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Clear Your Blind Spots to Federal Contracting Success

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In March at the WBENC Summit and Salute in New Orleans, I was invited to give the inaugural WE Talk, a new series designed after the TED Talks. This post is adapted from that talk.

Want me to bring an inspiring TED-style talk to your community? Let's talk soon!

Want to grow your government business? Don’t be careful what you wish for. Be ready for what you wish for.

Federal contract growth can hurt a small business. But it doesn’t need to hurt yours.

Did you ever look back on a tough decision in your business and realize that you missed something major that was right in front of you?

It happens. We all have blind spots – reasons why we don’t see things that others do. Sometimes we miss things that could have helped us. Worse, sometimes we don’t anticipate problems we could have avoided.

Here are three ways to adjust your mirrors on the road to federal contract success so that you can get the full picture of this high-stakes superhighway and make better decisions on the road.

With federal contract spending last year topping 470 billion dollars, we want to take some of that home. How can it be so hard to win business? Sometimes we're in the overload blind spot: there is just more information than we can process. We guess what to pay attention to first, and we guess wrong.

To clear the overload blind spot, adjust your view: Focus.

The hundreds of federal opportunities published every year on FedBizOpps.gov lead many companies to spend thousands of dollars submitting one proposal after another without success. It’s not a numbers game. Companies that grow pull back that effort and instead of making a ten percent effort on forty proposals, put 100% effort into developing three or four opportunities that are well qualified. Their costs go down, and their success goes up.

Sometimes we’re in the technician blind spot.We’re running flat out to grow the company, but revenue is flat. The company founder started the firm based on her expertise. She’s now stretched trying to do two jobs: serving individual clients, and leading the company into the future. With constant pressure for revenue, the executive leadership role can get shortchanged.

To clear the technician blind spot, adjust your view: Get out of the office.

Nobody can present and promote your company like you. You can hire someone else to code, manage the project, or provide day-to-day customer service. Will they be quite as good as you? In fact, they might even be better. Be ready to bring them up to speed. If business development feels uncomfortable, get help and get over it. Engage your board of advisors to open doors and show you the ropes. Lead the effort to position your company as a thought leader in your industry. You can’t build the partnerships and relationships that lead to new business when you’re stuck in a cubicle.

And sometimes, successful companies hit the growth gap blind spot. We want to grow the company but can wrongly assume that the future will be a lot like the past. 

Small firms that grow their government business and finally win the big contract that puts them on the steep part of the federal growth climb can suddenly face a sharp curve in the road. Grow past a certain point and you lose advantages like small business set asides and subcontractor preferences that may have driven your growth. If you’re ready, you can still stay on track!

To clear the growth gap blind spot, adjust your view: Plan for mid-tier transition. 

First, if growth is definitely in your future, know your federal small business size standard, and estimate how soon your growth trajectory might mean your firm is no longer small. Next, years before your transition, focus on winning a place on the multiple-year task order or delivery order contracts your target agencies use to buy services or products like yours. Win once, sell often. If you outgrow your size standard after you win one of these “open jaw” contracts, including ones that are set aside for small business, buyers can still purchase from you until the contract expires. And, finally, start vetting and cultivating relationships with small partners whocanaccess those set asides to whom you can subcontract to after the transition.

Don’t be careful what you wish for. Be bold, dream big…but be ready for what you wish for.

This article originally appeared in the WBENC President’s Report, April 2014

Tue, 05/27/2014 - 8:12am

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