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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.