This week on NVTC’s blog, Jim McCarthy of member company AOC Key Solutions Jim McCarthy of member company AOC Key Solutions shares suggestions for not only surviving, but also thriving amidst the occasional dysfunction in government contracting.


When you win, government contracting is among the most satisfying of careers. Unfortunately, the crucible we call a Proposal Center can, at times, degenerate into a witches’ brew of dysfunction. One where there exists a dark confluence of long hours, suboptimal working conditions, relentless deadlines, hidden agendas, political infighting, rampant egos, intractable issues, morose review teams, cranky bosses, and cold pizza. No wonder proposals sometime magnify the worst in us. But, when handled correctly, dysfunction can also spark the finest in us. Here are suggestions for not only surviving, but thriving, amidst the occasional toxicity endemic to Government Contracting.

1. Be a Part of the Solution, Government Proposals are hard enough. Commit from day one not to be part of the problem. Be part of the solution—a breath of fresh air in the war room. Offer constructive suggestions.  Be a problem solver, not a problem compounder.

2. Regard It As an Opportunity to Learn. Get metaphysical. Discern why you are going through this time of adversity and testing. What lesson are you being taught? Be open.

3. Remember the Mission. Your company is bidding an important contract. By helping it win, you help your company help others. Take solace that you are part of something worthwhile that matters.

4. Focus on Positives, Not Negatives. Radiate enthusiasm. Don’t be a black hole absorbing all light and energy from the proposal. Count continuously the things going right.

5. Help a Colleague. Make it about others, not you. Volunteer. Help those sharing the foxhole with you. Look for another person—perhaps younger than you, and commit to making him or her a success. Helping others animates even the most grueling proposal.

6. Support Your Boss. Under pressure? Imagine what confronts your leader. Help ease the hard times squeezing the boss. Be loyal. Give the boss the benefit of the doubt. Speak highly of him or her.

7. Don’t Take It Personally. Problems are endemic to life, business, and proposals. Check your ego at the reception desk. Be objective rather than internalizing the dysfunction.

8. Examine Yourself First. Before playing the blame game, reflect on how you may be part of the problem. Anger, resentment, frustration, and finger-pointing are infectious. Often, we are most critical of others in the very areas where we are weakest.

9. Change What Is Under Your Control, Accept the Rest. Stress and worry contribute not one iota to solving anything. Fix what you can. Change how you think about everything else. Shifting one’s attitude typically brings about altered behavior.

10. Watch Your Mouth.  Don’t whine, gossip, backbite, nitpick, rumor monger, second-guess, engage in character assassination, question another’s motives, or utter any comments that erode the sense of the proposal team. Don’t pour gasoline on the fire. Bad karma in a proposal center eventually dooms your efforts.

11. Take the Pause That Refreshes. As you near a crescendo or breaking point, leave. Take a walk. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit in your car. Breathe. Use a quick break to center yourself. Once renewed, rejoin the fray and redouble your efforts.

12. Maintain Work Life Balance. You cannot perform your best when you feel your worst.  Diet, exercise, spirituality, family involvement, quiet time, hobbies, reading, healthy sleep habits—first take care of yourself. Only then are you equipped for the proposal grind.

13. Set a Good Example. People are watching you. You are either a good role model or a bad one.  It really does come down to the choice you make.

14. Sweat Not the Small Stuff. And, as author Richard Carlson says on occasions, “it’s all small stuff.”

15. Invoke Your Pressure Release Mechanism.  Tamp down on the valve to discharge steam when needed.  Keep your outlook positive, not pressurized. If you don’t have a release mechanism, find one.

16.  Act Gently and Cultivate Empathy. Never pile on. Don’t tread on those are already weighed down. Lighten another’s load. Observe your teammates, allies, critics, and rivals–you may think you know what they are going through, but you don’t. Like you, everyone is on a private journey with rocky patches. Everyone stumbles—if not today, then soon. Be an encourager.

By applying these suggestions, you emerge from adversity, stronger, more resilient, and better equipped to handle the next challenge. Surely, it will come—not if, but when.


Jim McCarthy is the Founder & Principal of AOC Key Solutions, a proposal consulting firm dedicated to helping companies win government contracts. Mr. McCarthy’s career spans over 30 years of proposal development, market strategy, and oral presentation coaching to federal contractors. Learn more at www.aockeysolutions.com

 

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10 Keys to Small Business Teaming

April 20th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, Jim McCarthy of member company AOC Key Solutions shares how small businesses can gain a market foothold, offset vulnerabilities, obtain site knowledge, open doors to a larger key personnel pool, or spread risks and bid costs through teaming. McCarthy provides ten keys to developing contracting relationships.


