Small business success stories

Small business success stories

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- Good afternoon and welcome to the small business success stories session. As Jennifer stated, my name is Portia Deans and I am the innovation outreach program specialist here in the office of innovation outreach. This afternoon, we will have a round table discussion type forum, with our successful business owners, who will share their insights, strategies, best practices and lessons learned from owning, growing, and sustaining a successful business, while partnering with the USPTO. Our distinguished small business owners, come from a wide variety as far as social economic categories are concerned.

So, you'll hear from a woman owned small business owner, small disadvantaged business, service disabled veteran owned business, AA, Alaska Native Corporation, ANC. So as the panelists share their stories, we hope you find the discussion enlightening, inspirational, and most importantly, encouraging. So you too will continue on to grow your business.

So I'm excited and honored to have our panelists be with us today. So let's get started. So I would like each of you to introduce yourselves. So please tell the audience a little bit about you, your title, your company, and also the services you provide at the USPTO.

Let's start with Angelica, please. - Hello everyone, my name is Angelica Brown, CEO of Data Storage Science. We are an IT services company focusing on infrastructure and data management.

My team at USPTO is in the storage administration and engineering support. And backup as a service architecture engineering support. We're under the infrastructure services division, and more specifically the server and storage services branch. We have an agile software development team, who designs, builds and deploy dashboard style portals that aggregate infrastructure information from multiple data sources. These tools are widely used within USPTO, showing how IT assets are mapped to the various components and applications at USPTO. One of the tools, for example, that we've developed is called, Diamond.

It's a self-service portal, stitching together various silos of data from hosts, storage, storage backups, and internal systems. So we basically bridge the gap between IT and USPTO's products. - Awesome, let's move on to Leone please.

- Good afternoon. My name is Leone Atchison, and I'm the founder and president of, Lalaith Astor Technical Consulting House, LATCH, as we go by, was founded in 2014, primarily to help other federal contractors pursuing work with the government. But by 2018, we've matured into a government contracting organization to directly support our customers. We're a tech savvy company and our expertise is in designing and building complicated IT systems that take into account next level cybersecurity, fiscal responsibility, and oh yeah, aggressive timelines.

So, at USPTO, we support the current implementation of the Okta single sign-on system. And we're building bots, ops bots and virtual agents just to modernize how processes get done. Enhancing security and automation are really great ways to elevate key enterprise IT systems. I'm also an avid hockey fan. If anyone wants to talk about that after the session. - Awesome, thank you for that.

Kevin, please let's hear from you now. - Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Kevin Wideman. I'm the CEO of Koniag Government Solutions. We are holy home subsidiary of COAC government services, which is Alaska Native Corporation. We provide a wide variety of technological solutions support to government customers.

Particularly at PTO, we support the Avenger Assistance Center. We provide a contact center and help desk support for those who desire the opportunity to submit a patent application with minimal need for legal attorney support. Thank you. - Awesome, last but not least, please, Steve. You have the floor.

- Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Steve James I'm president and CEO of Integrated Systems Solutions. I spent the first part of my professional life in the Air Force as a communications officer, since leaving that endeavor in the private sector, I've had the chance to work at a large technology company, EMC. Had a chance to run an Alaska Native Corporation for a couple of years. And now I'm experiencing the small business side of life, and it's all been a great experience. We are a professional services company, provide technical management and IT services to government agencies.

NOAC is our biggest client. We are also providing support to the patent and trademark office, specifically the office of patent and information management. Where there we're doing strategic communications and business liaison support services.

Companies certified as a CMN level I level three appraised and verified as an STV OSB. Really pleased to be part of this presentation, this afternoon, thank you. - Awesome, well, thank you. And let's get to know you a little bit better. So, I used to be a small business specialist, and I've talked to many small business owners, hundreds actually. So I'm always interested to know what's the driving force or that pivotal moment in your career or life when you have that awakening moment and decide, you know what? I can do this for myself, I can build this business for myself.

Or did you see a need in the federal space when you thought, "You know what? There's a niche there and I need to provide that service." So what drives, what motivates you? And if you can kind of elaborate on those things that impact you the most. Let's hear from you in the audience. Let's start with Angelica please. - Okay, so what motivates me, I think for me is like being of service to others.

