HOW TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS WITH YOUR 8(A) CERTIFICATION
Selling to the Federal government is extremely attractive; when spending exceeds a trillion dollars, the opportunities appear limitless. The length and long duration of the contracts also attract businesses to government contracting. For these same reasons, the government contracting field is also very competitive. Finding ways to differentiate your small business in this crowded space can seem daunting, but with the help of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program, socially and economically disadvantaged entities can find ways to grow their companies. If you qualify and have received your 8(a) certification status – congratulations! Your clock is ticking, and your journey has begun. For companies who are looking at the 8(a) certification, pay attention, you will benefit from this advice even if you don’t have your certification yet.
Here are five (5) tips to maximize and capitalize on your 8(a) certification status.
Tip # 1: Neither Start nor Stop Marketing – advice no one has nor will share with you!
You have been marketing your company since the day you started. You are doing something right or else you would not have qualified for the 8(a) Business Development program. When you receive your 8(a) status, you should already have a business development and marketing plan in place. Do not stop doing what you were doing; you now have an additional differentiator to stand out from the crowd. New 8(a) companies should maintain a dual- track growth strategy. The first is your growth strategy based on pure capability. This is where you are going after business leads and opportunities because they fall within your company’s core capabilities. Hence the adage – “don’t stop marketing!” You should now create a parallel pipeline. This should be an 8(a)-based pipeline that includes a combination of your company’s core-capabilities and your socioeconomic-based capabilities. There will be an overlap at some point but the importance, emphasis, and angle to capture business is slightly different.
Tip # 2: Relationships are key to the success of any 8(a) company – hint! Relationships need to be cultivated.
Companies who haven’t yet applied for their 8(a) certification should really pay attention to this tip. But if you already have your 8(a) certificate – it is not too late. The best way to leverage your socioeconomic certification status is to build a solid network of companies that do exactly what you do. You read that right – we are asking you to ‘befriend thy competitor’. In government contracting there are neither ‘only’ competitors nor ‘only’ comrades. Your team with each other on one bid and compete with each other on another – it is the nature of government contracting. Therefore, you will want to build a relationship based on mutual respect and trust with the companies who will chase the same leads as you– except, on a much larger scale. Make a list of the top 10 successful larger government contracting companies you want to emulate. Now, focus on building a long-term relationship with them through meaningful exchange of leads, teaming opportunity invitations, and capability-based (not socioeconomic-based) marketing. Pay attention y’all– this last sentence will make or break your relationship!
Tip # 3: Network with graduating 8(a) companies early. There is such a thing as too late!
The SBA 8(a) Business Development program gives you nine years to grow your company. This means while you entered or are about to enter the program, companies are getting ready to graduate out of the program. Graduating 8(a)s start planning their transition strategy almost five years before graduation date and find their ‘take-over’ partner early. If you approach a graduating incumbent on the eve of an RFP release to join your new 8(a), you are too late. For your socioeconomic-focused pipeline, make a list of the top-10 8(a) companies whose contracts you are attracted to and pick companies that have a critical mass of the type of contracts you want. Meet with them at least three years before their first 8(a) contract is about to expire. Build a relationship and do not make it transactional. Come to the relationship with your meaningful capability-based leads so you can show them a path to success beyond their 8(a) status. In return, ask them to include you as a subcontractor on their 8(a) contracts so you demonstrate incumbency when it’s time to flip roles.
Tip # 4: Be hungry, be aggressive. Don’t depend on partnerships alone.
You only have nine years on the 8(a) program! Now is not the time to be timid and rely solely on teaming. You should really only apply and get your 8(a) when you have the bandwidth to market your company on a full-time basis. Once you have the certificate, don’t lose valuable time. Treat every year of the program as if it were your last. Do your market research and find agencies that need your capabilities and have the largest socioeconomic set-aside buying history. Narrow down your list to the top five agencies and ethically stalk them. Respond to every Sources Sought notices you qualify for, attend every networking event hosted by your target agency, and study them deeply, not broadly. Find the right opportunities and submit well-written, well-articulated, and compliant proposals. Focus on keeping overheads low by partnering with a company like ProposalHelper for professional proposal writing and proposal management solutions.
Tip # 5: Sole Source is not guaranteed but don’t assume they are impossible either.
One of the biggest advantages of being a certified 8(a) company is the ability agencies have to direct an award to your company. Regulations 13 CFR 124 and FAR 19.8 govern the SBA 8(a) program but it is incumbent upon you to help your customers understand how these regulations can be used to direct an award to your company. This means you need to study and understand the regulations fully and therefore be able to help overcome the myths and barriers to their use. ProposalHelper’s focused proposal writing techniques have helped clients get directed awards starting with a response to a Sources Sought Notice. How you respond to the market research questions has a lot to do with understanding the regulations. With the same information that the entire industry had, ProposalHelper has been able to successfully convert Sources Sought responses to directed awards for our clients and you can too.
These five pearls are just the tip of an iceberg. Getting an 8(a) certification should be seen as one of many tools in your arsenal of growth strategies. It is an important one but it will not last forever. Use it well, use it wisely, and leverage it for all the benefits that come with it.
Date Published: 27 Month 2020
Author: Reena Bhatia, CEO ProposalHelper and BidExecs
Contributor: Joey Carmichael
Publisher: ProposalHelper LLC
Article published by ProposalHelper. All copyright rights reserved. ProposalHelper is a leading Business Intelligence and Proposal Management solutions company headquartered in the Washington DC metro area. Our company is celebrating its 10th year in business. We have supported over 3000 proposals across 11 different industry domains earning our clients over $2.5 billion dollars in contracts.