Small Government Contractors: Beware of BD Hucksters

I spend a good deal of time speaking with small business owners–many of whom are small government contractors. I also speak frequently with various stakeholders in government–from contracting officers and directors of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) to elected officials and their staffs. One thing I hear from all of them is the damage being done to small government contractors by business development (BD) hucksters who are charging these young and early-stage businesses for services and counsel that can be acquired for free in many instances. These snake oil salesmen have built a cottage industry out of hustling small government contractors.

For example, I keep hearing stories of companies paying to register with the federal government’s System for Award Management, or SAM. As many readers will know, you must be registered with SAM to do business with the federal government–and it’s free to register with SAM. You can do so here–for free. Say it with me: for free. But sure enough, if you do a Google search for “SAM registration” you will find a number of companies which will register your business with SAM for a fee. And while we’re on the subject of registrations, it’s also free to register for a Dun & Bradstreet Number (DUNS). You can register for a DUNS here.

As such I wanted to share some thoughts on how small business owners can avoid these BD hucksters:

  1. Build a Relationship with your PTAC. You can find the PTAC closest to you here. They offer an array of free services and counsel to get you started in the government contracting world–and those that offer services for a fee do so at a heavily discounted rate from what you would pay by going to a private consulting firm. From the Association of PTAC website: Ninety-eight PTACs — with over 300 local offices — form a nationwide network of dedicated procurement professionals working to help local businesses compete successfully in the government marketplace. PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, bringing to bear their knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs. They will also help you to avoid scams. By building a relationship with your local PTAC, you will significantly reduce the risk of falling prey to one of these BD hucksters. Other great free resources include SBA’s Small Business Development Centers and SCORE.
  2. Figure out what you can bootstrap and what you cannot. Some of your businesses activities you will be able to bootstrap while others you won’t–or shouldn’t because in doing so you will assume an unacceptably high level of risk. For example, it’s never good idea to “wing it” when it comes to legal counsel–or contract negotiations. At GovBizConnect, we’re all about improving the system for identifying teaming partners–and brokering those relationships with data and technology. We’re knee-deep in teaming every day and I used to live it when I worked as a BD guy at Booz Allen and SAIC. I hear so many stories of small businesses who signed teaming agreements–and bid jointly on contracts–only for the work never to materialize upon award of the contract to the prime. This happens often because the small business owner has no experience negotiating contracts. They might be a technical expert in their field with a great vision for their business, but when it comes to hammering out the terms & conditions of a deal, they are inexperienced. The key as a leader is to figure out the strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity for you and your team–and to think seriously about which types of expertise you’ll need to pay for, be it legal, financial, or some specialized business development activity.
  3. Remember that winning work is hard. It requires concerted effort, persistence, strong relationships, and good business strategy to win work with the government. This pursuit can be aided by a range of fee-based business development products and services. But the key is figuring out where you have gaps and filling those, either by hiring or outsourcing to vendors. But if anyone pitches you a silver bullet business development solution–one that will guarantee you work–run in the other direction. There is nothing inherently wrong with fee-based or premium business development products & services for government contracting professionals. These have a time and a place and can help you grow your business; the problem is the cottage industry of predatory snake oil salesmen charging for products and services that can otherwise be acquired free of charge.
  4. Educate yourself. As the owner of a small business, the onus is on you to educate yourself and leverage the free resources that are available. Use Google and conduct your research. Recognize that while there are many great subject matter experts out there, worthy of a paid business relationship, some are snake oil salesmen. Encourage your team to adopt a healthy skepticism with vendors. Ask thoughtful questions and don’t make assumptions.

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