This is a guest post from Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc.
One of my fellow scholars from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program called me recently to inquire about the difference between the 8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule, and why BucknerMT recently elected to get a GSA Schedule instead of pursuing the 8(a) Program. Below is what I shared with her:
8(a) Program versus GSA Schedule
It is important to understand that the 8(a) Program and GSA Schedule serve two totally different purposes. The first is a business development program to assist in growing your business and the second is a negotiated contracting vehicle for the government to purchase their services.
Both are great tools to grow your business. In fact, the SBA encourages 8(a) contractors to consider participating in the GSA Schedules program to increase their sales.
As you determine the next step for your business, here are a few things for you to consider:
- The 8(a) Business Development Program is a business assistance program designed to assist small disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. It is a two-phased program over nine years – a four-year developmental stage and a five-year transition stage.
- 8(a) program participants are consistently encouraged to “ensure you build a pipeline prior to entering the program.” Meaning, it is to critical to build relationships with both potential clients who may use your services, as well as graduating 8(a) companies who are potential partners. The goal is to maximize your time in the program.
- Having a GSA Schedule contract simplifies the acquisitions process because terms and pricing are negotiated up front. That makes it the contracting officer’s vehicle of choice. Getting a GSA contract gives you that prestige of being an approved vendor.
- The greatest benefits of being a schedule holder are that there is less competition, access to exclusive eBuy opportunities, and the average award period is two weeks. As well, GSA Schedules can be negotiated for as many as 20 years with step increases in rates.
- As a GSA holder, you will receive a listing in GSA Advantage and GSA eLibrary. However, you must also actively market your schedule to potential buyers, i.e., put it on your Capability Statement and all of your company’s digital media, and notify current and potential clients, your peers, OSDBUs, etc. We also shared our news in a blog post.
Both the 8(a) program and a GSA Schedule are great tools to grow your business. We are positioning BucknerMT for the 8(a) program, however we made a business decision to pursue the GSA IT70 Schedule first. This decision allowed us to position ourselves for prime opportunities and, most importantly, it is the method by which our target clients purchase their services. In the meantime, we are focusing on building our pipeline to maximize our time once we are in the 8(a) program.
Lastly, it is critical to understand and remember that both the 8(a) program and the GSA Schedule give you a license to fish, but neither guarantee opportunities. Working with the government is complex, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it is also very rewarding.
This is a guest post by Judy Bradt of Summit Insight.
Ever hear people complain that you’ve gotta have connections to win a contract? Well, they’re right! Here are the five kinds of connections you need to get on the fast track to growing federal business!
- Connect with passion.How excited are you about the difference you make for your federal buyers when they choose you instead of your competition? Bring the team together and refresh your key differentiators. Know how your past performance clearly shows your unique value to every federal buyer who is a true prospect. If you’re not special, you shouldn’t be there. If you are special, you need to know why, and articulate that in ways that each unique player cares about most. When you’re charged up about that, you’ll have the substance as well as the energy and determination to build the interest, enthusiasm and trust of your prospects on the road to “yes.”
- Connect with data. Past contract data is one of your best clues to the decision-makers you need to meet. Use my favorite super-powered tool, the Federal Procurement Data System, to dig in and figure out where your best prospects are. Then concentrate your efforts in those two or three agencies. Once you start making calls, one leads to another. The effort in each target agency, to develop each relationship, expands significantly once people start to open up to you. Expect to focus intense, methodical efforts on the right players, in the right layers, in your target agencies. Go deep.
- Connect with intelligence.Ever meet someone you were determined you wanted to date? And you wanted to make the perfect first impression? You asked their friends about what they enjoyed, how they like to spend their time, so you could start a conversation and propose a date with confidence! You might not have succeeded the first time, but you kept finding ways to woo your sweetie until he or she said “yes!” Think of wooing federal buyers the same way – the more you find out about them, the easier the conversations get. Beyond choosing your focus agencies, dip back into the data for what it tells you about your federal buyer, who they do business with, and how they buy. You can have that first conversation with a lot more confidence because you’re going in knowing things about them that they don’t expect.
- Re-connect with people you know. Invite your trusted friends, best clients and close contacts out for conversation and coffee. Let them know that you want to grow your federal business. You’ll find they’re eager to help you, with everything from references and resources to actual introductions! You just need to know what to ask them.
- Connect with new people.Want to win more federal business? That takes the courage, time, and money to go out and talk to a lot more people you’ve never met. Does the thought of going out and meeting new people and talking to them feel uncomfortable? Good news: you’re human. Just about everybody finds this challenging at least some of the time! The other four connections make that a lot easier.
