Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 14)

This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah.

This episode includes a conversation between Chuck Spence, director for PTAC at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and Joshua Frank, CEO of RSM Federal.

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The Business Elevated Podcast is also available in iTunes.

Audio

Transcript

Introduction

Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Chuck Spence (0:21): Hello, I’m Chuck Spence. I’m the director of the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, or PTAC. And what PTAC is, is a government contracting business development program in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development here in Utah. And today we’re going to be talking about our upcoming annual event, which is the PTAC Symposium. And that is going to be held on October 16th at the Salt Lake Community College, Miller Campus in Sandy, Utah. And the specific address for that is 9750 South, 300 West.

And at the symposium, we have a number of activities planned for it. And by the way, I should mention that the theme for the symposium is “Gaining the Edge in a Changing Landscape.” It starts at 7:30 registration. And right at 8:00 we hope to have our Gov. Gary Herbert, or the Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, give us some remarks. In addition to that, we have what I consider three outstanding breakout sessions.

The first one will be “PTAC 101,” which talks about our program, our services, and this will be especially important for those that know next to nothing about the PTAC program or for first-time attendees. The second breakout session will be entitled “How Award Decisions are Made.” And the third breakout session, which will be a panel discussion, is “Pathways to Success.” And this breakout session will have about four or five panel guests. They will talk about the recommendations, the do’s and don’ts, tips and tricks from successful small businesses who have done well in government contracting.

So if that isn’t enough for our attendees, we also have a renowned keynote speaker who will address us. His name is Joshua Frank. He is the CEO of RSM Federal. And Joshua is joining us today via conference call from his home in St. Louis, Missouri. Joshua, welcome to our podcast today.

Josh Frank (2:50): Oh, thanks Chuck, and it’s really great to talk to you again. I am really looking forward to coming to Utah. I do want to say one thing. Last time I was there was five years ago, and a lot has changed in five years.

But the one thing, and I told you this five years ago, I don’t know if you remember. But five years ago I said, “You know what? The Utah PTAC is one of the best-run PTACs in terms of how it’s operated and the value it provides that I’ve ever seen.” And for people that know me, I wouldn’t say that unless it was true. So I just wanted to first let you know I’m really excited about coming back.

Chuck Spence (3:39): Joshua, you are too kind. Thank you for that very warm compliment, and we hope to live up to that reputation. Joshua, you’re going to be discussing how to differentiate and communicate past performance. And you’re going to have about 40, 45 minutes to do that. Can you give our audience and attendees a preview of what all that entails?

Josh Frank (4:05): Yeah, absolutely. So Chuck, companies often ask me and they go, “You know hey, why are these other companies winning, right? Why am I having such a hard time winning contracts?” Or, “Gosh, there’s so much information out there, I’m not sure really what my next step is. I have all these things I’ve been told to do.” 

And it’s industry agnostic, right? So whether you sell, I don’t know. Whether you’re a general contractor, like you’re in the architecture, engineering, construction industry, a technology firm, environmental services, office supplies, plumbing, hardware, you do marketing. It’s totally industry agnostic. We all know that there are thousands of companies that do what you do, right? So when your positioning as a small company, when you’re positioning in the market, you’re performing business development, how do you differentiate? How do you communicate value and how do you influence these procurements?

So at a high level, my session, the keynote is going to be how to communicate the value of your products and services with quantifiable and qualifiable metrics so that you’re communicating a stronger perception of capability and corporate maturity, which is critical for small business.

Chuck Spence (5:35): That is going to be so important for the attendees to hear. Joshua, I’ve got to ask you this. You’ve been in this game for a long time. What’s your background? How did you gain experience and expertise in government contracting?

Josh Frank (5:51): Well, it goes back 30 years. So I’ve been in the market for three decades, and it started when I was a student in college and I went into the military. And so, now I’m a former military intelligence officer. No jokes about that. But I’ve worked with small and large companies after that.

I’ve worked for women-owned, I’ve worked for 8(a), minority and socially disadvantaged. I’ve worked for veteran-owned, but I’ve also worked for Fortune 100. And so I ran the Department of Defense for MasterCard worldwide up in Washington, D.C., and then I worked for a couple of other smaller midsize companies after. And, in these 30 years, I specialized in tactics and strategies for prospecting, business development, marketing proposal, back-office operations. And for the last 11 years, my firm has helped folks through symposiums and in other training events win more than 2 billion in government contracts, small business and government contracts. And so my passion, Chuck, is teaching, is coaching small business professionals.

Chuck Spence (7:21): Joshua, you do have a wealth of experience. No question about that. Now you’re a much sought after speaker. You’ve spoken to thousands of businesses throughout the nation. What should a small business know as they get started in pursuing government contracting?

Josh Frank (7:41): That’s a good question. Well, first you need to actively engage your local PTAC, right? So obviously that’s where we came together. So number one, proactively engage your local PTAC. And the reason I say that is because there are so many firms out there, I will call them unethical, okay, that play on companies that are trying to initially get into the government market. And they’ll charge you an arm and a leg. Whereas the PTAC, most of the services are provided at no cost. So that’s number one.

