Friday, October 05, 2007

Take 5 :Top Tips For Government Contract Wins

Woman-owned small business? Intent on GSA Schedules? Some other plan?

Here. Get off to a fast start.

What New Year's Resolutions are shaping your 2008 strategy to win more government business? A quick and dirty survey of small firms in government contracts revealed ideas like:
  • "Help one colleague gain access to at least one contract or prime contractor" (Nice -- what comes around goes around!)
  • "Bid on 5 bids per week" (250 bids a year -- big effort for a small firm...)
  • "Find a prime contract" (How about WINNING one?)
  • "Beat the rush for funds" (That's getting more strategic!)
  • "Find and pursue the obscure government agencies I haven't met yet" (How about looking for the ones with money to spend on what you offer?)

Here are my top 5 suggestions.

Ten Tips for Fiscal Year End

Government Marketing Best Practices by Mark AmtowerGoverment buyers often have use-or-lose money...and US Federal fiscal year end is September 30th! If you've got prospects, these ideas can help you close the business.

(Excerpted from Government Marketing Best Practices by Mark Amtower -- Buy The Book!)

  1. Ask for referrals from your best customers.
  2. Offer year-end specials by telemarketing to current government customers.
  3. Create white papers for downloading from your web site, and post-call follow-up.
  4. Refresh web content weekly (specials, news, links) through mid-October.
  5. Update your online profiles (GSA Advantage, Central Contractor Registration, prime contractor portals).
  6. Use multiple tactics (direct mail, web, PR, telemarketing, events), not one-shot.
  7. Include info decision-makers need (price, URL, 800-number, contract vehicles).
  8. Put the SmartPay logo on your materials!
  9. Visit GSA Sales Query, even if you don't have a schedule. See who the leaders are in your GSA Schedule category, and look at their ads and web site.
  10. Answer the phone!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Take Five: RU LinkedIn? 5 Reasons To Check It Out

Q&A Brings Fresh Perspectives on Government Contracting Questions

I've cruised "Web 2.0" over the summer, and concluded -- at least for now -- that Linkedin is my top choice for online business networks on government contracting.

Until LinkedIn added the new Q&A forums, I wasn't sure why I accepted my friends' invitations to "link" when I already had them in my contacts database. Q&A changed that. Now, I can specify the topics I want to follow -- for example, government contracts, small business, and marketing -- and:
  • Informally survey my own contacts -- for market research, ideas, or new connections
  • Put out a question to the whole LinkedIn network
  • Showcase my expertise by answering OTHERS' questions
  • Refer business to my friends
  • Support my colleagues by giving their best answers a high ranking
Not LinkedIn yet? It's free -- take a look.

Unique Value Propositions

Make Yours Rock!

This article and the details in the concluding link were developed in collaboration with Scott Lewis, President and CEO, PS Partnerships, whom I thank for his generosity of time to chat in a recent interview.


Some companies hire someone to lead a $20-$30,000 process to create Unique Value Proposition statements that they use to ensure consistent communications to the marketplace as well as internally. Others do it themselves.

Either way, your goal in creating a UVP is to relate your technology or offering to a business problem or issue that you help solve, and then communicate that connection to your targeted audiences or stakeholders.

  • Self assessment: a good hard look at what you really offer
  • Competitive Analysis & Positioning:Map out the competition, and how the competition presents itself, how they communicate their value proposition.
  • Substantiation:Collect case studies that demonstrate your UVP, and create compelling stories that make your company stand out from the competition.
  • Drafting: If you don’t have the right communications team, consider engaging professional help to craft language and suggest top priorities audiences for whom a UVP will generate the highest return.
  • Define Audiences: You might need to develop several variations of your Unique Value Proposition, because you want to communicate different messages to different stakeholders. For example:
    • End-users
    • Systems integrators
    • Government agency officials
    • Non-technical executives
    • Buyers
    • Chief Technology Officers
    • Channel Partner
    • Media
    • Solution Providers
    • Investors
    • Your own team/employees
  • Testing

Get more on Unique Value Propositions -- examples and details on these process steps

Monday, July 30, 2007

4th Quarter Spree...Beware!

When It's Not Easy Money

I walked away from a $20,000 sole-source contract last year.

I should have run, and a lot sooner than I did. The lure of use-or-lose year-end budget almost led to a bad decision for both me and my client.