Always remember: It’s the connection between that people opens the gate.
Any company that is just trying to stay in business and “keep on, keeping on,” will not be profitable in the long run. When you really think about it, you know contracts will end and you will have to move on – what is your plan to replace those contracts?
The process for this is to have a pipeline of potential income. Think of your pipeline like a funnel. At the outer edge up at the top it’s very wide, because at first glance there are always many possibilities. That’s why the first and most important step is qualification, that is to ask:
- Does this customer have money?
- Does this customer have a problem that we can solve?
- Does the customer know that our company can solve their problem?
If you can answer those questions with yes, then you try and capture the work, which is to say shape it so that you are more qualified than other potential competitors (your OSDBU office may be able to help). Thereby (through this capture) you learn the things you need to do to bid successfully.
You always want your pipeline to be full at every level, so there is a mix of some opportunities you’re qualifying, some stuff you’re capturing, and some proposals you’ve already written and sent, that may or may not come to pass in various time frames. Flexibility is essential, as new things come along that may bump aside a well-qualified, or even well-captured opportunity.
So your pipeline will be filled not with oil or gas, but with a continuum of opportunities. Some might not become proposals for a year or even more from now, some things you might start writing in the next three or six months, some things you’re writing now, and then things you’re waiting for awards on.
The most important question is how to fill the top of the funnel. Of course we’ve talked many times about how relationships with the people you already know are the heart of your capture process. Even if a customer doesn’t have more work, they have friends in other agencies and contacts in other places they work for.
But your own contacts can only get you so far; sometimes you also need outside help. Along with proposal consultants, you can also hire people just to do the research and uncover new potential customers for you. There are always opportunities that you’re not going to hear about that these people will uncover.
Now if you’re only pursuing opportunities from these data sources, you’re probably not mining your own customers enough. You really need to determine if such a service would be worthwhile for you to have, and if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Having a full pipeline means when one contract ends, you don’t have to worry where the next job is coming from. The capture process for that one, and many others, is well under way.
In a previous post, we looked at the Small Business Administration’s FY2015 Small Business Scorecard for how federal agencies did in meeting their goals to set aside a specific percentage of contracts and award them to small businesses.
So one of the things we can see is we’ve got five departments that achieved 40% or more: Agriculture has 50%, Interior 55%, Transportation 51%, State 44% and Commerce 43%. In addition there are several in the 30s.
Five years ago, none of that would have been the case – departments issuing 30-55% of their total acquisition for the year to small businesses was simply unheard of. Today there is a true migration towards more and more activity, including very robust contract sizes, being awarded to small businesses. This is clearly represented in the scorecard.
I think this trend will continue, and there are several things that growing and mid-sized small businesses need to understand to be ready. As it always comes back to on this blog, it’s all about relationships. Here are some specific relationships to think about:
- Large business partners and bigger small business neighbors – When they are awarded some of these robust contracts, they are going to want to flip them to other small businesses. They’ll keep a share, of course, and though they can’t get more than a 49/51 split, this still gives them a piece of the revenue and can be a win-win-win for all sides (you as the small business, the bigger business, and the end customer).
- Potential mentors and/or protégés – Another thing that we are tracking is the emerging regulations on extending mentor-protégé joint venture arrangements to all specially certified businesses as well as regular small business, where this was previously limited to 8(a) businesses.
- Small business partners – It is important to build early and often good solid relationships with your competitors that are doing the same kind of work. In fact, if one of your partners already has previous relationship and experience with a customer, that will count towards your joint bid for new business with that customer.
- Seemingly limited departments – Use the scorecard to focus on the departments that are clearly moving more and more work to small business. For example, Interior and Agriculture may have awarded small amounts compared to the giant amounts spent at DoD or Homeland Security, but when you look at the percentages these are no longer less desirable prospects. It is possible to design a robust portfolio and pipeline of opportunities from agencies you may have previously thought of as limited.
As you do your strategic planning, look at these entities and percentages and make some decisions – not just about who your prospects are but who your partners are. Consider whether you will build a true mentor-protégé partnership with bigger companies, and also whether you’re in a position to mentor another small business or mid-sized small business.
The team at Set-Aside Alert™ recently published their FY2015 Federal Agency Small Business Goals Summary Report, and gave us permission to reprint their findings:
Interesting data. Here’s what I noticed:
- Department of Energy missed every goal, and was given an A.
