Perhaps you’ve just passed $1 million in revenue and are gearing up for continued success, or just turning on the lights. Either way, you’re part of a massive ecosystem of small businesses operating within the federal contracting market. While the government has created an attractive market for entrepreneurs and start-ups, success is dependent on your ability to conquer a steep and intimidating learning curve.
Amid the chaos of keeping pace with this market, it can be challenging to focus on the fundamental principles of government contracting. The following roadmap can help you center your attention on the decisions that you need to consider to position your small business for growth.
If you’re in the initial phases of standing up your company, then this is all about choosing the right offerings. And if your company is already off to the races, then this goes squarely in the box of marketing. But it all begins with being different and unique. Go ahead and test it out. Visit the website of 20 or so contractors and see how long it takes to find one that has an effective and compelling story. Here is the kicker, you must leave that website with a clear understanding of what that contractor offers. Go through enough of these exercises, and our point will become painfully obvious.
What does this have to do with your company? It is all about differentiation. You need to deliver a concise message to your audience that correlates problems with solutions in creative and transparent ways. If you provide systems engineering or program management and do nothing to differentiate yourself, then, unfortunately, you are one of the dozens or hundreds who offer the same service. Start right now; find a fresh and compelling way to market your services and be different. Go through the frustration and hours of banging your head against the wall, because on the other side is your new identity. One that you should ingrain into the fiber of your company.
If anyone tells you that relationships do not matter in this market. Do not walk, run away from them. You might hear that things like “hardwired” are a thing of the past. Go ahead and believe that if you want your company to become a thing of the past as well. Relationships are essential because government customers care about you solving their problem. You might have an exceptional engineer or the best product ever, and it means nothing if you fail to demonstrate how it applies to the customer’s needs. There is simply nothing that replaces someone walking the halls and gathering the intelligence you need to understand your customers.
Now here comes the rub, a great business developer is worth their weight in gold. Find one, and you just got yourself a golden goose. The problem is that lousy business developers have a talent for cloaking themselves in greatness. In the wise words taken from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose but choose wisely.”
We reiterate the previous point; knowing your customer’s needs will be paramount. If your plan of attack is to chase any and everything that comes out, you are picking a problematic and expensive path. Identify the most attractive markets for your services and make that your end goal. Do not get distracted by fool’s gold or how much any potential customer spends; all you care about is how much they spend on what you sell. Create your addressable market and find the discipline to stay within those boundaries.
Now, get yourself or your business developer(s) into those customers and start talking. Next, begin looking for any way to get to those customers. A GSA schedule, contract vehicle, or teaming relationship, at this point, you need to find a pathway for those customers to reach you. It sounds easier said than done, and it is, however what you're doing is filling your pipeline with meaningful opportunities. Congratulations, you are now guiding your pursuits with strategy.
If you’ve done everything else correctly and have begun to execute on your strategy, there is one more element to consider. You might know more about a customer than anyone and even hold the key to solving their biggest problem. But you must be able to capture and communicate those facts. Proposal writing is an art form when done correctly, and it can be the difference between winning and losing. Merely respond to the RFP, and you become a nameless and forgettable face in the crowd. Differentiate your company by demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the customer, their requirement and how your solution addresses the need and benefits the customer.
There is no doubt that you will win some work based on your contributions as a billeted proposal writer. The reality is that you will not win everything you bid on, and sustained growth demands an increasing number of bids. You will also face the challenge of more complex proposals where graphics become a central selling point for the submission. One of the best decisions you will ever make is to invest in seasoned proposal professionals who are adept at writing and drawing your solutions.
From the insanity of starting a company, milestone events seem like they are a thousand miles away. Then you get caught up in the day-to-day, get high on the wins and down with the losses and your focus on the future starts to blur. Do not get distracted from knowing where the finish line is for your company. That end goal must have a persistent influence on your strategy.