance writers?

Presenters did a fine job explaining the generalities of getting government work, but I’d like to develop the beginnings of an action plan for freelancers. Here are a few steps you need to take to start down this road.

Register as a supplier (federal)

Visit to make yourself accessible to all federal government buyers. Once registered, your business can appear in buyers’ search results.

Of special note is Professional Services (PS) Online, a procurement tool for professional services contracts worth up to $76,600. Visit the site or email Sharon Dent at

Learn how to use MERX

MERX is an e-tendering system used by the federal government and six provincial governments. Once you get your free account, the MERX representative suggests you start doing things like the following:

MERX is all over the web. Find out more about it:

Get security clearance early

It’s like a passport in that you seek security clearance before you need it to bid on a job. Why? One presenter claimed security clearance can take about a year and a half. I guess they do a pretty thorough job.

Contact the Canadian Industrial Security Directorate of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) here.

Look out for Requests for Qualifications

The Ontario government, recognizing how time-consuming it is to respond to requests for proposals, will issue requests for qualifications on commonly purchased items to short-list vendors who satisfy certain criteria. Keep an eye out for RfQs.

Become a “Vendor of Record”

In Ontario, you can sort of bypass the whole proposal thing if you become a Vendor of Record (VOR). In a nutshell, you’re preapproved for a certain period and according to a predetermined agreement to provide services to either one ministry, several ministries, or the entire Ontario government.

Ontario regularly refreshes VOR arrangements to both find new vendors and allow existing vendors to let the government know about any new services they offer.

Caveat: being a VOR doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get work from the government.

Get creative

Write a post for an erudite blog that details your learning of the process for securing government contracts, in the hopes of being noticed by government buyers.

Learn who you need to pitch

It helps if you make yourself known to people who can buy what you’re selling. As with any sales call you make, have your elevator pitch ready before you call–these folks are just as busy as your private-sector clients.

You can find information on these people in:

Keep learning

One blog post won’t cover all the bases–there’s lots more to learn about pitching for government work. Notice that I didn’t address municipal government work, partly because it wasn’t covered during the seminar.

Check out these sources for more information:

Ontario government
How to do business with the Ontario government

Federal government

If you’re interested in attending a similar session yourself, the Ministry of Government Services is offering two webinars (Jan. 25 and Feb. 28) and a seminar in Ottawa on March 1. Click here for more info and to register.

Posted on January 4, 2012 at 10:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Veronica Leonard
    on January 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Really informative. thanks Luigi

  2. Written by Marion Soubliere
    on January 10, 2012 at 11:16 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Thanks for the mention, Luigi! One comment about security clearance: while the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) had been offering suppliers assistance in obtaining security clearance, this was a limited time offer which has now expired.

    When I last spoke with OSME about this in November 2011, the security clearance process had reverted to the status quo of being able to apply for security clearance only while bidding on a tender. If you don’t have security clearance or the right level requested, ask that the federal buyer sponsor you, should you be awarded the contract / standing offer, etc. (as long as the solicitation document does not contain protected/classified information). If you’re a subcontractor on a potential job, the contractor will make this request on your behalf.

    It did take me almost a year to get secret security clearance but four months of the delay were due to the fact that my federal sponsor hadn’t initiated the screening process. I had to follow up with them to remind them to get this started. So a word of advice to would-be suppliers – be vigilant and keep in touch with your federal sponsor if you don’t hear news soon after being awarded your contract / standing offer, etc.! As a note of interest, PWGSC’s Canadian Industrial Security Directorate started issuing news bulletins in 2010. Online editions can be found at

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