February 17, 2012 by cs
I recently saw a discussion post in a group on LinkedIn that complained about people not lining up to download an application this person had on his web site. Why don’t people come to get this totally unique, valuable application? the person whined.
We don’t operate in a vacuum and business does not occur by burning incense, chanting and praying for the phone to ring – or by posting something on a web site that very few people know about or visit.
What’s a company got to do to get on the radar?
Here are three relatively simple things that any company, especially small companies, should be doing so they can “get found.”
First, define your expertise in terms that resonate with your niche in the market. Bob Davis, vice president at HeiTech Services in Silver Spring, Md., calls this defining your “sustainable competitive advantage,” which should be something that your company does better than 90 percent of your competitors. This is a skill that you have demonstrated through work with a variety of clients, not simply one you claim without demonstrable experience.
In other words, you need to differentiate your company.
Second, get conversant with the new social media tools. Social media here encompasses web 2.0 tools like webinars, podcasts, blogs, web video, web radio and social networks like LinkedIn and GovLoop. To stand out and be found, you have to participate in multiple venues and offer some good content in each.
This does not mean that you have to use all of the above web tools, but you need to understand the value that each tool offers. Then use the tools that will help you get your message out to targeted audiences.
As I indicated in last month’s column, each of these tools brings something different to the table.
If you are offering a technical solution, webinars are a great tool to educate. Both blogging and webinars are great for developing a thought leadership position in your niche. Podcasts allow you to offer white papers, another thought leadership tool, in an audio format.
The goal is to use one or two of these tools on a regular basis to highlight and support your claim to your market position and your sustainable competitive advantage.
The third task is to spread the word. You now have the message (your sustainable competitive advantage) and the platform(s) – whichever tools you have opted to use.
Next, you have to tell people where to find this great content. In February 2011 I wrote “Content may be King, but Delivery is the Ace” in which I explained that, although content is key to proving you own a particular piece of intellectual real estate, unless you can show people where to find that content, you will never get on the radar and get the right people to read, listen to, or watch any of the content you have developed.
Traditional methods still work. A solid PR campaign can help, but using social media to share the content as well as deliver it is effective.
Many people read my Washington Technology columns because they find the link to the article posted on LinkedIn, Tweeted, and occasionally even on Facebook.
Go back to the beginning of this article where the guy was whining about people not downloading an application that this person had on his web site. People have to know it’s there in order to download it.
Get on board and get on the radar of your audience.
About the Author: Mark Amtower is co-founder and co-director of the Government Market Masters program. This article was published on Feb. 14, 2012 by Washington Technology at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/02/14/amtower-small-business-social-media.aspx?s=wtdaily_150212.
February 16, 2012 by cs
Almost every proposal you write has a requirement for information on past performance. The government uses this information to evaluate how well your company has performed on similar programs and expects your past performance to be a predictor of how well you will perform on the program you’re currently bidding.
Because past performance can be an important discriminator in the evaluation and selection process, there are some things you should know about how to write your past performance response.
Past performance versus past experience
Past performance comprises a set of specific contracts that you select to demonstrate how well your company, or your team, has performed on contracts that are similar in size, scope, and complexity to your current bid.
Past experience, which is sometimes confused with past performance, is about the broader issue of what experience and expertise the bidding organization has gained from all of its contract work and the work of its teammates.
Select contracts to demonstrate past performance
Past performance is all about relevancy and how well you performed the work you’re referencing. The government will consider these two factors together when developing your past-performance score — and both are important. However, performance is more important than relevancy. It is better to showcase your best-performing contracts and argue that they are relevant than to select contracts that are highly relevant and had poor performance.
Expect the government evaluator to ask your customers how well you did performing each contract. Typically, this happens via a formal past-performance questionnaire submission process and/or direct communication from the government evaluators to your customers. The government keeps two databases—the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) and Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS)—to determine how well your company performs its contracts.
