To find new customers, you need to be where they are. So where are your government customers hanging out? Where do they go when they want to network with non-government industry people?
The Chamber of Commerce seems like an obvious place to start. Even though government people don’t usually attend Chamber meetings, you can speak to your local Chamber office to get the whole story. There may be sub-groups geared towards government contractors, and they can also tell you which events your local government representatives might be attending.
Your best bet is to look for the organizations that actually specialize in bringing together government people and the vendors who serve them. If you’re in communications, security or technology, for example, you could join TAPE as members in the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), a global organization with branches and meetings all over the world. Or look for a Technology Council near you.
Two examples of more localized groups are the Charleston Defense Contractors Association in South Carolina near the SPAWAR Naval base. Another excellent resource will be your local community’s Department of Economic and Community Development, such as the St. Mary’s County Association, which meets in South Maryland near the Patuxent River Naval Base. Their meetings attract government people, vendors and contractors alike.
In all these cases, big city or small, there are organizations that bring together the Federal contractors and that gets everyone networking. These are the kinds of meetings and events you want to look for and get involved in. Think it might be too boring? Show up anyway! You never know who will be seated next to you, and where a casual conversation (or even a dance) may take you. That person may not be a source of revenue today, but they may be your biggest source of revenue tomorrow.
There are plenty of online networks as well. On LinkedIn, I’m connected to groups that bring together government representatives and vendors in particular industries, such as Defense & Aerospace and the Federal IT Group. Look for similar groups in your own industries and geographic location.
Whether it’s a live meeting or an online group, show up regularly and get involved. That’s how you’ll build the long-term relationships that keep you in the loop when opportunities come along.
P.S. There’s a really easy way to find these groups, and that’s to start with your local PTAC office – they’re even on LinkedIn! They often have a list of just the type of organizations you’re looking for.