Strategy 2: Focus, and be picky

Reliable Integration Services' Valerie Perlowitz: "Having small business status doesn't necessarily give you the right to get any work on a contract. You still have to be good at what you do."

A successful small business excels at a few things, said Valerie Perlowitz, president and chief executive officer of Reliable Integration Services Inc. in Dunn Loring, Va.

"If you say, I am going to do business process re-engineering, networking, software development, etc., etc., you never build a base of clients and the infrastructure to support them," she said.

Reliable, a 14-year-old, woman-owned small business, specializes in networking solutions. The firm employs about 50 people and has revenue of less than $10 million a year.

As small businesses grow, they find themselves competing against much larger firms with a wider range of capabilities, so they must use their bid and proposal dollars wisely, said Gregory Freeland, president of mid-sized RGII Technologies Inc. in Annapolis, Md.

Small companies "bid on everything," he said. "As you get bigger, you have to bid less."

RGII, a 13-year-old, 350-employee company, focuses on information security, software development, information management and program management. It has $50 million in annual revenue.

RGII narrows down the jobs it will pursue by working on its bids at least six months in advance of the agency's request for proposal, Freeland said. Staff members research the proposed project and work to get RGII's capabilities incorporated into the agency's statement of work, or description of tasks to be performed under the upcoming contract.

"If I have a product or past performance that I think is unique, I need to get that into the statement of work," Freeland said.

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