Two, government sales is a long game. Government sales, you and I know, it’s very strategic. And a lot of folks ask me and they go, “Josh, how long is it going to take for me to win a contract? How long is it going to take to drive revenue?” And the answer is the average company takes 18 to 24 months, right? And so if you’re, for example, if your commercial sales are maybe a little down this year, and you say, “I’m going to look for some quick revenue. To augment that, I’m going to open up a government division, right?” I mean, you could be a three-person company. “I’m going to open up a government division.” But the problem is government sales is not the tactical answer.

So number two, government sales, it’s a long game. And now here’s the good news. If you have the right tactics and strategies, you can cut down from 18 to 24 months down to about 12. But that’s the expectation you should set as you come into the market. And then I guess the third one that popped to mind real quick was 90 percent of all small companies get their first three or four contracts as a subcontractor. They team with other companies. So those would be the three that pop to mind.

Chuck Spence (9:58): Yeah. Josh, as you mentioned, and it’s true, this is a long-term game, and it’s going to take them a while to maybe get to get their foot in the door. What are some of the common mistakes that small businesses make as they get involved with federal procurement?

Josh Frank (10:18): All right, so that’s another good question. There’s some very common concepts that I run into when I’m working with very small companies. And the first one is you’ve got to leave the office. You’ve got to get out of the office. If all you do is look at your morning emails from your bid matching system, right? Or if all you do is go to FedBizOpps and you’re submitting bids. If all you’re doing, you’re submitting bids, you’re not going to win a lot of contracts, okay?

And so understand that success in the government market requires focusing your business development activities in the pre-acquisition phase. And I’m going to touch on this extensively during the keynote on the 16th, but the difference between acquisition and pre-acquisition is that pre-acquisition is before the RFP or before the RFQ gets released.

So most small companies focus after the RFP or RFQ is released. And so that is an absolute common challenge that small companies have. It’s not hard to resolve. But you got to have the right tactics and activities scheduled and in place.

The other one, if I were to have a third, it would be another common mistake is marketing what you sell instead of marketing the value that your products and services provide to your clients. And just to close up on that, everybody says, “Well, you know, I sell these services, I provide these services, I provide these products.” Well, guess what? Chuck, you and I know there’s a hundred, there’s a thousand companies that sell what you sell. So it doesn’t matter if you’re 8(a) or woman-owned or a small business. It’s about the value that your products and services actually provide to your clients. And if you don’t properly communicate that, and that’s what we’re going to talk about on the 16 th, odds are you’re going to have a very uphill climb.

Chuck Spence (12:51): Josh, well said. Now you’re going to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Utah PTAC Symposium on October 16th at the Salt Lake Community College, Miller Campus in Sandy. Josh, what are the main points or themes that you want those small businesses to leave with?

Josh Frank (13:10): Well, if you come to the symposium, and again, whether you’ve been to Utah PTAC Symposium in the past or not, I highly recommend it. There’s a really strong lineup this year. There’s some really, really good sessions, as Chuck already outlined. But if you come to the event, and I hope you do, there are a couple of things that you’re going to leave with.

One, you’re going to learn how to communicate your past performance in a way that successfully differentiates you from all the other companies and helps you achieve competitive advantage over your competition. So that’s number one. Number two, for companies that don’t have a lot or even any past performance, like you’re a startup, you just opened your doors for business six months ago. How do you communicate value when you’re just starting out? How do you create a perception of corporate maturity? And it can be done. You just have to understand how to do it. And so if you attend the symposium on this on October 16th, you’ll learn these tactics and strategies.

Chuck Spence (14:31): Terrific, Joshua. Hey, you have recently authored a new book entitled “An Insider’s Guide to Winning Government Contracts.” What will the reader learn and benefit from by reading your book?

Josh Frank (14:47): Yes. The Insider’s Guide, which hit number one bestseller on Amazon the day it was released, and I’m more tickled by that than anything. Whether you’re new to government sales or you’ve been in the market for a couple of years, I designed the chapters, Chuck, so that they would provide real-world tactics and strategies that every company should understand if they want to win government contracts.

Probably the most important thing you’ll learn from the book is how to properly position your company or your company’s solution. And I do plan on bringing several boxes of the books to the symposium. So you can get it on Amazon if you want or you can wait to get one at the symposium. But if you do buy it on Amazon, bring it if you want me to sign it, but we will have copies there. And I love giving the books to folks and talking about it and getting all the feedback. And feedback’s been awesome. But yeah, I mean I’m there for the keynote, but if you want a copy of the book as well, I will have one with me.

Chuck Spence (16:04): Joshua, these attendees, they’ve got to have a copy of your book. And of course, they’ll be available at the symposium. As we wrap up and to kind of conclude this podcast, let me just invite the listeners to register for the symposium by going to business.utah.gov/PTAC. One more time, business.utah.gov/PTAC, P-T-A-C.

Joshua, thank you very much for joining us today. We can’t wait for you to come October 16th and be our keynote speaker. This is going to be a fantastic conference and symposium. And all of you will want to be there. So again, it’s on October 16th at the Salt Lake Community College in Sandy. And again, to register you go to business.utah.gov/PTAC. Joshua, thank you.

Josh Frank (17:04): Thanks, Chuck.

Conclusion

Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.