I really value my employees, they're our greatest assets and I consider them rock stars. So I guess by putting them first, they in turn take care of the clients. And I'm also an engineer by heart, and I love bringing people together to solve problems and providing solutions. The second part of it, I guess, is like my insatiable curiosity, being open to new ideas and innovation, always interested in unpacking new ways of looking at things and asking for example, like more and better questions being conversational about it, and more importantly listening, right? And then I guess the passion for learning, is just something that, you know, we're really never done learning. I surround myself with people who are smarter than me and understanding the power of an idea, right? Putting it to the test, implement, learn pivot, do it all again tomorrow only better. - Awesome, and Steve would you please chime in on the conversation? - You know, it's kind of funny.

My predecessor was also retired air force officer, and he used to joke about the fact that we spent the first half of our career trying to blow the world up. And now, since we're supporting NOAC, we're trying to piece things back together, given their earth science mission. I think what's really interesting about this role is being involved with people who are very passionate about the mission.

I certainly encountered that when I was in the government serving in the military and it's just refreshing and motivating to be around now government professionals who are really passionate about ocean and weather science. It's also in this role, exciting for me to be able to empower employees to achieve shared goals and objectives that I find motivating. And lastly, in terms of what's going on in the world around us right now, as I mentioned, we're doing a lot of work at NOAC, and there's a lot of obvious concern over climate related events and to be in a position to support a mission, that's trying to bring more science to the protection of lives property and supporting the economy. I find all of that very motivating.

- Absolutely. Leone? - You know, that's a really good question to be successful as a small business, you really have to identify what drives you and make sure that you're focused on achieving those goals. Personally, I'm driven by solving really complex technical problems. And I want to help the government achieve its mission. I used to be in the commercial space, but I found that the work was a lot more meaningful when I moved to the federal sector. My first contract was at the department of BA and it really meant a lot to me to be able to help my family, especially my mom.

Who's a widow of a veteran, that made the long hours worth it. Nowadays, we deliberately search out really hard problems. Yeah, I'm talking to government buyers, but I'm talking to them from the perspective of trying to understand, what's really tough about what they're doing and figuring out like creative or innovative ways to solve them. And sometimes that means studying their systems in preparation for like a major cloud migration of a legacy system, or maybe it means, you know, conducting research at DARPA, a new way to, to verify and validate medical devices using formal methods. Like we may not even have all of the answers at the beginning, but getting there is half the fun and that's what motivates me. - Awesome, very good.

Kevin? - Thank you, you know the pivotal moment that made me want to assume level of a C level position as a CEO, is when you walk in, you wanted the ability to walk the talk. So when we all, before we became CEOs, we all worked at different organizations. You worked for different people that may not share the same value system that you have, or how you want to implement changes to those three areas that are most impactful to you. So as you're CEO, you're able to actually walk that talk.

Angelica said, you know, the employees are most valuable asset, and a lot of CEOs say that, but I work with organizations where they did not treat the employees as the most valuable asset. So I wanted to be in a role where I could in fact, treat employees as a valuable asset. Customer relationships, the customer's mission that we support. Always believe you should assume your customer's mission as your mission, right? And not just be driven by P and L worksheet, but truly, truly partner with your customer to ensure their success, and that becomes your success. And the third aspect that impacts and drives me as an Alaska Native Corporation, we're mission oriented company.

Our mission is provide resources back to our native communities for them to maintain their way of life. So as we drive in business, those are three things that are most important and impactful to me. - That's awesome. So moving on a little bit, you know, we all wish we had a crystal ball to see what the entrepreneur journey it, you know, of growing a business is going to look like, 10, 20, 30 years down the road. We wish we all had that. So I'm certain you all faced various challenges along the way.

And just hypothetically speaking, though, if I was entertaining the idea of starting my own business and wanting to do business with the federal government, can you share something with me that, you know now, that you wish you knew back in the infancy stages, of while you were building your business? Kevin, then let's start with you please. - The thing that I would say is know who you are and what you can do. Right? 'Cause if you're gonna sell to the government, you have to able to deliver what you sell. You know, a lot of times when we start off, we wanted do everything.

