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Small federal contractor? Target "business" versus "small business"

Monday, October 15, 2012   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Guy Timberlake (
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The expectation is often the reality. At least that's how I've seen it over the years when it comes to small businesses and business opportunities in the federal sector.

In large part, the expectation that is fostered by agencies, Congress, consultants and the many socioeconomically-focused lobbies and advocacy organizations, is that small companies of whatever ilk should focus on and be happy with the business being set-aside for them. Without fail, companies start-up, get their 8(a) or other socioeconomic designation, and go looking for "that type" of business. Even worse, many sit back and wait for the phone to ring as official start of the anticipated windfall of opportunities that will gloriously besiege them simply for showing up.

Very often, the call they receive ends up being an ill-advised pass-through that nets them nothing as far as real financial benefit, experience or relationships.

None of that worked for me back in the eighties and nineties when I was on the line, and it doesn't work for me today helping small companies in the trenches of the current federal sector battlefield. Face it, small business has been relegated to the kiddie table to eat chicken nuggets while the big boys and girls are dining on prime rib at the head table. Even with all the legislative activity happening, and the increased visibility on small business programs, if we don't take steps to find ways to take food off the plates of the other guys, we will be even hungrier than we are now.

Besides, they've been eating our lunch for years.

This is simply about raising our profile and shedding the image that comes to mind for many when the term "small or small disadvantaged business concern" is part of the conversation. This is the image that comes to mind for a lot of folks in government and for even more within the ranks of the institutional prime contractors.

All of this is why we revised our mission statement to specify we will help small federal contractors "minimize actual and perceived dependence on small business assistance programs for government contracting."

"Part of something is better than all of nothing." It's a phrase I use when I'm discussing partner strategies with companies, but I'm sure I did not originate it. I say it because it often gets to the point of the matter at-hand when companies balk at splitting their anticipated work. When it comes the scraps many in the small business community continue to fight over, you know, the 23% and whatever subcontracting happens to come the way of small businesses, part of this something usually ends up being nothing at all.

Tell me you've never seen this movie before.

My friend Steven Koprince who writes the very informative SmallGovCon, has a series of blogs on the topic of primes and small business goals. The latest one describes a prime being assigned a "significant weakness" for a sub-factor evaluation during an Army competition. That sub-factor? Small business participation.

Now, it's great the Government (Army, then GAO in this case) did a good job on the front-end ensuring the award went to a prime who could pass muster in the area of small business subcontracting. But the multi-billion dollar question is, what happens after that? Where is this due diligence post-award where it so often happens that primes lose the phone numbers and email addresses of the small companies that helped them reach the finish line?

This is as much on the shoulders of Industry as it is Government, by the way.

Scenarios like this have long been the Achilles Heel for much of the small business community since I came into this business. Far too many are satisfied to pick through what they have been told they can compete for, or they are willing to take shortcuts versus doing the prudent evaluation, opportunity development, creating necessary relationships on both side of the ball, and positioning themselves according to the organization's proven competencies. The hard work.

Environmental change to include acquisition methods, shrinking budgets and increased scrutiny across the board has large companies dipping their ladles into punch bowls traditionally "reserved" for small businesses. In short, they are looking for wins in places it previously did not make sense for them to look based on the cost of doing business and other factors. This means the slim pickings are getting even slimmer.

Because the landscape has been changing and continues to change in ways no one prepared for, these mid-tier and large companies are throwing out the previous rules of engagement, and making tactical and strategic decisions to ensure their livelihood.

This isn't new and it ain't news, we've been watching this for years.

Everything that has been or appeared to be a given for small business over the years is pretty much out the window. Where you look for and actually find business may be entirely different coordinates from the last fiscal year. The elections and sequestration are not the top threats to small federal contractors, complacency and the creep of cultural and legislative change that do not have small business at heart are.

What steps are small federal contractors willing to take to ensure their continued existence?


The Chief Visionary


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

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