Every business is better at some things than others. One company might excel at customer service but have less-than-adequate accounting systems. Another firm might track every penny accurately but have trouble retaining clients. One key to success with government contracting—that is, increasing revenues and profits while fulfilling the requirements of the bid such that you can get repeat business—lies in systematically identifying the weaknesses specific to your operation, prioritizing them and making improvements. Then you can evaluate your efforts and engage in ongoing fine-tuning.
Follow these five steps, identified by Ken Gaebler, president of Chicago-based small business consulting firm Gaebler Ventures, to put your company on the path to improvement:
Identify. First, figure out the areas of weakness in your business. Talk to existing customers about what they’d like to see changed in your products or services—but don’t stop there. Also check in with lost prospects—folks for whom you may have written a proposal but who chose to take their business elsewhere.
This can be difficult to do on your own, so you may want to bring in a consultant to help gather and organize the information. This person can also capture your thoughts about where your business needs to improve—which may or may not match up with what customers and prospects think. “Entrepreneurs are very passionate, and that passion can cause them to lack objectivity,” says Gaebler, which is why bringing in an outsider can be so helpful. Government agencies will view your business with dispassion, so some dispassionate advice may stand you in good stead.
Assess. By now, you likely have a long list of items you want to address. They may range from getting better seating for the reception area, to scheduling staff training, to improving product quality. Before indulging your urge to cross items off the list, take some time to think about each weakness. Gaebler recommends considering the following items in your assessment:
- What’s not happening because of this problem?
- What is happening because of it?
- How could it be fixed?
- Roughly how much would that solution cost?
- How much time will the solution take to implement?
Prioritize. In Gaebler’s experience, this is the easiest step. “By the time most business owners get to this stage, they usually have a feel for where they should spend their time,” he says. “The top priority, of course, is anything related to the immediate survival of the business.”
Otherwise, select the problem that has the biggest impact on your company—and is feasible from both a cost and a time perspective. Gaebler suggests working on two or three items at most; take on more, he says, and you’re unlikely to give any one of them the time it deserves.
Execute. Now you can get to work fixing the problem. As you proceed, consider reaching out to fellow business owners about how they’ve tackled similar issues. Be sure that you have a method for measuring results along the way. If you’re looking to increase referrals, for example, you need a baseline number to start from. Then, going forward you’ll know whether your networking and word-of-mouth marketing are boosting referrals—and, if so, by how much.
Revisit. Once you’ve fixed the number-one problem, move on to another weakness. Circle back through the preceding steps to determine which item to tackle next. Meanwhile, don’t simply abandon the problem you’ve just converted from a weakness into a strength. Revisit it from time to time, checking to see whether you need to tweak your approach. “A philosophy of continuous improvement is what takes a business from barely making it to an unqualified success,” says Gaebler.