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Understanding the Checklist; Part 5

Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Spend some time researching proposals.  Learn the basic elements of a proposal and the kind of information typically included in each element.  I’ve already listed some places where you should be able to find examples.  If possible, get your hands on examples of winning proposals in your particular field/industry.  Most people believe that the Government is more concerned with price than any other factor when it comes time to award a contract.  That might be true in some selected cases, but generally that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The Government is looking for the best value.  Proposals are where you get to display your superior written communication skills and convince the Government that your company can and will provide the best value to them.  Remember, you can’t win unless you submit a proposal and give yourself a shot.  Don’t be overly concerned about winning or not winning.  The first several times might be tuff and very stressful to pull the solicitation together, but the process gets better and so will you.  Oftentimes people choose to have outside consultants write proposals for them with the goal of increasing their opportunity to win.  This can be an expensive undertaking and is an individual business owner decision.  To me, proposals are really where the rubber meets the road.  Everything before proposals is important, but unless you deliver the goods on the proposal, all the earlier work is slightly diminished in importance.  With that said, let’s look at this another way.  If you’ll allow me to use a sports analogy; in professional baseball we call a batter with a .300 batting average a really, really good batter.  All that really means is he is getting 3 hits every 10 at bats.  When you are winning 3 of every 10 proposals you submit, you are doing really, really well!  You will not be there out of the gate, but you will get there over time, of this I am certain!

Notice how the marketing opportunities jump out and scream at you as you read through Part 5 of the Checklist again.

5.  Proposals:

  • Research other proposals to use as a template (target customers, SBDC, other small businesses, etc)
  • Submit proposals and follow up on leads.
  • Consider “no’s” as learning opportunities.  Ask why you didn’t get the job.  Ask for specifics so you can be better prepared next time.  Ask for referrals again!
  • When you get a “yes” and you certainly will, ask for specifics again!  Now, you want to know what you did right and why you won.  These are the positive actions you want to repeat time and time again!  Perform the job in a professional and timely manner.  Ask for referrals and testimonials.  Post past performance and success stories on your company’s Website and in company literature.  Let people know that they can count on you to get the job done.  Word of mouth of your company’s abilities will spread and more business will follow! 
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Filed under: Getting Started, Government Contracting, The Checklist,

Understanding the Checklist; Part 4

How ambitious are you?  How hard do you want to work?  How organized are you?  How are your time management skills?  How disciplined are you?  Why do I ask these questions?  Well, your honest assessment of your own capacity and capabilities will determine the schedule you develop here.  I have found that a schedule/list is necessary when it comes to successfully accomplishing most things, networking is no different.  You must be really good to great in time management, you must be organized and you must be disciplined to effectively do justice to these requirements. 

You have to follow the same schedule/list week after week, month after month.  I will go out on a limb here and say that most of us don’t have an open ended operating budget to cover our Networking efforts and associated expenses.  Even if we did, would unfocused, undisciplined and haphazard spending be the best possible use of that resource?  Understand that to do this properly and effectively, you will spend money.  Your networking efforts are covered in your Marketing Plan that is part of the Business Plan you created way back in Part 1 of this checklist.  I think I said something similar to that earlier.  The Marketing Plan must be kind of important?  Yes, it certainly is. 

Focus your efforts:  I know that you are excited about the possibilities and ready to get in the game, but a word of caution here, you can’t do business with everybody and you can’t do anything.  There is something that you do really well, perhaps even better than anyone else.  If you’re lucky, this might be the business you’re in.  If not, don’t despair, you can learn to be really great in whatever you do.  Part of the trick is to focus.  Don’t make the whole watch, just make the spring for the watch.  Get rich in a niche!  Now that you’ve successfully completed all the earlier tasks in Parts 1, 2 and 3, you have a really good idea who buys what you sell.  I suggest choosing the top 3 to 5 target customers from your list and focus all your efforts on them for a period of time.  I have found that if you do this right, you can’t effectively handle more than 5 target customers at a time.  You are going to be very strategic, very deliberate, very focused in your approach when marketing to and networking with these targeted customers.  The idea is to take the rifle approach as opposed to the shotgun approach. 

Contacting:  When contacting targeted customers, lead with your ability to solve their problems and meet their needs.  Why are you in business?  You are in business to solve your customers problem(s), making money is just a consequence of being really good at what you do.  

SBS, SBLO or SDO:  Get to know these people.  Form professional business relationships with them.  They know and work with the people you ultimately want to meet, know and form professional business relationships with; the end user and the buyer.  

Research and Prepare:  Everyday is Showtime!  Know what you know and know that you know it.  Whatever you don’t know, learn it.  Always, always bring your “A” game.    

Company Marketing Material:  Professionally done marketing materials send the message that you’re a professional and that you’re serious about business.  Perception is reality!  Never leave your marketing material with someone without asking permission to do so.  Why?  It shows respect for the person you’re meeting with and it potentially keeps your material from going into the trash or a file cabinet some place that never gets opened.  