Government access is restricted to those individuals who are working on source selections, to include contractor responsibility determinations.
With the CPARS, companies can regularly review their own ratings for each evaluated contract, but cannot check ratings for other companies. In order to access PPIRS information, a contractor must be registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) system and must have created a Marketing Partner Identification Number (MPIN) in the CCR profile. Because past-performance ratings are such an important factor in proposal evaluations, every company should regularly review its CPARS ratings and challenge any evaluations they consider unfair.
Write your past performance summary
Each RFP will be very prescriptive about the information you need to provide when you describe each past-performance contract. While it may seem obvious, you really do need to provide all the requested information in order to submit a “compliant” proposal (see my Washington Technology article, “6 reasons your proposals fail,” October 2011).
You’ll be asked to provide information to show contract relevance, so keep this in mind when you write your response. Measures of relevance include contract size, scope and complexity, as well as the technical scope of work performed.
The description of the work is where you can stand out. Write your response to not only show that you performed relevant work — which every bidder does — but that you also had specific accomplishments that were meaningful to the government. Don’t just parrot back the statement of work from the contract you are citing. Focus on accomplishments because it’s these achievements that can make your contract past performance stand out from the crowd.
Most importantly, make sure you have outstanding past performance on the contracts you present. Confirm this information with your customers and with your teammates’ customers before you submit your proposal.
The government will read what you write, and they will validate the content. A good writer can present your past performance in a credible, compelling way, but if the underlying performance is less than desirable, it’s hard to overcome the truth.
About the Author: Bob Lohfeld is the chief executive officer of the Lohfeld Consulting Group. This article was published by Washington Technology on Feb. 10, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/30/insights-lohfeld.aspx?s=wtdaily_130212.
February 9, 2012 by cs
As a result of the October 1, 2011, release of 2010 Census data regarding income levels and unemployment rates, the nonmetropolitan counties and census tracts that had been ‘redesignated’ in the program are no longer qualified as HUBZones. Small businesses with principle offices in expired areas can no longer maintain their HUBZone certifications and have been excluded from the program by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Additionally, all remaining HUBZone firms should check their status to determine whether they still meet the 35% employee residency requirement to remain in the program. Companies that no longer meet this (and/or any requirement for remaining HUBZone-certified) are being encouraged by the SBA to voluntarily decertify themselves from the program.
Decertified companies that can requalify for the HUBZone Program must wait a minimum of 90 days from the dates of their decertifications to apply for
Legislation that would extend eligibility of areas that are no longer qualified for the HUBZone Program remains dormant in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Click on the links below for more information:
- More Information from the SBA
- Information Briefing about HUBZone Program Changes
If you are a business located in Georgia and have questions about the SBA’s HUBZone Program, feel free to contact the GTPAC Procurement Counselor nearest you for assistance. All contact information may be found at: http://gtpac.org/team-directory.
February 6, 2012 by cs
To say the government’s money is tight is to understate the obvious.
What’s also obvious is that if programs get no funding, then the money intended for contracts supporting those programs will dry up too.
That’s likely to happen to more contracts in 2012, Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, wrote Jan. 30 in his “The Week Ahead” newsletter. Winning a contract and assuming officials have funding approved for it doesn’t work anymore.
“Tougher decisions have to be made on what ‘approved’ projects actually reach the level of ‘funded,’” he wrote.
In these trying days, contractors need to ask agency officials several questions early on in the procurement process, including:
- Will this project be funded?
- Will it be funded in an amount close to the estimate the acquisition office gave in its proposal?
Allen said agency officials may not have the answers right away, but it’s to your company’s advantage to ask.
Without knowing, you could be wasting time — time is usually money — on a project that isn’t going to generate the real green paper. That means you may have lost out twice on one bid.
Allen’s lesson is clear: “Make sure you know that the project you’re spending time on is something the government will spend money on.”
