Our Explainer Video – What is GovBizConnect?

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Marketing 101 for Small Government Contractors: An Interview with Artillery Founder/Principal Douglas Burdett – Part I

This is Part I of a two-part article on marketing for small defense contractors, featuring an interview with Douglas Burdett, the founder and Principal of Artillery, a B2B marketing agency specializing in inbound marketing. You can read Part II here.

For many firms seeking to enter the government contracting industry, one of the greatest barriers to entry is differentiation of their product or service. With tens of thousands of firms contracting with the federal government every year, how does a new firm position itself to compete?

Many of these small businesses are founded by technical experts—that is to say to say they have expertise in a specific field such as environmental consulting or military planning and are leveraging that expertise into a career as a small government contractor and business owner. While they have deep subject matter expertise, many have limited exposure to marketing, the tools available to marketers, or the mechanics of paid advertising. Throw in the rise of social media and figuring out a marketing strategy can be daunting.

Take the example of a brand new government contractor. After twenty years in the military, “Jack” retires from the Marine Corps and starts his own professional services firm, specializing in military and operational planning. He lands his first business opportunity—a subcontract for a large prime which requires him to hire two full-time staff—thanks in part to a relationship he had established years ago on active duty. But he needs to grow his business and win more contracts. The risk of having a single contract upon which all of Jack’s cash flow is dependent is potentially catastrophic.

Douglas Burdett is the founder and Principal of Artillery, a B2B marketing agency specializing in inbound marketing. Burdett, a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man, was kind enough to take some time and share his thoughts with us.

Part I

  1. Q: Jack needs a marketing strategy and plan. Right now, he simply doesn’t have the resources to hire a consulting firm to help him build a strategy or generate any marketing materials. He has to bootstrap his marketing efforts. Where should he start?

A: Jack should zero in on a niche in which he should initially specialize. Niche until it hurts because there are riches in niches. The more that Jack is tempted to be all things to all people (e.g. General Dynamics), the harder it will be to establish a beachhead. (I mention beachhead because Jack is a Marine. Marines understand how to establish beachheads better than anyone.)

Then, he needs to research his buyer persona, which is an archetype of the person who purchases or influences the purchase of his product. Hint: it’s not a procurement person. Many companies guess wrong about who their buyer personas are and what is important to them in making a decision to buy from you.

On the web, you are what you publish. Jack should then start blogging about his niche in terms of what his prospective customers are searching for online. Write down the top 25 questions that his buyer persona is searching for online (and assume they have never heard of Jack or his company). Write educational articles. Teaching is the new pitching.

Once his buyer personas visit his site he needs to do everything possible to capture their email addresses so that he can continue to provide more information and deepen the relationship via content with prospective customers or influencers. The best way to capture email addresses is to offer premium content in return for an email address.

Premium content could be an eBook, research report, tip sheet, buyer guide or access to a pre-recorded webinar. He should send his newsletter subscribers a regular newsletter full of informational value.

Aside from Jack’s cost for his time, the out-of-pocket costs for what I’ve described can be done for less than $1,000/year. That would be primarily for a self-hosted WordPress site and an email service provider (like AWeber or MailChimp).

  1. Q: These days every business needs a well optimized website. What are some of the most common pitfalls you see with small business websites?

A: The biggest mistake companies make is speaking a lot of French. We, we, we. It’s all about their company, products, services, capabilities, new contracts, new employees, company picnics, etc.

The more that your website is full of useful and educational information for the people who purchase or influence the purchase of what you’re selling, the more traffic, leads and contracts you will earn. That’s easy to explain but really difficult for companies to do because most companies are not focused on their customers despite what they may earnestly claim.

One other thing I’d like to add which business owners waste a lot of money on and surprises them: search engine optimization (SEO).

SEO is comprised of two broad areas: 1) off-page optimization and 2) on-page optimization.

Off-page includes things that involve other humans and are more difficult to control. For instance, the authority of your site, the number of links to your site from influential sites, how much your site is getting shared on social media, how long people are on your site based on their search terms, and about 200 other things which change daily.

On-page is what you can control on your site and has to do with setting up your site as recommended by the search engines. Years ago, this on-page tinkering was an effective way to move up in the search rankings. Many SEO firms would game the search engines’ algorithms to get their clients a higher listing in the results. However, Google has put a stake in the heart of that industry. You can’t fool the algorithms anymore. And if you try to, they’ll penalize you with poor results.

Now on-page accounts for only about 15% of your SEO results, according to SEO expert Rand Fishkin at Moz.The balance is based on how others (off-page) react to your site. Google only loves you if everyone else loves you first.

If you’re not producing website content for humans first and search engines second, you will have a much more difficult time getting found online. And if you are talking to one of the remaining SEO firms about improving your search results by tinkering with on-page optimization and they are not talking about producing content to improve your results, run away. Fast.