Instances of the “lone wolf” pursuit of a government contract by a single prime contractor are vanishing. Today, multi-company teaming arrangements are more the rule than the exception. Companies now team to gain a market foothold, offset vulnerabilities, obtain site knowledge, open doors to a larger key personnel pool, or spread risks and bid costs.

For small businesses (SBs) especially, a teaming arrangement may be the most viable strategy for growth and prosperity. Too often, however, despite best efforts, SBs fail to land on a team. Or worse perhaps, lacking leverage as they cut deals with the prime that are just empty promises. What is a SB to do?

Try these 10 keys to small business teaming:

  1. Isolate on a primary need of the agency. This requires diligent research and early market intelligence.
  2. Establish a relationship with the customer with the need. Persistence and patience are paramount to gain face time.
  3. Get smarter about the need than anyone. Invest time and energy to do your homework.
  4. Devise and package a solution to meet the need. Solve the problem. Provide the features of your plan, but be sure to focus on customer benefits. Test-drive your plan with the customer.
  5. Hit the streets to spark interest. Contact every potential prime interested in the opportunity. For bait, tell the prime that you alone have the solution to the customer’s pain.
  6. Set the hook. Forecast how you can earn the prime N number of evaluation points by solving the customer’s problem. Be bold yet credible.
  7. Gain leverage. Hint at your solution — but give details only in exchange for a place on the team. But not just any place. Insist on precise terms in writing — a set scope of work (“swim lane”) with a guaranteed level of effort contingent upon contract award to your prime. Be prepared to walk. If one prime will not play ball, go to another.
  8. Offer something else value-added. Deliver a subject matter expert to help with the proposal. At no cost, prepare 100 percent compliant proposal text for your swim lane. Cover your own B&P costs. Participate for free on color review teams. Offer a candidate key person for bidding. Fund your transition costs if the team is successful.
  9. Sign your deal. Not just a handshake, but get the terms and conditions in writing. Execute non-disclosure agreements and non-competes.
  10. Deliver. Don’t forget to circle back to your original customer to inform him/her that you will be delivering your solution as part of [name of prime contractor]‘s powerful team. Then meet your commitments just as you would expect the prime to meet its promises.

There is no free lunch. Give something of value to get something of value. Appeal to the best competitive instincts of the primes. Deliver what counts: as a team member present additional evaluation points that make the difference in winning. In so doing, not only do you meet a primary need of the government, but you earn (and deserve) a legitimate place at the team table.


Jim McCarthy is the founder and principal of AOC Key Solutions, a proposal consulting firm dedicated to helping companies win government contracts. Mr. McCarthy’s career spans over 30 years of proposal development, market strategy, and oral presentation coaching to federal contractors. Learn more at www.aockeysolutions.com

For more information on what NVTC has to offer for small businesses and entrepreneurs, check out the NVTC Small Business and Entrepreneur Committee. The committee hosts various programs, including a yearly teaming and contracting event for small companies interested in government contracting. At the event, small businesses can discuss partnering or subcontracting with large companies and meet with government agencies and their small business offices from the federal, state and local level about how to do business with them. 

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This week on NVTC’s blog, member company Venable shares “Performance Requirements and Small Business Contracting,”part two of their five part series on the SBA’s Proposed Rules to Implement the 2013 NDAA. This post focuses on identity of interest, size protests, NAICS appeals, and certificates of competency.


Identity of Interest 
The SBA’s proposed rule clarifies what constitutes an “identity of interest” leading to affiliation. The current regulation states that affiliation arises when two or more people or entities “have identical or substantially identical business or economic interests.” The proposed rule specifies in more detail that “firms owned or controlled by married couples, parties to a civil union, parents and children, and siblings are presumed to be affiliated with each other if they conduct business with each other.” This presumption is rebuttable, and can be overcome by demonstrating a “clear line of fracture.” Notably, under the proposed rule, types of familial relationships other than those specified expressly do not lead to a presumption of affiliation.The SBA also proposes a presumption of identity of interest by virtue of economic dependence if a concern derives at least 70% of its receipts from another entity. The current rule does not specify an exact percentage that leads to economic dependence, and the SBA believes that this additional guidance will offer greater clarity. The proposed rule indicates that this presumption can be rebutted, for example when a new entity has only received a few contracts.

