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Changing small business thinking from defense to offense requires a new playbook

Monday, September 17, 2012   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Guy Timberlake (
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At a recent occurrence of our Business Over Breakfast™ in McLean, VA, an interesting and thought-provoking discussion ensued following introductions. The basis of the conversation? Why do small government contractors (generally) play defense rather than offense?
True, there are some that stand out from the crowd and take more control of their destiny by playing on the opposing team's end of the field by running play's not in the "issued" playbooks. But on the whole, we tend to operate based on what we've been told about the other team's defense and go about calling plays from the same old playbook, often getting the same old results, or worse.
The perceived and actual dependence on government contracting small business assistance programs is one example.
Since my days as a contractor and including my years co-leading The American Small Business Coalition, if I had a half-penny for every small business I met who based their strategy on waiting for 8(a), SDB, SDVOSB and similar opportunities to be tossed over the fence by some GWAC program office or contracting officer, my nest egg would be a heck of a lot bigger.
But for quite a few, that's what government contracting is and it does not seem to be changing. Not noticeably anyway.
My coaches always told me to run downhill and be leaning into the wind instead of standing straight up or being back on my heels. That's the big difference between offense and defense in pretty much any contest.
The landscape for small government contractors continues to change pretty dramatically in literally every way. No matter if your business approach is going direct or as a sub, you've been taking it on the chin with budget cuts, primes taking more work in-house, policy changes, omnibus-style contracts, GAO rulings, and just the everyday environmental factors associated with being a government contractor.
This is not a pep talk about us versus them, because it really isn't about them. Besides, when you spend too much time worrying about "them" you end up not giving full attention to your plan. This is simply about being smarter, more aggressive, more methodical and more unified. It's also about learning to use the rule book to our advantage.
I've been saying for years how larger companies figured out the rules of engagement long ago. That is, how to kick the stuffing out of each other on the field one day, and cut sweet deals in the executive conference room the next day. That's one of the attributes small companies need to adopt, quickly.
Since it is football season, I'll say it this way. I want to see our team take the ball down the field and mount a number of successful scoring drives from inside the other team's red zone.Specifically, let's see more coalition-style efforts and I don't mean JV's.
Here's my last point. The general mentality of the small business community is based on creating entities that can compete as a small business, to go after small business opportunities. That's the equivalent of bringing spitballs to a gunfight.
I did say let's push the ball down the field, right?
So let's get creative and form a presence based on the assumption it will not be small business of any type and one that is established in such a way it cannot be picked apart like JV structures.
It's said we drive innovation for this Nation, let's innovate.


The Chief Visionary


"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it."

Differentiate Yourself. Develop and Leverage Your Small Business C4ISR™.
(Capacity, Commitment, Core Competency, Intelligence, Strategy and Relationships)


David Phillips says...
Posted Saturday, September 22, 2012
Great discussion, I wonder if part if the answer is not made up in our entraprenerial DNA? Some part of the answer is in our social environment as a corporate entity. Next time you are in a marketing discussion with business colleagues, listen for the phrase, "We’re chasing the 'such and such' opportunity...." or some such similar statement. The operative word is "chasing".... which means we are already behind... I catch myself saying it all the time. Every playbook has one goal in mind.... Wining by using the talent you have to your best advantage by knowing your opponent. If we remove the adversarial simile and replace opponent with potential partner or potential client or current client it becomes "Win by using the resources you have to your best advantage by understanding the requirements of you potential partner/client to meet your mutual goals" ... The goal is stil to WIN! That having been said - The devil is in the details......
Steven Mackie, SSI says...
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Guy, Another great thought provoking article. I have the same questions as Gary and Michael. I'm wondering how much of the "back office" and corporate infrastructure needs to be developed to make a new corporate entity viable to bid, win and deliver successfully. Good topic of discussion for our next get together. :)
Gary J. Gray says...
Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Guy: Your general thrust seems to be for small businesses to band together and compete for bigger--and potentially--full and open contracts. I agree with your direction. One way is a JV but requiring separate SAM, TAX ID, etc. make it painful. What else did you have in mind-Contractor Teaming Arrangements. Perhaps we can get some solid legal advice and share with the group. Best regards, Gary
Michael Sullivan, The Fearthainne Group says...
Posted Monday, September 17, 2012
Guy - just as with the RFI discussion, many of the same problems are occurring here. Offense requires a Plays from a Playbook so that everyone is on the same page as the unit (small business) attacks in a certain, prescribed way. The Playbook is a strategic plan and the plays are the tactics. Most small businesses don't have either. So the defense throws up a RFQ with 1/2 being Time & Material pricing and 1/2 as Cost Plus Fee, what do they do? With no Plan or tactical instructions, they can only shot from the hip. With Sources sought / RFI, it is even more difficult, as resources have to be expended without even a guarantee the gov't will be forthcoming with a Request of any kind.

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