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Episode 4 of Government Contracting A to Z is especially important for our small business government contractors. If you are involved with developing and growing your firm’s public sector sales, then today’s show is for you!
With today’s guest, we will get into:
· The 8(A) application process
· Some common misconceptions about becoming an 8(A) certified firm
· The positive and negative impacts of becoming an 8(a) firm
· And how you can THRIVE as an 8(a) firm
Hello and welcome! My name is Kevin Lancaster, managing partner of Winvale and the host of Government Contracting A to Z where our goal is to provide you, the listener, the aspiring or receiving government contract with the latest insights, trends and the newsmakers in the world of government contracting. I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to listen in today and I'm extremely excited to be sharing this episode with you and hope you find a lot of value in today's program along with the many more episodes to come. So before we get started, I would be remiss as always if I did not encourage all of our listeners to head over to our sponsor site Winvale and find out how we can help accelerate your government sales, marketing and contract opportunities including the development of the GSA schedule contract. The site is www.winvale.com. Okay, enough of the plugs. Today's episode, episode 4, it is especially important for all of our small business government contractors who are contemplating who have questions about entering the 8(a) set aside program. It will involve the developing or growing your firms, public sector sales and today's episode is for you. So with today's guest we'll get into the 8(a) application process is actually from the point of view of a current 8(a) certified firm. Some misconceptions about becoming an 8(a) certified firm, the positive and negative impact of becoming an 8(a) firm and how you can focus and then thrive as a 8(a). So with that I'm grateful to have my good friend, Mike Peart CEO of i4DM joining me today as our industry expert. I have known Mike for the better part of 4 or 5 years now and I'm delight to have him participate. So I'll give you a little bit of background of Mike from his bio here. Mike is a co-founder of i4DM. He has more than 25 years experience in the technology field having held senior management position and the number of mid-size consulting firms. His roles have included business process engineer, network consultant, practice manager, and the director of application development.
Mike is a result driven professional with extensive experience and leading individuals and teams as well as implementing and overseeing technology program. Mike earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Maryland _2:33_ in information system and management with a concentration on database technologies. So with that I want to welcome Mike Peart. And Mike, if you can give me your background on your role as CEO of i4DM and what are you guys are focus today?
Sure. i4DM is an information technology company. Our focus is business intelligence, although we serve multiple aspects of IT but we cannot really specialize in BI which is basically a lot of date analytics, data mining things of that nature. We do some custom application development. We do a lot of Microsoft stuff. We do some Oracle stuff and we work primarily for -- well I guess we work in all three sectors. We work in the commercial, the state government and in the federal government doing those things that I just mentioned.
Awesome, great. So in today's topic is the 8(a) process and what it takes to enter, I guess the title is survive and then thrive, so we'll run down a couple of questions here and just in case -- from your perspective, you know, tell us about the process that you went through the 8(a) application process and would it entail, was it arduous, was it quick, was it painless. What does that process like?
As I remember, the process was not too arduous. Actually, it was relatively easy. They have a package, they also have relatively inexpensive applications that you can buy, the kind that walk you through filling out the package and it's a ton of paperwork. It's just monotonous, I think it's probably the right word.
Yeah. Is it once you submit the package, is it you know, sit and wait for a number of months or is it a quick response?
Well, I did it 10 years ago and as I remember it, it took six months or less between the time I submitted it to the time I was certified and there was a little bit of back and forth because you always forget a piece of paper or something or they want clarification unless you were done. It was pretty straightforward. I didn't have any issue with that. So getting in is not really the problem.
Yeah, I'm sure we'll talk about the problems here in a moment. So what are some of those common misconceptions about becoming 8(a) certified and I know and we say this on the GSA schedule where we companies to the process of being on GSA schedule. A lot of our clients thinking about and say "Well, we're on the schedule and where are the dollars, you know, where are my contracts?" Are there misconceptions like that or there are kind of rules of the road as far as once your getting on or, you know, getting on the 8(a)?
Yes. Those -- and no matter how much we talk about it the misconceptions, they kind of just stay alive and it's because most of the companies that coming from the program are relatively young. We were already in business five years before we decided to go down the route of getting the certification for 8(a) but you find many companies that are only two years old and they have heard from more mature companies that "hey get the 8(a) certifications it's gonna be a good thing for you and you are going to grow, grow, grow" but nobody ever tells you the part about you have to do a lot of hard work before you grow, grow, grow. So there is a lot of misconceptions that once you get the certification people are just gonna be knocking on your door just trying to give you business because here you are this newly minted wonderful 8(a) and you are the only one by the way. So that's kind of misconception out there.
Right, because they don't understand how exactly, how may 8(a) are out there in fact.
Right. Yeah, there is a time.
Yeah, not just, you know, you may have that the latest whiz-bang or the best service or what have you but you've got, you know, we'll have to figure out those numbers by a 100,000 and would have you a thousand of companies that are on the 8(a) or an 8(a) certified organization that are saying the same thing about themselves.
So, okay, so is it been, you know, since becoming 8(a) it's been positive, it's been negative, you know, what has been the impact for i4DM?
The positive, it's been positive. It took us a while to kind of grow and use the certification. Again, we had a lot of business before we were doing this so and it is primarily our fault. We didn't pay attention to marketing the certification and telling people what we could do getting into different agencies but once we really kind of put our minds to it things really started to change quite rapidly. So it's been a good thing for us. The one thing you have to be careful of is not to become 100% 8(a) or reliant 100% on the 8(a) program because what's gonna happen is that you're going to graduate one day and if you're 100% invested and you don't diversify, you're going to have a problem on the way out.
