Hopefully, your company has an idea or specifically knows which customers, partners and government contracting opportunities it wants to pursue. The trick for many at this stage is starting and sustaining the pursuit which requires investment and strategy. Is your company willing and able to invest in developing knowledge, relationships and tactics to foster the growth of your business? Are you prepared to meet opportunity?
Whatever goals you’ve set in your personal or professional life, it’s likely you’ve devised some plan to increase your odds of success. It may not be a documented and bound presentation full of tables, charts and illustrative graphics, but I’ll bet some thought went into how you will get “there.” With plan in-hand (or in mind) you can determine what’s needed to implement and execute that plan to ensure arrival at your intended destination. That said, the investments you made and will make are not based solely on your ability to spend money. Much of the knowledge and many of the relationships you’ll need to develop as a government contractor won’t require a cash, check or credit card transaction.
Why make the investment?
Because nothing happens quickly in this business and the opportunity cycle for many companies (and the government) begins long before a Request For Proposal, Request For Quotation or even Request For Information hits the street. While you might win business by waiting for and reacting to announcements on the Federal Business Opportunities site or as teammate to company’s with task order contracts, it’s unlikely meaningful wins will result and it’s hardly a sustainable approach. Nonetheless, many small, mid-size and even large companies choose this as their modus operandi.
If your company is actively participating in industry events and related-forums, you’ve already started investing through networking and seeking out information that could reveal business opportunities, both near-term and long-term. But are those current activities tied to specific goals and a defined approach, or are you just wingin’ it? Without targets and a plan, your company is treading water. If the activities and language of the land seem overwhelming, the first investment to consider is domain knowledge, also known as context. This is quite literally the glue that allows you to ‘connect the dots’ of disparate pieces of information and leverage them to support your organization’s decision-making. There are many ways to acquire context so decide on the method that suits your needs. Be advised that moving forward without these vital insights will result in your company being relegated to the role of spectator versus participant.
Are you willing to invest?
If government contracting is a new experience, be receptive to market-specific information and methods that will most likely be different from other sectors in which you participated. My friend Mark Amtower, I and many others can share story after story of large and small companies who felt they were ‘smarter than the average bear’ when it came to government contracting and, besides that, their business approaches were infallible. Or so they thought. They had no interest in making the necessary investments and were laser-focused on finding shortcuts that would get them to ‘market domination’ in the shortest amount of time. The best description of the outcomes for many of them is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song that includes the lines:
“Sometimes you’re the windshield, Sometimes you’re the bug”
For as long as I’ve known him Mark has said, “Those determined to take short cuts are most likely to end up as chalk outlines on the sidewalk.” I’ve been a witness to it more than a few times.
Government contracting can be a very unforgiving business for some.
Are you able to invest?
For any of this to work business leaders must decide which paths to take and what guideposts to follow. While desire is important, it takes a leader to put this into action. No support or involvement from leadership means little to no chance of success. This is but one item on the list of challenges facing smaller companies, especially those where the owner or owners are billable. Getting them ‘out of the business’ so they are able to work ‘on the business’ is often a matter of developing requisite trust with a customer so they can replace themselves on billable tasks. It preserves those revenues and gives the company bandwidth and vision to seek out additional growth opportunities. In every situation I’ve seen play out like this, the business leaders involved leveraged a strategy based on having invested in domain knowledge and relationships.
Determining your company’s ability to engage in expanded growth activities is to consider your state of readiness. While the following questions don’t represent everything that needs to be considered, assessing your company’s responses to questions like these will help you measure and manage risk:
- What are your goals?
- What is your timeline?
- What resources can you allocate?
- Are you committing or ‘sticking your toe in the water?’
- Do you understand the current environment?
- Are you positioned to do business with prospects (on their terms)?
- How long can you sustain?
- What are your expectations?
The point is, before you spend time and money on new growth activities, determine if you are ready. As needed, seek experience-based guidance from your trusted advisors which may not always be a structured advisory board, but can provide the same results. Knowing and understanding this information sooner rather than later could protect your company from bad investments.
Ready to invest?
If you’ve done a reality check regarding your expectations and have accepted the fact a return will probably not happen as quickly as you would like, then it’s time to consider if you’ll do it yourself or have someone do it for you. I work with companies on both sides who see positive results, so the choice is yours. If you already have the human capital available, make this an internal function but be sure to get your team the training and resources they need to succeed.
Learning to access information and relationships and having the context to understand how information can be used allows your company to exploit the information, relationships and opportunities to achieve specific goals.
Planning to outsource? Leverage your network and advisors to select the right solution for you and don’t treat the relationship as a total hand-off. Just as if they were employees, direct involvement from leadership is key and contributes to success.
How we help companies succeed.
For companies keeping it in-house, our regularly scheduled workshops and our custom onsite trainings such as Ethical Stalking for Government Contractors™ and The Complete FPDS-NG Workshop! will give your company an informed edge as a contractor and subcontractor. The knowledge tactics, tools and resources we provide directly impacts your company’s ability to execute today! We refer to it as having an ‘A|C|E™ up your sleeve.’
If you would like more information about our A|C|E™ programs, feel free to write me at email@example.com or call me at 410.381.7378 x200.
Guy Timberlake, Chief Visionary
The American Small Business Coalition