Recently Judy Bradt wrote for us about the concept of chasing squirrels (opportunities). Let’s talk some more about how we decide to focus our efforts.
In the classic Shipley method of doing business development for contract award in the federal sector, we make a determination at the agency level how and what we’re going to go after. We must understand who we are as a company.
What are we selling? Information technology services? Cyber security services? Training? Leadership development? Logistics? Warehouse people? There is a whole host of possibilities. What exactly are the capabilities we’re selling?
Who are we selling it to? For example, a company might decide that they’re an Army contractor or a Navy contractor. But the Army and Navy are great big places. Be specific.
“OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?”
The fact of the matter is, often we’re too broad in estimating our capabilities. While we do want to stretch ourselves into new opportunities (that’s what marketing and business development is all about), it’s important to start where we are.
How can you turn something you’ve already done into something that you’d like to do? Who are the nearest neighbors to your existing customers and the function you’re performing?
For example, let’s say I’m supplying warehouse logistics people. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to get into supplying the folks who assemble the components that will be stored in the warehouse.
If I’m working for the Navy’s SPAWAR warehouse in Charleston, maybe I should go talk to a nearby GSA warehouse. From there, maybe I’ll bid on a GSA warehouse in Virginia. It’s a different location, but I’ll have good GSA references.
The best new customers come as referrals from our best current customers. That’s why when we break down the work we do in our business, at the top of the list is taking care of current customers. We never want to lose that focus.
We may have a strategic plan that lays out our capabilities and target agencies, but what’s key is to build relationships that support that plan. Because it’s from those relationships that will come information about new opportunities, and new functions we can perform within our scope, whether that’s for existing customers, or their nearest neighbors.
Recently we were approached by a magazine in an industry somewhat related to what we do, with the idea that we would be one of their honorees for the Top 20-this, Top 50-that list, whatever it was.
At first, it sounded really cool. It’s always good to be honored in some way. But the reality was, and we had to investigate in order to really nail it down, first you had to sign up for a full-page advertisement, and then they make their shortlist from those advertisers, and then their final selection of honorees. The more you advertise, the more likely you are to be honored.
This was not necessarily a terrible thing. It was still a reputable magazine, and it would still be an honor to be on their list, but in these situations it’s always important to have a fundamental understanding of what it is that’s being sold. Are you really being honored, or are you being asked to buy a full-page ad?
When push came to shove, we declined the offer because buying a full-page ad in this particular publication would not have paid off for us.
Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it? Would you do it differently the next time?
I recently reconnected with someone I had worked with when I was with another company. I always liked his style, so we stayed in touch. Our conversation turned to a particular thing we’re dealing with at my current company, and he had a definite opinion about what we should do. I won’t get into the details; I’ll just say this is not a trivial matter.
When I brought his comments to the person responsible for this area, they let me know they had already decided their path and wouldn’t be pursuing what my friend had suggested.
The question became: Should I listen to the insider who’s doing this work for us on a daily basis, or the outsider who has the benefit of his own experience? Both people are quite knowledgeable in different ways about the subject matter at hand.
As business owners we’re often faced with these dilemmas. We constantly get unsolicited advice from all of our friends, especially those associated with our industry. We’re paying somebody to do something, and then we get a piece of advice from the outside that may contradict what they’re doing, and may even be completely out of left field.
Ultimately we have to decide as business folk which is the right approach. And I’ll say for the record, sometimes we’re going to be right and sometimes we’re going to be wrong, but it is our decision.
I don’t have the final piece of advice that you must do it this way or that way, but what I ended up doing was asking the insider to at least consider the suggestion. Any advice that sounds reasonable should be explored, even if your insider says they’ve already chosen to go another way. It’s still overall your responsibility as the business owner, not theirs.
A banking relationship is the same as any other relationship; you’ve got to work at it.
As I said in a previous post about banking relationships, there are multiple players in a bank. There is your account representative, who you can think of as the marketing person for the bank – their purpose is to sell you a loan. There is also the credit department, the people who do the evaluation to see if you qualify.
