For small businesses, the strategic planning process is multi-faceted. We have to think about where the company is, and where it needs to be, as far as its capabilities, infrastructure, and direction, but we also have to think about strategic planning in terms of growing the business and growing revenue. And though they’re very much tied together, you have to have a direction in order to focus your growth.
As a small business, it’s imperative to figure out your areas of expertise and focus, before you say we’re going to go out and grow, and by how much. What are you going to grow? A new capability? Maybe. It could be part of your corporate strategic goal to add this capability to your repertoire. Or, maybe, you’re going to expand your existing capabilities because you’re very good at them, and you want to leverage your strengths.
Strategic planning is an iterative process. It is important to take care of your overarching strategic plan before you plan your growth, because your areas of growth and the things you want to accomplish should be governed by the overarching goals of your company.
In a series of posts, we’ll look at these different areas of strategic planning and what you need to consider.
Strategic planning is not a point of time, but your plan is continuously revised as you get new information, and as things change in your organization. It’s always a working plan, and a work in progress.
What should a small business’s back office look like, and how should it function? I sat down with TAPE’s Executive Vice President/General Manager Ted Harrison and we put some thoughts together.
A small start-up business has evolving needs as they begin and grow their business. These needs are ever changing but here are just a few functional areas that will need some attention and thought from the beginning.
IT: Information technology is probably an easy thing to keep simple in the beginning. Each employee should have their own email on a company domain name (e.g., tape-llc.com), and this can be set up fairly cheaply.
You can implement a shared cloud-based suite for collaboration such as Google Drive or Apple iCloud. These solutions are often enough to support a very small business’s needs. You can also take advantage of the benefits of Microsoft Office 365, which can grow with you.
As the company begins to grow and protection of IP against cyber threats becomes more important, you will want to look at investing in an IT network either through outsourcing or internal support. (CMMC is just around the corner!)
F&A: In the beginning, your finance and accounting needs can be managed through QuickBooks or other rudimentary finance software.
When payroll and AP become more complex and the company requires bank capital to operate, management by a dedicated accountant will become necessary.
Once the accounting department grows to several people, it will be time to consider oversight by a controller. Outsourcing this function may be most cost effective in the early stages as you grow.
HR: The human resources function can be outsourced from the beginning, if needed, to ensure that all Federal and State regulations are satisfied. It is fairly inexpensive to outsource the recruiting function.
Once requirements increase including payroll, recruiting, and employee relations, it may be beneficial to have an HR director to manage the function.
Contracts: A small company can often rely on expertise from the SBA, PTACs or other small business support entities, but once contracts grow it will be beneficial to have a dedicated contracts manager to ensure compliance with FARs and DFARs.
Your small business’s infrastructure will grow and change as your business evolves. Pay attention to where you’re feeling stretched so you can get the right support in place well before it’s needed.
Note from John: The VA’s role in certifying veteran-owned small businesses seems to be gone and the transfer of that role to the SBA appears to be underway. This really makes sense as they are the entity that certifies all the other socio-economic programs such as 8(a), HUBZone and ED/WOSB.
Once the process is put into place I’m hopeful this will help streamline the process for new companies to get certified. Those companies that are currently self-certifying will have one year from the Go Live date to apply for the certification. After that date the self-certification is not valid even for Government requirements outside the VA.
This is a guest post by Steven Koprince of Koprince Law LLC. It was originally published on Dec 4, 2020, and the 2021 NDAA was signed into law on Jan 1, 2021.
The House and Senate have agreed to eliminate service-disabled veteran-owned small business self-certification and adopt a government-wide SDVOSB certification requirement, while transferring control of the certification process from the VA to the SBA.
The Conference Report on the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act would require government-wide SDVOSB certification (eventually) and transfer control of the Center for Verification and Evaluation from the VA to the SBA. Assuming the President signs the bill into law (which, unlike the typical NDAA, remains to seen), SDVOSB self-certification–which is still the law for non-VA contracts–is on its way out.
If you’re not the sort to read an entire National Defense Authorization Act, you can skip right to Section 862, where the SDVOSB changes are set forth. Here are some of the most important pieces of Section 862:
- Government-Wide SDVOSB Verification Won’t Happen Overnight. The 2021 NDAA calls for the certification requirement to kick in “2 years after the date of enactment of this Act.”