The Bottom Line: What You Should Know

Contractors should carefully evaluate and track their existing relationships to ensure unintended affiliations have not arisen. The proposed rule also offers significant additional guidance to contractors moving forward, by specifying exactly what familial relationships and percentage of economic dependence lead to a presumption of affiliation. Contractors should bear in mind, however, that even if their business relationships do not trigger a presumption of affiliation via identity of interest, the SBA still considers affiliation under a totality of the circumstances; other factors, therefore, could still lead to a finding of affiliation.

Size Protests

The SBA’s proposed rule would redefine the parties that have standing to file a size protest. The proposed change refines the language to allow “[a]ny offeror that the contracting officer has not eliminated from consideration for any procurement related reason, such as non-responsiveness, technical unacceptability or outside of the competitive range,” to bring a size protest. According to the SBA, the “intent is to provide standing to any offeror that is in line or consideration for award,” but bar protest by offerors that have been eliminated for reasons unrelated to size.

Additionally, the SBA proposes to add a regulatory provision authorizing the SBA’s Director, Office of Government Contracting, to initiate a formal size determination in connection with eligibility for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned as well as Women-Owned and Economically-Disadvantaged Women-Owned small business concerns.

The Bottom Line: What You Should Know

Under the proposed rule, contractors will have more clarity as to the circumstances under which they may bring a size protest. The proposed rule is explicit that entities eliminated from a competition for procurement related reasons do not have standing to initiate a size protest. Moreover, contractors should be aware that the SBA Director, Office of Government Contracting, may initiate a formal size determination.

NAICS Appeals

The SBA has requested comments on the appropriate timeline for filing a NAICS code appeal. Currently, a company must serve and file an appeal from a contracting officer’s NAICS code or size standard designation “within 10 calendar days after the issuance of the solicitation or amendment affecting the NAICS code or size standard.” This current rule was designed to work within procurements where offerors have 30 days from the date the solicitation is issued to submit an offer. However, in light of the fact that the 30-day window is not applicable to all procurements, and that NAICS code appeals are frequently decided within days of the procurement closing, the SBA is analyzing whether the rule is adequate for those procurements that do not require offerors to submit offers within 30 days after the solicitation is issued.

To determine an appropriate timeline, the SBA intends to consider the following factors:

  • How much time does the contracting officer need to amend the solicitation and notify interested parties of the pending NAICS code appeal?
  • How much time is needed for an interested party to draft and file a response to the NAICS code or size determination?
  • How much time is needed by the Office of Hearings Appeals to review the record and determine whether the NAICS code assignment “is based on a clear error of fact or law and issue a decision?”

In addition, the SBA seeks comments on what impact a NAICS code appeal should have on a solicitation. The current regulations require a contracting officer to “stay the solicitation.” The SBA seeks comments on whether the regulations should be amended to state that the contracting officer or the agency should delay the response date for the bid or offer.

The Bottom Line: What You Should Know

Contractors should continue to monitor this provision to see whether the timelines for a NAICS code appeal are amended. If there ultimately is a change, contractors must ensure that appeals and any comments thereon are timely.

Certificates of Competency

The SBA proposes to amend the Certificate of Competency (COC) Program where an apparently successful offeror for an IDIQ task order or contract is found non-responsible due to its financial capacity. Under the proposed change, if a contracting officer finds an offeror for an IDIQ task order or contract non-responsible due to its financial capacity, the SBA Area Director would review the concern’s “maximum financial capacity.” Should the Area Director issue a COC, it will be for a specific amount that sets the limit of the firm’s financial capacity for that contract. While the proposed change permits a contracting officer to exceed this amount, it prohibits the contracting officer from denying the firm an award based on financial grounds if the firm has not reached the identified capacity limit set out in the COC.

The Bottom Line: What You Should Know

Under the proposed rule, small businesses must take reasonable steps to ensure that they can readily demonstrate a high maximum financial capability. If a COC is issued that establishes the firm’s maximum financial capability, companies should monitor their financial capacity so that they are in a position to persuade the contracting officer to exceed the financial capacity limitation, or ensure that they do not pursue a task order that might put them over their identified financial capacity and potentially render them ineligible for contract award.

Submitting Comments

Contractors wishing to submit comments on these proposed rules can do so through regulations.gov by searching for RIN: 3245-AG58. Comments are due by February 27, 2015.


Continue following Venable’s Small Business Series for additional analysis and take-aways from the SBA’s proposed rule implementing the 2013 NDAA. If you have any questions about how these proposed rules could affect your business, please contact any of Venable’s authors: Keir BancroftPaul DeboltDismas LocariaRob BurtonRebecca PearsonJames BolandNathaniel Canfield, or Anna Pulliam.

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