This is an important distinction. Just like how when we do a bid, the business development person is not necessarily the capture person, the person you initially work with to arrange a loan is not the one who makes the final decision.
Other people will be involved on your end as well. Your lawyers will need to talk to their lawyers, and your accounting people will also be involved.
To keep your credit intact you’ll need good relationships with all of these parties, and that means keeping communication open whether the news is good or bad.
Let them know if bad news is coming
If you’re losing a contract or bid, or something else isn’t going as planned, let the bank know as soon as possible. It seems contrary because we always want to hold back on bad news, but bad news doesn’t need to mean the end of your banking relationship.
For example, let’s say you’re no longer able to make a covenant. You can still continue on together, the bank will just need to waive that covenant. Partner with them to get all of that worked out.
Share good news, but not the hype
Also talk about good news. But remember that the bank is lending to you based on your current situation and your current cash position, not on any hype that you may feel about your future.
There’s nothing wrong with talking to your banker about your prospects and what you’re bidding on, but never forget that whatever you bid on could be lost. The bank certainly won’t forget that. So don’t hype things that don’t really represent the true reality.
Every relationship takes care and feeding and your banking team is no different. Be honest and keep the lines of communication open. Help them to help you, because ultimately when you succeed, the bank wins too.
This is a guest post by Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight LLC.
By the time federal small business contractors start to have some success, they’ve gained a certain amount of self-awareness. Which is to say, they often know what’s wrong, they just don’t know how to fix it.
“We need to stop chasing squirrels.”
That is the most common woe I’ve heard recently, from executives in industries that span professional engineering to facilities management. My response? Yes, you do!
What are the squirrels they are talking about? Why, opportunities, of course. And, boy, if there’s one thing the federal government has no shortage of, it’s opportunities.
OSDBU event! Veteran Business Owners Conference! Sources Sought! Vendor Outreach Session! HUBZone Day! Industry Day! Site Walk-through! Draft RFP! PTAC Briefing! SBA Matchmaker! Prime Vendor Meet-and-Greet! And there’s this guy you should meet, maybe they need a teaming partner like you. And, whoa, did I see an RFP deadline sail past? Where did that go?
On any given day, there may be no fewer than a dozen brand new top priorities landing in your inbox or delivered face to face. Of course this is on top of the priorities that came along the day before. And they’re all opportunities. Every one of them. For someone.
How can you tell which opportunities are really for you, without missing out?
First, relax. It’s time to accept a couple of simple truths.
Whether or not you run after everything, you’re probably going to miss some things.
The good news is that very few of these things are a once-in-a-lifetime federal contract opportunity that is gone forever.
The better news is that if the opportunity is truly a good fit for you, you’ll have plenty of notice; the buyer who knows you, likes you, and really wants to see your offer when she’s ready to buy has also let you know what to watch for and when.
Next, you’ll get the most value from any federal outreach event when you’ve had time to research the host agency or prime contractor, find out what they buy, and given some thought to what problem your company’s products or services might solve for them.
If you haven’t had time to do your homework before attending one of those events, and are just so hungry for business that all you have time for is to cruise through and do some brute force networking, you’re not just wasting your time once. You’ll waste it twice: first by attending the event in the first place, and, second, by following up with dozens or even hundreds of people who aren’t any kind of prospect for you at all.
There is an easy antidote to a squirrel infestation. It’s called focus.
Do you know which three federal agencies represent your best prospects? Write those down. Then, when anything outside of those three agencies crosses your path, set it aside for a time when you can think clearly about how or why straying from your focus is justified.
Next, think about lead time and relationships. Just because you feel desperate for business and cash flow does not mean that the right answer is to go crazy writing proposals until something sticks. Exactly the opposite is true. If you’re feeling a cash flow crunch, then carefully marshaling your resources, including staff time that goes into bid and proposal, is absolutely critical for survival.
