The life of a small-business owner is nothing if not busy. The “job description” often includes everything from heading up R&D to product marketing, from sales to managing human resources, to making sure the coffee pot’s turned off at the end of the day.
So what happens when that small business aims its sights at tapping the potentially lucrative federal government contract space?
On top of everything required just to keep the company going, someone’s got to pay attention to the copious checklists and deadlines demanded by the government, from the start of the bid process to the end of the project—and sometimes beyond.
But that person doesn’t have to be the small-business owner. The government contract process can be so challenging, the prudent business owner may want to consider delegating that work to the right person. But how do you find the right person?
The outside hire. One option is to hire a staff person with specialized knowledge of the government contracting process. The General Services Administration (GSA) itself suggests that it is “best to hire someone who already has knowledge of the federal market, rather than adding the task to any existing commercial sales team.”1
This strategy particularly makes sense for small shops such as a one-person business trying to break into the federal government business, says Washington, D.C.–based SCORE Counselor Fred Elam, a retired major general in the U.S. Army. [SCORE is a partner in the American Express OPEN Government Contracting: Victory in Procurement (VIP) for Small Business program. Visit SCORE’s government contracting site here.] What’s more, Elam says outside help may bring the experience you need to land a valuable government contract. “You might want to hire a subcontractor who can open doors for you or maybe help you write a piece of your proposal,” says Elam. “You should aim for someone who’s worked in or has relationships with that agency.”
Delegating from within. Government contract proposals are evaluated on several metrics, including price, management and technical components. A business owner who excels as a manager may not have the technical expertise required to land the contract.
That’s where delegating can reap benefits. You may be able to draw on other people’s strengths to fill gaps in your own skill set. For instance, the owner may pull a staff member with knowledge of how a particular product is manufactured into the contracting process, which can help build a stronger team and give the company a better chance of success during the bidding process.
Whomever you choose to delegate tasks to related to pursuing a government contract must have the background, training and skills equal to those tasks. Elam also notes that you should have good chemistry with that person. After all, you are entrusting them with critical responsibilities. “Trust, integrity, their track record—it’s something you can’t quite quantify, but you can qualify it in terms of how you relate to this person,” says Elam.
1 A Guide: How To Market To The Federal Government. GSA, June 2009.