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Obtaining Business Requires Creativity

March 1, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor
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Small business must first "decide what they want to be when they grow up," according to advice from experts at the AFCEA International Homeland Security Conference. If entrepreneurs don't take time to think through the vision for their start-up, it is unlikely that they will be able to choose the right partners, network with the right individuals or approach the right government agencies to obtain business, they agreed. Although many government agencies have small business offices to facilitate business development, the onus remains on small business owners to build relationships. Paul Sullivan, chief executive officer, Cyber Space Solutions and DHS protégé of L-3 Stratis, recommended that after entrepreneurs has determined the future of their companies, they should closely align themselves with companies and customers that support that vision. Small business owners in the audience also were advised to partner with companies that believe in their mission and their products and services. Business owners should seek relationships with large companies that not only believe in the entrepreneur's ability to succeed but also can learn from what the small business has to offer. Sullivan pointed out that this groundwork will lead to a stronger relationship in which the small business will actually realize work during the partnership, and it could lead to an acquisition in the future. To build strong relationships, members of the panel recommended small business owners take advantage of networking opportunities at conferences, attend industry days to glean some insight into government agencies and do their homework before meeting with large companies or government department procurement managers. Too often, someone with a good idea and a small savings account has a good solution but fails to determine if the corporation or agency they are meeting with needs that solution. Research can be done not only on the Web but by contacting others in a similar business specialty, both large and small, and visiting several government agencies to set up a meeting-not give a sales pitch-either at the agency or at their own place of business. Oftentimes, procurement officers are interested in getting out in the field, so small business owners should not write off the idea of offering an invitation.

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