So many times, I’ve asked a small-business owner why they choose to ignore the potential profits and trade that government contracts offer. I’ve also lost count of how many times the same operators have wished they could move their product or service into a market big enough to turn their business around post haste; more so now than ever before with the spectre of COVID-19 ever-present.
Over the last few months, we’ve looked at three of the metaphorical yawning chasms standing in the way of small business, preventing them from realising the rewards that government contracts can offer. Now it’s time to pare back a few layers and really dig down to the core issues confronting the small-business sector, influencing their widespread reluctance to target government business.
The fourth barrier: Perception
Barrier four exists where small-business owners perceive their businesses to be unsuitable, unprepared, or unqualified, to be considered for Government business. The key word here is perceive. Perception is reality, right? If you perceive something to be true, then invariably you believe it to be a fact. It doesn’t matter if your perception of the matter or situation is completely wrong (which, being the fallible humans that we are, is oftentimes the case).
So right now, there are literally thousands upon thousands of small business owners and operators who believe they have a snowflake’s chance of winning a Government contract. Even when a piece of Government business looks near-enough perfectly suited, their perception bias rears its head, overrides rational thought, and manifests into reasons they can’t win, including:
- We don’t have the time to try and win that contract.
- I just know our supply chains would break if we were chosen for that RFQ.
- Government wouldn’t want us to help them solve that problem.
- We’d struggle to deliver on time anyway.
- We’re just not ready!
Importantly, many of these small businesses are in fact perfectly positioned to win government business – they just don’t know it! Whenever I’ve come across this small business ‘perception’ that they’re not ready for government business, I ask them to take a moment and tell me exactly how they’ve arrived at this belief. In fact, I tell them to take as much time as they want, because effectively dispelling a perception must come from the person who holds said belief. Me pointing out that their perception is based on little more than guesswork and anecdotal stories from other small businesses “burned” by Government, won’t change their belief. If anything (and from experience!) it often reinforces their biased perception.
Six areas to make your business “government ready”
Here is where we spend some meaningful time with the small-business owner, analysing their perception that they’re not ready to bid and win Government work. You see, there are six main areas that influence a small business’s chance of being able to successfully partner with government to secure some of their business. These are, in no particular order of priority:
- partnerships – internal and external
- staff proficiency
- government IQ
- systems and processes
- set for market
Small businesses certainly don’t need to have all six areas in perfect order before they begin to target and win government business – I know of many businesses that have cried out for government business, and secured some, not having all six areas bedded down and functioning perfectly. However, small businesses that struggle to even get the bare basics right, need to either rethink their business and make a few changes, or come to the self-realisation that targeting government business is not likely to be a productive use of their time.
Remember, perception is reality. Small businesses can now quickly realise how accurate their perception really is – undoubtedly there are thousands of small businesses more than capable of winning and delivering on lucrative government contracts. They just don’t know it yet.
Thomas Pollock, CEO, THINQ Learning and author of “Winning Government Business: the 6 Rules and 9 Absolutes for Small to Medium Businesses”