6 Things to Know: Advice for Small Business from a Fast-Growing IT Modernization and Integration Provider

Growing comes from learning. Here we catch up with Michael Riordan, CEO of RavenTek, to get his insight on how humility, greed, and understanding the process can impact small business growth.

Make Time for Strategy

Among the challenges for any small business owner starting off a new endeavor is balancing the day-to-day while also being strategic about growth. Between accounting, HR duties, and ensuring compliance is met, hours can be spent simply managing.

Taking on a breadth of projects as a subcontractor and learning from its partners along the way, RavenTek found ways to outsource what it could. This ensured that leaders could focus their efforts on higher-level strategic planning.

Ensure Revenue

To grow as a small business, you need to ensure a steady stream of revenue that will support hiring, growth strategies, and successful delivery of projects. As a small business looking to gain a foothold in the federal space, that revenue stream often comes from partnering.

Mike recommends companies take time to identify how their prospective agencies buy, who the players are that are succeeding in the space, and then work to develop relationships that can lead to partnership opportunities. Getting a foot in the door and being able to earn a piece of the pie is a way to ensure a consistent revenue flow that will allow you to grow and pursue more opportunities. Bonus: You can potentially land bigger pieces of the business.

Avoid Greed

Speaking to the notion of pieces of the pie, a philosophy of avoiding greed is a win/win.  Mike says he has seen organizations so focused on a singular deal and maximizing value that they lose sight of their long-term business growth strategy. “When you value partnerships and reward the contributions of everyone on the team appropriately, you set the stage for more opportunities down the road.”

When you are considering partnerships, consider who strengthens the team and who offers the best chance of supporting a win rather than which partnership will give you the biggest piece of the pie. This method also looks to that long-term strategy.

Doing things the right way, being a good partner, and valuing those you team with help you establish a reputation that will see you as a sought-after partner on many more opportunities than you could have achieved alone.

Respect the Process

Part of respecting the process also means understanding how customers can access you. Mike says putting in the work to bid on as many GWACs as you can, ensuring you have a seat at those tables, not thinking about today but thinking about what you may need five years down the road, ensures those customers who do value you have the means to continue working with you. Understand the short and long-term value of any contract vehicle and opportunity; allow that to help guide your go/no-go decision.

You must also understand that your role is to execute any job successfully and to bring patterns that demonstrate to a prime that you will execute on their behalf. “Remember it is their name and their relationships that are on the line. You give up a lot of control as a subcontractor, but you still carry that responsibility to deliver for the customer and for your prime.”

Define who You Are – Or Not

Whether you decide from the start the kind of company you want to be and what your focus will be, or whether you allow that to evolve over time, it is important to be able to support any claim you make. That means if you claim proficiency in cybersecurity, you either need to have that skillset ingrained in your team or you need a valid partner who possesses that past performance. “You may also need to pivot, to perform work outside of your niche to be able to grow into what you want to be.”

It is possible to start from a place of being undefined, of allowing your wins and successful deliveries to help determine who you are and where your ultimate capabilities reside. Either way, a partner strategy is key to helping you succeed by supporting your claimed expertise.

Lead with Humility

As a leader, it is important to focus on employees first, to ensure you are meeting your commitments to them. Make sure you are compensating those who demonstrate skill and can help you grow.

It is also important to lead from a place of humility, to admit when mistakes were made, and to acknowledge potential weaknesses or flaws. Humility means listening to the people on the ground and being willing to change, shift and pivot as the market or the business dictates.

As a company grows and looks to redefine its goals and purpose, that humility also means leading an internal conversation about next steps, thinking about how resources are allocated, both building toward the future and maintaining whatever is good that should be carried forward.

Part of humility recognizes that for all of us, life could have gone another way. For RavenTek, that has led to a focused effort on giving back. Since 2014 the company has supported No Boundaries, hosting regular fundraising events that both engage the team and allow the company an outward focus. GovBrew is also supporting No Boundaries with our upcoming Emerging Technology Forum. Learn More Here.

The Future for RavenTek – RavenVISION

With an early focus in enterprise monitoring and cybersecurity, RavenTek has refined their technology offerings over the years based upon their core competencies.  RavenVISION (Visibility Integration of Security, Infrastructure, Operations and Networks) is a single context enterprise observability framework powering dynamic intelligence for Zero-Trust visibility, analytics, automation and orchestration, and governance.  RavenTek’s RavenVISION methodology for Zero Trust would not have been possible without a relentless focus on business sustainability, sound partnering practices, and a focus on continuingly improving their core competencies to meet market demands.  By staying true to their core business growth principles, RavenTek has created a unique and differentiated offering in the world of managed cyber services and data automation and governance.

About RavenTek

RavenTek is an IT modernization and integration company. We deliver and customize leading-edge agile solutions, services and products to mission critical organizations, primarily federal government agencies. We provide systems integration and IT engineering, specifically around data center optimization, cloud migration and consolidation, modernization, application performance analysis and improvement, end-user experience improvement and network performance, cybersecurity, including endpoint threat detection, threat intelligence analysis, data center protection, DDOS protection, and multifactor authentication.

5 THINGS SMALL BUSINESSES CAN DO TO MAKE A BIG IMPACT

If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Stephanie Alexander and Katie Bilek, co-founders of GovMates, then you’ll know that they are strong and successful entrepreneurs. They offer up some of their very best advice for you today, including tips about OTA consortia, how to do a successful 4 minute client pitch, and what to watch out for when connecting with a corporate matchmaker.

Matchmaking and speed dating via algorithm.

GovMates started off as an Excel spreadsheet. Sexy? No. But effective? Mostly.   Driven initially by teaming requests from large system integrators and defense primes, Stephanie and Katie began building a membership of small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors.  They collected granular information from their members – capabilities, customer past performance, socio-economic set-asides, certifications, etc – and then leveraged that data to facilitate teaming introductions to larger organizations and eventually government procurement representatives.