There's no excuse, ever, for taking on work you know you can't do. It's unethical, fraudulent, and just plain bad business.

My prospective government client liked the idea I'd developed for a project. We agreed that nobody else could do it. It was priced under the legal sole-source threshold. We'd have nearly three months to get it done before his funding lapsed at fiscal year-end.

Then, things stalled.

The contract administrators were nervous about sole sourcing anyway. (3 lost weeks.) I offered to subcontract through an existing contract vehicle, and take a cut in profit but still do the project (3 more lost weeks. "Can we still do it?" he asked. "Sure," I said). The client wanted to use business processes unrelated to how the prime contract vehicle actually worked.
(3 more lost weeks. "Can we still do it?" he asked. "Sure," I said). Still no contract...and now, only four weeks left until fiscal year end.

Finally, the client called and said, "Okay, we're ready. We can move to contract. Are you sure we can still get the project done?" The Prime Contractor asked, "Are you REALLY sure you can get it done?"

"Sure," I said.

I was working with a business management coach when I took the call. She looked at me and said, "What was that about? You look like something awful is about to happen to you!"

"A big contract that took forever to nail down is finally going ahead...but I feel just horrible! That doesn't make any sense!" So we talked it over, and the moment I laid out all the tasks that would be ahead, and the days remaining, and all the other people who would have to do things they weren't even committed to yet, I got really scared.

Well, no one had signed anything yet, I realized, and thought through my options. Even if I could pull it off, the work would be painful and the quality of work at serious risk. I didn't want to perform poorly for my client, nor to damage my reputation and default on a contract. Now what?
  • Call him back and tell him I'd change my mind, when he had spent months of effort securing use-or-lose funds and negotiating contract provisions, embarrassing him and leaving him with the inconvenience of dispensing with money he couldn't spend before fiscal year end? or
  • Proceed with what had become a gut-wrenching high-risk contract, and then fail to perform?
The next day, I called back and said, "I was wrong. We can't do this."

Far from being embarrassed, my client was relieved. "That's why I kept asking you," he said. "It's okay. We'll try it again next fiscal year." Six months later, maybe we're almost ready to contract. Maybe it'll happen. Maybe not. But it sure beats not performing...legally, morally, and ethically.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have needed a coach to figure this out. A plain ordinary gut check would have sufficed. I am grateful for the advice and counsel of my consultant, Terry Monaghan, Organizing for Your Life, for reminding me of the value of listening to my own wisdom.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Is SBA looking for a few good women?

In response to recent criticism from the Senate's Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee concerning inadequate achievement of awards to small business, Washington Technology reported the Small Business Administration's plans to launch an Electronic Procurement Center Representative (EPCR) system.

The system, set for October launch, will be among $500,000 worth of SBA's FY2008 initiatives to help government buyers more easily find capable small businesses that can meet their needs.

How much focus will this system or related initiatives have on identifying woman-owned businesses? The federal government achieved only 3.3% of its 5% goal last year. America -- government, citizens, and women business owners -- deserve better.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sharpen the Knives: Honing Good Tools

Advice I offer clients makes even more sense when I apply it to my own business. I'm just appalled that it sometimes takes me so long to recognize that!

I just got home from picking up my kitchen knives from sharpening. What a pleasure to use good tools that are ready for the job!

If my tools are sharp, I'll have more control and get better results, and enjoy cooking a lot more, too.

Same goes for business development -- mine and my clients. First, I have to quiet the overwhelmed feeling as I learn about all the stuff I haven't done or tried yet. Then I MUST ACCEPT that if I choose good consultants to help me, my sharper focus will more than return my investment of money and time, because I'll win more new business faster and with lower costs.

That's what I do for my clients...and I admit I need help in doing it myself.

(PS -- Did you know that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one? A dull one can slip, because you don't have control of where it's going. Be safe! Precision Knife Sharpening is a professional, efficient operation; pay online and either mail or pickup/dropoff if you live nearby.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Contacts for Disaster Response Business

Turn Today's Calls into Tomorrow's Call-ups
Brenda Thomas and Tiffany Butler, Small Business Specialists at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), counsel a prospective supplier at the 19th Annual OSDBU Conference, presented by the Federal Business Council.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

BearingPoint Tells How to Set Sail

Seeks Leverage from Small Business Connections

People were lined up to talk to Diane McLaughlin, Director of the Small Business Program Office at BearingPoint when I met her during the OSDBU conference in Maryland in April 2007.

