Friday, February 23, 2007

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.

1 comment:

RoseCovered Glasses said...

There are many good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information.

For an all-volunteer site, dedicated to small businesses who wish to succeed in federal government contracting, please see the below site:

The federal government will contract in excess of $80B to small businesses in the next fiscal year.
There are over 50 agencies or "Departments" in the federal government. Each of these agencies has a statutory obligation to contract from small business for over 20% of everything it buys.

Contracting officers must file reports annually demonstrating they have fulfilled this requirement. Not fulfilling the requirement can put agency annual funding in jeopardy. Small business has a motivated customer in federal government contracting officers and buyers.
Large business, under federal procurement law, must prepare and submit annual "Small Business Contracting Plans" for approval by the local Defense Contract Management Area Office (DCMAO) nearest their headquarters. These plans must include auditable statistics regarding the previous 12 month period in terms of contracting to small businesses and the goals forecast for the next year.

The federal government can legally terminate a contract in a large business for not meeting small business contracting goals. Approved small business plans must accompany large business contract proposals submitted to federal government agencies. Small businesses have motivated customers in large business subcontract managers, administrators and buyers.

There are set-aside opportunities available for small entities,veterans, disabled veterans, women and minorities. All it takes is navigating the system, persistance, asking questions, registering, marketing, teaming and working hard.

Small Business America is good at that.