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.
“I will always remember the conversation I had with a triumphant business owner. She was all excited because she had just won her first federal contract. Out of curiosity, I asked her: how many proposals did she submit before she won that first one? “Thirty-nine,” she said cheerfully.
“I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the price of winning that one also included all the time and money she spent to submit the 38 losing proposals. For the record, that was a 2.56 % win rate. She didn’t even think something was wrong with that. It just seemed normal to her, because that was her only experience.”
The most common woe I’ve heard recently, from executives in industries that span professional engineering to facilities management is:
"We need to stop chasing squirrels.”
Yes, you do.
What are they talking about? Why, Opportunities, of course. And, boy, if there’s one thing the federal government has no shortage of, it’s Opportunities. Or, rather, on any given day, no fewer than a dozen brand new “Top Priorities” landing in your inbox…or even face to face. On top of the eleven that were new Top Priorities the day before.
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?
And they’re all “Opportunities.” Every one. For someone.
How can you tell which ones are for you, without missing out?
First, relax. It’s time to accept a couple of simple truths.
The bad news is that, 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 the once-in-a-lifetime federal contract opportunity that is gone forever.
The better news is that, if the opportunity is a good fit for you, you’ve had plenty of notice …not least because 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 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 doing some brute force networking, you’re not just wasting your time once.
You’ll waste it twice: by attending the event in the first place, and then, even worse, for all the time you’ll take following up with dozens to even hundreds of people who aren't any kind of prospect for you at all.
Antidote To Squirrel Infestation
It's called focus.
Do you know which three federal agencies represent your best prospects? Write those down. Then, anything that is outside of those three agencies and 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. 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. The idea of "Gee, we could throw in a proposal and maybe we'll win," is one of the biggest distractions of all.
Instead, ask yourself two questions: first, how well do I know this customer and this agency? And 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 are you thinking that way, and what kind of response is best aligned with your focus and your goals.
Need a distraction control expert? Maybe it's time we talked. Summit Insight specializes in helping companies that want to pinpoint their best prospects, fast, and get down to business. If that's you, give me a call today at (703) 627-1074. ~Judy.