By Col. Mike Ulekowski, P.E., USA (Ret.), Guest Contributor
You’ve been to the SAME Federal Small Business Conference but never to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Veterans Small Business Engagement? There’s plenty you can learn to take best advantage of the co-location of these two industry-leading events this fall in New Orleans, Oct. 31-Nov. 2.
Back in 2013, when I decided to turn my construction company into an SDVOSB (service-disabled veteran-owned small business) and pursue some of the work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I thought that the first thing I needed to do was visit with the VA Small Business Liaison. When I talked with him, he explained that he was pretty busy, getting up to 10 calls a day from companies that wanted to meet with him. After all, the country was still recovering from the recession and the federal marketplace looked like a gold mine to some commercial-oriented A/E and construction businesses.
Did I win everything I wanted? No. But my win rate on those proposals increased dramatically.
While I was disappointed that he didn’t want to meet, he did ask me for a Statement of Qualifications describing what our company had done. Although I was a veteran and had performed extensive work in the public sector, I had never done any projects for the VA. I thought that this would really look good in trying to get some work from this customer.
Of course, my company was new to the construction field and we didn’t have any experience. So I knew that the way to get in front of the opportunities and turn them into work was to determine what proposals I wanted to pursue from the folks at the VA and prepare for them well before they showed up on Fed Biz Ops. Sending in SOQs was just not going to cut it. But, this was on my “To-Do List” so I dutifully completed an SOQ and sent it into the black hole of VISN 8 of the VA.
We ended up winning a couple of construction projects with the VA over the next year, but only because we were the low bid on some work that did not require a lot of agency experience. Then, in 2014, I found out about NVSBE. Having participated in several SAME Small Business Conferences, I turned to the registration page to sign up. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that the VA conference was the same week as SBC! What a bummer.
I had already signed up for SBC and thought that it was a better use of my funds. I later attended NVSBE in 2015 and met a number of Capital Asset Managers and finally met my Small Business Liaison. I got along well with the people I met with the VA since a large portion of the people working there were former or retired military. But, it didn’t get me work I was hoping for. That required a lot more effort on my part.
So, what did I do? First, I talked with the VA Small Business Specialists, and Capital Asset Managers and Engineers from the area where I operate. SBC/NVSBE is a great opportunity to do that. From them, I found out what opportunities were coming up that met my company goals. Next, I planned for them by developing subcontractor contacts that would help me win the projects. I met some of those folks at the conference, as well. Then, I started talking with as many of the operational and facility people that I could, in order to find out as much information as possible about the projects. Finally, when the opportunity showed up on Fed Biz Opps, I had the majority of my proposal completed and just fine-tuned the opportunity and the numbers. Did I win everything I wanted? No. But my win rate on those proposals increased dramatically.
I’m glad to see that NVSBE and SBC are collocated this year. This is a win-win for my marketing budget and presents a large target of opportunity to find out what projects I want to pursue for 2019 and beyond, as I shape my small business’ strategy to support our nation’s federal infrastructure needs.
I look forward to meeting you at SBC/NVSBE in New Orleans. Come and talk with me and my team. We’re exhibiting at the conference (booth 860) and would love to share some success stories with you.
Col. Mike Ulekowski, P.E., USA (Ret.) is President and Founder of MULE Engineering & Construction.