Where to Network:  The idea here is to go where other serious minded business people gather, meet and form business relationships.  Some places to visit include; Chambers of Commerce, Contractor Associations, Professional Industry Groups/Organizations, Trade Shows, Veteran Procurement Conferences etc, etc.  It is your mission to Network with a purpose.  When you are strategic, deliberate and focused in your approach to networking, you will soon determine which events deliver the most bang for your buck.  Once you have this knowledge, you can adjust your schedule/list accordingly.  After going through this process to determine which organization(s) offers the right fit for you, you might want to become a member.  This will represent part of that Networking expense that we spoke about earlier.  Ensure this expense is covered in your Marketing Plan.  

NOTE:  Everybody has a trade show, or so it seems.  You can’t attend every trade show, so you have to do some more research to determine which one(s) is right for you and your business.  Once you have identified the right trade show(s) for you, you have to work it.  When the Exhibit Hall opens, find your targeted customers booths and spend some quality time talking with them.  After you have talked to them, move on.  You should continue to meet other business people and build professional relationships with them.  Seize the moment and control it.  Ask for their business card if you see potential for a future business relationship.  Follow up NLT 48 hours after the show is over.  The timeframe to follow up is determined by the number of business cards you received.  Be smart and use good common sense here.  The objective is to follow up in a timely manner.  They will be pleasantly surprised and you are now successfully marketing yourself to potential future business partners.  

4.  Networking:

Based on your initial research, develop a list of 1 to 3 target customers.  Start with the ones that are most likely to do business with you.  Don’t expect overnight results.  However, as a veteran-owned business, you will certainly have the attention of federal agencies, federal contractors and large businesses.  Most have specific supplier diversity goals for veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. Use this fact to your advantage!

  • When contacting targeted customers, lead with your ability to solve their problems and meet their needs.  Don’t forget to let them know that you are a veteran-owned business. 
  • Start with the small business personnel first; Small Business Specialist (SBS) at federal agencies or the Small Business Liaison Officer (SBLO) or Supplier Diversity Officer (SDO) at public/private companies.  These people can lead you to the appropriate buyer or contracting officer.
  • Be professional and treat them like any other customer.
  • Fully and completely research your targeted customer’s needs.
  • Develop a 1 page capabilities statement.
  • Develop professional-looking company brochures, business cards and a business capabilities presentation.
  • Attend 1 on 1 counseling/matchmaking sessions with your targeted customers.
  • Attend and actively work selected trade shows.  Wear a suit and go prepared with company literature and business cards.  Be prepared to give a quick, professional synopsis of your company and how it can meet your target customer’s needs.
  • Ask for referrals.  If a business doesn’t use what you sell, they may know someone else who does.

Filed under: Getting Started, Government Contracting, The Checklist

Understanding the Checklist; Part 3

Part 3 and Part 5 are the shortest parts.  That means we have less work to do in each of those parts, right?  Not quite, actually the opposite is true.  Parts 3 and 5 will be your most labor intensive parts of the Checklist because you will perform these tasks on a fairly consistent basis.  Some people will even choose to develop an aggressive schedule.  The successful ones will consistently follow the schedule.

“This sounds like tedious work, do I personally have to do it?”

No, you can hire someone to do it or you can pay for a service provider that does it for you.

NOTE: The tasks in Parts 3 and 5 are labor and money intensive and absolutely must be covered in your Business Plan.  You can burn through a lot of money very fast doing this work, but it has to be done, there is no short-cut or workaround.

  • You can only win contracts when you’re prepared.
  • You can only be prepared when you do the proper research.
  • You can only win contracts when you’re in the game.
  • You can only be in the game when you find solicitations and submit proposals.

I realize the following statement might seem contradictory to what you may have read or heard, but the reality is that 95 to 97 percent of all contract awards are for under $25,000.

How can that be?  Everything listed on Fedbizopps is over $25,000, right?  “Fedbizopps is where I should look to find opportunities, right?”  That’s right on all counts; Fedbizopps is still a great place to find opportunities, including Sources Sought.

TIP: Respond to Sources Sought and monitor Fedbizopps to see if/when a solicitation comes out for the work described in the Sources Sought.  Send the Contract Specialist a “thank you” e-mail thanking them for the opportunity to respond to the Sources Sought.

“OK, so where do I find those solicitations for UNDER $25,000? Where are they listed?”

You can usually find solicitations for under $25,000 on agency internal websites.  Another really good way to find out about these solicitations is through establishing professional business relationships with target agencies.

OSDBU website: The OSDBU website gives you contact information for the Small Business Specialists (SBS) at each of and all the federal agencies.  These are the agency people to start with when you’re looking to do business with the federal government.  Their counterparts at public and private companies are Small Business Liaison Officers (SBLO) and can be found on respective company websites.

