The other day I had an opportunity to be in the room during an incredibly informative discussion among twenty business leaders from the civilian, defense and intelligence sectors of federal contracting. They convened to share challenges and offer insights with one another, related to marketing, business development, capture, relationships, teaming, pipelines and more. Just a few of the activities essential to business growth. Facilitating this powerhouse forum was my friend, Matt Ramsey of Excivity, who let me talk him into taking the helm of the Principals, Owners and Chief Executives group (POCx) last year. To say the least, Matt did a great job of moderating this half-day session that resulted in several actionable takeaways for many, including Matt and I.
The POCx program offering is based on the common knowledge ‘being alone’ as the leader of an organization comes with a host of new experiences for many, some good and others not so much. Add the unique characteristics of government contracting to the mix, and you can begin to understand why so many companies (large and small) opt out (or fall out) of chasing a piece of Uncle Sam’s Pie. The information exchanges occuring at POCx, as is the case with similar activities hosted by other groups, are considered invaluable to many business leaders.
As I mentioned, Matt and I came away with enough material that we could plan POCx meetings, webinars and podcasts for the rest of the year. By the way, this was our first session using the new format, so we definitely learned some lessons. Good one’s, but lessons nonetheless. There were several recurring themes that will be addressed in upcoming POCx Forums, but one that drew interest from most of the room is the challenge of maintaining work/work balance. Did I say maintaining? I should also include, achieving work/work balance. How is your company doing in this area? If you lead a company pursuing federal contracts, how much time do you spend working in the business versus working on the business?
This challenge shows up in many different forms. One I see most often is with the newest companies with fewer than five employees and, where everyone in the organization is billable. How do you manage to carve out time to address accounting, payroll, employee issues, develop competitive intelligence, network to establish relationships and spend time responding to data calls, agency market research, RFPs and RFQs when you are committed to forty hours (or more) on the clock and frequently onsite for a client? Even larger small businesses with overhead administrative staff struggle with escaping the ‘in vs. on’ trap.
Making the escape, however, does not mean it will be permanent. This was made clear in talking to several government contractors who did make the leap, only to have sequestration and other shifts in government contracting force them back to being “in” the business and starting the cycle all over again. Without a doubt, it takes a special breed of entrepreneur to weather these types of storms.
While putting this piece together I came across articles that looked at causes for work imbalance such as the 2005 Inc. article that discussed the relationship between the founder(s) and the direction of small companies placing the organizations into three distinctive categories. While the framework described resulted from a study that occurred in the 70’s, to me it still seems relevant. In fact, I definitely know companies who personify the traits of the Craft, Promotion and Administration company types. In a 2012 Forbes article the importance of delegating was stressed. “Moving your business ahead may require that you step back … way back,” is how this article begins. It goes on to cite several accomplished entrepreneurs using parenting analogies to describe growth through letting go. Very often easier said than done. Then there are the tactics described in the 4-Hour Work Week which could prove to be viable ways to get ‘unstuck’ from working in your business, even for government contractors.
So what are the tactics and resources small federal contractors can use to conduct growth activities when they have few (or no) internal and dedicated human resources to perform them?
Like many companies, I’m looking for these answers too! Are you a business leader who has recently overcome obstacles like these in government contracting? I’d love to hear from you.
Guy Timberlake, Chief Visionary
The American Small Business Coalition