CXO

Small, minority-owned firms: Find partners to win government contracts

A new initiative in Texas is helping minority-owned consulting firm MMC Group expand its business through government contracting. Find out how this small firm partnered with Accenture and get advice for partnering with larger firms.


Why did the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) choose a relatively small services firm like MMC Group to create Web applications that will change the way it communicates with employers and employees? It may be because MMC's partner and Big Brother on the project is consulting giant Accenture.

In interviews with TechRepublic, MMC consultant Doug Mitchell and Chris Politte, who is partner for Accenture's Government Group, shared their thoughts on how minority businesses can make the most of their status to procure government contracts. Mitchell offered four recommendations for small and minority-owned businesses hoping to get a Big Brother of their own:
  • Get certified as a small, minority-owned, or historically underutilized business.
  • Get in on the "front end" of proposals.
  • Stick to your core business and focus your marketing efforts.
  • Deliver what you promise.

This article examines the first two recommendations.

First of two parts
Next week’s article will discuss Mitchell’s last two recommendations: sticking to your firm’s core business and focusing your marketing efforts, and delivering what you promise.

Texas' Mentor Protege Program
MMC's partnership with Accenture came about through a Mentor Protege Program created by the Texas General Services Commission. The program was created to encourage vendors to foster long-term relationships between contractors/vendors and Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs), an industry term for businesses that are owned, operated, and controlled by minorities.

The MMC/Accenture team is charged with developing Web applications for the TWC that will allow employers to respond to claims by former employees, check the status of those responses, and pay their unemployment taxes.

"The employer response site is already operational and is already exceeding the rate of responses by employers estimated by TWC staff," said project manager and MMC partner Allen Griffin. "After only one month live, the employer response Web site has already been deemed, by TWC staff, their most successful Web-based project."

State agencies in Texas are trying to "spread the wealth," and the Mentor Protege Program allows businesses to buy from small or minority firms "knowing that they have a large business behind them. So if they don’t have the necessary resources, they know they’ve got Big Brother, if you will, right behind them. The combination is perfect," Mitchell said.

Accenture benefits from the partnership because, normally, the company would identify three to five HUB vendors with particular skill sets each time the company submitted a bid. The established relationship with MMC makes that process easier because Accenture is aware of the skills MMC can bring to the table, Politte said.

Get certified as a small or minority-owned business
To take advantage of programs like the Texas Mentor Protege Program that serve small or minority-owned businesses, firms must qualify to participate. Virtually every U.S. state, as well as the federal government, has these types of programs, Mitchell said, but the qualification process isn't easy due to stringent certification standards.

In the past, a firm could receive certification by simply claiming that it was, for example, run by a woman; now, such businesses are required to show that women actually participate in the business and that they receive a majority of the profits.

Once you're certified, the state's government will likely add your firm's name to a list of qualified vendors that larger contractors can browse. Additionally, you can apply and qualify to have your firm listed on a larger organization's subcontractor list, like Accenture's Subcontractor Exchange, Politte said. For example, in addition to the partnership, MMC is also listed on Accenture's subcontractor list so it can garner additional business by subcontracting on government contracts Accenture wins. But Mitchell said it's not as simple as getting your name on the lists.

"If you're waiting for the phone to ring, you're crazy," he said. You have to seek out large contractors who might be bidding on jobs in your firm's niche market, introduce yourself, and try to establish their trust and confidence.

Larger contractors, for example, will generally try out a smaller firm by giving it smaller tasks. As it gains the larger firm’s confidence, it will begin to get more work.

"That's the most frustrating thing to small businesses,” Mitchell explained. “They seem to think that once they get to become a certified HUB, all this business is just going to show up."

Get in on the "front end" of proposals
Once you're certified, it's still difficult for a small or minority-owned business to get teamed up with a large business on the front end of projects, Mitchell said. More typically, a large company will win a contract and then choose ancillary vendors as "back-end providers."

In contrast, the true partnership created under the Mentor Protege Program allows MMC and Accenture to bid together on projects. Consequently, MMC and its talents are considered in front-end planning stages of the bid, ensuring it will be an integral part of the contract.

In fact, Accenture and MMC have pooled funds to hire a marketing professional who spends his time looking for opportunities that lend themselves to a joint venture.

To mirror MMC's success, small or minority-owned businesses should seek alliances with firms that will likely have need for their services in the near future due to upcoming initiatives in a particular government sector. In that way, small and minority-owned firms can be integrated in the planning and proposal process.

"It’s easier for people to segment out what they are going to use subcontractors for, and then you’re up in the front of the process," Mitchell said.

Mitchell illustrated this point with the hypothetical example of a small business that has learned about an upcoming federal aviation construction project. The HUB firm should identify the two or three firms that will likely bid on such a project and try to form an alliance with one of them.

"Get in on the front end of their proposal effort to where they've actually identified you in their proposal as a small business they're going to use," Mitchell said. "That's the hardest thing to do, but it's the most profitable."

Getting your foot in the door
Those "in the trenches" say it's vital to establish relationships with key players. Do you have a strategy for getting to the "movers and shakers" in an organization? Send us an e-mail or discuss your tactics below.

 

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