We all start businesses for many reasons: We are good at something; someone told us we are good at something or you had no other options. My steps from solopreneur to federal contractor were closer to the latter. The journey is rocky, reckless and only until recent, rewarding. After 15 years in business, I was awarded my first seven-figure contract from the federal government in 2012. Now, before you cheer or congratulate me learn from my mistakes.
Federal contracting is inundated with what seems to be redundant paperwork and a laundry list of acronyms not found in Webster’s Dictionary. Even if you think you are ready, you are not ready. The faint of heart would welcome a cubicle and coffee mug to the daunting task of bidding on a federal project. The competition is the least of your worries. They are in the same boat. Being the proud business owner I am, I treaded along with no guidance or assistance. I bumbled through the application with more requests for clarifications than questions on the original application.
Rule Number One: ASK FOR HELP
There are free and low-cost resources to help you. Services range from business development, government contracting, and financing. One resource that was very helpful was the Small Business Administration. Not only did I get help with government contracting, I was also able to acquire several socio-economic certifications including the 8(a). There is a new commodity in my company’s portfolio…the SBA.
With that I submitted the bid. Now, on paper I have promised I can do an insurmountable amount of work in an unrealistic amount of time for a bargain-basement-blue-plate-special-price. And at the end of the day pay employees, rent, and hopefully myself. Are you sweating? I was.
Rule Number Two: ASK FOR HELP (AGAIN)
Did you know that any business problem you are having there is someone else who’s had it and survived? I welcomed enrollment in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. The challenges of product, process, prospects and profitability were tackled head on. My prayers were answered. After graduating from the third cohort at Los Angeles City College, I was able to clearly define my services and help my client recognize my value. I ultimately negotiated a fair price for all parties and was awarded the contract.
Rule Number Three: Go Fishing
This is the part of the day where I close my eyes and picture everything I want for my business; our new office, multi-millions dollar contracts, and family vacations. With my eyes closed everything seems within reach. But, who can run a business with their eyes closed? Like the old Proverb, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” we need to constantly retool and rethink our business strategies. My business practices from 15 years ago were adolescent and no match for the US government. Tapping into the business resources available in most metropolises opens your eyes to the growth potential of your company. As you follow rules one and two to steadily grow your business, keep careful watch on not only the product or service you provide, but also creating an arsenal of resources and increase your growth exponentially. Be vigilant, ask questions, get help.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Businesses program. The Goldman Sachs Foundation is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.