What does it take to succeed as an 8(a) business? If your company is looking to apply for the government-run business development program, you probably know it’s a crowded field out there. For those 8(a) businesses that have succeeded, their success often lies in operating and marketing their services as if they aren’t an 8(a) business.
That’s been the case for Tanaia Parker, president and CEO of the management consulting firm, T. White Parker. Early on, Parker knew that her firm couldn’t rest on its certification laurels. That realization has spelled continued growth for the company, which was recently named one of 2015’s fastest-growing consulting firms in the United States.
It’s an approach that other successful 8(a) businesses share. “There are a lot of poorly run 8(a) companies out there, and whether we like it or not, those bad apples can create a bad perception of 8(a) firms, in totality, in the eyes of government clients,” says Veeral Majmudar, president and CEO of Savan Group. “It’s important for companies just getting started to think how they’re going to change that perception and, more importantly, distinguish themselves – not based solely on being an 8(a),” says Majmudar.
How can your 8(a) business distinguish itself? Both Parker and Majmudar share their secrets to staying a cut above the competition, in a crowded marketplace.
8(a) certification: When to apply
“I don’t think it’s necessary to apply to the 8(a) program at the early stages of a company — some would even argue it is more beneficial to win work and establish your company first,” says Veeral Majmudar. Applying later, he adds, also eliminates the potential of squandering the full benefits of the program early on, if you were to apply at a time when you’re too consumed with the task of building up your business.
Applying later also allows business owners to familiarize themselves with the federal contracting landscape, says Tanaia Parker.
“I advise companies wanting to pursue an 8(a) to learn the process a bit first before pursuing it, so they can maximize the nine years.” — Tanaia Parker
That’s especially true, says Parker, for companies who are transitioning from commercial to federal work, just as her consultancy did when it began in the program back in 2007.
“When we first started, our client base was commercial – the federal side is very different,” says Parker, whose firm now has an 80/20 split between federal and commercial work. “How you market is very different on the federal side — down to the content, and look and feel of your capability statement.”
Will an 8(a) certification open doors?
“Just because you have an 8(a) designation doesn’t mean the gates to contracts are going to open for you – it is a false assumption,” says Majmudar. “I would tell other companies that it is important to spend time thinking, ‘Why would any client hire you versus the thousands of other 8(a) companies out there?’”
Parker shares that view. “I want our potential clients to see our capabilities and experience before they see the set-aside category we align with,” she says. That approach has translated into steady contract wins with the SBA, USDA, OPM, PBGC, OMB, and agencies within the Department of Transportation and Health and Human Services.
Focus on Team Investment
Among its competitive advantages, Savan Group focuses on solid leadership. “I think a lot of 8(a) firms have a tendency to hire and staff specific to projects,” says Majmudar.
“In my experience, I have learned that one of the areas that provides a good return on investment is building a competent and passionate leadership team … granted, it may not be considered conventional in terms of direct value-add, but when the opportunity does present itself, the value of having a solid leadership team can be exponential.” — Veeral Majmudar
In addition, two growth areas remain front and center at Savan Group. “We have seen success and growth in the field of policy and research, and not as surprisingly, in the field of information technology,” says Majmudar. “While these areas may appear to be polar opposites in many respects, we actually have found them to be somewhat interoperable.”
‘Human Dynamics’ of Technology
At T. White Parker, a key to staying ahead is a dual focus on functional expertise with the interlacing of the human element in everything the firm does. “Although most now understand that business and IT have to be closely aligned in order for IT to be effective, what often gets overlooked are the workforce, governance and management implications,” says Parker. “We ensure there is attention paid to the human dynamics surrounding technology decisions.”
The consultancy recently launched an organizational effectiveness offering within its Human Capital Management Practice. “Although we have deep insights and experience in the IT arena, one of our key objectives is to ensure that the people and management considerations are addressed,” says Parker. For the firm, that means doing pre-work while the IT concept is being developed, then ensuring proper planning occurs so all organizational complexities are addressed post-implementation.
The firm’s direction speaks to the mission that began nearly a decade ago, when Parker started the firm. “I really wanted to disrupt what consulting had become in the federal space,” says Parker. “We want to bring value to our clients by offering a true consulting approach and not be in ‘contractor mode.’ Consultants should maintain a more independent view/perspective and assist clients with navigating their environment versus becoming a part of their environment — we are very proud that we have been able to do that.”