I can do everything and we wanna bid on everything. We don't selectively choose opportunities to pursue. So I would encourage you to identify what you really, really are capable of doing.

And don't try to say, "Hey, I can do everything." You talk to a lot of small businesses starting out and everybody is like, "Yes, I can do this, I can do that, I can do that." And you really can't. Right? So find out what you do best and try to do that most. - That is an excellent, excellent advice.

Mr. Steve? - Yeah, I think the thing that we were slow to need on understanding, or I'll say I was, was the importance that social media has taken on when it comes to branding and marketing a company, I was part of a generation where that was not necessarily what we grew up with. And when it comes to things like building brand awareness, acquiring leads in a low cost way, learning more about the customer's preferences, interests, and requirements. We could have done a better job in hindsight in trying to leverage that in pursuit of our business interest. Now we're making up lost ground, and it's not like we're not doing anything in this regard now, but if I had the chance to start it all over again, I probably would've paid more attention to that sooner than when I did.

- Yeah, great advice, great advice. Angelica? - So I came from the commercial world as well. And earlier on, it was just so daunting to learn all of these, you know, anything to do with the federal government.

And so I had to learn all of that from scratch. And basically the most important lesson, that I would love to share with you all is basically you can't do it all alone. So don't be afraid to, and be vulnerable to ask for help, seek, for example, seek counsel of your, you know, your own peers and surround yourself with people you truly trust who understands your heart, your soul, and your purpose. And there will always be ups and downs as in anything right? And don't take things too seriously.

And so why not have fun while you're at it? - That's a very good point, pursuing your passion. So, you know, you won't feel like, you know it's so overwhelming to you, but I'm sure, you know you'll go through your challenges and what have you, but continue to pursue your passion. So last but not least.

Leone? - I had a couple of advantages becoming a small business owner in the federal contracting space for three years. I was a solution architect for a large system integrator in their corporate growth group. And then for four years after that, I basically was a solution architect for hire to other federal contractors. So my challenges when starting my own business were a little bit different though. If I were advising other small businesses, I'd really say, learn about contracts, learn about solicitations, engaging with the contracting office, how to run contracts, even start up by being a subcontractor first.

So you can get to learn how to do these things without having to be directly accountable for them. For me personally, my biggest challenge was in the financial realm. I'm a techie at heart, so early on at LATCH, we were supported by really good people who had that kinda extensive financial background and were willing to support us when I needed help.

But I realized that in order to grow my business, I had to have a better understanding of it. So winning contracts is just the beginning of what you do because of regulations and policies. You know, how we're paid, how we compensate our employees, how we pay our subcontractors, it's all very prescriptive.

And so knowing how to do cash flow, and finding the right bank and, you know, shout out to Al Dominion National Bank here and getting and maintaining the right line of credit, like all of those things are critical to building and maintaining a healthy, small business. You know, have you ever heard of failing by succeeding the financial parts of contracts when you're really successful will absolutely teach you what that means. - That is awesome. And actually that is a good segue into the next question that I want to ask everyone. And how do we, as far as the federal government is concerned, how do we engage with industry better? I want to hear from your perspective as successful small business owners.

So Leone, we'll start with you first, please. - All right. So I have some thoughts. I think it's important to share the priorities and the pain points that are gonna better prepare us as industry on how to help. I understand that sometimes the problem set really seems so large that the government doesn't know what to ask for, but I think it's better to, instead of trying to figure it out their own, I'd really like to encourage government reach out to industry to figure it out.

Like I've really enjoyed agencies who support SBIR, right? SBIR is the small business innovation research. It's a great opportunity to fund small businesses who are trying to define and solve that kind of next generation problem set. I also like agencies who are incorporating more non-traditional means of market research, like DHS does town hall meetings, SOCOM has small business round tables, HHS has the vendor engagement sessions. At USPTO, the enterprise infrastructure product line recently conducted market research and industry engagement with the end goal being of awarding a rapid phase production contracts.