They wanted a sense of direction on how to really connect with BearingPoint to win new business...and she was ready to share that with all of us.

  • "Understand what BearingPoint does."
    McLaughlin managed to hold back her exasperation with the unbelievable number of companies who come to her without having done even that much homework. I can't blame her for that!

  • "Tell us how you complement that."
    (It's not useful if you do the same thing they do, is it now?)

  • "Understand the Agency."
    (That is, the Customer. What new information can you bring BearingPoint about the clients they serve?)

  • "Know what's up!"
    How good are your insider contacts? What insights do you have into business and clients that you know BearingPoint wants to win?
Want a starting point? A recent edition of Washington Technology featured McLaughlin (BearingPoint rolls into new territory: Small-business partners will foster growth) and provides details and links of the company's teaming strategy and highlights of some of its major projects.

Unisys: Entry Points

Ed's Five Tips Open Doors to Teaming

Ed Weil, Senior Manager for Unisys' Supplier Diversity Program, was at the 2007 OSDBU conference talking to prospective partners. Here's the advice he gave me if your company wants to do business with Unisys, especially on government contracts:

  • "Know 5+4."
    Know all 5 of Unisys' core focus areas, and all 4 lines of business...before you make an initial query, and reflect that knowledge in your online profile.

  • "How do you fit in?"
    Read case studies online, know who our customers are, or ask me if you'd like to know whether a specific company is among our top clients.

  • "Register!"
    We have a robust questionnaire (link to to that asks about past performance, size, qualifications, all the classic information. Make your entries as strong and specific as you can.

  • "Get to know our customers"
    ...before you call us. How can you help us to better serve the needs of specific clients?

  • "Bring in the business."
    If you can, tell me about opportunities coming that we haven't heard about yet. Timing is everything -- what do you know that others haven't heard?

KBR - Getting in the Door

How to Get Started with Logistics Giant

Quintin Robinson, Manager, Small Business Program Office in Arlington VA spoke with me at the 19th Annual OSDBU conference on April 19th in Maryland. This logistics giant does business all over the world -- including but not limited to large projects like Iraq reconstruction and Gulf Coast disaster recovery.

What advice does he offer companies who want to become suppliers to KBR?

  • "Make sure your capability is something we can use." Such as? "Logistics, security solutions, construction, operations and maintenance, engineering." (What do they NOT need? "IT or human resource management.")

  • "Register as a supplier,"online before contacting officials. Use specific keywords to describe your unique qualifications. Even so, there is no guarantee that anyone from KBR will call you; you simply must be in the database in order to be considered.

  • "Look up our projects." Search online and through your contacts for projects -- especially ones that might be coming open for competition -- where KBR could use you.
  • "Tell us where you fit." Armed with a completed profile and specific project ideas, you've got something to talk about when you arrange an introductory meeting with Quintin in Virginia, or his colleagues Jody Kernaghan and Beth Gardner at KBR's offices in Houston.

Friday, April 20, 2007

What Partners Seek -- Tips From Ludmilla Parnell, GDIT

BUSTED! Apologies and Overdue Credit for Her Unacknowledged Wisdom

I prepared a presentation this spring that included info on "What Partners Want". I discovered recently, to my horror, that while I had borrowed with permission from a colleague's presentation, I had failed to give her credit!

That's not right, and so I'm using this blog entry to set the record straight as well as to laud the sterling advice that Ludmilla Parnell, Marketing Director for Small Business Partnerships at General Dynamics IT (GDIT), shares with her clientele and the contracting community.

Here's what Ludmilla says GDIT examines when they consider teaming partners:
  • Core capabilities & differentiation
  • Past performance & reputation
  • Price
  • Personnel experience & low turnover
  • Location
  • Financial strength
  • Dependable, responsive team player
I'll be reporting more tips from other primes and what they say they want you to do...AND taking the time and care I should have done here to provide full public credit to those who share their advice, too.

Thanks, Ludmilla.
PS: Watch for GDIT to launch a new partnerships registration site later this spring!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Simple Truths of Service

Support for Your Unique Value Proposition

I encourage my clients to craft a Unique Value Proposition. Ever wonder how to walk that talk, and really set yourself apart?

