There is strength in numbers

Small-business partners can go after big contracts

Richard Rea, president and chief executive officer of R. Rea Corp., an 8(a) high-tech services company in Clinton, Md., said his firm was one of many small businesses that recently received a request for information on a five-year, $500 million task order from the General Services Administration for a centrally managed information technology infrastructure.

Many small-business owners would view the job as too big, but Rea went after the work as the prime contractor.

Small businesses are often relegated to subcontractor roles as big firms snap up the prime contracts. “This is the battle we constantly fight,” Rea said.

The task order involves upgrading and maintaining GSA’s IT infrastructure, and it came through Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services (STARS), a governmentwide acquisition contract created for small 8(a) firms. Many of the companies that were qualified to compete passed up the opportunity, believing that GSA was asking for more than they could offer.

Rea responded to the RFI because he said he has the experience to do the work. When he is given a large contracting opportunity, he said, his strategy is to find a business partner — maybe another 8(a) company — to join him.

Small businesses can, and must, rise to such challenges, industry experts say.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want the federal government to come back and say, ‘Look, we gave small firms a chance, but they just aren’t ready for the bigger deals,’” said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

Gus Echevarria, president of TechnoSource Information Systems, said he believes that forming teams is a simple and effective way for small companies to take on large task orders. But he acknowledged that it isn’t always easy.

“To find other small businesses that can fit with you for this type of effort will take some due diligence,” he said. “Homework, homework, homework.”

Dale Posthumus, business development manager for the technology consulting company LinguaLISTek, said the important key to finding partners is building relationships with other companies that have shared interests. Meetings and organizations provide venues for finding those partners, he added.

Posthumus said he develops contacts with possible future partners at roundtables, luncheons and conferences.

Kerrigan said pursuing a contract by teaming with other small businesses is a practical strategy that will take bold thinking by contractors because winning big opportunities requires a good deal of interaction and teamwork.

Companies need to anticipate opportunities like the recent RFI and develop a network of small contractors that have the capabilities, interests and energy to tackle large opportunities, Kerrigan said.

Guy Timberlake, CEO of the American Small Business Coalition, said not every small business is ready for big contracts. He said small-business owners should base their decisions on their best corporate interests, keeping past performance in mind. Ultimately, the acquisition strategy and evaluation criteria will determine whether to go after a bigger piece of the pie.

Agencies are under pressure to increase their contract work with small businesses, and some top government officials also advocate it. GSA Administrator Lurita Doan said the $500 million task order presents an enormous opening for small businesses.

“Rather than looking at it as something that is too big,” she said, “the minority business community needs to say, ‘Our time has come.’”

The small-business community has to be ready for such opportunities, Kerrigan said. However, she understands that there is some hesitancy and frustration.

“This could be an excellent opportunity for the small-business community to band together and claim a sizable, collective victory,” Rea said.

Timberlake said small businesses could vie for the contract as long as GSA is willing to consider past performance and the capacity of the teaming partners.

It could also change the way small businesses are viewed when future large-scale opportunities arise, Timberlake said.


Thinking bigExperts say small businesses that want to go after big contracts should:

  • Focus on contracts they can accomplish.

  • Do their homework on other small businesses as possible partners.

  • Attend conferences, meetings, roundtables and industry groups to network with other firms.

  • Look for trends as agencies guide more large contracts to small businesses.

  • Watch for opportunities.

  • Be aggressive.

  • Recognize contracts as opportunities.

  • Be instrumental in changing the landscape for small businesses in government contracting.

— Matthew Weigelt

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