DollarDays Blog is pleased to share the small business expertise of Adam Ishaeik, CEO of Hunter Wellman, a company that assists small businesses with acquiring federal contracts.
DollarDays Blog (DDB):Can you please provide some brief background on yourself and your company?
Adam Ishaeik: I have been involved with federal business development for six years. After my I received my MBA degree, I did a short stint with a large federal contractor and worked at the Department of State doing software release management, as well as proposal support tasks. I really enjoyed the business development aspects of the job. While developing small business subcontracting plans which outline how a large business will allocate work to the small business community, I realized there were a lot of small businesses that would benefit from having sales support in the Washington, D.C., area.
I broke off from the large contractor and started working with small-business vendors seeking to do business with the government. As my success as a consultant grew, I knew the best way to grow was to incorporate as a company, bring in as many agency experts as possible, and offer a full range of services to assist companies with their federal business development activities.
Thus, Hunter Wellman was born, and we are proud to announce [that] fiscal year 2009 was our best year to date.
DDB: How big is the opportunity out there to win federal contracts?
Ishaeik: The federal government is the biggest customer in the world, with a yearly budget of over $500 billion. I would say the opportunity is huge.
DDB: What kinds of businesses have a chance at winning these contracts? For instance, is federal contracting just for defense industry businesses?
Ishaeik: The government utilizes almost every type of service and product imaginable, from janitorial work to cutting edge information technology design. Every federal agency procures a wide array of services and products from the private sector. To get an idea if your service or product is in demand, simply go to www.fbo.gov and type your service or product into the search field.
DDB: What are some of the techniques and tactics that you recommend small businesses use to compete against much larger competitors in seeking federal contracts?
Ishaeik: The first item is to assess whether the federal government is a desired client. It is a labor intensive activity to break into this market; however, once entry is achieved, the company can rely on steady income as many contracts are up to five years in length.
Second, treat the government like you would any other client—with a lot more bureaucracy and red tape. The importance of building relationships with the users of your services and products, offering a unique product or service, providing competitive pricing, and all the other tried-and-true rules of effective business development all apply. The element that separates government contracting from the private sector is the existence of comprehensive rules and regulations outlined in the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the contracting offices that are set up for each agency and sub-agency engaged in private sector procurements to enforce these rules.
Third, identify agencies that procure your offerings and the program managers who represent the end users. It is critical to meet with these program managers to build trust and reduce the risk, in their mind, of sourcing their requirements to unknown entities. The best way to do this is to bring in a connected sales professional who can navigate you through these waters—competent ones run about $250K a year. If your sales budget does not accommodate this figure, contract with a company like Hunter Wellman to manage this activity for you—there are a lot of federal business development companies in the beltway, all with differing specialties that can assist your sales efforts.
Lastly, establish a contracting vehicle such as a GSA Schedule, a[n] SBA small-business certification that allows sole source procurements (i.e., 8a, HUBZONE, SDVOB) or any other MAS IDIQ (Multiple Award Schedule Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity). Having a federal contracting vehicle in hand will make your life a lot easier when dealing with the contracting officers. You can make a brilliant sale to a program manager, but when the purchase order is handed to the contracting officer and they have no vehicle to source your services, you run the risk of the program being publicly posted and attracting hundreds of competitors.
DDB: What are the opportunities for small businesses to partner with large companies to win government contracts?
Ishaeik: This is a great way to get started—partnering with a prime contractor. The opportunities are huge, but you have to bring something of value to the table. Relevant past performance is the most valuable thing you can bring. For example, if a large prime contractor is pursuing a contract with the Transportation Security Administration, the big company may seek small businesses that have experience at the agency to provide inside information and strong qualifications to their proposal. Another option is to present résumés of individuals at your small business who have experience at the targeted agency and offer their support with proposal development. If your small business pursues this option, make sure you get a legal review of the teaming and subcontractor agreements, or you run the risk of putting significant resources into helping the large company win the contract without any guaranteed work.
DDB: Finally, what is the single most important piece of advice you think small-business owners and executives need to know?
Ishaeik: Be patient, work smart, think positively and recognize the value that building relationships with government procurers can have for your business development units.
What do you think of Ishaeik’s advice? Have federal contracts been a valuable source of revenue for your small business? If not, does Ishaeik’s advice inspire you to try to capture a federal contract or partner with a larger company on work for the federal government?