Commentary

When best efforts fail, get some outside help

Tips on finding and picking service providers that can help your business

Although there are outside vendors for virtually all disciplines in the government market – advertising and market, PR, sales, business development, bid and proposal, capture, accounting, legal, etc. – remember, not all vendors are equal. Some excel in their areas of expertise, some are simply good, and some are not quite so good.

So how do you know when you need outside help, how do you find them, and what are the criteria for selecting outside vendors?

First, how do you know when you need help? You know you need accounting help when the General Services Administration or other government auditing agency shows up and your books do not answer the questions they have. At that point you might also require legal help. If you have spent a fair amount of time and money on “marketing programs” that don’t work (among my favorites – those recommended by former members of Congress, which are usually VIP photo ops that never lead to business), you either need a good marketing consultant or you need to hire a marketing firm. If your bids never seem to make the cut, you probably need someone with talent to come in and review your processes.

The tell-tale signs are that some things are not working the way they should. This is usually the easy part. Now, how do you find the right help?

There are several ways to find outside vendors and build a short list of those you might need. If you are a regular reader of various trade publications, including this one, you may have read about a few already. When the issue of company audits comes up, the editors and reporters will be interviewing some key people in this niche. You can search the publication archives by using keywords.

You can accomplish the same thing with both online and offline networking groups. AFCEA, ACT/IAC, Northern Virginia Technology Council, Technology Council of Maryland, American Small Business Coalition, and others will have member companies that are service providers. Some of these groups have sub-groups, or special interest groups, whose consultants are more easily identified. By attending any of their meetings, you will be able find a few. The more active consultants will be more visible in these groups, often heading a special interest group.

LinkedIn, TFCN and GovLoop have groups such as Government Market Master (which is in all three online networks), which will have consultants and contractors as part of the group. LinkedIn has literally hundreds of groups focusing on all aspects of the government market, including marketing, program management, bid and proposal, GSA schedules and more. Many of them can provide you with potential sources.

After you have your list of potential service providers, you need to determine the criteria for selecting the vendor you require. The major elements to consider are their track record, their familiarity with your niche, price, how they work with their clients (for example, I advise on marketing and PR, but I am not a PR firm), and availability.

The track record of the individuals or companies on your list is the first thing you need to look into. How long have they been doing this type of work and who have they worked with? What kind of references do they have?

If you are not in a position to ask this question directly, you can make your initial pass by using Google and searching for both the company and the individual. Use the keywords from the niche as your search criteria, then use “Search Within Results” to narrow the field. The results may give you some information.

Using LinkedIn can also help you reference both the company and the individual. LinkedIn profiles will often indicate how long a company has been around. The site can also provide information on what other people think about any individual in the company, as long as they are connected. LinkedIn allows people who are directly connected with one another to ‘recommend’ them for an area of expertise. These recommendations are usually available to read.

Other aspects of the vendor profile that might prove helpful are how many and which groups they belong to and how many “Best Answers” they have if they participate in the LinkedIn Q&A.

There is always more to the equation, but this should get you started.

About the Author

Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.

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