By Frank Bennett, KY APEX Accelerator Procurement Consultant
This article was originally published in our monthly KY APEX Accelerator Newsletter. If you have any questions about this topic, your KY APEX Accelerator consultant is here to help! Not a client? Sign up here.
A friend asked me recently what differentiates small businesses that are consistently successful in government contracting from those with less success. This article is a summary of the conversation that followed. I’m labeling this list as “fundamentals” not because it is all-inclusive but because these are the attributes I often see among companies that successfully procure government contracts and subcontracts. Think of the characteristics on this list as an engine in a car. They are not all you need, but you will not move forward without them. So, what sets successful small business contractors apart from their peers?
They Focus on Research By utilizing programs such as FPDS.gov, SAM.gov, and USAspending.gov, you can gain a treasure trove of knowledge about current opportunities and agency past buying behavior. To develop an effective strategy to pursue suitable options for your company, you first must know who buys what you sell and how they buy it.
They Understand Their Unique Value Proposition When competing for a contract, displaying relevant past performance is the first step towards winning. The company that ultimately wins contracts differentiates itself by conveying its unique value that matches what the agency is seeking. In your capability statement, sources sought responses and proposals, you are attempting to tell a story to the buyer that shows them you are the best one for the specific job they need to be filled.
They Pursue Both Direct Contracts and Subcontracts An effective small business government contracting strategy includes pursuing both opportunities to contract directly with government agencies and opportunities to subcontract with prime contractors. I have clients that have worked on government projects as subcontractors for over 15 years and have never pursued a prime contract. Subcontracting offers many benefits. It brings in revenue, expands your experience and helps you build your “rolodex” of industry and agency connections. In many situations, a small business’s first government opportunity is through subcontracting. Rather than only focusing on direct opportunities with government agencies, develop a strategy for pursuing contract and subcontract opportunities at multiple levels.
They Build Strategic Relationships Replying to a request for proposal (RFP) should not be the first step in your bidding process but one of the last steps. You should start by researching the agencies and prime contractors that buy what you sell and strategically developing relationships with these organizations. There are various ways to build relationships with government buyers, including attending events, responding to sources sought and requests for information (RFI), contacting small business offices or simply contacting the agency’s purchasing department. Your KY APEX Accelerator procurement consultant can help you build a robust strategy based on the type of work you are pursuing. The key is actively developing relationships with decision-makers and influencers in relevant agencies. Remember that agencies are not required to publicly post opportunities valued at under $25,000, so if you sell something typically purchased for less than $25,000, you can often only find out about these opportunities through networking.
They Understand That Government Contracting Is a Long-Term Strategy Depending on the product or service you offer, winning your first contract could take two months or two years. Focus long-term and understand that the ups and downs you experience are all a learning exercise that will ultimately lead to mastery.
They Ask Great Questions When meeting potential buyers and partners, ask questions instead of launching straight into your elevator pitch to learn more about the agency, its needs and its current situation. Lead with good questions; when it’s time to enter your pitch, you will be better equipped to engage your audience and address their needs.
They Commit to Continuous Education Committing to ongoing education is key to remaining competitive in the government contracting sphere. The KY APEX Accelerator offers a treasure trove of educational opportunities. In addition to our virtual training events, online reference library and one-on-one consulting services, we have access to educational resources covering a wealth of government contracting topics through our network. All of our resources are available to our clients free of charge.
They Track Everything Along with establishing monthly and yearly goals, successful small business contractors studiously track every key success indicator. Some common indicators to follow include:
Number of proposals written
Number of contracts and/or subcontracts won
Number of teaming partnership relationships developed
Number and type of interactions with prospect agencies, teaming partners and/or potential subcontracting relationships
Number of training and education events attended
They Do Something Every Week (Or Every Day!) Regardless of your busy schedule, prioritize blocking off time weekly to work on your government contracting business. It’s easy to let a week go by when we are busy with more urgent tasks, but in doing so, we open the door to a slippery slope. Before long, a week and a month becomes six months. High-achieving companies never let a week go by without working on their plan, even if it’s only for a couple of hours.
They Are Persistent The CEO of one of the most successful companies we work with frequently says that his success in government contracting came down to persistence. When he started in government contracting, he needed to gain experience. When asked what made him prosperous, he always points to tenacity. He knew what he needed to do and who he needed to connect with, and he didn’t let setbacks such as failed bids or unreturned phone calls hold him back. He saw these hurdles as part of the process. A government agency contact who has known him for years said that when he was starting, he showed up at every event and asked everyone who would listen for advice. He emailed, called and sometimes showed up in offices to get the attention of the people he needed to speak with. Ultimately, the companies that most often succeed in government contracting are not necessarily the most established or experienced but are almost always the most persistent.
Whether you are attempting to win your first contract or your tenth, following these fundamental principles will help you progress more quickly toward your contracting goals. Connect with your KYAPEX Accelerator procurement consultant for help implementing any of the above items. We are here to help you succeed! If you need help connecting with your consultant, you can request assistance by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org or registering as a client on our website.