Lessons Learned from Other Small Business Federal Contractors

I asked contractors the proverbial question what would you do differently when you first started your business if you knew what you knew now, and they provided some of the following comments.

Develop Relationships

I served as a judge for a national entrepreneurship contest in 1998 and when I was speaking with the key sponsor of the program he noted three stages of small businesses. The first stage is where they take their idea and actually launch the business which is a bold step and they should be congratulated and praised as many attempt but very few try.

The second stage consists of operating and growing the business where the owner is still doing most of the work and wearing most of the hats from doing the work to selling the work to financing.

The last stage is where most companies fail to enter and sustain as it is where the owner elects to leverage their network and seek to either team or add other people to the equation to manage the business more effectively. This is the critical stage of learning how to delegate, share and leverage the business with the assistance of others either internal or through strategic business arrangements.

Several businesses fail at this stage as they are reluctant to release the reins and accordingly continue to be spread thin and eventually are unable to sustain the current business and often slip in quality and reliability or financial viability. This is even more critical in pursuing business with the federal government as they often demand the ability to provide a consistent magnitude of goods and services and often in multiple locations and in all kinds of environment from manufacturing to headquarter facilities.

The likelihood that you are in expert in all of those required disciplines from HR to Logistics to Accounting to IT is slim and thus having the right team members or strategic partners is essential. The government encourages small businesses to team to collaborate and seek synergy with complementary strengths to combine forces for the benefit of that specific opportunity.

Please avoid seeking to do it all yourself, let go and leverage relationships. You will find the way to success is based on developing a solid internal and external team that can allow you to pursue more opportunities, more effectively and efficiently. Building a Solid Reputation If you start with one person on as subcontract to a large company like Lockheed Martin treat it like it was 1000 employees. When a customer including the large company see your commitment to employees or to the delivery of the particular good they will remember your diligence.

There is an informal process among customers that they know who they can rely on and they share the good and bad and they will go out of their way to ensure you are retained and find other opportunities for you to grow. There are countless opportunities including myself where the customer helped mentor small businesses based on their outstanding performance to grown and in some cases the government has taken a proactive position to assist them to team with other companies to help them develop and grow.

There is also a network among employees who develop an assessment about employers who care from rewarding them for their efforts, great benefits, consistent and open communications and overall treating them as the most important asset. Contracts have been won because the current employees informally shared who they would prefer to win. While that is not in the official rating within a proposal let’s be clear, bad reputations mean the government will have unhappy support contract employees which could jeopardize their mission being supported so they will seek to minimize their risks by selecting based on official and unofficial information.

There are times when the evaluation team has called current and past customers to go beyond references provided to find out more about the employee and customer philosophy of the company. Thus your reputation precedes you and you should work diligently to develop one that will be your best selling point.

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