And they invited members of the industry, to ask them questions during symposium, to write concept papers that explained how to solve certain problems. And they like opened it up and allowed us to directly hold actual dialogue with government folks, who were experiencing the problems today, rather than with a lot of solicitations, we have to rely on what we can extrapolate this way. We were able to actually talk with them. Our answers became so much better for having that engagement. And so in turn USPTO is able to get better solutions when it actually comes time to deliver on those contracts.

- Excellent point. So who would like to go next? I feel like I'm a teacher just calling out on everybody, who would like to go next? - Hey, I'm happy to do that. And taking off of Leone's last comment, I'm a big fan of this notion that, I think requirements, are much better satisfied if government and industry are working together before things get set in stone and the solicitation is on the street, because at that point everything's locked down and there can't be exchange. I certainly understand from the government's perspective, if they answered every industry phone call, they wouldn't get any work done. And so there's a balance to be struck there.

And ideas would seemingly be as simple as just setting aside some time, maybe a half a day, a third of a day, a week to set up 20 minute Zoom calls with companies to get some ideas and thoughts. It's very helpful when we see government agency executives participating in industry events, that's another relatively easy way promote the engagement. And I think these reverse industry days that are increasingly becoming more popular with certain agencies are yet, again, another way to facilitate the exchange, however it gets done, I just think it's a very important thing to keep in mind. - Absolutely. And having multiple and often engagement with industry was something that I advocated for with the small businesses and the stakeholders. Who would like to go, Angelica? - Sure.

You know, basically what Steven, Leone already mentioned, just to add to that. You know, providing a mechanism for businesses to provide information about products and services that government might be interested in. So for example, like a periodically scheduled event, like how this does technology exchange meetings might be useful if applied more broadly, it's a way for us to sort of like, you know, get that dialogue with government and at the same time showcase what we have to support that.

- Awesome. Kevin? - I mean, if I had gone first, I would've probably repeated any one of the brought up answers that Steven, Leone, and Angelica had already provided. But if you say, how do we engage with industry better? I would just add this additional note is across the federal government. It would be good if we could better embrace the concept of partnering with industry, you know, PTO does this very well, you know, plug plug, but across the federal government, you know, a lot of times we're seen as, you know, contractors, you know, we're just in it for the buck and a lot of us contractors want a partner, we want to help you support your mission.

So let's embrace the spirit of partnership as somewhat of a culture change. And then again, it's not every federal agency that looks at us as just, you know, blood sucking, seeking, you know, contractors. But some really, really embrace the fact that we do wanna help. Right? So we in business, you know, generate revenue to make money. Sure. You know, but not at the sake of sacrificing your mission, right? So I want your mission to be my mission, but I also want you to view me as a partner and an ally, as opposed to us, against us, against them.

Right? You paid me to help you, so let me help you. - Exactly. Partnering with the federal agency and with industry, it's a win-win for everybody. And as you said, it is a cultural challenge. I mean, as long as we put that faith forward foot, that foot forward and continue with the open dialogue and continue partnering together. I think systematically throughout the federal agency, we can definitely see a change as far as how we engage with one another.

So moving on, I would like to kind of pivot a little bit, and let's talk about some of the challenges that possibly you have faced. Because we have, you know, so many extenuating factors that's shaping the way we do business such as supply change shortages, the pandemic, inflation, staffing personnel shortages. So I want to hear from your perspective, so how have, or in your particular company, and please share with the audience, some of the strategies that you have incorporated and adapted in the changing market for forces. Steve, would you like to start off the conversation please? - Sure.

Kind of looking at that from a couple of dimensions on the technology front, obviously the pandemic has had an impact on how everybody does things, making more effective use of collaboration tools, shared drives software as a service options for things like recruiting and HR management, it's also become increasingly difficult to classically walk the halls, and engage with your client base. And so, as I alluded to earlier, we stepped up our participation in some of the industry associations to help compensate for some of that, the small and emerging contractors advisory forum professional services council, FCIDEC. organizations of that type. We've just doubled down on focusing and participating, and lastly in terms of the employee base, and making sure that the team is doing well from a culture, and health, and welfare perspective.

