How not to be small

Some companies never grow up

Some large companies operate like a collection of small businesses and some small businesses never stop making it up as they go along. This produces companies that grow like weeds where everything is a constant struggle. How do you stop operating like you are small?

See also:
Small Business

Let's start by asking, "What does it mean to be small?"  The SBA publishes size standards based on revenue and head count, but they don't tell you anything about a company's maturity. A company's revenue and head count don't tell you what their win rate is or whether they are maximizing their return on investment.

Being small means being unable to field the team of people you normally would need to go after contracts that employ teams of people.

Being small means being able to go after work that is larger than yourself.

But what being small really means is being ad hoc. Being small means making it up as you go along, because you still haven't figured out how not to.

If you don’t want to be small, don’t be ad hoc. People are more effective when they have the support and information they need to be successful. This means they need coordination, collaboration, process, guidance, and inspiration. No longer being small requires more than just hiring additional staff.

As you grow, you’ll gain more resources. But you’ll never have enough. Large companies never have enough resources either. What you need is to get the most out of the resources that you do have. As long as everyone is making it up as they go along, going along will take longer. You will face a constant struggle and waste tons of resources on herding cats.

You are stuck in a trap. You can’t improve efficiency because you don’t have the resources. You don’t have enough resources because you are inefficient. Your overhead costs are too high because you are inefficient. You can’t hire more resources because your overhead costs are too high.

Two things that can help you get out of the trap

Every small business has to find a way out of this trap to become successful.

  1. Since your staff are already maxed out, invest in outside resources that will make your internal resources more effective. Instead of using outside resources to do the same thing that your internal resources do, use outside resources to build the structure you need for your internal staff to be more effective. Use outside resources to make your internal resources perform better in a lasting way. 
  2. Pay for that investment through growth. Start with opportunity capture. Increasing your ability to win what you pursue can be extremely profitable. So once you have a pipeline and some leads, it’s time to make the changes needed to ensure you capture what you have in your pipeline.

When you use outside resources to help your internal staff achieve a better win rate, those resources pay for themselves. And when you no longer need the outside resources, you will still have the structure to achieve the high win rate.

If you are currently paying the bills winning 30% of what you pursue, imagine how much better things would be if you increased your win rate to 40%. How much is learning how to achieve that 10% improvement for all of your future years worth? Invest by making the changes required for it to happen. The growth that results will pay for more internal resources, and the new resources will be more effective because you’ll have a better structure to bring them into.

When you stop being ad hoc is when your growth can really take off.

Here's the approach we recommend to get out of the trap of being small

See also:
Pursuit and Capture Program

Having the same staff pursuing your opportunities while also building the structure to improve how people pursue your opportunities is problematical. That’s the nice way of saying it usually fails. Either you are taking them away from the pursuit at a risk to your win rate, or you are expecting them to complete the development effort “in between” pursuits, which never happens. You’re also expecting them to be able to integrate stakeholder groups with competing interests. Getting it right deserves more attention and pays off in improved return on investment.

The way we approach it is to break down the topics that the organization needs to work on and then create what is essentially a project plan. We have a template that we use for this. We also have the advantage of being able to draw from the huge amount of materials we have in PropLIBRARY. We combine:

  • Online training
  • Involvement of all stakeholders
  • Creating process artifacts that the company will use for years
  • Q&A and feedback

Then we create a monthly schedule based on the topics. And use the above as weekly topics. This balances any disruption to the organization while making steady progress to continuously improve win rate and ROI. It also enables us to quickly put in place what amounts to a project plan that addresses:

  • Schedule
  • Roles
  • Goals
  • ROI impact
  • Metrics and measurements

This greatly mitigates risk and enables oversight to ensure that goals, including ROI targets, are met.

One way we’ve used this approach is to introduce capture to a company and roll it out over some number of months. Or to fix intractable problems that companies who have capture managers often still face. Another way it can be used is to help companies that are graduating from the 8(a) program. Starting about 18 months ahead of graduation, we can transform the entire organization from a dependency on set-asides to being ready for full and open competition.

What I like about this approach is that it is transformative without being disruptive, and that it enables companies to blend improving and learning with doing. This resolves many of the problems that companies struggle with, often for years. That struggle lowers your win rate and leaves money on the table. Fixing those problems pays for itself.
 

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Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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