Transitioning Into a New Federal Contract

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There is a whole set of processes that are launched upon winning a new federal contract. Let’s look at some of the things to expect. Of course, the first thing is to get the award – the actual notice of award. However, in the federal sector even that’s not just a single event.

The first thing that happens is you’ll start to hear rumors that you’ve won. There may even be some negotiations between you and the customer to discuss terms.

Before a contract can be awarded, there is a three-day notice to the losers, which essentially announces who the apparent winner is. The purpose of giving this notice is to allow the companies that did not win to submit size-standard protests.

Size-standard protests are the government’s way of policing the process (or allowing companies to police each other), to make sure that the winning company is truly eligible as a small business under the specific NAICS code for this particular contract. There are times when, for a variety of reasons, people are found to be non-compliant, even when they’ve already been on the contract.

Unfortunately, sometimes competitors can be over-zealous with their due diligence, and may incite a protest without having all the facts. For example, a company I knew was the subject of a protest because their website listed billions of dollars worth of contracts they had won. Yet some of these were multiple-award IDIQs and the amount of work they actually won under them was quite small.

Another part of the process is the debrief. Here, any of the losing companies – or the winner – can request a debrief where you get an official explanation of how the government evaluated your proposal and where you fit vis-à-vis the winner, though you’re never told what other businesses may have scored on their proposals.

The protest period lasts for 10 business days from the date of award. It’s important to understand that all of these pre-award and post-award days count as part of the transition time specified in the contract. So you need to start transitioning.

Key elements of a transition

It is a certifiably bad idea to not plan out your transition in as much detail as you can, understanding your activity set and knowing the accountable people. This is the first action you will be taking on a new contract with a new customer; you are building a critical relationship for the future.

Make sure you have the people necessary for the contract, and that you have a place to house them, along with any equipment they’ll need. Or if they’ll be working at the government site, you must know the security requirements to access the computers and other government facilities.

If you have subcontractors you need to have the contract in your hand, and a subcontract document in their hands. In order for them to proceed, you may need to give them what’s called an authorization to proceed – the verbal authority that allows someone to take action even though the legal document is not in place yet during the transition.

Meet with your new customers frequently during the transition and beyond, whether informally or formally. Not only are you building a relationship, but this is a way for the customer to give you the information you need to be successful. If all goes well, you will have a contract for as long as it lasts.


Advice for the New Project Manager

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The best and brightest of your staff are the ones who will carry a company far into the future, and every time you promote someone, that act resonates through the entire organization.

This is one such of the “million stories in the Big City” – a Junior PM job opened up, and we promoted a billable supervisor to an overhead PM position. The following is a first-hand story about that transition, and what we as senior staff and managers can do to help the folks going through a similar transition.

Meet Ken Geary, retired Marine, and newest PM on the TAPE block.

What was the biggest change going from being a supervisor to being a project manager?

“I would have to say the scope of management. I went from directly supervising a relatively small team of five individuals performing a task that I was intimately familiar with, to managing a much larger group of people through delegation and direct communication.

Also management is no longer my sole responsibility. I work to not only provide exceptional service to our customers but also focus on business development, seeking to grow our current contracts as well as procure new ones.

I see this as a general trend, where business development is less one person’s specific role, and more rolled into all program management roles.”

A year later, what would you tell yourself when you were about to start?

“Keep better notes and to-do lists. When I first started in the program management role, I was assuming I could continue to just remember everything I needed to do, as I did when managing a smaller team and wasn’t being pulled in so many directions.

Now that I’m often switching from one project to another, I’ve found that writing everything down helps me to ensure that I complete all of my tasks. I can quickly see the  current status and be reminded of the key points that are relevant when working with different contracts.”

What do you think are the most important traits of a good project manager?

“When I was in the Marine Corps we affectionately changed the slogan from semper fi (short for semper fidelis – Latin for “always faithful”) to semper gumby (“always flexible”) and I believe that holds true here.  

As a program manager many things fall into your scope of work and you need to be ready to switch gears instantly, manage multiple things, and perform those tasks – proposal writing, performance reviews, and anything that comes along in day-to-day program management.”

What are the biggest benefits to having a project manager in place?

“One of the major benefits of putting a program manager in place is to provide a single point of contact for any issues. This is something that benefits our employees as well as the government points of contact by delivering to provide accurate information effectively and directly.

I can work with them to solve a problem directly, or find the answers for them without them having to get passed around. I know when I call up to get answers or solutions it can be frustrating to get passed around from one person to another.”

Is there anything else you would tell a new project manager?

“Ensure that you are asking questions daily. There is a lot of information to learn and if you don’t ask when you have questions people will assume that you know and understand the information and tasks that have been delegated to you.

If you’re not sure about acronyms or other shop talk, say so. Don’t be scared to ask questions, you need to make sure you understand everything.”