And a lot of companies have gone out of business because they didn't learn how to compete without the 8(a) certification which is a big deal.
Yeah. So they will get elder contracts leading up to date the expiration of their term will be 8(a) and then, you know, once that designation goes away and they have to re-compete for it.
They're losing out on that.
Right, because they can't play anymore.
And it's compound -- to be issued compounded by you can't play anymore plus you don't know how to play without it and that's really the danger. If you don't know how to play without it you're not gonna be successful.
Absolutely, absolutely. So alright, so you mentioned the first couple of years, you kind of get on and really didn't do, you know, it wasn't occur, I guess, focus for you guys and then you kind of shift itself. Tell me about that shift and then, you know, how does that kind of translate into thriving as an 8(a) company?
Sure, well, what really causes us to kind of focus on it in the first place is we were being successful in the commercial market and we have indicators that, well the economy may not stay as great and robust as it was in 2007. So we kind of started to focus and actually we found your company back then -- I don't know if you remember that with...
Yeah, yeah. Sure.
We started to have a lot of conversations about how to use the certification, get into the game, some of your advice and then primarily marketing ourselves to -- we first came up with a business plan of which agencies we wanted to kind of target and then we just started marketing ourselves like crazy. We use your services, I hired some sales guys to be.
Typically focused on the 8(a) program and then we found our first opportunity. It took about a year -- a year and a half if I remember correctly.
The sales life cycle -- the sales cycle in the government market is a lot longer than it is in the commercial space.
That took us -- yeah, that took us a lot of getting used to. In the commercial market, you're like you need somebody, you kind of get to know him, three conversations then you're talking about let's do some business together. It doesn't work that....
Doesn't work that way.
It doesn't work that way in the government.
But, you know, once we got in, we start to use the certification kind of prove our capabilities. We continue to market, market, market to find other opportunities and then once you have a little bit of past performance it's an easier conversation the second time, it's even easier the third time but still all along the way you can prove yourself.
Yeah, so tell me about, you know, the things that you do, you know, you said market, market, market. Is that your people -- your sales people going in and just, you know, building relationships? Is that are you doing outbound messaging campaigns, or what type of marketing that has been successful for you guys?
For us, we're more of the personal touch kind of company. We do a lot more once we get into an agency, for example; we try to do -- we try to get to know as many people as possible. Different potential users of our service, we also get to know really well the contracting officer. To find out what other opportunities are out there. We try to get into other agencies through referrals. Kind of let them know what our story is, who we are, what we're currently working on and then, yes we do some campaign to kind of get our message out there. So, yes to all of the above.
Yeah, it has been multifaceted.
Absolutely, absolutely. So, you know, if you can speak to the listeners out there that are contemplating whether it's 8(a) or FDD or OSD or what have you these types of set aside certification. What's the best piece of advice that you give to somebody that's brought end to the process contemplating, you know, filling out the application of going down that set aside path? What's the first thing they should be thinking about?
Well the first -- well, let me answer that a little bit, probably I think that as a core you have to make sure that you have a good service and that you prepared to actually provide that good service to the government agency. It's one thing to get the certification. Like I said, I think that that was relatively easy but if you're not prepared to actually provide your service and actually grow and do the things that you promise, you gonna go quickly south. Right, then other thing is you also have to be prepared for growth because if you do get in and you are successful growth it may come quickly so you need to have all the things for you to have your finances in order you need to know that you can afford to bring people on, for example. You need to be prepared that you may not get paid a Net 30. I don't even know if Net 30 exists in the government. So there are a lot things that you have to be prepared for but you have to go with your eyes --you have to go in with your eyes open and you really have to be prepared to do a lot of work.
So that's really what you have to be ready for.
So give me a sense of now your client list or portfolio if you will in the government market place. Again, you could say, maybe four or five years ago you guys really started to put a lot of emphasis on it. Tell me about those contracts that you guys have now or agencies that you are working with.
I believe we're in about five agencies. Everything from the FDA to the USBA, HUD, DLA and, it's not an 8(a) contract, the Veterans Administration were also are better known company.
So we do a lot of work for the VA. So in that, we started from zero, five years ago and wherein those five agencies working on multiple contracts.
Okay. So were those contracts, are they ones that you guys got on the contract and you have been able to expand them, you know, through kind of that marketing that you talked about there is relationships or....
Are these all individual silent contracts?
Well, from agency to agency they are individual within the agency we have the once that I said we got multiple. They like the work that we did in the past so they, you know, they are nice enough to award us other things to do and then also we met every single expansion that has given us. So, when you get a contract in the government sometimes you get a base year and maybe three option years. We've got all of our option year renewed. So, you know, and then somewhere obviously talking about opening up another contract once the last option year expires.
Such great information, Mike. I can't thank you enough for coming on this show. To our listeners, be sure to get a full recap of Mike's interview and learn more about i4DM by checking out the show that's on our website, governmentcontract.com. Be sure to look on the Government Contracting A to Z page. I want to thank you, the listener for tuning in and helping make this podcast possible. If you like what you heard please do hop over the iTunes and leave some positive feedback on the show. If you like you could also follow me on Twitter my handle list @GovernmentSales and you can also follow Winvale on Twitter, their handle list @Winvale. You can certainly send in an email if you have a question on specific topic you like to learn more about that email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. This will help us to keep providing you the listener with more great content. So, until next time, we wish you the best and hope your government contracting initiatives are thriving.
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It's good to talk.