- HubZone seems hard to hit – only 6 of 16 hit that goal.
- Surprisingly, several missed the goal for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, which has been pretty consistent and over the mark. Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) missed it “by a mile.” If you’re a SDVO small business, you need to get out there and go after these folks!
- Transportation got the only A+; they made every goal, and some by a decent amount over.
- Only VA and HHS got B grades, which seems kind of surprising since they did well on most things. Obviously the VA did the best on SDVOSB – that just makes sense!
- Finally, since Energy and Agency for International Development (AID) were the only ones to miss the overall small business goal of 23%, and yet the final total was only 25.75%, that tells you there’s some big missed opportunities at those agencies that we need to steer towards small businesses.
By the way, EVERY miss in this table is an opportunity to go in, talk to the small business officer, and make your case. They know they missed their goal, and would love to set it right in 2016. The buying season is coming, so give them a chance to select YOU.
This is a guest post by Eileen Kent, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
One of the biggest mistakes in federal contracting is to set up a keyword on FBO.gov and wait for the bid opportunities to land in your email Inbox and read yourself into them, “This is PERFECT for us!”
Another mistake is to consider writing a loser bid just because you think it’ll “Get our FOOT IN THE DOOR.”
But, the worst mistake in federal contracting, however, is to take a year of your time to fill out the GSA Schedule Application – when you have no proof that the agencies which buy exactly what you sell even use the GSA Schedule to procure your products and services! Even worse than that is to go through the pain of building this contract vehicle/bridge and waiting for the contracts to drive in the door.
Here’s a shocking fact: GSA drops contractors who are below the $25k minimum sales requirement after the first two years! Take a look at how they dropped 1,000 vendors off the IT70 schedule in 2014 as reported by Federal News Radio.
So what should you do when you see an opportunity that is a fit for your company?
First, comb the bid for names, numbers, addresses and locations and add them to your federal sales action plan or marketing database for your sales team to begin developing relationships for next time. You can find the contact intelligence at the bottom of the solicitation and sometimes you can find end user names hidden under the title of Contracting Officer Technical Representative.
Second, do your homework and take the time, before you write a bid, to make a rational bid/no-bid decision.
When everyone is seeing green and thinking “this is perfect for us” through an opportunity discovered on federal bidding website, take the time to perform a bid/no-bid decision and remember, the bid effort will cost you a lot of time and money.
Here are 10 questions to get the bid/no-bid discussion started:
- Who is the incumbent doing the work or delivering the products to that agency?
- Who is the Contracting Officer, the Contracting Specialist and anyone else involved in the process? What are their specific bidding protocols? What contract vehicle/hallway/bridge are they going to use? Do you have that exact contract and are you able to “reach” the bid or do you need to use a partner instead? Are they going to set it aside for a specific small business preference? Do you have it? Does a teaming partner have it?
- Is it posted at GSA eBUY or through the Acquisition Gateway through another contract vehicle/hallway like SeaPort-e or SEWP? Do you even know what the Acquisition Gateway is and do you have partners who will keep an eye out for the opportunity for you? If it’s posted on FBO.gov, why is it posted up there, when they could have easily used a current contracting vehicle/bridge/hallway?
- Do you know the story behind the posting of that bid? Are they looking for something so unique it’s difficult to find or is it such a high-profile project that they need to show publicly that they opened it up for all to see? Is it a multiple award Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (MA-IDIQ)? If so, this doesn’t guarantee business – it’s a contract bridge, or vehicle, or hallway — so they can run tasks through it for the next one-five years. If you bid an MA-IDIQ are you ready to handle the sales activities to drive business across that MA-IDIQ? Do you have a proposal team ready to respond to the multiple bidding opportunities after the so-called MA-IDIQ “win”?
- Did your sales team talk to the end user shopping for this service or product and did your team help at all in the client’s discovery meetings prior to the bid? If you don’t think you’re allowed to do so, read the mythbuster articleat the Whitehouse website. It says yes you can speak with people prior to the bid being released, according to FAR 15.201 which says the government is encouraged to discuss innovations with industry.
- How do you know you’ll win? Do you know their budget (also called the Independent Government Cost Estimate or ICGE)? Do you have exactly what they told you they wanted? Do you understand the scope of work and do you have any intelligence about the scope besides what is written in the bid? Can you deliver on-time, within budget and still make money?
- Are you filling in gaps in the bid on areas you don’t cover and trying to find a partner at the bidding point?
- Are you offering the name brand they requested or the equivalent?