So there you have it – Ken’s story, a year later. Without blowing up his ego too much, he’s done a superb job. What he didn’t tell you is that several of our contracts were coming to a close and needed bridging, and his relationship skills with the customer saved TAPE a lot of problems that would or could have surfaced.


The Only Way to Deal With Government Insourcing

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© DOC RABE Media – Fotolia.com

A couple of months ago I wrote about how small business federal contractors could use the results of the SBA’s 2014 Small Business Scorecard to target federal agencies looking to increase their set-aside numbers.

“I wish it were that easy,” was the response from one of my readers. They went on to describe what is unfortunately a common contracting experience. Their federal government agency customer had decided to insource some of the work the contractor’s company had been providing.

So what can you do when the government threatens to – or does – insource your best people?

Well, here’s what we did at TAPE back in the day, because it happened to us when we won our first big contract. We showed up at the kick-off meeting and the government contracting officer’s representative (COR) said they were going to insource 25% of the contract before we’d even start.

We did what we could – talked to the agency’s small business person, the SBA, and the contracting officer. However, the reality is that there really was no recourse.

What you have to do in this type of situation is plan for success. Anticipate the possibility that your employees are potentially going to become government employees someday.

If you’ve treated your employees well, then these folks are likely to be friends. Figure out how you’re going to take advantage of that friendship, in terms of new contacts, access to “nearest neighbors” (related departments or agencies that could potentially hire you), and increased awareness of your business’s good reputation.

In our case, while our agency customer was talking about 10 or more positions, they wound up insourcing five. What saved those five positions? The agency hadn’t considered the overhead it would cost to move all those positions in house. As well, it had crossed over into another budget year they didn’t get their required budget.

So five employees stayed our employees. And because we had treated them so well, each of the five who became government employees proved to be a valuable resource for us in the future.

So that’s my advice. Instead of fighting government insourcing, work with it. There’s really nothing much more that you can really do. Believe me, your customer will recognize the difference between resistance and supportive activity, and they will remember that the next time a job comes up.


Beware of Being Honored

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© Brian Jackson – Fotolia.com

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?


How and When to Take Outside Advice

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© tiero – Fotolia.com

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.


Understanding Banking Relationships

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© duncanandison – Fotolia.com

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.)


Alternative Financing: How to Maximize Your Chances of Securing an SBA Loan

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© Sergey Nivens – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Richard Lewis, Financial Engineering Counselors, Ltd.

Securing the financing you need to grow your small business can be a challenge. Over the past decade, banks have increased lending to big business by 36%, but over the same period, bank lending to small businesses has declined by almost 15%, and loans of less than $100,000 have dropped precipitously by more than 33%.

Fortunately, small businesses can find alternative financing sources, including a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. There are several different types of SBA loans, including:

Be sure to check which type of loan is right for your needs before beginning the application process.

SBA loans have been around for more than 60 years. These loans, which were established to promote small business growth, typically have lower interest rates and monthly loan payments.

Unfortunately, the process of applying for an SBA loan can be complicated and it can take a long time to complete the process. Once you do, there can also be an extended period of time before you actually obtain your funding. You can speed up the approval process by observing some simple guidelines. Here are five you need to be aware of:

  1. Your credit rating counts: Good credit is important for any loan, and that includes SBA loans. Follow good credit rules, like being sure to pay your bills before the deadlines. Obviously, you’ll want to avoid credit-killing actions like foreclosures and bankruptcies.
  2. Keep your financial documents up to date and organized: This includes all of your financial and accounting documents, as well as your tax records. You might consider using some good accounting software designed for small business if you don’t already to bring greater organization to your records. Having your financial records organized and accessible will move the process along more quickly.
  3. Spell out the purpose of the loan as clearly as possible: Lenders want to know that you’re a good loan risk, and that means they’ll be interested in what you plan to do with the money. Take the time to outline this in the clearest possible fashion, whether your loan is to add vehicles to your sales fleet or expand the size of your brick and mortar store.
  4. Explain how you’ll pay back the loan: You’ll need to demonstrate that you have good cash flow. You can do this through your most recent tax records. Lenders will also want to know how much other debt you have. If the loan is for a start-up business, you should pull together a smart financial plan and include credible projections which demonstrate your ability to make your monthly payments.
  5. Be prepared to describe your history: Lenders will want to know about your finances, but they’ll also be interested in whether you personally are a good risk. That has to do with your relevant experience, how much time you’ve been in business and the degree of professional success you’ve had.

Applying for any loan, whether traditional or through alternative financing, can be confusing. The good news is that there are experienced professionals who can walk you through the process, answer your questions and maximize your chances of success through long-standing partnerships with banks, finance companies and professional service firms.

This post originally appeared on the Financial Engineering Counselors website at http://www.fecltd.net/blog/?p=102 and was reprinted with permission.