Make your day: take a look at this and tell me where is leads you.

My friend Joan sent me this link, following a group discussion she'd had on how to recraft your work using your signature strengths.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why Government Needs Healers -- And Not Just Medics

Government Contracts Rising for Determined Visionaries

Despite all the effort that it takes, even solo consultants and owners of very small businesses (including but not limited to those in groups like eWomenNetwork) should be looking into, and thinking about, how they can bring their expertise to a nation that need them.

Did you see Phaedra Hise's article, "Everyone Wants to Start a Business" in the February edition of Fortune Small Business?

Phaedra's article got me jazzed when I thought about the bumper crop of new business owners in Chris Anderson's "Long Tail" world AND an environment of growing government spending at federal, state and local.

Here are a few things I think are worth watching.

- government contracting has become more accessible for both buyers and sellers: there are more ways for very small suppliers to reach government buyers, and there are more ways that government has to do business with them.

- while on one hand there is a trend to bundle government's needs into the biggest contracts possible, we're also going to see a trend at the small end for more purchases of highly tailored services.

Now watch for this:

- We're especially going to see that in HR, as the government workforce shrinks over the next five years. Some will have the resources, connections, and courage to come back as independent contractors -- a life that, believe me, is not for the faint of heart.

Among those who remain, at least two things will happen: employee retention will be come an even bigger issue, as salaries can't rise much. Governments will need to rely on improving other quality of work life initiatives, like even greater schedule and logistics flexibility as well as fostering a more creative, renewing, nurturing work environment where employees will want to stay.

There are also thousands of government employees who can't be forced to retire, but are totally burnt out, have no idea who they are or how they would make a living if they didn't come in and warm a chair every day. Some of them are counting off six, seven, eight years or more to retirement (imagine that many red "X"s on your calendar! How horrible!), and have become "social" workers -- that is, they come in because they just enjoy a place to socialize and get paid for it. Their performance is nominal; not bad enough to get fired, but will never set the world on fire.

Now, what kind of service do we as citizens get from governments that have both of those forces at work? A morale pit that is an immense challenge to any leader, especially one facing significant responsibilities and, certainly at the federal level, budgets decimated by war in Iraq.

- That emerging need is the natural niche for hundreds of small businesses in the business of executive coaching, facilitation, and group dynamics . Many of them are sole-proprietorships owned by women who checked out of a hostile corporate or government business environment and set up on their own. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, NASA, EPA, State Department and DoD are among the many who are calling for help from these very small businesses. Their owners often have masters degrees, diverse personal and professional experience, exceptional credentials and extraordinary compassion to bring healing to strife-ridden government workplaces.

- Then there is the work and family environment decimated by war in Iraq. The recent series in the Washington Post that galvanized DoD to action on conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is only the beginning of reporting we are going to keep seeing on the shredding of the social fabric of military families. The federal government that pays for the entire active duty and reserve military, in combination with the state government budgets that also support the National Guard, is going to be under pressure to provide much more comprehensive social services to help those families and children cope, function, and heal.

While TRICARE -- the military medical health care system -- is in place to deal with some of those needs, and the Department of Veterans Affairs with some, the need for help far outstrips that which is available right now.

Very small businesses operating in the communities where military families live are also a natural choice to help.

The "Long Tail" theory is going to show up here, too, over the months ahead. Government buyers will make maximum use of the current processes, and, if need be, push for improvements, to make it easy for them to connect with small niche providers in communities close to them, and the smartest of these emerging small businesses will quickly figure out how to connect with those who need their services.

Online resources will help, but ultimately the connections that count most will be in person, and based on personal referrals.

See more stats on my blog -- -- or contact me to explore possibilities for YOUR company.

I've been interviewed on more general directions for small business and government contracting most recently by Entrepreneur magazine, and also by WPAB Radio in Dallas, and Amtower on Success; my articles have appeared most recently in FrontLine Security, CanadExport, and the SOHO Business Report.

But on these emerging small business niches for government contracting...You heard it here first.

Judy Bradt
Principal & CEO, Summit Insight
703 627 1074

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ode to the Coach

Good Support is Priceless -- For Small Business, for Government Contracts

Time and again, I find myself reminded to walk my talk. Another one of the lessons that's become abundantly clear to me this year is the value of the right help.

