Telling it like it is.

Kathryn Grill-HoeppelYou might be able to tell by my previous posts: federal contracting isn’t easy.

In fact, it is genuinely hard. It’s a very cut-throat and not always fair reality and, despite every effort and perseverance through an unending sea of rejection, contracting might prove to be a bad fit for even the heartiest and most resourceful among us. I just broke a string of 20 rejected proposals in the past 7 months. The rejection is practically paralyzing.

Here’s some of what I’m trying to do in order not to lose my GSA contract:

• Finding the time to develop sales strategies to improve odds of winning competitive bids – then implementing them.

• Implementing changes to existing contract services in order to be able to bid on more RFPs.

• Spending time with market research and further developing a comprehensive business plan for the purposes of getting bank financing in place to support a payroll and other needs for bigger contracts.

• Researching and lobbying program managers and purchasers for meetings to develop relationships with them. The goal is for them to become my advocate within a federal organization’s small business development office, and connect me to purchasers within their organization that buy what I sell. This requires a lot of research, time and effort, especially when it’s a major challenge just getting these folks to call or email back.

GSA contractors have strict criteria that must be met annually in order to keep that contract. Oh yes, your contract can be revoked if you don’t make enough money for the GSA (which, like many other federal organizations, do not receive tax-funded appropriations. Instead, they receive funding through a percentage of all billable work GSA contractors earn – it’s called the Industrial Funding Fee, or IFF.) GSA contracts are periodically reviewed to ensure they are meeting these criteria, along with a host of other regulations and administrative requirements.

Although I’m good with the admin stuff. I’m short of the financial goal by almost half. That’s despite all my most aggressive efforts over the last 18 months. I can prove I’ve been actively marketing my contract, and vigorously responding to RFP opportunities. Along with all the other means by which I’m hoping to increase my odds for winning sales, I hope the GSA reviewers will see it my way, and allow me to keep my contract. I will do everything I can do to generate the sales I need, and hope that the next four months will somehow prove to be more successful than the last 18 have. I admit, I don’t feel like the odds are on my side.

Life isn’t always fair. I’m preparing myself now for what Plan B might be if my GSA contract is revoked.

As with many things, I plan for the worst, and hope for the best. While I’d be crushed if the GSA contract I worked so hard to keep is taken away from me, I don’t have it in me to give up.

Has anyone else out there pursued federal contract work with more success?

4 thoughts on “Telling it like it is.

  1. Cynthia Fowler

    Our firm has been on the GSA schedule for several years. You’re right. It’s a tough road. The hardest part for us is investing the time to submit a proposal and then the agency pulls the contract with no award. Everyone loses. We’ve become very careful about choosing RFPs and seldom respond to them if we have no previous relationship with the agency. The SBA representatives haven’t opened any doors for us yet. If you can win one contract, it really makes a difference in finding more work for that department or agency. Have you tried subcontracting with larger firms?

  2. Kathryn Hoeppel

    Thanks Cynthia! I’ve long-admired your website, as well as the contributions Graves Fowler makes to our local design community here in DC. Your suggestions are much appreciated, and your comments here certainly ring familiar. I’ve been doing my all to build a long-term rapport with the contracts I have won, and will take your suggestion to heart and try to build new business within those departments or agencies!

    I have, indeed, subcontracted, and continue to seek out opportunities for these as well as teaming and other potential win-wins — when there are enough hours in the day, that is! Many thanks again for your suggestions Cynthia!

  3. Kathryn Grill Hoeppel

    There’s plenty of opportunity to build new labor categories into the services you offer as a design professional. You can do this in the commercial space or on a GSA contract with the requisite documentation (invoices, past projects showing this service, etc.) Personally though, I’d have a tough time maintaining consistently strong skills in BOTH design AND copy. Unless you’re extremely gifted in both capacities and have ample time on your hands to manage two very different responsibilities, I’d advise offering all the services under your business, but providing only the few services yourself that you feel are your strong suit. Have a reliable freelance or independent studio support you with the rest. While it’s great to have multiple skill sets, there are only so many hours in the day. So, I’d concentrate on the things that you do best, and outsource the rest.