  1. Q: What is inbound marketing and why is it so important for a company like Jack’s?

A: Wikipedia has a pretty good definition:

“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

With inbound marketing, what’s important is not so much the size of your budget, but the size of your brain.  But more importantly, inbound marketing is aligned with how people in the Internet era want to buy.

In the past, particularly in a B2B buying situation, the buyer had to reach out to the seller to do their research. At that point the seller could guide (or strong arm) the buyer along the sales process toward a close. Buyers have always hated having to follow the seller’s process in order to get information and make a decision.

Now, a buyer can research a company online to get most of their information they need in order to make a decision without having to deal with a sales person. Various studies have shown that B2B buyers are now 60%-90% through their purchase before they first reach out to the vendor.

With the decline of ad-supported media and the rise of the Internet and advertising avoidance technology (e.g. DVRs, caller ID, email spam blockers, etc.), buyers are less a part of a captive audience that can be interrupted. Instead, marketers can no longer rely on interrupting what people are interested in. They have to be what people are interested.

With inbound marketing, a seller can get found by a prospective buyer while they are doing research. Interruptive advertising and marketing will never go away, but marketing that people grant permission to companies to provide is substantially marginalizing them.

  1. Q: What do you think are the most effective forms of content marketing for a company like Jack’s? Blogs, podcasts, whitepapers?

A: The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing this way:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The most important form of content marketing remains a blog. Blogs are simply articles posted to a section of your website (in reverse chronological order) that include the ability for readers to make comments and use social media to share the content. You’re reading a blog right now.

Each blog post (500-1,000 words) should focus on one topic and be educational and non-promotional (the reader is already on your site). Try to answer one question your buyer persona has. Include embedded videos and visuals and remember that online, people tend to scan more than when reading printed material.

On your site, include calls-to-action to download more in-depth premium content (like eBooks, webinars, whitepapers, research studies, etc.). Put the content behind a landing page that requires registration (at minimum an email) in return for the content.

Podcasting is another burgeoning content marketing tactic. Podcasting is an on-demand Internet radio show that can be delivered wirelessly to a smartphone via an app like iTunes or Stitcher. Listeners can consume podcasts while they are doing something else like commuting, exercising or walking the dog. Podcasting is a more intimate medium in that listeners allow the speaker into their ears, and the production costs are nominal. But the catch is that the content has to be educational or entertaining.

And don’t forget about public speaking. That is a very powerful form of content marketing. Always has been.

  1. Q: Is e-mail marketing still an effective tool? The volume of emails people receive on a daily basis has reached absurd levels. What are your views on e-mail marketing for businesses like Jack’s?

A: If I had to pick between only email marketing or social media marketing (which I don’t, thankfully), I’d take email marketing. A McKinsey study showed that for customer acquisition, email is 40 TIMES more effective than social media.

Think of social media as a passing parade, visible only when someone decides to watch. Email, however, gets delivered directly to everyone on your email list and consumed when the recipient chooses.

Sure there is a tremendous level of email traffic, but let’s be truthful – a lot of it is unnecessary. Much of it is administrative, interoffice communication that could be obviated by internal social networks. And many email newsletters are still low on useful, relevant information and high on French (we, we, we – very much about the sender).

However, if you are delivering valuable information to people who have opted in to receive email messages from you, it’s a great opportunity to build credibility, trust and preference. If your email newsletter did not get sent and was missed by your readers, you know you’re doing it right.

A note of caution about email marketing, however. Make sure that you have been invited to email your recipients. Spamming people is not only against the law in certain instances, it can decrease your ability to have ANY emails from your organization get through. For more, check out my article, “Why Marketing With Purchased Email Lists Is Like Unprotected Sex.”

  1. Q: Which social media platforms do you find the most effective? Given Jack’s business, if he has 30 minutes a day to spend on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, where should he be spending it?

A: It all goes back to Jack’s buyer persona. Which social media “watering holes” does his buyer frequent? While most people are on Facebook, it tends to be where people go when they want to lean back and be entertained. Conversely, on LinkedIn, people tend to lean forward and are more focused on work and professional development. Twitter is also a great place to listen and get to know thought leaders and prospective customers.

What’s most important for any business to understand about social media marketing is that it is like a fishing line being cast from your boat. You want to use it primarily to invite people from social media back to your website. That’s why you need to have your own (useful) content on your site, and include a link to it in your social media posts. Tweet out links to your blog posts. Go on relevant LinkedIn groups and answer questions and include a link back to a blog post that answers someone’s question.

Social media works beautifully in extending your company’s reach. Jay Baer says, “Content is fire. Social media is gasoline.”