- The SBA Will Be in Charge. Under the 2021 NDAA, the SBA, not the VA, will run the Government-wide SDVOSB certification program. The VA’s Center for Verification will be abolished and its functions transferred to the SBA. This move makes sense, given that the SBA runs all of the other Government-wide socioeconomic programs, and that SBA judges already provide oversight over SDVOSB and VOSB applications. The VA, however, will continue to determine whether an individual qualifies as a veteran or service-disabled veteran.
- Self-Certified SDVOSBs Get a Grace Period. The 2021 NDAA says that once the program goes live (an event the bill calls the “transfer date”), a self-certified SDVOSB will have one year to file an application for certification. If the application is filed within the one-year period, the company can continue to rely on its self-certification for non-VA contracts until the SBA makes a decision on the application. Failing to apply within one year, however, will render the self-certification invalid.
After the grace period ends, self-certified SDVOSBs will no longer be eligible for set-aside and sole source contracts, government-wide. The 2021 NDAA adds this language to the Small Business Act:
A contracting officer may only award a sole source contract to a small business concern owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans or a contract on the basis of competition restricted to small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans if such a concern is certified by the Administrator as a small business concern owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans.
So there you have it: under the 2021 NDAA, government-wide SDVOSB certification will happen, and the SBA will take control of the certification (not “verification,” anymore) program. As I alluded to earlier, the President has threatened to veto the 2021 NDAA for reason unrelated to SDVOSB certification. But even if Congress accedes to the President’s requests, it seems unlikely that Section 862 is going away. Our best bet is that it becomes law in the next several weeks.
This post originally appeared at https://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/congress-approves-government-wide-sdvosb-certification-requirement-transfers-cve-to-sba/ and was reprinted with permission.
From COVID-19 to politics to protests, our world has changed a lot over the past year. Thankfully it does appear we can expect the potential for returning to some sort of normalcy on the COVID front toward the end of 2021.
While some things may never return to what we once knew as “normal,” let’s look to some more positive things we can leverage moving forward:
- Working from home is working. Over the past year, most of us have become quite proficient at working remotely from the comforts of home. After an initial learning curve, many of us have noticed a dramatic uptick in productivity and creative ways of accomplishing results in our new environments. As COVID gets more under control and the vaccine becomes available to the masses, I do believe our workforce will start to migrate back to the office, or more likely a hybrid approach where we will work from the office maybe 2-3 days a week and remotely the remainder.
- We can make do with less space. As a small business one of our largest expenses is work space for employees. By adopting a more permanent work-from-home or hybrid approach, many companies will be able to reduce their office space square footage when re-negotiating their leases. Employees that are required to come into the office may “hot desk” their work spaces with other employees on alternate days. I’ve seen some of our Government clients transitioning to this model with great success.
- We can expand our recruitment nationwide. Of course our other major expense is our employees. Not only have our overhead employees been working remotely but so have many of our direct employees. This has allowed us to expand our search for top quality employees from all areas of the country. Since they may not reside in extremely high cost of living areas such as Northern Virginia or the DC Metro area, their salaries are often far less demanding, allowing us to be more cost competitive.
- We can be team players. I see the continuation of the trend of moving requirements to established GWACs and multiple-award contract vehicles. Just a couple that come to mind for this year are CIO SP4 and Polaris. These contract vehicles provide the necessary access to the customers and their requirements and are excellent opportunities for the small business community to work with our large business counterparts to build the best teams.
- Better virtual conferences and meetings. While I do see some events opening up toward the end of this year, it seems most will remain virtual. Over the past year there have been great improvements to virtual event platforms, with features like breakout rooms and other virtual introduction tools. It’s hard to beat face-to-face interactions, but we have come a long way.
While no one can predict the future, one thing is certain – change is something that will continue.
As your small business grows, your needs and regulatory requirements change. You have to have approved forward pricing rates and go through audits. These are things that may be best suited to be led by a controller working directly with your organization, rather than an external bookkeeper or accountant.
