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From the desk of Elizabeth Moon...

5 Keys to Strategic Partnerships in Government Contracting                                           

Last month I attended a class in Crystal City, Virginia provided by the Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Program, which is funded by the Department of Defense, Defense Logistics Agency. Jim Bender of ZK Development shared his subject matter expertise specifically regarding strategic partnerships in government contracting. Let’s discuss some of the keys to smart partnering.

Why it may be good strategy for your company

For our small businesses that are new to the federal sector, there are many benefits to teaming up with other businesses when working to win contracts. These include:

  • Access to contracting mechanism/schedule.
  • Eliminate a competitor by becoming partners.
  • Gain information by providing your capability and learning skills from another company’s capabilities.
  • Connect to an agency or office.
  • Secure a facility.
  • Reach a new population or audience.
  • Share the financial risk and development costs.

Determine if your company is an attractive partner

First, consider answering the question, “Why do I want to buy from you?” Why would others want to partner with you?

  • What is your brand proposition?
  • What do you do?
  • How do you do it?
  • Each agency has its own culture--what is your agency experience?

Make it real and make it clear. (Jumping into the Innovation Shark Tank is a great way to hone your elevator pitch!)

Finding potential partners

Now that you know that you are interested in partnering and that you have something solid to offer other companies, where do you look? Here are some ideas:

  • Industry days.
  • Federal OSDBU Offices—Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
  • Resources like AFCEA’s Online Corporate Directory, FedBizOps, FEDMINE and GovWin.
  • Trade publications, digital media, LinkedIn.
  • My personal favorite: networking through trade associations (AFCEA is top-notch--listen to our Small Business Committee co-chairs take on this topic here.).

Pay attention to winners in your target agency. Confirm what they do and do not do. If possible, partner with the incumbent contractor or previous incumbent, but, whoever it is, make sure they know the agency.

Explore the potential partnership

Once you have identified the right candidate for partnership, get the first meeting and set the agenda.

  • Consider signing non-disclosure agreements.
  • Keep it light and be wary of people who overshare.
  • Document and follow up with a fearless examination of “SWOT”—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

Protect yourself as you move forward

If everything looks good at this point and you want to proceed, protect your company in the partnership. It is important to understand the assumptions from which both partners are operating.  Considerations could include:

  • Specify the management structure, handling of the award fee and causes for termination.
  • Remember that brilliance does not always win the day—process matters.
  • Ensure goal alignment and transparency, and give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

Wisdom from our Small Business Committee:

  • “Relationships at all levels (admin, accounting, PM, etc.). Three deep and three wide!”—Christine Lanning, Integrated Security Technologies, Inc.
  • “Follow the Golden Rule! Do unto your business and teaming partners, as you would have them do unto you.”—Eric Strauss, Connected Logistics
  • “I would say always look for the win-win in a relationship. It shouldn’t serve just one of the parties in a relationship, but all of them. It’s also a bonus if you can build a team that goes after future business together, as a team. From a risk management perspective, it lowers risk to see a team that’s worked and delivered together successfully before.” –Laura Owens, Treada Technology Group, LLC
  • “My mantra is ‘Trust by verify’. Do your due diligence on the claims your potential partner makes. I’m not saying don’t trust them....Check with their customers, fellow colleagues who have worked with them and run a D&B (Dun & Bradstreet report) as well as [looking at] other sources.” –Tan Wilson, Entellect
  • “Find partners with integrity.”—Douglas McGuire, GINIA, Inc.

With careful planning, you can balance flexibility and accountability and win more business!


For more from Elizabeth Moon or Katie Helwig, visit the Small Business News Archives.

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