If the first time you find out about an opportunity is on an electronic noticeboard, it’s almost certainly too late. Paradoxically, these are some of the juiciest, biggest distractions. “We could throw in a proposal and maybe we’ll win,” is one of the biggest distractions of all.
Instead, ask yourself two questions:
- How well do I know this customer and this agency?
- How well do they know me?
If you are fitting into an agency where you don’t know the people, and they have never heard of you, your proposal looks to them like a great big ball of risk. Risk, in case you weren’t clear about that, is a bad thing, and certainly a disincentive to favorable consideration of your offer.
In short, pay attention to the “squirrel” instinct, but not perhaps for the reason you have been. Instead of thinking about that distraction as a reason to run off in a new direction, think of it as a warning sign to slow down, stop, and figure out why you are thinking that way, and what kind of response is best aligned with your focus and your goals.
This post originally appeared at http://www.summitinsight.com/blogs/got-squirrel-brain-get-fast-cure-federal-business-frenzy and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Judy Bradt is the CEO of Summit Insight LLC and author of Government Contracts Made Easier. For 25 years, Judy has worked with her clients on business strategies to win government contracts. Judy blogs at http://www.summitinsight.com/blog.
This is a guest post by Matthew T. Clarke, Vice President, Modeling, Simulation & Training (MS&T), Strong Point Research | Division of TAPE
Dr. Leonard Hobbs is a quiet professional. He seldom appears agitated and never raises his voice, but he easily stands out as someone of presence and authority. Within five minutes of meeting Leonard you conclude that he is competent, he is capable, and he is a leader. You understand you could follow him with confidence and that if you do, you will achieve something greater than selecting an alternate path.
There are thousands of books that explore leadership and attempt to produce the specific characteristics and practices of exceptional leaders. You could read them all, but at the end of the day, there is no cookie cutter solution. Leadership is an art and people are unique. You must find your own formula for success. Most never do.
Individually, Leonard’s leadership traits are subtle. However, he uses them with poise and élan that bring about a very strong cumulative effect.
- He is a compelling speaker. He is energetic, enthusiastic, and always well-prepared.
- He knows how to use humor and audience involvement to gain and hold people’s attention.
- He is an exceptional listener.
- He is a strong supporter and champion of people’s innovative ideas and works to secure the resources needed to achieve outstanding results.
- He is passionate about follow through and meeting commitments to ensure customer satisfaction, and expects others to be the same.
- He sets achievable but challenging goals.
- He is self-aware, with a clear understanding of what is expected.
- He is dependable. You can count on him to meet deadlines.
- He projects an enthusiasm that motivates others.
In October 2014, Leonard was named as a 2014 Leaders Portfolio Award winner, recognized in the category of Rising Business Leader of the Year – National. He also recently had his first book published at Xulon Press – Inviting Jesus Into Our Families Will Bring Healing and Restoration in our African-American Families.
He says that many of the skills he uses at TAPE – his interpersonal skills, and his management of personnel, skills and processes – can be linked to that part of his life. “In the book,” he explains, “I identify a bible-based foundation that has worked for thousands of years. Once you set a foundation from the Word of God you can do almost anything.
A company like TAPE needs and has unity, vision and purpose. If there’s no vision you won’t have success. How can people walk together unless they agree?
If you have a vision, you have to be able to share and articulate it to others so they can buy into it. When another person can understand your vision, they can comprehend their purpose in their company and how they can help you turn your vision into a reality.
We all have our individual goals, but they still tie in with leadership and the objectives of the company. There can only be one leader. When TAPE bought Strong Point Research, I had to understand Bill and Louisa’s vision and where they were headed. Ultimately I came to see that they truly did have our interests at heart.”
Leonard is capable, compelling, passionate and trustworthy. But even more so, Leonard understands that leadership is not the same as the authoritative use of power. He has that unique ability to get people to follow him even when they have the freedom not to do so.
We’ve discussed financing issues on this blog before, such as SBA loans, bonded contracts, and other alternative financing options for government contractors.
Let’s talk more about some different banking relationships to be sure and understand how to choose between them.