How to hire a controller
The first thing you need to determine before hiring a controller is which functions you actually want or need out of the position. Bookkeeping, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, audit preparation, government rates submissions, pricing efforts…the list goes on.
You need to also consider the level of experience and the systems they are expected to know and understand. Are you doing a conversion from an older system to something like Deltek Costpoint? If so, you may need someone with that requisite experience, and that experience does come with a price tag attached.
Are they the lone ranger in their section or will they be managing staff, leading a team made up of payroll and AP personnel or even a junior bookkeeper?
How much experience does the controller need to have in your specific industry?
This is a tricky question in our GovCon industry. There are many requirements of us that the typical controller for a commercially-focused company may not know about or understand. Pricing and your direct/indirect rate structures are critical to your success and you want someone very familiar with these aspects.
What are important qualities to look for in a controller?
- CPA designation
- Trustworthiness – After all, these folks will have access to all your organization’s financial accounts and data
- Length of time at previous organizations – This is important because it takes some time for a controller to get acquainted with your organization and ways of doing business. You don’t want to get them up to speed and then have them leave quickly – likely to a competitor – with knowledge of your rates and practices. NDAs are needed but remember the NDA doesn’t erase their memory.
To find controller candidates, look to your network or colleagues, friends, and industry organizations, as well as previous controllers or accounting staff; also consider third-party sites, recruiters, and LinkedIn.
Here at TAPE we’ve just gone through the process of hiring our own new controller. We found the most important thing to do is to really define what you want before going out to look to fill a position. It’s also important to form a comfort level with that candidate. They will know all things financial about your organization. You have to be comfortable with that, and with them.
While many federal agencies have already increased the thresholds for micro-purchase and simplified acquisition via deviations, the FAR has officially been updated as well. Effective August 31, 2020, the FAR has solidified the following thresholds:
- $10K for micro-purchase (previously $3,500)
- $250K for simplified acquisition threshold (previously $150K)
The increase to the simplified acquisition threshold should help small businesses, and here’s how: Purchases above the micro-purchase threshold, but not over the simplified acquisition threshold, shall be set aside for small business if two or more small firms are expected to compete. See FAR 19.502-2.
How can you leverage this rule to your advantage?
Micro-purchases or simplified acquisition threshold are ways in which smaller dollar amount contracts can be accomplished without any competition. These situations are perfect for new, emerging small businesses.
Opportunities exceeding these limits have to go according to the regular FAR guidelines and do a regular acquisition (competition), unless you can do something with a set-aside that gives you a sole source. Government requirements falling within these dollar value limits can even be awarded to large businesses.
There are some rules and regulations that must be considered, for example, you can’t do 10K a hundred times to support a $1,000,000 requirement but you can do 10K and even some renewals, etc.
Fundamentally this applies to something small, e.g., you’re going to send a couple employees in for a week of analysis and they can give you a sole source for $10,000 to do that easily.
For larger but still small increments up to $250K, there is a SAP (simplified acquisition procedure) FAR 19.502-2 explanation. That work that might only be a small amount to most big contracts, but it’s a way to get your foot in the door and get started, and you can do that on a sole source basis under the simplified acquisition rules.
So certainly anyone who’s starting out, this is a way to get business directly for yourself. You have to go look at the rules and understand them, but the point is you can get a $10K purchase order directly, straight up, no competition, and these $250K ones with certain rules and regulations, and under certain conditions.
Section 874 of NDAA 2020, Post-Award Explanations for Unsuccessful Offerors for Certain Contracts, “requires the FAR to be revised within 180 days to require that contracting officers provide a brief explanation of award, upon written request from an unsuccessful offeror, for task order or delivery order awards in an amount greater than the simplified acquisition threshold and less than or equal to $5.5 million issued under an indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contract. Currently, offerors are only entitled to a debriefing after award of an order exceeding $5.5 million.” – Megan Connor, PilieroMazza
So what does this mean for us? Here’s what makes this important. Last year in the FAR rules, a detailed debrief of your losing proposal had to be made only if total value of the award exceeded $5.5 million.
If it was less than $5.5 million, under those old rules, you weren’t entitled to anything. They literally didn’t have to even give you the time of day. All they’d tell you is that XXX company won, not you. No explanation of what you did wrong or right. Hopefully you have all taken advantage of this rule change on every source selection this past year. If not, I suggest you add the request for a debrief into your standard process when an award notification (win or loss) is made.