So here again is the Checklist, Part 3:

3.  Research:

  • Research government and prime contractor targets to find out which agencies and companies are most likely to buy the products and services you provide.
  • Scan fedbizopps:  www.fedbizopps.gov
  • Scan federal agency Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) offices:  www.osdbu.gov/offices.html
  • Scan state, county and local government Websites.
  • Talk to contracting officers at your local military installations, VA hospital, IRS center, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office and federal and state offices for local opportunities.
  • Research the “small business” or “supplier diversity” Websites of potential customers to learn about their contracting opportunities.

Filed under: Getting Started, Government Contracting, The Checklist

Understanding the Checklist; Part 1

WHY?  Why is the sky blue?  Why do clouds hang in the sky?  Why did the chicken really cross the road?  Why does it snow in April?  Why, why, why?  Why is 1 of the 5 “Ws” and the how questions that must be answered correctly to find success in this business of Government Contracting.  The 5 “Ws” and the how are who, what, when, where, WHY and how.  Today, we will deal with the WHY.  In my opinion, “WHY” is one of the most powerful words in the English language.  Webster defines “WHY” as; for what purpose, reason, or cause; with what intention, justification, or motive?  The reason, cause, or purpose for which; on account of which; for which.  The cause or intention underlying a given action or situation.  I believe that when we truly understand “WHY” we do certain things, we gain a greater appreciation for how they fit into the “big picture.”  The big picture for us is winning government contracts.  This post is 1 or 5 post dealing with “WHY.”  Why is it necessary to do the things listed under each of the 5 categories that make up the Contracting Checklist.

Please refer to the complete Contracting Checklist in the Government Contracting section of the Discussions board.  However, each individual section of the checklist will follow my WHY explanations for that section.

You were already given some reasons/explanations under each bullet in the Getting Started section.  Now, I will go into more detail and further explain the WHY of it all.

The Business Plan:  Take the vision of your business out of your head and put it on paper.  You might just be surprised to find that you overlooked some critical areas to  successfully launching your business.  Do you have enough financing?  How long before you reach the breakeven point?  Can you take a salary from the business income, if so, how much and starting when?  Are you giving yourself enough time to accomplish individual goals and objectives?  How do you know if/when you accomplished your goals and objectives?  Do you need insurance?  Do you have insurance?  Do you have enough insurance?  Do you have the right type of insurance?  Do you need employees?  Can you afford to hire your first employee?  How much can you afford to pay him/her?  As you can see, the list of questions can be quite extensive.

Get Business Start-up Education:  All of us need education.  Regardless of our Branch of Service or the length of our service, we all received an education on that Branch of Service.  Unlike the almost 100 percent dedicated time we had to study and prepare back then, most of us now have other responsibilities that limit the amount of time we can devote to study and preparation.  That’s ok, take your time, but keep in mind, the rules change.  That means you just embarked on a road of continuous learning and education.  Here is the good news; if other people learned it, you can too!  Educate yourself:  This business belongs to YOU!  YOU need to be smart on YOUR business!  Period.

Legal Entity:  Depending on the scale to which you intend to build your business, your personal tolerance to potential legal problems, your personal outlook on taxes, and several other considerations help determine the legal entity best suited to match your needs.  Educate yourself on the pros and cons of each legal entity type, make a list of questions and get legal advice before you pull the trigger.

Company Name:  Select a company name that tells what you do.  This minor detail is part of your greater marketing campaign.  Marketing?  That sounds like selling to me, and I can’t sell, I’m not a salesman.  Yes you are, we all are, and we do it everyday.  We just don’t get paid for it.  Part of the Business Plan that you wrote in the first step is your Marketing Plan.

When possible, do not use a company name that you have a great personal attachment to.  At some point in the future after you’ve grown and developed your company into a highly successful, industry leader, you might choose to sell it.  When this happens, the name that you chose early on would have been successfully branded and very much synonymous with your business.  Any serious buyer will insist on taking the name too. 

  1. Getting Started: 
  • Write a Business Plan!  The plan will change over time, as will your business.  Most seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you that by far the most value in writing a Business Plan is the though process behind it.  Writing a Business Plan forces you to see and think about all the holes in your plan and your business.  PLAN YOUR WORK AND WORK YOUR PLAN!
  • Talk to other Small Business Owners, suppliers, competitors and others to see where you can establish an advantage.
  • Get business start-up education.  A good place to start is your local community college.
  • Contact your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) run by the Small Business Administration (SBA):  www.sba.gov/sbdc/sbdcnear.html
  • Educate yourself on entrepreneurship and your industry by joining trade associations.  Talk with other business owners in your industry.
  • Determine your company’s legal entity (sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, corporation, etc.)  If you’re seeking some legal protection between your business and yourself, a sole proprietor is not for you.  It is also advisable to get a lawyer for every legal entity OTHER THAN a sole proprietorship.
  • If you plan to incorporate, get an Employer Identification Number (EIN):  www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=102767,00.html?portlet=4
  • Select and register a company name that reflects what your company does.

 

   [UPDATE! READ THE IMPORTANT NEW CHANGES IN 2014 ABOUT THE “NEW” CCR!]           

 

Filed under: Getting Started, Government Contracting, The Checklist