Not everybody has responded to this pandemic scenario the same way. And so getting the leadership of the company to actively reach out and regularly talk to the team, all of those things have been necessary as a result of the way the pandemic imposed itself on our business model. - Angelica? - Great, so, well this is such a work in progress, right? With so many variables driving its trajectory, you've already mentioned it. There's so many different sort of challenges that's happening right now with economic data, that translate by inflation, rising interest rates, the supply chain challenges. A lot of these things has sort of like, have companies eyeing moves to preserve, for example, their cash flow and minimizing their expenses and for small businesses such as ourselves that could be challenging. So as an example, like the marketplace for me, specifically, the marketplace for talent has shifted, right? It has gotten a lot more competitive to find the right talent.

So leaders who can effectively meet those challenges and, you know, critical for creating work environment that attract the right kind of candidates, and bringing really good sustainable results. That's the challenge for us. So if employers continue supporting, like for example, remote or hybrid work, a location agnostic talent strategy could drive like a very different employee benefits approach in the months and years ahead. So for me, for example, we've changed some of our benefit plans to accommodate more of that sort of like work life balance, right? For example, like getting stipends for virtual fitness, for example, instead of doing stipends for transportation, since we're not doing that anymore. So we've shifted our employee benefits to be able to cater to that kind of environment at this time.

- Awesome. Leone? - Obviously I agree with what Steven and Angelica say. I think for us personally, when we changed from a consulting agency, who specifically did solution architecture to a federal contractor in 2018. We did it because the government, how the government was doing business, and the solicitation timelines, they were shifting to make an unpredictable consulting environment. So even though today we have a global pandemic that's affecting small businesses and how successful we can be. I think that market forces are always in effect and always something we have to be cognizant of.

So things like timing and availability of contract vehicles that pop up, or the constant mergers and acquisitions in our industry, or even just like economic fluctuations, have to be a major part of the small businesses strategic planning. And not only do you have to really kind of think about yourself and your company and what you wanna do over the next year, but you have to be prepared to start having adjustments in midstream to be able to evaluate your strategic plan quarterly or bi-annually. And so every year, when we elaborate on our strategic plan and revisit it, we noticed that the timelines were changing and everything was changing. So we prepared in advance by applying for socioeconomic categories, including women on small business and AA programs, they have a delay time.

And so you have to make sure that you can actually execute on your strategy by getting all the things prepared. So we have to understand recessions, and sequestration and the aforementioned global pandemics, and deliberately broaden our offerings and customer base. So we focus on well-funded agencies and self sustain agencies like USPTO who drive their own revenue.

That way we can create a broad base of work where we're less likely to be affected by adverse economic conditions. And that all comes down to strategic planning. And just making sure that you keep your eye on changing market forces, 'cause that'll happen all the time, global pandemic or not. - Exactly, exactly. Kevin? - You know, I'll follow the employee thread because I think that the largest change in force is the availability of employees.

You know, there's more jobs than employees that are out there. So not only do you have to get innovative in how you recruit new employees, you also have to be cognizant of how you retain your current employees, because other people are looking to recruit them as well. - Exactly. - You said earlier employees, our best asset.

So we continue. As Angelica mentioned, we continue challenge ourselves from our executive leadership team is how do we continually engage our employees? Right? So we have an employee engagement committee, that we keep trying to come up with different ways to continue to engage our employees. And especially during this time, and then morale and welfare. Angelica can mention the benefits enhancing the benefits and some things that may, as a small business may impact your bottom line, but a lower bottom line of something is better than a higher bottom line of nothing. We went through this, when the pandemic first started, you know, there were no in person meetings, no in person, holiday parties, no travel was going on.

So as a company, the resources that you had allocated for those holiday parties, what did you do with them? You could put them directly to your bottom line, or you could have used those resources and invested them back into your employees in one way or another. And we chose to invest them back in the employees. And now from a recruitment perspective, what we are finding ourselves, we have to over recruit. You know, there was a time when, as a small business, you didn't dare think about having employees on the bench, but when the contract runs out and the next contract starts in three months from now, you know, we were maybe referral to those employees in the past, but now we finding ourselves, we have to keep them on the bench, and float that, so doesn't affect your bottom line? Yes, it does.

