By Adolfo Vasquez
About a year ago, I asked my most trusted friend, my wife, to help me with a phenomenon that was taking place during my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) counseling sessions with business clients.
They would visit my office excited and jubilant about their prospect of “growing their business” with federal contracts. Then, we began the session taking inventory of their current business profile using a tool called SWOT.
I noticed as I was working through the SWOT process that my client’s demeanor would change from “happy to be here” to “I can’t wait to leave.” This caused me to question my effort, methods and my ability to be an effective procurement counselor.
My wife recommended that she join me to observe some sessions and then she could offer any suggestions to help. I scheduled several client meetings.
I got their permission to have my wife observe and got to it. After completing two morning SWOT sessions, my wife and I went to lunch. When we returned, we discussed the sessions and I asked if she noticed the changes in my client’s attitude and behavior before, during and after my SWOT analysis. Boy, did she!
In less than five minutes, my wife summarized the spectacle that was taking place with my clients. Here are her exact words: “Honey, the information and the SWOT process you are conveying to your clients are awesome. We should use that in our educational system to help with our issues. But, what I observed is that your business clients come into your office with a coveted “baby” (their business). And during the SWOT process, you describe their baby as being UGLY! If you did that to me, I too would walk out of here disappointed and probably madder than these folks do!”
Wow! I was shocked, amazed and dumbfounded. She had to get back to her job as an educational administrator and so I was left to ponder her evaluation of my counseling issue.
After processing what she said, I realized that I was literally demonstrating to many of my clients that their baby was ugly. I was just following the SWOT process with some modifications. It wasn’t my fault. But, I realized that I needed to change my method or face more and more disappointed clients. So, I went back to the drawing board and restudied the SWOT process.
If you follow and apply the SWOT methodology, there isn’t much room for sugar coating without compromising its value. You really need to be honest and up front. But, I did have another option for finding and explaining the SWOT outcomes honestly, without being brash and cruel.
Having been a public school teacher and an adjunct professor, I soon realized that I had those skills, but had not adapted them to my current position as a business advisor. So, in short order, and with my next SWOT client the following week, I adopted the “what do you think?” and “can you see a solution?” approach that worked during my teaching career. It worked! My clients no longer leave my office mad and disappointed. They still leave with concerns and “things to do” but, with a “Git’er done” attitude instead of the “Thanks for nothing!” look I was getting before.
So, what does this story have to do with government contracting? Well, to begin with, every small business needs to become intimately familiar with the SWOT process. I am a strong believer that if there were a better mouse trap, use it. There are plenty of explanations and example vignettes on YouTube on the topic of SWOT. I would recommend you begin looking up how to use SWOT analysis.
Next go through several other videos and get a good feel for how to really be honest about your business issues in these four areas. After that, you need to visit your local PTAC (http://www.aptac-us.org), and have a procurement counselor help you adapt the SWOT questions to FLAT (federal lingo, antonyms and terms).
Knowing your business posture, profile and potential goes a very long way in performing valid bid/no bid practices, developing teaming arrangements, creating your dugout of qualified and committed subcontractors and preparing your bid proposals with confidence and reliability. Then, perform mini SWOTs about every four to six months to validate your 3P’s — presentation, practice and performance.
SWOT assessments are as important as reviewing your business plan regularly.
If you don’t have a business plan, or haven’t reviewed it in over six months, this is no longer a weakness, it is a threat. And finally, just like anything else, practice makes perfect. The more you SWOT your business, your teaming partners, your finances, your health—yes even your health can be SWOT’d—you will be on your way to success and prosperity with your business whether it be in government or commercial procurement.
Next month, we will begin the journey of “capture planning” for your business. Much of the information you have collected using the tools provided in past articles will be used in developing your capture plan. Good luck and don’t ever let anyone tell you that your “baby” is ugly. All legitimate small businesses are very attractive to the feds. ♦