Today I worked with Terry Monaghan, of Organizing for Your Life. I met Terry through eWomenNetwork, recommended by another member of the network, Rosemary McDowell, President of RSDN (a woman who has an 85% win rate on bid and proposal projects,
with whom I've since teamed to serve another client).

Terry is a career systems professional who also has superb people skills, and she's decided to focus on helping clients who want to bring order, flow, and organization to their work. Terry helps people who need to document what they do (imagine the value of someone who can record what your top manager says she does before she walks out the door for good!), and tames complex projects or a pile of well-meaning ideas that never seem to get traction.

This week, she helped me sort out a fractured pile of business development ideas that had overwhelmed to the point of hopeless paralysis. We separated the B-list things from the stuff that is really important to achieve my business objectives, and then set out the time it would take to do those things onto my calendar.

Rocket science? No. But, as a solo business owner, I needed help to work through that, to focus on the mechanical organizational planning instead of getting distracted by the "gottas". As a result, I am much more serene and less worried and distracted, and thus more productive, because I know I'm focused on the right things at the right time.

I see value in that kind of coaching and support -- just a few hours, a small investment, returns many times over. Remember that in the U.S., you can call on SCORE -- Service Corps of Retired Executives. Ken Larson of Minnesota, SCORE member, recently added that info in a reply to my last post to offer his free services to small businesses on government contracts. Thanks, Ken!

(That's the same reason why clients hire me and Summit Insight for help in MY domain: to find the things that will bring you the best results in winning government contracts -- particularly but not only if your company is in Canada. My outside opinion and insider knowledge can focus your efforts and save you hours of gut-grinding and weeks of wheel spinning. Call me to find out how -- 703 627 1074.)

Knowing When to Say No

Good business badly timed is bad business for everyone.

Government fiscal year-end can be a gigantic lure, but also a frustrating one. Use-or-lose fiscal year end money came through early this year for a great project I had been looking forward to doing for a long time... and for the first time, I had to turn down a contract because I finally woke up and realized that it was simply not possible to do three months' worth of work in five weeks.

There was nothing more I could have done to help the client understand the contracting process. In the wake of the Gomery inquiry (aka "sponsorship scandal"), many Canadian government buyers of services are even more reluctant to make full use of the options and guidelines for legitimately sole-sourcing contracts. This one just wasn't meant to be.

The proposal for the project had been in the works since December. But the administrative processes for getting the contract done nibbled away two and a half months after the proposal was done.

And sometimes that's the way it goes. The hardest call was to pick up the phone and say, "I'm sorry. There isn't time left to do this job any more." I was embarrassed, and afraid that I had caused my client to lose face too.

Turns out he was relieved. "Don't worry about embarrassing me," he said. "I was concerned that there wasn't enough time, and that's why I kept asking you. If we had gone ahead, and had problems, that would have been worse."

Indeed. And a failed project would have had far worse consequences that a postponed one. Sometimes, the right answer isn't just about the money. No amount of money can create a good project if there isn't enough time to do it well.

The smart move in that case is to just say no. Hard though it may be for a small business to say, if it's the right project and the right client, there will be funding in the new year.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Friendly -- and Well-Formed -- Contract

Recent news stories about GSA Administrator Lurita Doan and her unsuccessful effort to award a contract to a friend are instructive.

Did you imagine that the top official in an agency might not have legal signing authority on a contract?

Only a warranted contracting official does. Here's what else we can learn:
  • Make The Decision Easy: The vendor presented a concise, well-organized purchase order for a $20,000 research study that clearly appealed to the GSA Administrator's needs. It described the project in a way that apparently made it attractive to the buyer.

  • Know The Rules: Even when your buyer loves you, wants to sole-source and says it'll be fast and easy, slow down. FAR Part 6.3 says exactly how a buyer must justify "acquisition by other than full-and-open competition".

  • Make Contracting Easier: If your buyer believes that sole source is justifiable, then read FAR Part 6.3 again. Drafting some language your buyer could consider including in the contract that supports your unique value proposition and justifies not going to competition.
Knowing the rules is everybody's responsibility. After all, wouldn't you rather get written up in the Washington Post for doing fabulous work than for why someone's improper procedures prevented you from winning a job?