- Are you wasting the government’s time by asking way too many questions and supplying a shoe-horn fit proposal because you don’t understand the scope of work? How is this making you look good for future opportunities? How is this getting your foot in the door? Why not, instead, book a flight to the agency, and stick your foot in their door? In other words, why not start making calls for next time, build some relationships, set appointments, perform capabilities briefings and get to know them first?
- How many of these answers are while you’re “seeing green” or experiencing “wishful thinking?”
Third, if you are puzzled by these questions, you need to learn the federal sales and proposal game so you can walk into this marketplace, visiting the agencies who buy what you sell with intelligence about their current incumbents and understanding the appropriate strategies to go after business well before a bid hits the streets.
If you’re blindly writing a bid that is “perfect for us” to “get our foot in the door” and you’re “seeing green” with every opportunity that crosses your screen – with no intelligence whatsoever – you’re going to lose not only the bid but a lot of respect and heart from your employees who spent late nights and weekends preparing the bid just to appease you. You’re going to lose a lot of time and all of that hurts the bottom line.
Implement a bid/no-bid process and you’ll begin the realization that you need to invest more on sales activities prior to bidding opportunities – and less time writing proposals.
And in 2016 – make this your motto:
Write Less – Win More.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/did-you-find-federal-opportunity-posted-fbo-which-think-eileen-kent and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
Visit Eileen’s website, The Federal Sales Sherpa.
It’s that start of the year reflective time again, and a recent conversation reminded me that the fundamentals of strategic planning come down to two things:
- Focus on what you do well.
- Organize to support your customers.
From that, opportunities will flow, and the right outcomes will be there
For example, we were talking to this large company, one of the big integrators. A couple of years ago they were organized by customer, e.g., Navy, Army, Justice, which meant that there were functional departments (e.g., IT, security, training) in every one of those lanes.
Now they’ve transitioned to being a functional organization, which means that their business units are organized by function. There is an IT unit, a training unit, and so forth. That makes a big difference to how they use sub-contractors, and so in order to do business with them we need to organize and plan our outreach efforts accordingly.
We’ve had many conversations over the years on this blog about focus, and about building relationships that have depth and quality to them. The same principles apply to your capabilities, so that you focus on doing a few things well as a small business and not try to do all the things that come your way to produce revenue.
I know this is easier said than done. Frankly, the hardest thing to do is say ‘No’ to potential revenue when it doesn’t fit.
Focus helps improve the P-win (Probability of Win) because you will have done the work to have a customer relationship, and you’ll have the functional capabilities that match the customer’s need.
But this recent conversation illustrated another aspect of focus – organizational structure (customer versus capability sectors). Quite frankly, this is an age-old dilemma. Customer focus is where you laser in on the relationship and get it really deep, and then there’s a foundation to build. Capability focus is where your SMEs are all working together and humming on the work they do.
I wish there was a single answer that always works for every company. Probably it changes with time and portfolio mix of customers and/or capabilities. The dilemma is that in either case, some set of people will be matrixed across sectors. If you’re capability organized than it’s the customers, and if you’re customer organized it’s the SMEs.
Think about which is right for you, and then stick to your guns.
Back on October 1, 2015, GSA launched its new Professional Services Schedule (PSS), which consolidates eight professional services contract schedules into one.
The eight schedules are:
#520 – Financial and Business Solutions (FABS)
#541 – Advertising and Integrated Marketing Services (AIMS)
#738II – Language Services
#871 – Professional Engineering Services (PES)
#874 – Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services (MOBIS)
#874V – Logistics Worldwide (LOGWORLD)
#899 – Environmental Services
#00CORP – Consolidated Services
This is important for everybody to understand because it means that the old MOBIS schedule that many of us had, the one that handles program management services, is now a part of this new schedule and has a lot more scope than before.
This creates a new opportunity for people who have a MOBIS schedule or one of these other schedules to now add all these different functions to their schedule and bid on more work.
In particular, there may be things that you didn’t feel like you were quite qualified for, but now all you have to do is add another SIN code (this is not any kind of moral judgment; it stands for Special Item Number) to your profile. GSA has detailed instructions for how to modify your information.
It’s very important to understand and follow GSA’s rules for how you stay on a schedule, because the whole reason for this change is that GSA is trying to reduce the number of vendors and the number of contracting staff they need, in order to hold their costs down.
As Tiffany Hixson writes on the GSA blog, “By reducing the number of contracts supporting the Professional Services category of spend, GSA will eliminate more than 700 contracts resulting in an estimated five year savings of $3.95 million, and sustained savings of $1.29 million annually thereafter.”
