I met someone recently who is a consultant at a large organization. We started talking about our various consulting efforts, and I mentioned that I do a lot of work with government agencies. “Oh,” he said, “does that mean you are on the GSA schedule?” I explained that I am not. When I mentioned that I worked with my wife, he asked if she owns 51% of the business so that we can be a woman-owned business and be eligible for more bidding opportunities. Again, my answer was no. “So do you bid on lots of government projects?” No, again. As a matter of fact, I told him that I’ve never directly bid on a single government project. “So how do you get work?” he asked.
I explained to him that, in fact, I do manage to get work – both Federal government work and private sector work – without ever directly bidding on any project. I’ve blogged before about colleagues vs. competitors and concluded that I’d rather have colleagues than competitors. But my business strategy goes even further than that. In fact, my primary goal is to put my business development energy into meeting colleagues, meeting lots and lots of colleagues, and to really know them and have them know me. I want to know who to turn to when I need help, and I want them to know who to turn to when they need help.
The value of a strong network
What I’ve built over the past four years – and what has accelerated in the past two years, is a phenomenally large network of my peers. My peers, my colleagues, ask me if they can write me into their bids, and assuming that the project makes sense to take on, should they win, I more often than not say yes. I’m happy to get a new and often exciting project out of the deal, and they get to make a profit off of my hours.
Who to represent
Sometimes, certainly, my peers for the client company and pull me in directly to a project. Often, however, Lebsontech sub-contracts from the prime contractor. In some of those cases, the prime doesn’t mind if my staff and I represent Lebsontech as a sub-contracting organization. That is usually preferred as it keeps things simple – I don’t have to worry about the email address I send from, and I can use my own business cards and worry less about how I represent myself.
Other times a prime asks me and my staff to “white label” and represent them without overtly representing my own company. And I’ll do it, knowing that it’s not perfect. While a quick Google search of my name yields several thousand results, starting with my social media profiles and my website, I’ll still certainly do my best to do what they want.
How valuable is company growth?
One client once said to me, “I’m worried about you. You don’t seem to want your company to grow.”
While it’s true I’m enjoying managing a company with only three staff for the moment, I wouldn’t say it’s true that I don’t want my company to grow. On the other hand, I don’t see any compelling reason to push growth. I’m not seeking to expand or to become a threat to my colleagues. If I get the level of effort that would require extra staff, I’d be comfortable adding staff, but a work load that requires more than three people has been transient, so either I have taken on extra work-load in the short term, or else I have turned to my colleagues and sub-contracted work out too. It’s comfortable, it’s non-threatening, and it works.
The Lebsontech business strategy
In a nut shell, not only do I legitimately not want to be a threat to my peers, but I actually rely on this strategy to get work. While it might seem haphazard to wait and let my colleagues ask for my help when needed, it’s a business strategy that allows me and my staff to have a steady flow of work without having to spend time or energy competing with others. It’s a business strategy that earns me respect and assures that I am not a threat. It’s a business strategy that is comfortable and sustainable provided that I’m willing to put my business development efforts primarily into networking.
How valuable is being non-threatening to you?
My advice to small business owners or those doing business development is this: Consider the value of being seen as a threat vs. being seen as non-threatening. Consider the value of always being there for those that need you, versus going off on your own and blazing a trail entirely separate from, and perhaps in competition to, your peers. Then adapt your business strategy to support what you believe will really help you and satisfy you in the long run.
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