Most small federal contractors struggle with consistent profitable revenue growth given the complexity and inefficiency of federal procurement. Many founding CEO's - particularly if they have a technical background - will eventually need or want to seek help from others. This help can be in the form of outsourced BD professionals, management consultants, training firms and executive coaches, or hiring experienced BD staff as employees. Anecdotally, all of these seem to be epic failures. Who's to blame? The people being hired or the company doing the hiring?
While there is no single best answer to this critical question, the following are a few of my observations over the last 25 years:
1. Companies seeking to hire a BD consultant should be clear about what they really need. Do they just need someone to open up doors in an agency for a specific upcoming opportunity or contract vehicle? If so, an ex-government employee with good relationships that can be leveraged immediately might be a good short term choice.
2. Does the CEO wish to develop BD infrastructure: people, systems, processes etc. to pursue multiple opportunities to help the company reach the next level? In this case, a federal BD Management Consultant with experience in understanding the various sales, marketing, capture and proposal roles involved in business development and in planning, budgeting and building cost effective, repeatable BD practices, and then coaching the team on execution and accountability, is best.
3. If the small business has had some successes but the BD team needs help building a pipeline and improving it's skills, hiring a BD consultant that only performs market research and provides staff training might be adequate.
4. The hiring company should be clear about their expectations and ask tough questions of the prospective consultant. When you build a pipeline for us, do you detail specific winning strategies for upcoming opportunities or do you just provide a list of opportunities that satisfy our keywords and NAICS? To what extent do you pursue GWAC's and task orders? Do you actually represent us in the marketplace and meet with agency and contractor stakeholders? If so, who else do you represent? Where do you leave off and others on our team take over? How do you keep track of your time and milestone achievements? How do you measure success? What do you NOT do that other consultant's might offer? (caution: If they say they do everything, that's a red flag). Have you actually owned or managed a small govcon company (nothing like having been in your shoes)? How do you transfer your knowledge and connections to us? Will you be available to us on an ongoing basis if we need you? When will I know that your job is done?
5. If you have decided NOT to hire a consultant but only to build your BD team with employees, the decision is not any easier. Do you hire someone with 20 years of experience or 5 years of experience? How do you track performance in the federal government's notoriously long procurement cycle? How do you compensate them before a contract is awarded? What traits are proven precursors to success in this unique, regulated marketplace? How do you retain good people in a highly competitive labor market?
Despite this appearing to be overwhelming, industry best practices for growing small businesses in the federal sector do exist. There is no single business model that is the key to success, but there are organizing principles, strategies, leadership skills and organizational disciplines that are apparent in small businesses that have figured out how to grow and prosper in the opportunity rich federal marketplace.