MOBIS was a big deal before, but this new combination of MOBIS with professional engineering and the other schedules makes it a really big deal. So as readers, you should really be up to date on what these schedules look like, what your obligations are to stay on GSA’s good list, and most importantly how to make use of this increased opportunity.
In a previous post, I wrote about how to get started in cybersecurity. You can talk to your current customers, the ones with whom you already have relationships, and see if anybody needs help in this area. This could be even one or two people, or re-scoping or retitling somebody’s duties to include a cybersecurity component. You just need a place to start.
In the wake of the OPM breach where the personal information of millions of current, former, and prospective Federal employees and contractors was compromised, interest in cybersecurity is reaching even newer heights.
So what does this mean, and how can cybersecurity contractors take advantage of the current environment?
- We know that more money is going to come in.
- We know that cybersecurity jobs are going to come up.
- We know that agencies are looking to score high on their small business scorecard.
- While at the big business level cybersecurity work is often done at a data center or a security operations center, a lot of the day-to-day core work is done by small businesses.
So the critical factor is to follow through with your relationships. We talked in the last post about steering your current clients towards new cybersecurity work. Let’s talk now about another set of relationships.
Most small businesses have favorite prime contractors that they’re working with. Let’s say you’re in the IT support field, or another area that would allow a natural migration into cybersecurity.
Ask if your prime contractor has any job openings on existing cybersecurity contracts that their current subcontractors may not be able to fill, or any upcoming procurements they’re targeting.
They may be willing to consider people who have customer knowledge and a good name in an agency, even if they’re not necessarily functionally competent. They know the relationship carries weight in the evaluation of the proposal.
Your prime contractor is going to do most of the legwork in procuring these cybersecurity jobs, so in these cases you need to work on your relationship with that prime. This is a good opening for us to talk about how almost all large businesses have what they call a diversity person.
This person serves a similar role as the OSDBU, acting as a small business liaison to help small companies find and win opportunities within the company. Just like the government ODSBUs, these corporate representatives don’t necessarily have any work for you, but they can help you get on teams.
Also make sure to update your entry in that company’s supplier database, and include keywords related to cybersecurity. That will put you in front of the people who are already actively looking for help.
Targeting cybersecurity in your contracting business? Work your relationships. It all starts from there.
In a series of three blog posts, Judy Bradt of Summit Insight put together a list of things government contractors can do to prepare for the fiscal year end. Here is a snapshot of her points, along with my own thoughts that build on her recommendations.
- Revisit your forecasting
- Ask for referrals from your best customers
- Stay top-of-mind
Bill says: These points go back to what Judy and I have always been preaching – success in federal contracting is about building long-term relationships.
Revisit your forecasting – that’s the FOCUS – see who you can really touch and make a part of your business. Referrals are what I’ve been calling “nearest neighbors” – friends of your customers’ friends.
And finally, this is a continuing process, so stay with these folks. See them on drop-bys and wherever they are. For example, if you notice they’re speaking at an event, show up – even if only to listen and say hello.
- Give the golden leave-behind: gratitude
- Plan multiple touches, tactics, channels
- Update and share your capability statement
Bill says: TAPE leaves behind little chocolates branded with our logo, but the key here is to make sure you express gratitude to your customers for their business. Build those relationships (see above) with the multiple touches of being where your customers are.
Maintain your currency by keeping up with your customers’ hot buttons. Does your one-pager (description of your company’s capabilities) hit those hot buttons?
- Refresh and maximize your online presence
- Leverage customer feedback and testimonials
- Expand thought leadership
- Be ready to sell the way they want to buy
Bill says: Maintaining and keeping your website fresh is critical. People look at that and if the visual picture doesn’t align with what you’ve told them, you can lose out. Include a prominent display of your CPARs (ratings in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System) – especially the really good comments, and your kudos letters. Leverage these positive testimonials in call-out boxes on your website as well.
The best road to thought leadership? Blogging! You can always think of something to say about your industry, and the problems you solve for your customers, even if once a month. Feature your best staffers as bloggers also – they’ll love the publicity.
Always sell what your customers want to buy – your people, your best product ideas and innovations, and keep it up. Never forget what you’re selling, and what your focus is, that’s how you’ll succeed.
Lastly, remember to keep your certifications and small business status handy – sole sources and simplified purchase opportunities can be leveraged handsomely.
Thanks to Judy Bradt of Summit Insight for pulling together these crucial points!