– posted by Matthew Weigelt, Washington Technology, Jan. 30, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/blogs/acquisitive-mind/2012/01/program-funding-contract-money.aspx?s=wtdaily_310112.
January 11, 2012 by cs
- People: The skills and experience of the people involved in creating proposals.
- Business acquisition process: Business acquisition maturity covering the five stages of business acquisition lifecycle.
- Tools: Proposal infrastructure and personal and productivity tools.
- Management decision-making: Qualification and bid decisions.
- Solution competitiveness: Competitive solution with good features and customer benefits.
- Proposal quality: Quality proposals that are always compliant, responsive and compelling.
- Winning culture: Winning culture with good work/life balance.
January 9, 2012 by cs
When considering how to enter the government marketplace, most business people first think about doing business directly with federal, state or local government agencies.
Contracting directly with a government entity involves many steps, and likely involves the requirement that you have years of established experience. In fact, there are many major considerations for doing government business as a prime contractor, including:
- Thorough knowledge of all applicable procurement regulations and laws.
- Registration in numerous vendor databases and keeping them up-to-date.
- Comprehensive market research to identify upcoming work.
- Skills necessary to analyze government solicitations, and then prepare detailed and responsive offers.
- Ability to secure bid, performance and payment bonds, if required.
- Ability to finance what may be a multi-million dollar job for at least 60-90 days until the first payment arrives.
- Established relationships with agency, including buyers and end-users.
- Track record of relevant experience.
If your business lacks the wherewithal to support all this, you may want to consider an alternative.
The Alternative to Doing Business Directly with the Government
For less experienced and smaller businesses, there may be a simpler, faster, and less burdensome way to break into the government market — subcontracting. The subcontracting route allows a company to do business with the government indirectly — through a prime contractor — on smaller pieces of work and involving fewer requirements. A subcontractor is answerable to a prime contractor, not the government, and the prime contractor is held responsible by the government for overall work performance.
Prime contractors are responsible for meeting all government contracting requirements. Primes must be able to finance the job, bond the job, and complete the job on schedule.
Primes also are held accountable for meeting any socio-economic small business goals associated with the contract. Because of this requirement, prime contractors working on government contracts are always looking for talented small businesses to meet their needs. For federal contracting, this involves small businesses that are owned and controlled by women, minorities and other disadvantaged groups, and veterans, including service disabled veterans. Small businesses located in historically underutilized business zones (HUBZones) also are preferred by prime contractors. Individual state and local governments also may have preference programs involving particular small business categories.
Relationships always matter, and relationships with prime contractors are no exception. Small firms seeking to do business with a large prime must develop a strategy to introduce themselves and inspire the large firm to award them a small job in order to establish a reputation. Most small firms who have satisfactorily performed work for a government prime contractor report that they have received repeat business.
Preparing To Be a Subcontractor
So, what are the starting points for pursuing the subcontracting path? Here are a few suggestions:
- Gain at least a general knowledge of the government marketplace.
- Identify any areas of the government market where you have particular insights.
- Look for work areas where you may fulfill a specialty requirement or a niche.
- Familiarize yourself with the government’s various small business preference programs and how you can qualify.
- Create and polish a presentation about your firm’s capabilities and strengths.
- Pitch your credentials to prime contractors.
The Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC) can help you with most of these steps. By attending GTPAC classes regularly, you’ll learn lots of details about the government market, how it works, and who the players are. We can identify all the small business preference programs and how you might qualify. GTPAC also can provide you with templates for presenting your experience and expertise. We also can identify successful government prime contractors and trade shows where you can meet them.
Help That’s Available
If subcontracting is the route for you, and you want to receive GTPAC’s assistance, we suggest you take the following steps:
- Attend our “Introduction to Government Contracting” class or our “Fundamentals to Working with the Government” briefing. By attending either one, you’ll learn the essentials of the government marketplace. Sign up for these at http://gtpac.ecenterdirect.com/Conferences.action.
