The decision to concentrate or divide your forces is difficult, whether you are a general commanding an Army or an entrepreneur running a small business. The “wide or deep” deployment choice for federal business seekers does have several important route markers along the way, and these can be useful to guiding a company’s growth:
- Be realistic: Knowing the suitability of your product or service that can work across multiple agencies can pay big dividends, at least measured in costly detours avoided. As an example, when Obamacare was first announced, many businesses ran to the Department of Health and Human Services. Their solutions did not fit the department’s need, demanded too much customization or would not scale properly. These entrepreneurs came away empty handed. Here, knowing whether a problem-solving technique or technology success is repeatable from one agency to the next is a key consideration.
- Being deep can yield results too: A small business may have limited business development resources but, by keeping an ear close to the ground in your agency, you may hear about big opportunities. By sticking close to the “home,” incumbents become very accustomed to the culture, norms and spending behavior of the agency and may even be able to drop a word or two that shapes future procurement directions.
- Be ready to roll–in good times or bad: Sadly, the continuity of your business at a particular agency may depend on factors that have nothing to do with your program performance. Government agencies pass in and out of favor with each passing Administration. The funding levels and future prospects of federal programs rise and fall on a regular basis. These sorts of changes should leave truly savvy entrepreneurs with no room for complacency. Being too single-threaded becomes a significant liability. Knowing when to jump may be as important as knowing where to jump, and having a plan for successfully accomplishing both simply makes good business sense.
- Be a known quantity (and a proven quantity): Agency program managers and other key personnel change jobs and agencies frequently. Human nature being what it is, people prefer to work with people they know and trust. The job switch of a program manager who is familiar with your company’s work may be the ideal opportunity to establish a new business beachhead. The ability to jump depends, of course, on building a positive reputation from the start.
- Be a smoke detector: Know when the business development job-seeker offering to get you into a new agency is peddling smoke. I have had multiple opportunities to hire a candidate based on that individual’s ability to get me meetings with this or that agency. Of course not all meetings are quality meetings. This “rainmaker” may have agency relationships that have grown cold, old or were never particularly strong in the first place. Only adequate due diligence can help an entrepreneur see through the smoke of puffed up job seeker claims and determine whether a real new business opportunity exists.
For every small business entrepreneur facing a tough “wide or deep” decision, having an internal process that demands competitive analysis, rigorous pipeline development, dynamic teaming and related factors can make the choice—if not obvious—at least much easier.