The revised rule states anything above the simplified acquisition threshold from $250K to $5.5 million now may provide you a brief explanation of award. You do have to request this and you should ALWAYS ask for it immediately after you receive the notice.
The result is usually just a paragraph or two. It might be something like, “the offeror’s proposal was judged acceptable but not more than acceptable,” or it could say, “we awarded it to the lowest bidder.”
This rule means you will get more explanatory results from your IDIQ task order bids and useful information for that next proposal. I hope you have taken advantage of this.
The cost of submitting a proposal to the government for a small business is huge, especially when you consider all the people who are involved in developing a proposal. There are proposal managers, tech writers, proposal coordinators, subject matter experts, pricing support, contracts managers – all these people play a part in doing proposal support.
So depending on your company, in terms of its size, your resources, your existing employees, your existing contracts, you may or may not have those subject matter experts and proposal professionals on hand – someone who can “shred” a proposal, meaning they take all the requirements the government has put in the solicitation or RFP, and put them in a document that will be the outline for your submission back to the government.
In the case where you do not have all these resources at the ready, and you’re without the staff members with the expertise necessary to submit a proposal, you have a decision to make. Can you hire all these people and make them a permanent part of your staff? And by the way, these people are not cheap; they’re experts at what they do.
Another thing to consider in hiring a proposal manager or technical writer is, do you have enough throughput in proposals to keep those folks busy and justify those costs on an annual basis? They’ll have expectations that they’re going to be around longer than just this one proposal. This is their career; they’re in for the long-term.
So that is one option, to hire full-time employees, which is very expensive but may be the right decision depending on your circumstances. Or do you count on some other company to help you out, who may be willing to provide or lend you those resources, such as a partner company or friend, at least until you grow?
Or, as a third option, do you reach out to a consultant or proposal resource organization? These companies, like our friends at Proposal Helper, have proposal experts on their staff, and essentially rent them to you for a period of time while you work on your proposal.
Those are big questions that you have to ask, and it all depends on the depth of your wallet, and your needs. If it’s a small task order, you might not need all of those resources, but somebody still has to write a compelling document that meets all the requirements of the solicitation that the government has put out. So you have to figure out where those people are coming from.
Do you have the expertise on staff, or can you hire the experts you need? Can you phone a friend? Is there another company that has those resources and are willing to let you use them? Or will you make a friend? Do you reach into your wallet again, on a temporary basis, to hire the services of a proposal resource organization?
These are all good options but you have to figure out which fits your small company.
“The money is out there, but the fish won’t jump in the boat…just because you’re eligible to do business with the federal government, it doesn’t mean they’re going to start throwing money at you.” – Bill Jaffe, Nov 2011
Welcome back! And to our new friends, welcome! I feel honored to take over this blog where my friend, co-worker and partner-in-crime Bill Jaffe spent so much of his time over the past nine years.
It’s an exciting time for me personally to take over something as important as this blog, as a way to help out the small business and government contracting community as a whole. I’ve been a part of that community for one way or another for over 32 years as both an Army officer and as a government contractor.
So I find these contracting issues very important, and I’m dedicated to this blog’s cause of sharing information, resources, and experience. I plan on using the blog as a learning tool for others, and as a learning tool for me as we go through this journey together on the blog.
The goals of the blog will remain the same, which are to:
- Raise awareness of small business issues in federal contracting
- Give back to the federal small business contracting community
- Give a voice to other small and mid-tier businesses and their advocates
- Provide a resource for small business offices to provide to the companies they serve
Please feel free to contact or connect with me on LinkedIn. I welcome your requests for topics I can talk about on this blog, and I also welcome some of our long-standing partners to bring new topics that they’d like to discuss with our small business audience. And there are a lot of people who haven’t provided input in the past and I’d welcome that as well.
You can read more about me on the TAPE site. In the meantime, just know that I’ve worked with both small and large companies in the past, all government contractors, so I bring that mix of the large and small, seeing how both can work together to be successful. And working together is always the best solution, in my opinion.
John B. Moore Senior Vice President, Chief Growth Officer