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.)