Tonya Buckner of BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. is the Chief Executive Officer at Buckner Management & Technology, BucknerMT and TAPE are teaming together to find new business for our two companies.
I asked Tonya to contribute some thoughts about life as a subcontractor:
Last week at a BrewtonMos Procurement Readiness luncheon, TAPE CEO/President Louisa Jaffe spoke on a panel and shared the following pearls of wisdom:
- Be passionate
- Have a clear vision and mission
- Clearly define your brand early
- Learn about contracting
- Master the proposal development process
- Start with vision
I just finished reading Three Feet from Gold by Sharon Lechter, a book about turning your obstacles into opportunities. The premise of the book is in line with what Mrs. Jaffe shared today:
- Have passion for what you do
- Find your own personal success formula
- Choose good counsel, and above all:
- Never give up
Although the above relates to entrepreneurs in general, I believe it is that entrepreneurship spirit that also allows you to be a successful subcontractor. For specific lessons about being a subcontractor, I’ll close with the “BucknerMT 20 Commandments,” which is a list we created based on our own experience as a subcontractor. We use them as internal guiding principles.
- Always remember when you are working with the client, you represent the prime so do everything in your power to make them shine.
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to stretch yourself past your comfort zone.
- Constantly look for value you can contribute to your teaming partners (e.g., participate in proposal efforts and/or bring new business opportunities).
- While subcontracting, strategically position yourself for prime opportunities.
- Focus on building your corporate reputation while building the past performance.
- Focus on providing high quality business solutions.
- Understand the culture, clients, leadership and systems.
- Be committed to excellence.
- Strive to foster and maintain positive relationships with each and every client (both internal and external).
- Equip yourself to succeed in business (develop/maintain a growth plan).
- Consistently seek innovative ways to assist your client in meeting goal.
- Make continual education/training a priority.
- Never compromise your principles.
- Set a corporate financial base in which you want to maintain. Try not to put all your eggs in one basket; the work is NOT guaranteed!
- Be flexible.
- Be ready.
- Be reliable.
- Be responsive.
- Be patient.
BucknerMT Management & Technology, Inc. (BucknerMT, Inc.) is a verified service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) and woman-owned small business (WOSB). From service strategy to continual service improvement, BucknerMT have deep domain knowledge and experience in information technology and supply chain management.
Since 2007, BucknerMT have supported the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) by providing services that include engineering, integrating, and sustaining critical military platforms and systems.
This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.
Women entrepreneurs own 10.6 million businesses in the U.S., and employ 19.1 million people, who account for $2.5 trillion in sales. But according to the Kauffman Foundation, women represent only 35 percent of startup business owners, even though they represent about 46 percent of the workforce and more than 50 percent of college students.
So why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs?
One study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (and reported by National Public Radio) looked at 90,000 entrepreneurial projects launched on the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter. The study found that men are much more likely to be overconfident than women. When their project failed, they were much more likely to keep trying, while women tended to give up. Also, when women succeeded, they were more likely to feel that they just got lucky, while men feel that they are “geniuses.”
There is help for women entrepreneurs just starting out. The SBA set up its 8(a) Business Development Program to assist economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs) to compete for federal contracts in industries where women-owned small businesses are underrepresented. Women and minority-owned businesses can get access to specialized business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development. The SBA also offers guaranteed loans and bonding assistance for being involved in the program. SAMS has benefited from its SBA designation, and has also become part of the Mentor-Protégé Program which helps other women entrepreneurs through one-on-one mentorship.
Building a business is not easy, and many women cite the same characteristics as helping them to achieve their dream.
Gayle King of CBS news talks about persistence as a trait helped propel her to achieve her goal. She advises would-be entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with people that are better than you, because it forces you to up your game. Most importantly, never take no for an answer.”
When Staci Redmon founded SAMS, it was important to her to develop core values, which still remain at the heart of the company. These are commitment to employees, commitment to the client, and commitment to the community.
Staci started SAMS out of sheer frustration. As a veteran and a civil servant, she watched as vital equipment for our warfighters was denied funding. She used her determination and commitment to service members to fuel her drive to create an organization with the vision to measure impact not by the bottom line, but by the difference it could make. Since its founding, SAMS has won numerous awards and has been hailed repeatedly as one of the fastest growing companies in Virginia.
Another entrepreneur, JK Rowling, also relied on persistence to overcome adversity. Her literary agency sent the book to 12 different publishers before it was accepted. Rowling says, “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into the only work that mattered to me. I was set free.”
As women entrepreneurs continue to pursue their dreams, the path to success, while never easy, becomes clearer and less uncertain by following in the footsteps of those who came before.
You can find more about SAMS and Staci’s 2020 Vision for the Future on our website http://www.getsamsnow.com.
This article originally appeared at http://getsamsnow.com/blog-post/whats-preventing-women-becoming-entrepreneurs/ and was adapted and reprinted with permission.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.