In the huge world of government contracting for small businesses, the probability of success can be daunting and even intimidating. For me, when I made the decision to leave my corporate career to start the Chaise Management Group (CMG) just five short years ago, I honestly didn't know if I would succeed or fail. However, as with all entrepreneurial pursuits, one must have a set of base core values that drives him or her towards success: My winning combination was focus, resolve, fortitude, persistence and team partnership.
Although the SBA can provide the foundational requirements to get started with government contracting, the bigger question is, how do you keep going as a productive and profitable contractor? Earlier this year, our company received official certification in the U.S. Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development Program.
The 8(a) Business Development Program is a business assistance program for small disadvantaged businesses, offering a broad scope of assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. In addition, it's an essential instrument to gain access to the economic mainstream of American society, assisting thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs who want to plant a firm footprint in government contracting.
However, even before we were certified, we still landed approximately $7 million in government contracts. These seven strategies helped us to secure government contracts prior to our 8(a) certification.
1. Do your homework.
Be sure to research to find out as much as you can about your target agencies. You should know acute details such as their primary problems or challenges, budget, spending priorities and spending allowances in your primary and secondary North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes.
2. Develop a capability statement.
Invest in the right amount of time, talent and resources to create a strong, compelling and solutions-driven capability statement that amplifies your organization's strengths and expert positioning. This crucial marketing document serves as the blueprint for ongoing business. Be sure to include your certifications and clearly state what differentiates your organization from others. In other words, state the evidence of why your company should be the preferred solutions provider over another.
3. Create brand consistency.
All your marketing collateral should represent and reflect your organization in marketplace excellence. First impressions still (and will always) matter. Be mindful of the image you are forming and sending with your company's culture, messaging, website, media publicity and social media platforms. Your brand is your service promise to the marketplace, and how others perceive your company as a whole.
4. Align with strategic partners.
This is a great way to break into the government space. These partnerships can often lead to subcontracting opportunities and give access to new markets and customers which your partner is already servicing. These relationships can create added value to your existing services and have an influence on your ability to gain more business. Join organizations that represent and support small businesses to stay on top of industry trends, networking opportunities and policies.
5. Attend agency outreach events.
Attend as many outreach events as you can. These events are excellent opportunities to meet key personnel as well as strategic partners for future collaboration. Learn the structure of the organization and evaluate the products/services it buys to target your marketing efforts. Show up to these events with your capability statement, business contact information and be prepared to discuss your capabilities and specific projects and/or solutions that you can provide for the organization.
6. Network with other CEOs.
It's lonely at the top. Network with your peers and other like-minds to bounce ideas off of or seek experienced advice. Having a professional network will create an opportunity to share your cumulative experience and expertise and create dialogue about challenges and successes among your peers. Ultimately, it's a shared learning environment that offers invaluable information. Organizations and networking tools such as the SBA, Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), local/national Chambers and LinkedIn provide lots of resources that help CEOs grow. Some of these services come at no cost.
7. Stay the course.
Entrepreneurship is tough. Stay positive and do not get discouraged. There were times when I thought that I would not succeed due to the competitiveness of the market and not having contract vehicles that gave access to opportunities. However, I was confident enough in my organization's capabilities and the assembly of my team that we would achieve success with the continuity of effort and hard work.
Small businesses seeking government contracting opportunities while waiting for the 8(a) certification should focus on:
- Outreach and relationship building
- Diversifying your target market (buyers)
- Taking risks
Risk taking is paramount because there may be an opportunity that fits within your organization's competencies. However, you will most likely have to team with an 8(a) certified company because such companies are able to form joint ventures and teams to bid on contracts. It's win-win for you because every opportunity increases your ability to learn the ropes from other, more experienced businesses.
Be crystal clear on your company's capabilities and performance. Although you may not be 8(a) certified, take a risk in selling to those service sectors that are applicable to your industry and market. Don't automatically assume that you are marginalized, paralyzed and without options to bid on and secure contracts. If it happened for us, it can happen for you. In business, it's all about seizing the right opportunity and going after it.