- Sign-up and become a GTPAC client. You’ll learn how to do this by attending either of the seminars listed in step #1.
- Attend our class entitled “Subcontracting with Large Prime Contractors.” You’ll gain insights into the various types of partnering arrangements possible in government contracting and how to best position yourself.
- Make a commitment to continuous learning. Even subcontracting requires keeping yourself up-to-date with developments in the government marketplace. Attend GTPAC classes regularly, and consider professional education such as the courses available through The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech.
- Request a template from a GTPAC Counselor for putting together a “capabilities statement” on your company. Use this as a way for putting together an impressive presentation of your credentials. While you’re at it, ask for an “elevator speech” template so you can practice how to make an impressive introductory statement about yourself.
- Learn about small business preferences that may apply to you, by either attending periodic briefings GTPAC puts on about this subject or by attending instructional workshops conducted by the Small Business Administration and by state and local governments. Once you identify your potential qualifications, apply for appropriate certifications. GTPAC will not prepare certification applications, but our Counselors will be glad to offer you advice and counsel along the way.
- Stay alert to upcoming government-sponsored expos, trade shows, and other forums where you can meet and impress prime contractors. An ideal way to learn about such events is by regularly visiting the GTPAC website; our home page lists many upcoming government vendor events.
- Familiarize yourself with government small business specialists. These officials are housed inside each federal agency’s major offices, and there are many small business advocates with state and local government units, too. If a small business specialist is impressed with your capabilities, chances are they can arrange for a presentation of your credentials to prime contractors. You can learn more about small business specialists, their role, and how to identify them by clicking here.
- Research who’s winning government contracts. You can find tips for doing this at: http://gtpac.org/2010/06/three-tips-for-researching-contract-awardees-and-probable-bidders. Also, you’ll want to obtain lists of government prime contractors to contact. Each month, GTPAC compiles a list of all Georgia businesses that have been awarded federal contracts, and we publish various other government contract lists on our web site. (For example, details on the largest 2011 federal awardees appears here.) These are the the businesses you want to target for subcontracting possibilities.
GTPAC can help you become a successful government subcontractor. You may find that subcontracting is just the spot you want in the overall government marketplace. Or, you may find that subcontracting represents the “foot in the door” to moving on to prime contracting with the government.
© 2012, Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center, All Rights Reserved.
January 2, 2012 by cs
Government contractors beware: 2012 may be the year of the government audit.
Financial scrutiny of contractors is expected to rise as the government expands its auditing workforce and the contracting pie shrinks. Agencies are
coming under greater congressional scrutiny, and public pressure is mounting to ensure the taxpayer is getting the best deal.
One indicator came in a Nov.15 directive from Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew, who ordered federal agencies to put more resources and emphasis into their suspension and disbarment programs.
Lew referenced a recent Government Accountability Office study which, he said, found that “more than half of the 10 agencies it [GAO] reviewed lacked the characteristics common among active and effective suspension and debarment programs: dedicated staff resources, well-developed internal guidance and processes for referring cases to officials for action.”
Government contractors have always faced an abundance of potential audits. The Defense Contract Audit Agency alone conducts several dozen
different types of audits, including: pre-award reviews; incurred cost examinations; purchasing system reviews; billing system reviews; disclosure statement reviews; and provisional rate reviews.
Moreover, the number of rules and procedures to follow is mind-numbing. The Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is comprised of more than 1,700 pages of rules and regulations, is just one set of federal regulations pertaining to government contracts.
While no two audits are the same, government auditors are likely to place a greater emphasis on internal controls during 2012.
They will review your stated policies and procedures to determine the strength of your control environment, then typically make a random selection of
transactions (for example, vendor invoices, employee time cards, travel vouchers) and scrutinize supporting documentation.
The auditors are looking to determine if the contractor’s policies and procedures were followed, approvals documented and internal controls enforced.
