5 mistakes small businesses should avoid in 2017

With so many changes in the air, it is critical that small businesses take positive steps to build their business. Here are five mistakes you must avoid.

2017 promises to be an interesting year all around, especially for those in government contracting. We will have a new president, new appointees, different priorities and new policies. Many of these can and will impact agency missions and contracts.

You have to be prepared.

So what does preparation mean for the small contractors in our market? First and foremost, it means you need to stop repeating the mistakes that have probably stifled your company’s growth.

Contractors call me to help them win more business but when I outline what is required, more often than not there is resistance to one or more of the actions I suggest. After hundreds of conversations with small contractors, I have identified five significant problem areas.

These five include:

1)      Not defining an area of expertise

2)      Not focusing on one agency before expanding

3)      Not leveraging social media

4)      Ignoring content marketing

5)      Operating in a reactive mode, more whim than strategy.

Defining your area of expertise is key because this is not the era of IT generalists. Calling your small company a “systems integrator” or an “IT services” firm overgeneralizes what you do and undermines your ability to address specific client issues. Defining your area of expertise in clear, precise terms will position you to win the work for which you are best suited. Developing an area of expertise, becoming a subject matter expert is a key factor for growth. Primes want subs that are SMEs, and agencies don’t want generalists.

I get calls from small contractors wanting to expand their area of influence before fully establishing a beachhead in a single agency. I point out that growing government business is easier when you do it at an agency that already knows you. Now called “agency/account based marketing,” this has been a growth habit I and many others have recommended for years, and done properly it works well. If you have some mindshare in one agency where you are already doing business, it is a better use of your time and effort to grow business with that client as opposed to attempting to expand into another agency where you are not known. It seems like common sense, but it is an uncommon approach for many small contractors.

I get several calls every month from small companies looking to enter the government market or to grow market presence. At least two of these conversations include the caller saying, “I know you advocate using LinkedIn, but we just don’t buy that the government is there.” Normally, that terminates the discussion, at least from my end. There are 1.6 million feds on LinkedIn (I do my own census every year) and more than 15 percent of those feds have IT job titles. Another 20 percent or more have some sort of management function. The feds are on LinkedIn in a very significant way, even the contracting officers.  In December I did a presentation for the National Contract Management Association and my session had about 60-70 contracting officers. The topic: “Using LinkedIn to Vet Contractors” and there were lots of questions. Ignore LinkedIn at your own risk.

Another frequent resistance point is content marketing: “We don’t have time to blog and that other content stuff.” Content marketing is more than developing content. It can be finding and commenting on content that is already available. It can involve posting an article from Washington Technology and simply highlighting what is important about it. But if you are not engaged at all in developing or sharing content from other sources, it is much more difficult to defend an area of expertise.

Many of the calls and emails I get start with “What bid service should I be using?” This tells me the company is probably operating in a reactive mode, responding to as many RFPs as possible in the hopes that a certain percentage will be “wins.” Rather than monitoring FedBizOps and salivating each time an “opportunity” is announced, why not focus on the agency you currently work with, develop deeper relationships with that agency, and focus on expanding what you do with and for them? Share some content that is germane to them and get them to join your network on LinkedIn.

You can be a subject matter expert if you focus on a single agency. I can name dozens of people I monitor who focus on NASA, CMS, FEMA, Aberdeen Proving Ground and more and they are true subject matter experts due to their in-depth knowledge of and relationships with those agencies. Each is a sought after partner when bidding on work for that agency.

If you are embedded in an agency and are good at what you do, opportunities from that agency will arise. If your services fit a special requirement, you will be assigned a new prime if the contract changes hands.  Building an agency expertise reduces the need for a bid service.

With a new administration, new appointees, and new priorities impacting programs, priorities and policies, small businesses need to make themselves as useful as possible in their current roles and to solidify agency relationships to ensure their current position is as safe as possible.

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