But don’t build your house on rented land. Don’t do anything on social media that you won’t be upset if it vanished tomorrow. That’s because, while you own and control what is on your website and blog, you cannot control what social media platforms will do with what you have posted on their sites (you read the terms of service, right?).

Social media platforms can, have and will change the rules on its users. For instance, for years Facebook encouraged companies and organizations to build up an audience of followers. Millions of organizations spent time and money building up a community of followers on Facebook.

But did you know that Facebook now shows your posts to only about 2% of your followers? That’s right. Want more of the followers you’ve amassed to see your posts on Facebook? Pay up. For more visibility on Facebook you now have to pay Facebook. Does that seem fair? It doesn’t matter – it’s Facebook’s site and you have to play by their rules.

My point here is not to disparage Facebook but rather to illustrate how when you do things on any social media platform, you are playing by the platform’s ever changing rules.

On your site, however, you have full control. That’s why Jack should focus first on producing content on his site that he can then share in various forms on social media in hopes of luring interested parties back to his site. Doing so gets prospective customers and influencers to know, like and trust Jack before they have decided to reach out to him directly.

Stay tuned for Part II of our interview. In the meantime, please be sure to follow Douglas Burdett and Artillery on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Three Tips for an Epic GovBizConnect Profile

ThreeTipsWe wanted to share some best practices as you build your GovBizConnect profile. Follow these three simple tips to get the most out of your GovBizConnect profile.

  1. Add your company or department’s logo to your profile. Unlike LinkedIn, GovBizConnect is a business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-government (B2G)
    network. This means that profiles represent organizations, not individuals. As such, we want to make sure that each organization’s brand is represented by displaying its logo. The GovBizConnnect default is this question mark to the right. largeWhatever you do, don’t leave your profile avatar as the default. But don’t miss the opportunity to share company or department’s logo. To upload a logo, simply click “Edit avatar.”
  2. Fill out your entire GovBizConnect profile. The more information in your profile, the greater your chances of connecting with a great teaming partner or being contacted for a new contract opportunity. All of the fields are important. We have developed these data fields based on the key pieces of information required to make valuable business connections. Filling out a complete profile only takes 10-15 minutes.
  3. Update your GovBizConnect profile regularly. Don’t let your profile sit idle. Make sure that you periodically update your profile and keep the information fresh. Secure a new government certification? Win a new industry award? Make sure you include that in your profile. Every piece of information is an opportunity to differentiate your business.

Be sure to sign up for GovBizConnect today and share it with your colleagues.

Follow GovBizConnect

About GovBizConnect

GovBizConnect’s mission is to help businesses in the government market find great teaming partners and grow their business by providing a network for targeted, data-driven searches.

Could a Match.com approach help build relationships in federal contracting?

by James Bach

Finding a partner in the government market can be a difficult task and it is only becoming more important. That’s why one industry vet is looking to adopt a Match.com model for teaming partners in government contracting.

Tom Skypek, a former client engagement manager at McLean-based consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. (NYSE: BAH), hopes his new online tool,GovBizConnect.com, will help facilitate the process of matching subs and primes. He envisions a tool where large and small contractors can search keywords and criteria to track down new partners.

At Booz, Skypek said he often had trouble finding small business partners on set-aside contracts. Some teaming arrangements didn’t work out, prompting a mad dash — perhaps making 11th hour Google searches — to find small businesses without any comprehensive consolidated database to make that easier.

“We were in a position where we had been doing great work but needed a teaming partner with very specific expertise,” Skypek told me. “A couple of the contractors — small businesses that we had in the queue — they didn’t have the right contract vehicle or one of their designations wasn’t quite right so we were very quickly at square one with needing to find a small business parter to try to be able to pursue this work.”

A lot of federal contracts are being bundled into larger awards at a time when agencies are making bigger pushes to open the government market up to more small businesses.

“Teaming is such an important part of contracting now,” said Lee Dougherty, a government contracting attorney with Tysons-based law firm Offit Kurman. “Even the really big companies struggle to do everything on a contract without teaming.”

Dougherty said Skypek’s website, which launched a “Version One” in August, can’t replace the work needed to establish good teaming partners.

“There is no database that can replace good, old-fashioned relationships and networking,” Dougherty said. “That is how good relationships are built.”

Where Skypek’s next challenge will come is in attracting clients to the tool. At the moment, small businesses, large businesses and contracting officers can build profiles for free. His aim is to “aggressively get early-adopter user feedback.”

As Dougherty pointed out, “Any database is only as good as the people who participate in it.”

Skypek hasn’t given up his full-time gig working for a financial services group yet, but he hopes to eventually work on his site full-time. He and his co-founder hope to make money by selling ads against what is currently a free online tool. But it is still in its early stages and if he can generate more buzz, he said he plans on selling more privileged user features, similar to how LinkedIn sells premium accounts.