GovMates has come a long way since those early Excel-lent days, but their passion for connecting federal agencies and contractors with the right team members remains their mission and focus. Today, GovMates provides valuable pairing services for more than 5,300 members from all 50 states, working as shadchan (YKIYK) for strategic alliances, networking events, and guns-blaring/full-throttle conference showcases. Oh, and did we mention that joining GovMates is free?

 

Breaking the government silo to build relationships.

“Government’s interaction with industry is so sherpa-ed and silo-ed,” stated Katie. Contractors are limited in who they can speak to within the government and when those conversations can take place. Furthermore, the hierarchy of government often makes it impossible to reach out and connect with the decision makers.

Yet, at the same time, businesses need facetime in order to build long-lasting relationships. How can you find out what an agency’s needs are if you can’t meet with them to discuss the problem? How can clients know that you’re out there to solve their problems if they never meet you?

Enter GovMates. Their whole mission is to make those crucial contacts happen.

Armed with more sophisticated algorithms and a robust (and constantly evolving) dataset, today GovMates still relies on a mathematical match for teaming and pairing for government, Primes, and small businesses. Do you need a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) that provides air quality monitoring services? They’ve got that data. Need a small materials science R&D group in Colorado? They’ve got that data too. With a membership, you can just give GovMates a call to ask for a report on any teaming arrangement. (Did we mention that joining GovMates is free?)

 

How can small business make the biggest impact?

Stephanie and Katie have seen a lot of businesses come and go from the industry, and they’ve identified some strategies for successful business development.

  1. Do your research before you meet. That means knowing who the agency is, who the Prime firm is you want to connect with, what the challenges are, and what your differentiator is. “Everyone on the planet ‘does cyber,’ so tell them how you can help the Prime fuel their growth.” Find an opportunity and then go to the marketplace with it and sell the opportunity.
  2. Fine-tune and have a better understanding of services you can and cannot support. As Stephanie mentioned, “Small business can’t do everything. Stop thinking that you can. It’s disastrous for you to pitch the ability to do everything under the sun when you only have 20 employees”. Know what you do well and where you can involve support.
  3. It’s okay to say no to work. “Time is your most valuable resource,” yet we all have the same 24 hours in a day. Decline opportunities that aren’t in your lane. Stick to what you are good at. Be sensitive to what is going to be a time-suck, because you’ll never get that time back.
  4. Train your B-list folks so that they can be A-listers in the future. Eventually the A-listers will be busy on other projects, leave the company, or will retire. You need to strategically think of how to train your B-list staff and have them gain experience so that you can position them as your A-list team eventually.
  5. Ask deep questions to the client right off the bat and listen to the answers. “Go deep, and go hard. Establish the connection right away.” How do you make a lasting impression when you have only 4 minutes to meet a new client? Do your research beforehand and ask a really HARD, smart question. Then listen. Finally, share an innovative solution that your business can offer. “The client will walk away thinking that you really know what’s going on with the industry and can help them. They will remember you and seek you out.”

 

Join a Consortium.

Stephanie and Katie highly recommend R&D and prototyping firms join an Other Transaction Authority (OTA) consortium that aligns with your technology vertical. “OTA Consortia are probably one of the best-kept secrets in the GovCon industry right now,” Katie said. In some cases, you need to be a member of a consortium in order to access OTA opportunities. This is work that you won’t be able to find on SAM.gov. Joining a consortium doesn’t have to be expensive, but if you don’t join, you won’t get direct access to those opportunities.

There are nearly 40  government-sponsored OTA consortia, so finding the right one or two to join may be hard if you are unfamiliar with them. GovMates can help you identify which groups are going to provide the most value for your business.

Interested in learning more about OTAs? Check out govmates OTA resource page.

 

A good matchmaker can help you find team players as well as accountants, M&A firms, give you networking instruction, and host events for you.

“As the best GovCon matchmakers in the industry, it’s crucial that we know who all the players are, at all points,” said Stephanie. “Sure, we want to know the government players, but we also want to know who the bankers are who are issuing small business loans, who the IT lawyers are, who the CPAs are. We want to be able to match our members up with any business, no matter what the service is.”

They also keep tabs on the M&A industry, knowing which firms are looking to buy and which firms are looking to sell. They often know what companies are on the move long before official word gets out.

GovMates is well-known and respected for its event planning services, including networking opportunities, conference events, and corporate speed dating. They offer in-person and Zoom events, but they acknowledge that there’s no replacing in-person engagement. They can also help coach you on how to speak to clients, pitch your company without sounding sales-person-y, and how to ask the right questions.

 

Watch out for matchmakers that have a vested interest in the organizations they represent.

Not all matchmaker groups are created equally. “We are an honest broker and intermediary,” Katie says. “GovMates does NOT have a vested interest in any company or consortium winning over another one.” Instead, they rely on the unbiased algorithm of their technology to identify the best matches. This has another added benefit—if your partnership scores well using their technology, it’ll probably score best during proposal evaluations as well.

 

Being more than a matchmaker: being a full-fledged member of the team.

The next step for the woman-owned GovMates is to transition from a “hidden secret” to a player with a full seat at the contracting table. Armed with the proof that their system and its data bring tangible value to their clients, GovMates plans to join contracts as a full partner.

In addition to their technology platform, GovMates provides valuable insight into what the trends are in the industry, what big companies are investing in, what’s trending from a compliance perspective, and of course who all the players are in all aspects of the GovCon industry.

If you are interested in adding a little something extra to your proposed GovCon team and providing a real “wow” factor to your clients—consider giving Stephanie and Katie a call to talk about how you can leverage their value-added benefits.