Richard Lewis is a government contractor financing consultant. You can contact him at 703-992-8988.


Employee Engagement After the Information Revolution: Did Our World Turn Upside Down?

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Irit Oz & Ron Hirshfeld ~ Employee Engagement Experts

A little while ago I met Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld, two amazing folks who were in the US to bring their concept of employee engagement and the information revolution to fruition.

At my company, we are on the cusp between small, and thinking about being “not small” pretty soon now (this “launch point” is one of my passions in the small business community). We are working with a strategic planner to write the story of our business, as a pathway to bringing out our true goals as entrepreneurs and as a business.

Preserving employee and company culture is one of the hardest things about this stage of growth, which is why our strategic planner introduced us to Irit and Ron, and why I invited them to present their concepts here for your reading and reaction.

Did Our World Turn Upside Down?

A guest post by Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld.

Do you sometimes feel that you are holding your business intact with your bare hands? Do you set goals that seem reasonable to you and find yourself pushing your target dates or compromising on scope continuously? Do you feel sometimes that getting things done, the way you want them, is almost an impossible task? Did you ever get to a point that you’ve asked yourself, “Did our world turned upside down?”

If you have, you are not very far off. Our world did turn upside down is some way. Sounds crazy? Let’s look at the facts.

It is common knowledge that in the last 10 years we went through a revolution which most experts call “The Information Revolution.” Did you ever stop and think, how did that revolution impacted me and my business?

Revolution is a very strong word, and it is used to describe extremely impactful events. If we look at the revolutions that we had in the last few hundred years, we can understand why.

Each revolution has profoundly changed our way of living. The agriculture revolution has enabled 90% of human kind that used to work in agriculture to change profession, while the industrial revolution brought us comfort that we didn’t know before and triggered more than 50% of the population in our world to move from rural to urban areas.

For most people over 30, we probably don’t need to elaborate too much regarding the technological revolution. If we just take five minutes to think how we grew up without internet, cellphone, GPS, automatic windows, microwave, etc., we would finish these five minutes extremely grateful.

What was the impact of the revolution that we went through over the last 10 years? The Information Revolution?

One thing that most people are aware of, is that it brought us to a state where almost every knowledge that we want, we can have within seconds in the palm of our hand.

It doesn’t matter if you are a cook who is looking for a good recipe, a traveler who is searching for cheap flights, a software engineer who is looking for a particular way to implement an application, a lawyer who is searching for a specific legal case, or, God forbid, a terrorist who is looking to prepare a bomb. You can find everything you need very quickly using your computer, your tablet, or your cell phone.

That was not the situation 10 years ago. Ten years ago the teachers in school were the source of information, the managers in the organizations were the ones to teach you how to do your job, and the leaders in your country were the ones letting you know what the hell was going on.

Today, on the other hand, teenagers can learn what ever they are interested in from the comfort of their home, any employee can learn how to do their job from experts around the world, and any one of us can, very easily, check the facts that politicians are telling us.

If you look at the situations in organizations today, the information is no longer flowing from top-down. The people who are dealing with customers, production, inventory, programing, etc. are the ones holding the important knowledge.

If knowledge used to flow almost exclusively from top-down, it is now coming mostly bottom-up. This seems very trivial when we look at the facts, yet let’s take a moment to absorb this critical and astonishing concept. If the flow of information has reversed, what does it mean about the role of management? Can we keep doing the same things and succeed? As the great Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

If we are no longer the source of information for our employees, how can we get them engaged? If they have the knowledge, do we know how to retrieve it from them in order to make wise and knowledgeable decisions? Did we adjust the way we conduct business to support the new reality?

If we hadn’t, wouldn’t that be a disaster? Wouldn’t that be something very noticeable, something that would possibly threaten our survival, something that would make us feel as if our world has turned upside down?

Yours Sincerely,

Irit Oz & Ron Hirshfeld
Employee Engagement Experts

OH (Irit Oz and Ron Hirshfeld) are two unique individuals with 50 years of combined experience and hundreds of success stories. They have ONE purpose: To help transform your organizational culture to support your business strategy and assure that your desires become your REALITY. Learn more at http://ozandhirshfeld.com/.


Five Ways to Create a Revenue Culture

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© gigra – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Matt Falls.

The primary challenge of CEOs is to generate revenue with acceptable margins. Companies must develop new customers while expanding their beachhead in existing accounts. The drive for revenue growth requires that the CEO focus the whole revenue generation team – from marketing to customer service – on the goal of generating revenue.

A company focused on generating revenue works together as a cohesive unit through marketing, opportunity identification, qualification and proposal development. Here are five ways a CEO can create a culture focused on generating revenue:

1. Install a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)

The primary reason for the CRM is to generate revenue; it is not the end goal. It is a highly useful tool to organize the revenue generation team’s activities, share information about potential revenue opportunities, set performance metrics and provide the information to better manage the company.

