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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Devastated BD operations open opportunity for new business

The last several years have been devastating for the business development community. As companies have struggled to reduce costs, one of the first places they turn to cut is the BD staff.

In fact, many small and mid-tier companies have cut their entire business development operations.

But the need for business development, proposal writers and capture managers hasn’t waned, and rather than keep these skills in-house and carry the overhead, many are looking to freelancers and consultants.

Eric Adolphe, former president and CEO of Optimus, a company he sold in 2006, said that as the staff cuts piled up, his phone started to ring. The calls came from both sides of the aisle – laid-off BD experts looking for work or needing help setting themselves up as independent consultants, and companies looking for references and referrals for BD consultants they want to hire on a freelance basis.

“The landscape has been pretty ugly,” Adolphe said. “These are really good people with solid experience. It would be a tragedy if they went and did something else.”

The intensity and frequency of the calls led Adolphe to begin researching marketplaces such as Elance, oDesk, and 99designs, which connect freelancers with companies in need of their services.

Adolphe and his partner, Bob Suda, another well-known and respected business development consultant, created an answer, GovProp.com, an online market for those wanting to buy or sell services to support government contractors.

Step one was buying a small company that had developed a marketplace for software developers, writers and graphic artists.

“We acquired them and took their product and repurposed it,” he said.

GovProp’s aim is to serve and protect both the freelance consultant and the company hiring them. The design of the system goes right at the pain points on both sides of the equation.

For the freelance consultants, many of the issues revolve around finding work and getting paid.

For the companies, the challenge is finding the right consultant and protecting their intellectual property.

As Adolphe describes it, here is how the GovProp process works.

For the consultant: You become registered on GovProp for free, describing your skills and answering a lengthy set of questions that get you to catalogue your experience and qualifications.

The system offers four categories – listed, which is free, and then bronze, gold or platinum verified. To be verified, you pay a third party company that GovProp has engaged to do in depth reference checks.

“The third party calls your references and speaks to them. The third party then goes into the system and they do the rating,” Adolphe said. “We don’t take any money. The money is paid to the third party. It is a truly independent system.”

The vetting process verifies things such as experience, customer satisfaction, and win-rates.

If you don’t go through the verification process, you can still be listed, but you’ll likely come in at the bottom of the rankings when companies search for your kind of skills, Adolphe said.

For the companies, they subscribe to GovProp for a fee and can search for vetted consultants to hire. They also pay a fee for each transaction between the company and the freelancer.

The secret sauce is how they find each other. Adolphe draws a parallel to the eHarmony dating service.
For example, a company is looking for proposal writing help for a bid on a cybersecurity project at the Defense Intelligence agency. They need someone one with a top secret clearance, experience with DAI and a win-rate of 70 percent.

GovProp’s matching engine takes all of those criteria into consideration and identifies the consultants in the system that best meets those criteria. The company gets a list of candidates, and you can see what work they’ve done, who they’ve worked for and reviews of their work.

In that way, the system is similar to Angie’s List, Adolphe said.

Another critical feature of the system kicks in after a company has picked a consultant.

All the work takes place in a secure collaboration environment that GovProp has built. The company and the consultant can work together on graphics, Word documents, and oral presentations. “Basically everything,” Adolphe said.

The system protects the intellectual property of the company hiring the consultant because the consultant can’t forward any documents out of the environment; they can’t copy and paste from inside to outside the environment and they can’t print or take screen grabs.

Once the client accepts the project, the document is automatically deleted from every device the consultant used to access the collaborative environment.

“That solves a huge problem industry is seeing,” Adolphe said. “If you hire someone to write a management plan, you share proprietary information with them. You don’t want that sitting on their computer and then it ending up in someone else’s proposal.”

The last part of the process will be another big plus for the freelance consultant. At the start of the project, the company pays the cost into an escrow account, and when it accepts the project, the system pays the consultant.

There is no invoicing and then waiting for payment. Adolphe can tell nightmare stories of consultants waiting months to be paid or having to fight clients to get paid.

GovProp currently is in a soft-launch period. There are 15 companies using the system to hire consultants. They are kicking the tires and testing the system and providing feedback to Adolphe and his team.

By January, the plan is to open the system to any company that wants to use it. By then, there will be at least 500 consultants in the market. From there, he expects it to grow into the thousands.

“We’ll have the 500 by January,” Adolphe said. “We are seeing roughly 19 registrations a day.”

But registration doesn’t mean someone is automatically added to the system. They still have to go through the vetting process.

“We have to be careful about the vetting process,” he said. “Our system requires them to provide more information than they are used to providing, so there is built in friction in our system.”

While GovProp started with a focus on business development and capture management skills, it has quickly expanded to nearly any kind of service that supports a government contractor.

Adolphe said they are adding consultants that include lawyers, accountants, human resources, graphic artists, real estate consultants and bankers.

The reach includes the federal, state and local and international markets.

GovProp also has signed an agreement with FedEx to help with the printing and delivery of proposals.

“You can do the entire proposal and then hit go, FedEx will print, bind, box it and deliver it to the contracting officer. They’ll get a signature and upload it to the system and you can see that your proposal was delivered,” Adolphe said.

It also has a partnership with FedMine to provide market research data on agencies and contract opportunities.

GovProp has been attracting some big names as potential consultants in the marketplace including former GSA officials Bob Woods and Bill Gormley, who also ran FedSources and the Washington Management Group. Bob Dickson, who had senior executive positions in both the private and public sector, is on board. Michael Peacock, who’s run business development at such large systems integrators as SI International, PRC and Northrop Grumman, is another marquee name.

Woods also is on the board of directors of the company. They’ve also hired Mike Lisagor to build a knowledge academy that will include training materials and templates for companies to use.

Adolphe and Suda also are in the system as consultants.

“I haven’t been verified yet, so I’ll probably end up ranked at the bottom,” he said.

Adolphe declined to estimate revenue for the first year of GovProp. The company will pull its revenue from subscription fees that companies will pay to use the marketplace. The companies also will pay a transaction fee for individual projects.

“The feedback has just been insane,” Adolphe said. “People are joining every day.”

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Nov 03, 2014 at 9:23 AM

Reader Comments

Wed, Nov 5, 2014 Bob Davis

I understand the logic behind the development of the industry service to the federal market. However, BD people are not Lego blocks that easily plug into a company's BD function/process. It normally takes 6-9 months for a BD person to grasp a company's strengths, weaknesses, core competencies, competitive position, culture and so on. Having BD people supporting a critical corporate function in a part-time manner is a mistaken approach in my view. Yes, companies may have less BD people today for several reasons including a lack of understanding of the real role of BD, but going to a rent-BD-person is not going to provide the payoff many firms are seeking.

Mon, Nov 3, 2014

Interesting idea and schtick, I must say. But the very process they have worked out, as well as the features of the vetting process, only ahint at the deserved reputation of "BD consultants.". Many freelancers tend to work for near desperate or incompetent firms. The NDAs and contracts for the BD "service" tend to be long, onerous, and one-sided. It is what it is because the industry is what it is and the proposal process is the product of all of this. The vetting process is easily capable of letting charlatans and incompetents through the screen. One can read this account and still not know what the vetting questions really are. And one of the best parts is: Yes, Woods has signed up, and yes, he happens to be on the board of directors! Is that a seal of approval or what? Can we have a disclosure of whether he has a vested interest? And what his credentials are as a BD hired gun, as opposed to a gsa official and a small business owner?

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