No

“When you say yes to something you don’t want to do, here is the result: you hate what you are doing, you resent the person who asked you, and you hurt yourself.”
– James Altucher, The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness

There’s a lot of power behind the word no.
There is a stigma associated with it as well.

In the startup phase, most entrepreneurs/small business owners don’t say no. They take on work that may be outside their wheelhouse or outside their core area of expertise. They take on clients with whom they do not fit. Or work that they won’t make any profit on (all in the name of past performance). They fear being ‘too exclusive’ that they stretch themselves too thin, trading one extreme for another.

Instead of referring the work to another resource, entrepreneurs/small business owners will rationalize taking it on. Let’s face it, we all need to earn a living. Especially when you first start off bootstrapping the organization. But it’s the rationalization and the taking of work outside of your core area that will potentially tank you financially, tap your energy and more importantly tarnish your reputation. Reputation is important no matter what stage you are in, but it can be the difference between the hockey curve growth and the shuttering of the doors during the first few years.

Every business owner has their own horror story of the project or client with whom they just couldn’t win. Something they spent all their time on, with little (or no) success. It’s natural. But those that have too many of these stories are doomed.

At some point (the earlier, the better), it is necessary to get to the point where you can say no. You can identify opportunities that just aren’t for you. That your company is not a fit. There is power in saying no. It means that you value your time, your reputation and your colleagues. Saying no doesn’t mean that you won’t take risks. It means that you are thoughtful in those risks that you do take on.

Be known for the work you win, not the opportunities you might have missed.

Green

Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
-Mark Twain

In today’s environment of competition, LPTA, race to the bottom (insert any other overused term we throw around in the GovCon world), we all talk about “greening the staff” as a way to cut our costs on proposals. But who really does it and more importantly, who does it successfully?

Typically, we say that in the execution of a 5-year contract, we can move the more seasoned employees to other contracts and replace them with more junior employees who will learn from the best, and do their jobs more efficiently and at less cost. In reality, this means we replace seasoned and expensive employees with less expensive employees under the guise of “career advancement.”

Contractors bet that a year into execution, the government will absolutely LOVE their seasoned SME’s, and therefore will cough up more funding in the out years not requiring the transition of staff.

What happens if that isn’t the case? 

Contractors tell their seasoned SME that they have to take a 20%+ hit on their base salary or they yank them to a more profitable contract and backfill to the minimum labor category requirements with little to no transition or cross-training. The result? A bad taste in everyone’s mouths, most importantly the government.

What if we did what we claimed we would do in our management plans?

What if we told our SMEs in contract kick-off that we were going to start grooming their replacements and incentivized them to help train them successfully?

What if we spent the time to recruit the right person for the transition? A person wanting to work with the agency and grow professionally. What if we made our government customer part of the transition plan and they knew all along that there would be new teammates in the out years?

Imagine if we actually provided the career growth for our SMEs, built our workforce with energized, well-trained folks who could help win the re-compete and, topping it off, actually *gasp* saved the government money?

Yes, it means forethought and planning. Yes, it is harder than just asking for more funding. If you want to grow your company and your team successfully and thoughtfully – try greening the staff.

Just do it the right way, the first time.

Frenemies

In this world, we all need close friends. Our tribe, our peeps (as I affectionately call them). People you know you can count on to help support your growth. This includes your teammates. As a small business in government contracting, you cannot feasibly do everything. Your list of core capabilities should not be 2 pages single spaced. Heck, it shouldn’t even be 1!

This is why you need a frenemy (or several!) in every set-aside category. Another company with similar and complementary caps with which you can team. Someone whom you trust to go after new work and who understands the value of being a teaming partner.  Someone that you can call when the RFP you’ve been tracking comes out as another set-aside or includes some random factor you don’t have (i.e. TS-SCI facility, offices within 10 mins of the customer, DCAA audited purchasing system or CMMI/ISO certification).

These relationships aren’t cultivated when the RFP drops. They take time to build trust, just like any relationship. Will they actually deliver on the proposal? Will their rates roll up under ours? Will they put their key folks on the reviews, not just dump it on the admin proposal coordinator? Can you count on their past performance? In short, can they deliver along the same values as you would? Spending time on these relationships now can save you during crunch time. Who hasn’t worked on 2-4 proposals (and more!) at one time? With trust comes efficiency, which can make or break you and your team during the proposal season.

Further, trust and frenemy relationships extend into contract delivery. There are several factors that can affect your alliance including aggressive workshare, respecting the role of the Prime and future teaming opportunities.

Frenemies make the case that 1 plus 1 can equal more than 2. Of course, you will run into each other as competitors occasionally, as that’s the nature of this industry. But losing to a teammate who knows you and is more likely to turn to you should they have growth is much better than losing to a stranger. I’ve seen companies contribute to each other’s growth significantly. It does happen, and it does work. And let’s face it, it’s hard enough in this industry. You need your frenemies. Keep your friends close and your frenemies closer.

Speaking of teaming partners, there’s a service to help you find the right match for your business. When searching for teaming partners with specific capabilities or set-aside statues, visit govmates.com – a free tool for small business teaming partners. Shoot me an email at [email protected] if you have a specific need.