First, there are various forms of what could be considered purchase order financing or invoice financing. At one end of the spectrum of invoice financing is what is traditionally known as factoring. This is where you sell your invoices directly, presumably for a greater or lesser percentage. You don’t do any collection or wait for the funds, you simply sell the invoices.
You don’t have to sell every invoice. The advantage here is that if you don’t need the funds, you can wait and collect when the customer pays. On the other hand, if you’re looking for funds and have a whole different set of circumstances, you can sell or finance a bunch of invoices and move on.
The disadvantage of invoice financing is that it’s traditionally more expensive than other forms of credit, such as a line of credit. While lines of credit are much less expensive, the disadvantage is that they often come with substantial “covenants” – agreement terms you’re supposed to meet.
For example, a line of credit agreement may require you to make a profit every quarter. It doesn’t sound very onerous, but traditionally a lot of business expenses are front-loaded in the first quarter (e.g., annual bonuses or health care costs), and therefore it might become onerous.
There may be additional requirements that strongly affect how you conduct your business, for example a restriction that you can’t take a draw on the line of credit without the bank’s approval.
It’s important to understand all of the parameters, pluses and minuses of the banking relationship you’re choosing. Of course the best quadrant to be in is where you’ve made enough money so that you can self-finance everything. But most of us are not in that quadrant.
Like anything else in business, successful financing comes down to relationships. Remember, though, your relationship here might not be with your regular banker, but rather with your bank’s credit department.
(Watch for a future post about the care and feeding of your banker.)
We know that cybersecurity is a major concern these days. That’s why it’s one of the few areas, across the board, that is not seeing a budgetary decrease. Yet the other side of this coin is that we have a lot of people wanting to be part of this trending issue simply because it’s so popular right now.
So how does a true cybersecurity expert distinguish themselves? First off, by actually having some work. If you’re actually working in the cybersecurity field, you’re going to be taken a lot more seriously than someone looking for their first piece of work in the field.
If you’re an up-and-coming cybersecurity expert, or trying to build a cybersecurity practice for your company, it may be worth your while to get a small one-person or two-person job under your belt. Do your best work. Then you can legitimately claim to be in the field, no matter what the level. Believe me, somebody who is in the field is way more valuable to the customer than someone who pretends to be, or wants to be in the cyber arena.
Is your customer worried about cybersecurity? Chances are, they are – it may even be one of the issues keeping them up at night. Because you have a relationship with your customer, they may come to you for help, even if cybersecurity isn’t part of your current project.
At that point all you need to say is, “You know I do something like that in a different shop. Do you want me to bring my expert down here so we can chat about your needs?”
Whether or not it leads to new business, you’ve strengthened your customer relationship and positioned yourself as an experienced cybersecurity firm. If business does come out of it, so much the better. If you can get an advisory task, no matter how small, you can now claim to have past performance. That’s the key.
Also, don’t forget that cybersecurity is a big umbrella, from the advanced forensics and offensive operations, down to simple Certification and Accreditation work to ensure FISMA standards are met. Stretching the cyber definition is one way to develop past performance and build relationships.
Whatever the outcome – if you’re in the cyber world, make sure everything else is up to date – your web site, your marketing collateral, etc. Then you can take advantage of this burgeoning field of readily available $$ – and small businesses are especially welcome.
When the SBA released new rules in 2013, I noted that if a prime’s Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) ratings were downgraded because of their subcontracting activity (or lack thereof) it could make a real difference. Today we can see that happening.
The GAO recently made an important decision to deny a business from competing for a contract, in part due to that business’s history of failing to fulfill its subcontracting goals.
Steven Koprince did an excellent job of explaining the situation on his SmallGovCon blog, and gave us permission to reprint his article here:
Large Prime Hit For “Consistent Failure” To Meet Subcontracting Goals
A large prime contractor’s “consistent failure” to meet its small business and socioeconomic subcontracting goals on prior projects resulted in a lower past performance score–and led to the prime’s elimination from the competition.