But if you let those employees go, it is going to take you longer and you'll probably lose more than you would have just keeping them on the bench. If that makes sense. - Yes, it does. So we've already, and each of you have already touched upon, you know, the pandemic and how it has affected the way that you're doing business. Is there anything else you want to share with the audience to expound upon how you have changed as far as your business model is concerned during the pandemic? And I know each of you have already stated some of the impact. But is there anything else you would like to share with the audience, in that regards? Anyone can answer the question.

- Well Portia I would make an observation, and it's interesting, I'm not sure if there's a cause and effect here, but in our company anyway, we have seen more exodus of our employees to become federal executives during the pandemic than ever was the case before. Again, I'm not sure if there's a cause here, but- - Oh really? - But the numbers have been rather extraordinary. I also think in terms of things we haven't talked about already, clearly two areas matter with regard to the pandemic. One is, I think competition for talent, it's probably gonna be no matter how big a business is or whether you're on the federal side of the equation, that's gonna be the central challenge for all businesses over the next 10 years, as we've decoupled the need for having an employee proximo to the office. And we're still trying to sort through what all that means, but how you staff and hire in a virtual environment is an interesting challenge. And then from another perspective, on the business side of things, how you structure your strategy with regard to pricing, a proposal becomes very difficult, because you, in most cases, don't have definition on the side of the customer as to whether or not that employee is always gonna have to be close to the government office that's being supported.

And so those are just a couple things we're still trying to work our way through them, but they're obviously pandemic related. - Absolutely. Is there anyone else would like to expound on that question? - Yeah, I would Portia. Because you know, one of the other things that is cause and effect in our customer intimacy, we're used to being able to be in the building with the customer, walk down the hallway and sit and talk with your customer, but now nobody's in the office and we try to use, you know, virtual means to do that, but then it's still is a small window.

And I think that's become a challenge really, even within your own organizations as well. Because we used to be able to walk next door and talk to your CFO, walk next door and talk to your HR person, during the pandemic everyone was virtual. So you had to, okay, well remember, next time I talk to Denise I'm gonna ask her this, and when you get my age, you can only retain, but so much. So by next time I talk to Denise, I forgot. I forgot what that point was.

When we say that the next leadership meeting, I'm gonna bring this up. So you just, and you lose a little bit of that intimacy within your organization, as well as, and again, I talked about partnering with your customers. It almost adds a little wall to it that affects that overall customer intimacy and ability to build that up.

- Thank you for that, Kevin. Now I know we have talked about the- I'm sorry? - Sorry, I just wanted to add something real quick. I think the other thing- - I'm sorry go ahead. - I think the other thing to keep in mind is that the government themselves are struggling with some of the answers. They don't have everything already laid out yet. And it almost seems like, you know, every three months guidance is different, every six months they're still trying to figure things out.

So that's creating an unpredictable nature of when contracts are coming out and solicitations are coming out. I've seen a lot more contract bridges, because they're still trying to figure out what that next contract needs to look like. When they don't know if they'll be in-person, remote, hybrid or whatever it might be. So that can be...

You know I'm a very small business, you know we're relatively new. We don't have a lot of ability to flex. And so what we've been very careful to do is make sure that we've branched out into different agencies or kind of thought about things a little bit differently than we would've before in order to continue to give us kind of that wide range of opportunities. So whether it's like conducting research or whether it's going to, you know, industry days to have some of those better conversations, we're trying to get ahead of some of the changes in those solicitations and the timing, and better financially manage the companies. So I think just, you know cause a lot of people may be here listening, who are small business owners themselves and dealing with the financial challenges of, you know, that contract they're trying to win being delayed by six months or by eight months.

Just, you know I think flexibility is going to be incredibly huge at this point, and the way to be comfortably flexible is to make sure you have a really deep understanding the agency that you're working for, and what their challenges and timelines might be. - Absolutely. That's very good information. Absolutely.

