Interview with the G.O.A.T. Contracting Officer (circa 2016)
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with someone I believe to be one of the smartest Contracting Officers in Federal Government today…I’m blessed to say that he’s also a very good friend. His resume speaks to 20+ years as an Air Force Contracting Officer (CO), work at a Big 4 accounting firm, and now civil service work at a Federal Financial Agency.
One of the most profound take aways from this conversation was his impression of the top two mistakes Small Businesses (SBs) make in trying to win business with the Federal Government:
#1. Trying to get rich off of the Federal Government; and
#2. Undervaluing the role of the requirement owner in Federal Government Procurement.
Falsehood #1: All I need to make my SB successful is to win a few government contracts.
Truth #1: You’re not going to become an “overnight millionaire” by winning a handful of federal contracts. You will, however, secure steady cashflow to help your business grow and keep your lights on. As we all know from Accounting 101, “Cash is king”. Winning a federal contract has always been a challenge; however, current fiscal realities (i.e. sequestration) has made competition for limited contract opportunities even more challenging. SBs must now sharpen their pencils, know their numbers, and offer the best performance on the contracts they are fortunate enough to win — past performance becomes more important as competition becomes more competitive.
Falsehood #2: The number one relationship I need to secure is with the CO.
Truth #2: By the time the requirement is solidified and submitted to the CO for solicitation and award, chances are another contractor has already beat you to the punch and has influenced the requirement. At this point, the CO is working to define the acquisition strategy and issue the solicitation — you’re now entering a quiet period where many COs are reluctant to engage your representatives for fear of divulging inside or acquisition sensitive information.
SBs need to follow the lead of their Large Business counterparts and begin to influence the requirement as early as possible — long before the solicitation is released by the CO. The unfortunate reality is that this requires investments of time and money up front with no “guarantee” of contract award. This is done by investing time and resources to “help” the requirement owner.
The truth is, the Federal Government often lacks the technical expertise necessary to appropriately define the “what” and the “how” — that’s where your SB comes in. The requirement owner may know that something is needed, but due to the lack of technical expertise, they often don’t know “what” is in the realm of the possible or “how” to craft the Statement of Work — again, this is where the astute SB comes in. Your role is not to figure out how rich you can get off of the government (see fiction #1) but to position yourself as the #1 problem solver or helper. As the late Zig Ziglar once said “You can have everything you want if you first help enough other people get what they want.”