In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO held that the agency properly eliminated a prospective prime contractor from the competition in part because the large business had not met its subcontracting goals on three recent contracts.
The GAO’s decision in Graybar, B-410866 (Mar. 4, 2015) involved a DLA solicitation for maintenance, repair and operations supply items and services. The contract was to be awarded on a “best value” basis, considering technical merit, past performance, and price.
The technical factor included consideration of socio-economic objectives, that is, the offeror’s goals for subcontracting with small business and socioeconomic subcategories of small businesses. Under the past performance factor, the solicitation provided that the DLA would consider, among other things, the offeror’s performance with respect to its small business and socioeconomic goals under previous contracts.
Graybar was one of several offerors to submit proposals. In evaluating Graybar’s past performance, the DLA noted that Graybar had not submitted information regarding Graybar’s subcontracting goals and its actual performance meeting those subcontracting goals on previous contracts. However, the DLA evaluated CPAR reports for each of the contracts submitted with Graybar’s proposal. The evaluators discovered that Graybar had failed to meet its subcontracting goals on all three of the contracts. For example, on one of the submitted contracts, Graybar’s CPAR for the prior three years all reflected a failure to meet SDB and SDVOSB goals. On another contract, Graybar missed the WOSB and SDB goals all three years.
Based on this review, the DLA assigned Graybar a mere “Satisfactory Confidence” for its past performance. With respect to the technical factor, Graybar received an “Outstanding” for the socio-economic objective sub-factor, but this high sub-factor score did not overcome the lower past performance score (and lower scores on other technical sub-factors). The DLA eliminated Graybar from the competition because Graybar’s was not one of the highest-ranked proposals.
Graybar filed a GAO bid protest challenging the elimination of its proposal. Graybar argued, in part, that the DLA had improperly evaluated Graybar under the past performance factor.
The GAO disagreed. The GAO noted that the evaluators had found “a consistent failure to meet certain small business and socioeconomic contracting goals.” After describing the various areas in which Graybar had fallen short of its subcontracting goals, the GAO write “Graybar has pointed to nothing in this CPAR data regarding socioeconomic subcontracting which warranted a higher past performance rating than satisfactory confidence.” The GAO denied Graybar’s protest.
The Graybar bid protest involves an interesting juxtaposition of small business subcontracting objectives and small business subcontracting performance. Evidently, Graybar submitted an impressive subcontracting plan for the DLA solicitation, earning itself an “Outstanding” for its subcontracting objectives. But when the DLA looked at Graybar’s actual subcontracting performance on three prior contracts, the DLA discovered a pattern of failing to meet subcontracting goals.
I have said it before and I will say it again: with all due respect to the SBA’s initiatives to strengthen subcontracting plan enforcement, the best way to ensure that large primes meet their subcontracting goals is for procuring agencies to do what the DLA did here, and consider large primes’ past subcontracting successes–or failures–as part of the evaluation process. After all, impressive subcontracting goals are a good thing, but only if they are followed by impressive subcontracting.
This post originally appeared on the SmallGovCon website at http://smallgovcon.com/gaobidprotests/large-prime-hit-for-consistent-failure-to-meet-subcontracting-goals/ and was reprinted with permission.
Since your OSDBU reviews all opportunities (trying to make sure things get set aside for small business whenever truly feasible), they can help you identify the proper NAICS code associated with each RFP and the size standard that goes with it.
That is key, because if there’s a contract coming up for competition in a size standard you’re too big for, then having it set aside for small business in that NAICS code does you no good.
Many professional and even administrative services opportunities are run under larger NAICS codes, but if the statement of work is defined as mainly IT work, a sub-set of admin services, that can fit under a smaller size standard that you may qualify for.
By meeting with your OSDBU staff – especially the one for your designated set-aside type, if more than just a “small” business, you can better understand how both the contracting officer and the customer are seeing and classifying the preponderance of the work.
Both parties have decision making authority, but the OSDBU small business person can influence that decision. Ultimately you want the set aside to be in a NAICS code and size standard where you can do the work.