In addition, there are now many prospective government contracts that will be awarded only after rigorous assessments of the adequacy of the contractor’s
business systems and internal controls. Contractors now will simply pass or fail, rather than possibly passing with certain deficiencies. All deficiencies must be addressed successfully before the contractor’s system is deemed adequate, and the contract awarded.
Many companies now are being proactive, seeking a third party to make an initial assessment as to whether their systems can meet Defense Contract Audit
Agency requirements before being notified of a pending agency review. Such a review prior to bidding on a contract can provide the confidence to bid for all
types of government contracts without business system constraints.
By implementing corrective measures that might be identified during the review, contractors can improve overall operations while staying ahead of the
competition and helping ensure they will not be behind the DCAA eight ball.
Having the black mark of a failed government audit is a difficult position from which to recover, and amounts to a “scarlet A” in the world of government
contracting. But the moniker can be avoided with prudent planning and taking proactive measures to shore up your systems in advance.
As we go into 2012 and face whatever budgetary cuts the government may implement, positioning your company to take advantage of every opportunity is
more important than ever.
– Commentary by Michael Tinsley, founder and chief executive of NeoSystems, for The Washington Post – Dec. 25, 2011 at http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/a-new-year-of-heightened-scrutiny-for-government-contractors/2011/12/14/gIQAq7IUHP_story.html
December 22, 2011 by cs
Contrary to its name, marketing and communications company LeapFrog Solutions didn’t immediately leap into the government market.
That happened in 2002, when Lisa Martin’s company won three small consulting contracts from the Federal Railroad Administration, Voice of America and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Others modest government awards followed from the Secret Service, National Credit Union Administration and Office of the Currency.
Martin said she quickly realized that, like commercial entities, many federal agencies had websites that were not in sync with their mission statements. Also, activities such as direct mail, trade show appearances and ad campaigns also were disjointed because each operation was the responsibility of a different domain.
So for the government market, she said, “Our very ambitious goal was ‘make the message matter.’ Whether it was online, offline, we wanted to make the message consistent.”
LeapFrog’s big leap into the government arena began in 2008, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency set aside its marketing and communications contracting as a small-business award.
Following Hurricane Katrina and other ensuing natural disasters, FEMA managers in 2010 decided they needed a public campaign to publicize how citizens could protect their homes and possessions from flood damage through government-sponsored insurance.
FEMA then created the National Flood Insurance Program Integrated Marketing and Advertising and Public Services contract.
About 30 small businesses answered FEMA’s request for proposals, which included managing the agency website, its publications, direct mail, conference appearances and advertising.
“We’d been watching for [the RFP] for a while,” said Mark Nelson, LeapFrog’s business development and communications manager, who joined the company in 2010.
“Our challenge was putting together a strong proposal in response to the RFP and corralling all the [partner] elements,” he said. “For example, we don’t do large-scale media buying so that’s why we enlisted Spurrier Media Group out of Richmond.”
And although LeapFrog does some web design, it doesn’t do the more complex back-end coding that is required, so it brought in Blue Water Media as a partner.
This past March the LeapFrog-led team won the five-year, $75 million FEMA contract to publicize and market government-sponsored flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.
The LeapFrog team of Blue Water Media and Spurrier Media Group also includes Bender Consulting Services Inc. and former incumbents ad agency JWT, once known as the J. Walter Thompson agency, and Ogilvy Public Relations.
Among other tasks, LeapFrog manages the FEMA website FloodSmart.gov and collates the data from the agency’s call center queries.
“If you go to FloodSmart.gov, you can type in your address it will show you what your [flood] risk level risk is and give you a ballpark figure of what a policy would cost,” Nelson explained.
“FEMA actually has done a really good job,” he said. “They’re in the process of redoing a lot of the flood maps around the country using more digital and interactive tools.” Martin’s team also is tasked with spreading the word about FEMA’s flood insurance assistance through trade shows and by disseminating information to local officials, insurance companies, contractors and others.
