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Too Big to Be Small, Too Small to Be Big

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Centre Law & Consulting

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Many “small” businesses listed in Federal Procurement Data Systems find themselves in a paradox—they’re at once too small to compete with large contractors, but also too large to benefit from small business set-asides. These growing firms have achieved what every small business owner hopes for—start small, gain market traction, and grow. But when a firm graduates from the benefits of small business set-asides, they enter the “mid-tier” — a murky limbo that can leave them vulnerable and, potentially, unable to compete.

The government should, as a matter of policy, continue to support and foster the growth of firms that enter the mid-tier. Research suggests maturing small businesses produce more jobs than established companies or startups. But today, these mid-tier firms have nowhere to “grow” in the federal marketplace. It’s a double-edged sword that’s not good for the economy or the federal agencies that rely on relationships with maturing small businesses.

Size Does Matter…

When it comes to professional services, mid-tier contractors simply cannot compete with the large contractors that dominate the space. Larger firms have several competitive advantages that make true competition between mid-tier firms and the largest firms illusory.

Multi-billion dollar companies have the resources to commit the talents of well-paid business development and marketing staffers solely to proposal development across multiple industries. This increases the competitiveness of the largest companies in the bidding process — potentially freezing out emergent smaller companies. In contrast, mid-size companies have limited bid and proposal budgets and typically do not have teams of individuals solely dedicated to business development and marketing. This lack of infrastructure at mid-size companies constrains their ability to compete successfully against larger actors.

What can a mid-size firm do? Often, they’re forced to sell. Competition is stifled when multi-billion dollar companies force these businesses into their supply chain through acquisition once these companies have become ineligible for small business awards. If not acquired, an advanced small or mid-size company may have to modify its business model to focus on subcontractor relationships with other large or small companies. Being limited to subcontractor roles impairs the mid-tier firm’s ability to gain project management experience essential for further growth.

…Especially in a Shrinking Market

Over the last decade, the competitive dynamics of the federal procurement market – and in particular the federal professional services industry – have changed drastically. The federal market continues to shrink in the short-term, along with the diversity of companies that supply government customers. Industry consolidation appears to have run its course in terms of efficiency, and now it simply means fewer choices for government managers.

Uncertain procurement strategies by government agencies — owed partially to congressional gridlock — challenge agencies and industry to see and prepare for future requirements. This uncertainty has adverse effects on competition and deprives the federal government of the opportunity to realize a return on its initial investment in emergent small businesses.

As in any market, there are winners and losers. But for today’s small contractors, winning might just be what sets them up to be losers. Finding opportunities to help mid-tier companies mature into strong businesses is essential — both for the competitiveness of the market and the ability of agencies to meet their mission with the most innovative solutions.

Advanced small firms have done what we all want to do. They began small, became seasoned, and grew. The government should as a matter of policy, support and foster such growth since previous data from Christopher Yukins and other researchers suggest that maturing small businesses produce more jobs than either very large or new companies. Presently, these advanced small firms have nowhere to “grow” in the federal marketplace. That is not good for the economy or federal agencies that have derived benefits from their relationships with growing small contractors.

Sizing Up the Competition

Increased concentration of Federal Professional Services Industry contract awards being performed by large companies stifles competition because advanced small companies simply cannot successfully compete with the largest players. Larger firms have several advantages that make competition between advanced small and the largest firms illusory. Multi-billion dollar companies leverage the talent of well-paid business development and marketing staff as well as teams of professional technical writers and graphic artists that can dedicate their efforts solely to proposal development. Additionally, large size companies can use their expertise to operate in multiple industries. This increases the relative competitiveness of the largest companies in the bidding process. In contrast, mid-size companies have limited bid and proposal budgets and typically do not have teams of individuals solely dedicated to business development and marketing. This lack of infrastructure at mid-size companies constrains their ability to compete successfully against larger actors.

Competition is stifled when multi-billion dollar companies force these businesses into their supply chain through acquisition after these companies have become ineligible for small business awards. If not acquired, an advanced small or mid-size company may have to modify its business model to focus on subcontractor relationships with other large or small companies. Being limited to subcontractor roles impairs the advanced small firm’s ability to gain project management experience essential for further growth.

The Government Market is Shrinking

The federal market continues to shrink in the short-term, along with the diversity of industry choices that supplies those customers. Industry consolidation appears to have run its course in terms of efficiency, and now simply means fewer choices for government managers. Uncertain strategies by government agencies — owed partially to congressional gridlock -challenges agencies and industry to see and prepare for future requirements. This uncertainty, however, has an adverse impact that shuts down competition and deprives the Federal Government from realizing any return on its initial investment in advanced small companies during their early growth.

While significant policy change will occur next year regardless of who takes control of various levels of government is an easy prediction to make, those working within today’s contracting community can expect to be asked to get things done faster and more effectively. Within federal contracting, all its many constituencies define success differently (whether you are a small, advanced small, mid-sized, or large business) and almost never achieving a consensus. As in all business, there are winners and losers. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” In the worst-case scenario, an Advanced Small firm will fail.

To learn even more, plan to attend “Federal Procurement Opportunities for Small Businesses and Middle Market Contractors“, a breakfast seminar hosted in partnership with Mid-Tier Advocacy on June 23 in Tysons Corner, VA.

Register Now | Centre Law & Consulting

Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc. (MTA) is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization was established to work toward the elimination of the competitive disadvantage facing mid-tier government support service companies. A nonpartisan organization, MTA provides resources and public awareness through issue forums and structured branded events. As such, we leverage the collective voice for mid-tier firms in response to federal policies that impact their growth and sustainability. MTA hosts scheduled business events “MTA Business Focused Breakfast” in the DMV area where industry meets policy.

About the Author:

Tonya Saunders, Founder of Mid Tier Advocacy | Centre Law & Consulting Tonya M. Saunders
Founder of Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc.

Tonya Saunders is the founder and principal for Washington Premier Consulting and Washington Premier Group. Among her accomplishments is founding and directing Mid-Tier Advocacy, a national coalition of small, emerging, and medium-sized businesses.

 

The post Too Big to Be Small, Too Small to Be Big appeared first on Centre Law & Consulting.


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