Is there anybody else who want to chime in? - Like for me it's yeah. I just wanted to share other than what everyone has already provided insight on. Which is really important is like the one thing that, that was quite a bit of, in my case, the demographics that such as women, for example, have been hit a lot harder in my case because you know, I had quite a bit of turnover with my staff, particularly women who either have to quit their job or care for their children during the pandemic. I mean, there's no doubt that this pandemic has disrupted our personal and work lives. So there's three things, that I had at my disposal to support our employees. And it's basically communication, concern for employees wellbeing, and creating a climate of trust.

Basically sort of like to what Kevin said is employee engagement is an important barometer right now. During normal times, but even especially more important during times like this. So by focusing on things like communication, health and wellbeing, and by building a strong trusting relationship, with your employees, leaders and managers can keep your workers engaged and productive amidst all of this uncertainty.

- That's very insightful. Well, thank you. I know everyone, we've already talked about how, you know, the changes that everybody has to go through because of the pandemic and what have you. But I want to ask you, as far as these virtual engagement, how has this changed your business strategy? 'Cause like we said, you know, Kevin, we can no longer walk down the hallways, and have that one-on one. Or even the networking events that we used to where we can exchange business cards and information and you know, have that interaction. So how has this virtual engagement now, how has that changed your business strategy living in this virtual environment now? So Leone, can I start with you please? - Yeah, I was gonna say because, you know, virtual engagements are such a challenge to kind of creating that really like robust interactive dialogue that used to be possible in person.

So we've had to adjust with our current clients and partners with regular check-ins and you know, just being kind of cognizant of, of having to keep up those communications, but that doesn't really allow us to meet new people. I think though, 'cause I think everyone will have a really good answer here, but for me I think it's important that we remember that our government clients are people too, and we're all experiencing screen fatigue, and feeling just a little more disconnected from each other. So I think Angelica said it a few minutes ago, about how it's really key to reach out to people and to make sure that, you know, what Steve was saying get to some of the networking events that, you know, new organizations that help you with meet with others.

I found that cold calls just aren't working anymore, but introductions from friends are. - That's good to know, thank you very much. Kevin? - Well, you know, and I agree with Leone said, you know people getting, you know, virtual fatigue, but on the flip side is it has allowed us to reach a broader audience of our employees.

You know, for example we had, the last two years, we held virtual holiday parties, send everybody on a gift basket to their home, and we have virtual parties. And by going virtual we were able to have everyone have the opportunity to participate, have a two task in Seattle, Washington, those employees were able to participate in a virtual holiday party because it was virtually. If it was non virtual, now you probably have maybe five to 10 individual parties. And maybe we as CEOs, we try to get around to as many of them as possible. But that made it better. The same way with our all hands meeting on hands meeting.

So we have virtual town halls, you know, again we were narrowly pre pandemic before Zoom was even popular. You would have a town hall meeting in your local area where the preponderance of your employees were. And either you had to have multiple ones across the country to get everyone's attention. Or some people just were not able to participate, you know, their answers weren't being answered, their voices weren't being heard.

So this allows you to get your voice heard and I'll just share you, one of the things that we have as a ruler we have is we have cameras on. So I'll say the Zoom in or Zoom out of the meeting. So we don't want people in the Zoom meeting with the cameras off because they're not in the meeting. But I agree with fatigue aspect, but I think it also has brought some benefits to it, through it as well. - Thank you.

So who wants to go next? - I can go next. - Thank you. - As leaders, we have to provide the tools and resources needed for the staff to be successful. So we focus on the work, not the where, right? So in my case, we've used like agile methods such as like scrum and Kanban.

And we use that during our day to day work. So what we do is we establish like clear hours for collaboration and then expectations on when to be together virtually, and then, you know, through some of the ceremonies, we call it ceremonies. And then there's also flexibility outside of those hours. It's also very helpful that we have all of these tools and technology now, that's robust and standardized and, you know, integrated with collaboration, sort of like set up as well. But I do agree with everyone, that I do miss the face to face, you know, the white boarding session with everyone.

So that part is kind of like, you know, I miss that part, but thank goodness technology's making up for it. - Okay. Steve? - Yeah, I think particularly, you know, and from the perspective of my generation, if there was concern pre pandemic about teleworking, it was a potential drop in productivity.