LeapFrog Solutions is leveraging its work with FEMA at other government assistance agencies including the Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Interior departments as well as the Office of Personnel Management.
“We’re also working at VA because of all the health care initiatives; also the military heath care system under DOD,” Martin said.
As a result of the FEMA award and its other government and commercial contracts, LeapFrog Solutions has grown to about 25 employees and the company, which began in Martin’s basement in 1996, will be moving into new, larger offices within the next few months.
“We’ve probably doubled [the staff] within the past two years,” she said. “As we’re growing, one of the things that we’re finding is that communications really need to be more and more refined.”
She said the advent of new social media and the growth of a tech-savvy government work force require companies like LeapFrog to be up on the latest technologies and be able to communicate their benefits. That includes keeping abreast of what the young generation of government workers wants and needs, she added.
At the same time, Martin sees health care initiatives becoming a big part of LeapFrog’s future.
“There’s a huge opportunity there,” she said, citing new opportunities at VA, HHS and NIH, where LeapFrog has secured a blanket purchase agreement.
But “it’s not enough just to be able to build and maintain a website. If you have a solution, you really have to show results,” she said. “When we go into an agency, we’re looking at what we can measure. What gets measured gets results.”
About the Author: David Hubler is senior editor of Washington Technology. This article was published Dec. 19, 2011 at http://washingtontechnology.com/Articles/2011/12/19/LeapFrog-FEMA-contract.aspx?s=wtdaily_201211&p=1.
December 20, 2011 by cs
The Department of Defense’s 2012 SBIR solicitation is now open and accepting proposals until January 11, 2012..
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) is a government program, coordinated by the Small Business Administration, in which 2.5 percent of the total extramural research budgets of all federal agencies with extramural research budgets in excess of $100 million are reserved for contracts or grants to small businesses. Annually, the SBIR budget represents more than $1 billion in research funds. Over half the awards are to firms with fewer than 25 people and a third to firms of fewer than 10. A fifth are minority or women-owned businesses. Historically, a quarter of the companies are first-time winners.
In addition, Congress established the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program in 1992. It is similar in structure to SBIR and funds cooperative research and development projects with small businesses in partnership with not-for profit research institutions (such as universities) to move research to the marketplace.
The SBIR/STTR Programs are structured in three phases. Phase I (project feasibility) determines the scientific, technical and commercial merit and feasibility of the ideas submitted. Phase II (project development to prototype) is the major research and development effort, funding the prototyping and demonstration of the most promising Phase I projects. Phase III (commercialization) is the ultimate goal of each SBIR/STTR effort and statute requires that Phase III work be funded by sources outside the SBIR/STTR Program.
During the solicitation period, communication between small businesses and topic authors is highly encouraged. For reasons of competitive fairness, direct communication between proposers and topic authors is not allowed during the Open period when DoD is accepting proposals for each solicitation. However, proposers may still submit written questions about solicitation topics through the SBIR/STTR Interactive Topic Information System (SITIS). In SITIS the questioner and respondent are anonymous and all questions and answers are posted electronically for general viewing until the solicitation closes. All proposers are advised to monitor SITIS during the Open solicitation period for questions and answers and other significant information relevant to their SBIR/STTR topics of interest.
Topics Search Engine: Visit the DoD Topic Search Tool to quickly and easily find topics by keyword across all DoD components participating in this solicitation.
- December 12, 2011 – Solicitation opens and DoD begins accepting proposals
- January 4, 2012 – SITIS closes to new questions
- January 11, 2012 – Solicitation closes to receipt of proposals at 6:00 AM EST
Complete details on DoD’s 2012 SBIR solicitation may be found at: http://www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/sbir/solicitations/sbir20121/index.shtml.
To be added to the DoD SBIR List serv: ten.ribsdod.vrestsilnull@tsilribs.