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.