United States military veterans learned to win in combat. Now, as entrepreneurs and business owners, they are learning to win at government contracting.
The U.S. Small Business Administration provides tools and training to help veteran-owned businesses compete for government contracts. Veterans can learn how to find contracting opportunities, how to bid effectively and how to promote their experience and capabilities.
The total value of government contracts is estimated at $4 trillion annually – a vast and lucrative market.
The SBA’s Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) offers training programs on business topics such as accounting, strategic planning, cybersecurity, human resources, business insurance, marketing and finance. Advanced courses cover risk management, joint ventures and international business. Courses are offered in classroom or virtual, all at no charge.
VIP “helps you make better decisions to grow your business,” said SBA district director Antonio Doss during a fall 2020 webinar called “Arming Vets to Win in the Federal Market.”
“Business owners don’t know everything. We are here to give guidance and help veteran-owned business grow and sustain.”
As businesses struggle with the pandemic and economic slump, the VIP program is more important than ever, said SBA National Director Barbara Ashe.
“We arm veterans to win. The VIP program teaches businesses to compete and win in the face of challenges,” she said. “The VIP community connects grads with exclusive opportunities. VIP companies are procurement ready.”
Relationships, Collaboration Are Key
Beyond business skills, participants say relationships and networking are key benefits. They leave VIP with a ready-made network of government agencies, business associates, strategic partnerships and mentors.
Denise Davis, CEO of Vet Global Solutions, said she and her VIP classmates meet twice a month to collaborate on government RFIs and contracts.
“I used my VIP bible to work the program and win my first government contract. You don’t have to solve the puzzle yourself. You can use your relationships, peers and support systems. You can get help from others who have done it before,” Davis said.
The skills and understanding gained from VIP can inspire confidence. VIP students enter the marketplace with a working knowledge of government contracts, their related systems and processes.
Veterans, by nature, are competitive and focused, said Jackie Lopez, president of Premiere.
“VIP takes this mindset and designs programs around it,” she said. Especially valuable are exercises that simulate the contracting process, guided by government decision makers. "VIP has excellent instructors, and the program makes us ready to succeed."
Evaluate Risk and Reward
For long-term success in government contracting, firms must evaluate risk and assess their ability to perform.
“VIP is a degree in government contracting. We now understand where to take risks, potential liabilities, and what it takes to win,” said Keith Ives, CEO of Causal Design. Ives said his firm completed all four steps of the VIP program and now is a resource to other veteran-owned companies.
Past performance is key in winning government contracts. Questions to ask include:
- How has the company performed on similar projects?
- Does it have references or documented performance to back up its claims?
- Has it executed on deadlines and cost targets?
- Is it positioned for sustained performance?
Some firms post information on their websites about company size, capabilities, certifications, quality measures, past contracts and customer problems the firm has solved.
“It comes down to performance. How you handle your business and serve the customer,” said Tony Manca of ShireWire.
Vision For The Future
For many veterans, VIP inspired them to reflect on their future.
“Do I want to stay a mom and pop business or grow to a medium-sized business and stay around for a long time?” said Tamika Bailey of Bailey’s Premiere. She encouraged students to use VIP to ponder these questions and consider their future path for growth and longevity.
For veterans with limited business experience, VIP courses can fill the gaps. Parrish Morris of Document Security appreciated business basics in HR, accounting, legal and marketing. The former Marine said his business initially bid on $25,000 to $750,000 contracts, but now bids on government contracts worth millions.
Confidence gained from the VIP program, and a foundation built from earlier success, enables him to pursue larger business opportunities.
A similar success story is shared by Michael Black of Concise Network Solutions, which grew from 40 employees to 225 employees, as revenue grew from $5 million to $35 million. He credits his VIP connections and professional network.
“You need to build a team and have those relationships first. You don’t want to introduce yourself when you need something,” he said.
Manca agreed that strategic alliances and collaboration enable companies to pursue opportunities that would not be feasible alone. His networking company teamed with a medical equipment supplier to respond to an RFI from the Veterans Administration.
“Our shared expertise enabled us to pursue this opportunity,” he said.
Government Contracting Tips
- Build relationships before you need them. Assemble key partners and capabilities to bid successfully on contracts.
- Be bold. Be willing to take risks. Build your knowledge of assessing and managing risk.
- Being a veteran is not enough. Become an expert in a specific field so you can solve customer problems and challenges.
- Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. You can’t win by yourself. Mentors and advisors are important to seizing opportunities and growth.
- Be fanatical about client service and delivering value. Take care of your clients.
- Nurture your partner and network relationships. “Make a deposit before you make a withdrawal.”
- Take advantage of the VIP program, free of cost, to build understanding of federal contracting opportunities, grow your network, and create a winning approach.