Businesses use the information in the CRM to reinforce the revenue culture with team revenue meetings, by creating dashboards that measure activity and performance, to inform coaching sessions that improve performance and to gauge the effectiveness of marketing activities.

2. Hold team revenue review sessions

A key part of establishing the revenue culture is to hold team meetings where the entire revenue generation team focuses on finding the path to revenue. In this meeting, each team member presents their opportunities, products and services proposed, the flow of conversation, competitors, the decision makers, objections and their strategy for winning the business.

The entire team listens and contributes ideas to help close the business. There may be new products and services to propose, a key introduction, or helpful sales techniques are passed along. The entire team works together to close the business.

A similar meeting is held to discuss open customer service cases. Business development uses the information in these meetings to find revenue opportunities and works with line managers to present a solution to the customer. Line managers have the relationships, knowledge of customer challenges and credibility with the customer. Combined with business development’s knowledge of product applications and solutions, they expand the company’s presence in customer accounts.

3. Set goal dashboards to measure activity and performance

Critical to supporting the revenue culture are performance metrics that measure contribution to revenue. Dashboards track activity and performance goals for marketing, business development and customer service teams. Marketing goals such as qualified leads generated and dollar return on marketing campaigns are monitored along with activity goals such as campaigns launched. Customer service’s contribution to revenue is measured not only by cases completed, but also opportunities presented to business development.

Dashboards tell the CEO the most effective marketing channels, the size of the revenue pipeline, revenue forecasts based on probability of win, and the activities that team members are completing to convert opportunities to winning business.

4. Hold monthly individual reviews focused on improving ability to win business

Many companies use annual or twice yearly performance reviews to provide feedback on team members’ performance. Companies that are focused on generating revenue use the performance information in the CRM to provide a higher degree of guidance to individual team members. Individual performance dashboards highlight opportunities, revenue, cases resolved and activity levels.

Performance reviews can focus on improving the team member’s ability to win business, resolve cases or find opportunities. Action items can be created and assigned for follow up in the next month’s review session. With close guidance, individual performance improves and the team wins more business.

5. Measure marketing’s contribution to revenue

When the revenue culture is established in companies, marketing activities are directly connected to the practice of revenue generation. Campaigns are evaluated on the leads that are generated and the revenue that is produced from them.

Marketing makes better investments by tracking the leads and revenue that are generated by each marketing activity. Monthly review sessions facilitate a culture of continuous improvement by highlighting the activities that are generating leads and revenue and modifying marketing activities based on that information.

Highly successful companies create a revenue culture by measuring contribution to revenue, sharing information about potential opportunities and working together to win business, setting performance goals and holding review sessions that improve team member’s ability to generate revenue.

This post is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared at http://matthewfalls.com/five-ways-to-create-a-revenue-culture/, and was adapted and reprinted with permission.

photo, Mathew FallsMatthew Falls helps emerging companies that need a seasoned executive to fill out their senior team. He focuses on driving organic revenue, tapping the expertise of employees to reduce costs, creating innovation teams that transform ideas into highly profitable products, inspiring teams to win more business and creating internal controls and cost systems that sustain profitability. You can email Matthew to learn more.


How a Good Business Plan is a Key Messaging Tool

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© Minerva Studio – Fotolia.com

In a previous post, Cheree Warrick shared her expert tips for how to write a bankable business plan. These types of business plans are not just necessary to raise capital, but to attract people to your company.

I asked Cheree for her thoughts about how a business plan is such a key messaging tool.

An investable business plan can articulate your competitive advantage to three important audiences:

  1. Customers – No matter what the size of your business, you must be able to  communicate the value of your company to customers and prospective customers. It’s important to know who you’re serving and not serving – to niche yourself and dominate that niche. Too many business owners want to include everyone as potential customers rather than really targeting their message to a distinct group. A lot of times you can make more money in smaller niches than larger, more general niches.
  1. Employees – To get and retain the best talent, you must be able to express your vision and ensure everyone working together towards that vision. The more chaos in a company, the less profits it earns.
  1. Shareholders – If you’re a solopreneur, you’re the only shareholder, but for a Fortune 500 this might be an enormous group. This category also includes advisory board members who may be able to open doors for you in your industry.

Your message must always balance between making sure each of these three groups get what they want and need to be satisfied. The way you deliver the plan, or portions of the plan, may be different for each group.

Note from Bill: A good business plan is the strategic blueprint that tells you what are you focusing on, so you’re not trying to imitate another company or market to every place in the government.

Thank you again to Cheree Warrick of 1 Billion in Financing for these practical tips. The goal of 1 Billion in Financing is to help 1,000 entrepreneurs raise over $1 billion in capital for their growing enterprises by writing business plans that banks approve. For more information, please visit http://1billioninfinancing.com/.


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