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Doing business with the government can have its advantages. Longer contracts more prone to renewal with a customer who pays on time are a dream come true for most small businesses.

But there are only so many local, state, and federal government entities with which to contract and competition can be fierce. So how do you qualify for government contracts and then set your small business apart? Here are three keys:

In what seems like an annual occurrence at this point, the federal government is nearing another potential shutdown over budget squabbles. And while this might all sound like political wrangling to you, there are some real ways a government shutdown could affect your small business.

So what can you do to prepare? Here's how to gear up for a potential government shutdown:

As if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could get any murkier, now American states are battling with American companies over the issue. South Carolina became the latest state to pass a law allowing the state to boycott businesses that boycott Israel.

Reminiscent of the famous California-Arizona Boycott Wars of 2010, South Carolina's new legislation goes well beyond a similar law passed in Illinois last month. How far? Let's take a look.

Contracting With Gov't Agencies: 3 Legal Ways a Deal Can Go Sour

For small business owners, contracting with a local, state, or federal government agency can be a potentially lucrative opportunity.

In 2013 alone, federal contracts awarded to small businesses resulted in more than $83 billion in revenue. But there are, of course, potential bad sides to contracting with government agencies.

Here are three ways a government contracting deal can go sour:

Federal Small Biz Scorecard Shows Highest Grades in Years

The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) announced on Friday that for the first time in eight years, the federal government has met its goal of 23 percent for small business contracting -- which it displays in the form of a Small Business Procurement Scorecard.

Like a report card for federal agencies, this scorecard gives a letter grade to each agency based on a goal for contracting with small businesses and the actual small business contracts awarded. According to a recent SBA press release, this upswing in small business contracts in the 2013 financial year has "resulted in more than $83 billion of revenue for small businesses."

What else can small businesses learn from this 2013 Scorecard?

Obama Bars Anti-Gay Discrimination by Federal Contractors

President Obama has signed an executive order barring the federal government and its contractors from discriminating against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

Private employers in many states can still fire employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, so this executive order gives a new layer of employment protection for some LGBT workers. The Huffington Post reports that this order does not include an exemption for religious employers.

How exactly will this executive order change employers' anti-discrimination policies?

Do You Qualify as a 'Minority-Owned Business'?

Minority-owned businesses may be entitled to government benefits and special programs, but not every business will qualify.

And claiming to be a minority-owned business when you're not is a terrible idea, as Moretech American Corporation has learned the hard way. Federal prosecutors allege Moretech passed off a shell company as a minority-owned firm in order to land a government contract; Moretech has agreed to pay $3 million to settle those claims, the New York Daily News reports.

So what exactly qualifies a business as a minority-owned business?

Do Obama's Executive Orders on Wages Affect You?

President Barack Obama signed two executive orders Tuesday to require federal contractors to let their workers to discuss wages more openly and to require contractors to submit detailed data to the government about how they compensate workers.

The purpose of the executive orders, which the president signed on National Equal Pay Day, is to try and bridge the wage gap between men and women, according to The Washington Post.

So what do the orders mean for your business?

'Small Biz Reg Watch' Lets Biz Owners Sound Off

A new website for small business owners, "Small Biz Reg Watch," launched today with the help of the House Committee on Small Businesses.

What's the purpose of this new corner of the web? It's a forum for small business owners to comment on proposed regulations that may affect their bottom line or the way they do business.

The website doesn't change the right of small business owners to comment on newly proposed rules; any citizen can do that. But it makes it easier for small businesses to compete with big business for the government's ear.

For small businesses, government contracts can be a lifesaver, especially in a struggling economy. What are the potential benefits and drawbacks, and how can business owners get a piece of the pie?

A wide range of government agencies -- local, state, and federal -- seek bids from private companies to handle a variety of tasks. These include construction projects, some administrative services, and the collection of fees like parking tickets.

On the "plus" side, government contracts can offer small business owners some advantages over "regular" customers. For example: