Rodger Blevins is a proud Vietnam-era Veteran who served in the United States Army, 82nd Airborne Division. During his military career, Rodger served in several capacities, most notably Special Intelligence Operations. After sustaining a back injury during a parachute mission, Rodger completed his military service and transitioned into civil service, beginning his Federal Government career at the Pentagon. Following Rodger’s transition from Government service, he served as Vice President of IT for a telecommunications firm; Executive Vice President of an IT service firm; and ultimately CEO and President of ProSphere in 2006. Rodger graduated from the University of Maryland with a dual major in Information Technology and Business Administration.
As a successful small business CEO who built his company, the old fashioned way – one brick at a time, Rodger Blevins, CEO of ProSphere Tek, has a unique take on lessons learned. He shares his insights on administrations that favor big business, and advice to other small businesses based on strategies his company has employed to position itself to succeed, no matter what the future brings.
Favoring big vs small business
Blevins says ProSphere recently underwent a SWOT Analysis, a process of assessing the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as part of its annual strategic planning. The analysis identified two key risks: The change of administration, which he says is a change that can always pose a risk, and an administration that appears to favor large business over small, thereby signalling a change in federal government competition strategy.
“While the administration’s desire to move away from big government, to shrink it, in theory creates more opportunity for the vendor community, I don’t believe this administration will be small business friendly and that will mean we are likely to see more contract bundling in the months ahead.”
This move away from small business is a cycle Blevins has seen often during his 25 years as a Fed IT Manager while working his way up the GS ladder. Contract bundling is a technique contracting officers use to merge together multiple requirements into a single contract competition rather than breaking the requirements up into multiple smaller contracts.
The likelihood of the new administration favoring large business will translate into Federal Contract Officers conducting market research focused on proving that small business does not have the capacity, resources or skills to meet these large requirements. That puts the onus on small business to find ways to influence the acquisition strategy. Customer Relation Management (CRM) through lobbying and networking with government Program Managers will become even more important than in the past if you are to succeed as a small business prime contractor.
Strategies to Succeed as a Small Business
It will be important to determine what is driving the Federal Program Manger to bundle requirements, because ultimately you want to change the behavior to convince them to unbundle thereby creating small business opportunities to prime. We have seen often that efforts by the small business community to convince an opportunity to be competed as small business are proving unsuccessful. In this scenario, although capable of priming, you learn the art of being a subcontractor.
He says small business must also work to avail themselves of as many set aside vehicles as possible, including IDIQ (indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity) and GWAC (government-wide acquisition contracts) as a constant source of opportunity identification. Then, when projects come through these channels, the small business can compete in a more equalized marketplace.
There are strategies small business can employ to ensure they are able to take part in larger bundled contracts when forced to serve as a sub. One commonly recognized approach is another use of customer relationship management to forge ties with larger companies who may be favored based on perceived capabilities. “Where a bundled contract has a requirement for small business involvement and where you’ve established a relationship and demonstrated capability, there is an opportunity to bring value, to support a large partner by delivering a niche capability for a piece of the project.”
Another strategy that ProSphere consistently employs is banding together with other small businesses to form partnerships. Blevins says instead of aligning with big business, the opportunity for small business to team up, to grow combined capabilities, supports the continuation and growth of the small business community and benefits everyone involved. In this model, government is given evidence that “small business can get the work done, that it can achieve success for less than a larger business, and that the small business community is interested in serving and capable of performing. With the right team, solution, customer relations and priced competitively, there is no reason why a small business should shy away from bidding full and open contracts”.
Over the past several years ProSphere has developed what Blevins proudly refers to as the ProSphere Incubator Program, a non-formal agreement between the company and a number of start-ups. He says start-ups benefit from access to office space and resources that are often costly, as well as the experience and knowledge of ProSphere’s team. ProSphere benefits from having niche expertise and thought leadership that can enhance its offerings as it works to secure projects. “It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. They provide us with subject matter expertise we may not possess internally and we help them grow. “And it is extremely rewarding to give back to other small businesses and watch them grow and mature”. As they grow we develop a network of trusting partnerships that can continue to work together moving forward.”
Promise and deliver
When small business, either because it has aligned with big business, or through a strategic partnership with other small companies, has the opportunity to take part in a contract award, it is crucial that they deliver on what was promised.
“There has been negative synergy created when companies over-promise through lofty proposals that are part of a competitive strategy but are not realistic. While a larger company will likely have the resources to make sure they are good to their word, no matter what extra effort or cost may be involved, the smaller business may not have the capability to rebound. This creates a sense of tension and confusion in which government procurement and management becomes leery of small business.”
Blevins says it is important always to be candid in your proposal submissions and to focus on the capabilities and skills you and your team of partners can provide, and with a realistic cost with which you can deliver. Small business must find ways to influence the acquisition strategy by demonstrating how and why government will benefit and then following through on the promise to help build government confidence in small business.
For its part, ProSphere has positioned itself with some key strategies and ingredients that will help the company perform today and leap out of small business in the future. Among them is strategic hiring, with a goal of acquiring best of breed skills and talent, with a particular goal of Vets hiring. Keeping our employees by investing in them is a company focus. A strong talent acquisition capability will be crucial going forward says Blevins. Equally important will be a focus on retaining our staff by building trust and loyalty through providing the best benefits, career advancement, training and overall a fun, family like work environment. Another ingredient is quality processes. “We invested a considerable amount of resource last year in achieving multiple quality certifications (3 ISO certifications and CMMI Level 2) which provide a framework for demonstrated, repeatable quality processes.
“We’ve built and invested in an employee and partner team, have the leadership and quality processes that continues to prove our capability as a mature small business and asserts that we are dedicated to a Public Service Partnership focused on achieving the agency mission and goals – it is after all why we are here”.
The combination of strategic alliances, building capabilities from within, and delivering on the promise are those things that will allow any small business to succeed in the future, regardless of what the future brings.
ProSphere is an ISO 9001:2008, 20000-1:2011 & 27001:2013, CMMI Level 2, CVE-Certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) that provides IT solutions to the Federal government. Founded in 2006, ProSphere is headquartered in Alexandria, VA and provides services to 13 Federal Government agencies. ProSphere supplements its capabilities with a strong and mutually beneficial partner program and is available through the following contracts: VA T4NG, VA T4, GSA VETS, GSA Schedule 70, DHS Eagle II, CIO-SP3, SeaPort-e.