In fact, I think what this experience has demonstrated is almost the opposite. Now you have situations where employees, you almost have to force them to back away from that digital leash and maintain some sort of a healthy work life balance. And so things like stepping up company social events, and making very deliberate efforts for outreach, acknowledging accomplishment, and effort, all of those things matter.

I'm particularly concerned with that category of employee, that's just starting out their professional life, and not being able to bump into that wily veteran in the break room and ask about how you do this or how you do that. I'm not sure we've broken the code on how to best attend to that yet. It's still work in progress, but it's an area of focus from the company's leadership perspective.

- That is an excellent point for certain. So I want to pivot a little bit here, and definitely want to continue our conversation from your perspective as a small business owners. Now, you all have successfully broken the barriers and crossed all the obstacles, so to speak you know, within the federal space. So what can you tell the small business owner who is out there making the calls, reaching out to people, you know, putting their capability statements out there and just hitting the ground daily, doing this day in and day out, but yet have not been able to really have that breakthrough with the federal space. Is there anything that you can share with them, and perhaps even talk about perceived barriers that might, you know, help them and let them know that, you're not the only ones going through this, we've all seen this.

And it's not just a one time thing, this is kind of a systemic type barriers, perceived barriers. So what can you enlighten the audience on? As far as that is concerned? Leone, can I start with you please? - Yeah, that'd be great. You know, I talked to a lot of my peers and like I said I came from a solution architecture background, where we were bidding on work all the time. And one of the things that I think is challenging for a lot of small businesses, where do you find solicitations? How do you respond to them? How do you make sure you're compliant and compelling? And all of this is a skill.

It can be learned, but it's not natural, so it has to be learned. So I would encourage people to go out there, either through SBA or some of the other organizations that support small businesses, learn about contracts, learn how to find them, learn how to bid on them, and that is the key to growth. - Exactly. Some of the advice that I would also give to small business owners as well, just starting out. Kevin, would you like to chime in, please? - Yes.

I would just say, and I agree with Leone. Portia, can I just address another question? I'm not sure we gonna get time to have everybody answer that one as well. We had a question, what does industry wish government new? - Yes. - Can I just touch on that? 'Cause I agree with what Leone said, and that's comprehensive and I'm not saying wish government knew this. I just wish they had a clear understanding of it.

Is from a small business perspective, they knew what cash flow cycle is for us. Right? So the government, we need them to pay invoices on a more timely matter and not reject invoices over trivial mistakes. If you think about, I have employee that works two weeks, I pay them. They work another two weeks, I pay them.

So I made two pay cycles. I invoice the government, and if I get paid in 30 days, I still have to pay that employee, two more cycles. Now I'm paying an employee four cycles. And if I is not done, or T is not crossed, right, when you just reject that invoice, I wish they had just had a better understanding, a little bit more compassion of what impact that is on the cash flow of a small business. And I apologize, I didn't answer the other question, but if we ran outta time, I did wanna address that question as well.

- Exactly. That is a very good point, you are so right. And we are running over a little bit of time, so I'm sorry. See Angelica and James, if you can just quickly 30 seconds each kind of hit on that either, or a question.

What does the industry wish government knew or what are some of the perceived barriers? So either question please, real quickly if you can - Yeah, sure. For me, it's like just, you know, coming from a commercial space, the government procurement is very slow, and of often delayed which is making planning extremely difficult for us 'cause as small businesses, we don't have a lot of runway. So just be patient is really my advice there.

- Okay, wonderful. - I'd say the same thing. It's a protracted sales cycle and it's not a linear journey, so don't get discouraged. - Awesome.

Well thank you, I'm sorry we are out of time. I wholeheartedly thank you all, this day. The in conversation was engaging and organic and I'm sure the audience definitely will be blessed by all of the information that you have provided.

And so we are thankful. I applaud you all. Thank you very much for your time, your expertise in, oh, I'm sorry.

Was I on mute? I'm so sorry, so thank you everyone for being on the panel. I appreciate you, and thank you for your expertise. Thank you for your time. And I just applaud all of you for being a part of this panel today. So thank you, back to you Jennifer. Thank you.

2022-09-16 13:53

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