Washington Biz Journal: Could a Match.com approach help build relationships in federal contracting?

James Bach from Washington Business Journal wrote a great piece today on GovBizConnect. Please be sure to check it out and share it with your colleagues.

From the piece:

Finding a partner in the government market can be a difficult task and it is only becoming more important. That’s why one industry vet is looking to adopt a Match.com model for teaming partners in government contracting.

Tom Skypek, a former client engagement manager at McLean-based consultant firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. (NYSE: BAH), hopes his new online tool, GovBizConnect.com, will help facilitate the process of matching subs and primes. He envisions a tool where large and small contractors can search keywords and criteria to track down new partners…

…”Teaming is such an important part of contracting now,” said Lee Dougherty, a government contracting attorney with Tysons-based law firm Offit Kurman. “Even the really big companies struggle to do everything on a contract without teaming.”

Dougherty said Skypek’s website, which launched a “Version One” in August, can’t replace the work needed to establish good teaming partners.

“There is no database that can replace good, old-fashioned relationships and networking,” Dougherty said. “That is how good relationships are built.”

Mr. Dougherty is absolutely correct: the in-person dimension of relationship-building can never be replaced, as it is required to build trust and lay the foundation for a fruitful and profitable partnership. But with over 180,000 businesses contracting with the federal government, even the most astute networker is bound to leave valuable partnerships on the table.

Hoping to find great teaming partners through industry luncheons works on occasion, but there is a more efficient way to make that initial connection–not based on luck or serendipity but data. That is the essence of Teaming 2.0, our concept for the future of contractor teaming.

GovBizConnect.com is a critical first-step in filtering and identifying viable partnerships through very specific criteria. It’s all about compatibility and in a sea of 180,000 firms, it’s only logical to down-select teaming partners based on specific criteria such as government certifications, contract vehicles and other important criteria. As we note in our white paper, Teaming 2.0: The Future of Contractor Teaming in the Government Market,

According to the Library of Congress, in fiscal year 2014, 180,575 businesses received contract money from the U.S. Government. Of that figure, 51,192 were considered small businesses. Right now large businesses are depending on the personal professional networks of their business development team to identify teaming partners. Today, the data set is simply too big to rely on personal LinkedIn accounts or chance meetings at industry luncheons to identify teaming partners.

This is similar to the concept behind Match.com and eHarmony. In a sea of potential mates, for many it makes sense to filter the millions of potential matches based on compatibility criteria. For some, it’s tough to understand finding your future spouse through an online network, but in a large number of cases it works quite well.

GovBizConnect is not meant to supplant in-person networking but instead augment it and make it more efficient. What we’re doing is innovating–taking the existing process and making it better. This is a different way of doing things. Because it’s new and disruptive, resistance from certain corners is a certainty. After all, change is hard.

Obama Vetoes 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

ExerPhoto Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarquecising the fifth veto of his presidency, President Barack Obama vetoed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

From Stephen Mufson of The Washington Post:

President Obama exercised his veto power Thursday for just the fifth time in his presidency, rejecting a defense authorization bill because of the way it would sidestep budget limitations for the military and because it would restrict the transfer of detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.

The White House said that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would tap an overseas contingency operations account designed for emergencies and war costs and use it as a “slush fund” to avoid budget restrictions. Those restrictions — known as sequestration — would impose offsetting across-the-board cuts if spending passed certain levels.

Read the full story here.

In this hyper-polarized political environment, it’s important to remember that in order to reach the president’s desk, this bill had to pass both the House and the Senate.

Be sure to sign up for GovBizConnect today and share it with your colleagues.

Follow GovBizConnect

About GovBizConnect

GovBizConnect’s mission is to help businesses in the government market find great teaming partners and grow their business by providing a network for targeted, data-driven searches.

Ronald Reagan for GovBizConnect

If you see our life-size Ronald Reagan cutout in Crystal City Metro today, tweet us a picture or share it IMG_1300 (1)on LinkedIn and tag us. In return, we’ll write a featured blog post on your business, department, or agency. Of course, if you walk by, don’t forget to take Two sticky notes and share them with your colleagues!

NDAA Has Provisions to Beef Up Contracting Opportunities for Small Busineses

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) sitting on the president’s desk for signature has some important provisions to increase the ability of small businesses to contract with the federal government.

From Kent Hoover in the The Business Journals:

The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act on a 70-27 vote Wednesday, sending the bill to President Barack Obama. The president, however, has threatened to veto the legislation because it includes funding from a special account to get around spending caps imposed by sequestration…

…The defense bill aims to bring more small businesses back to federal contracting by giving them a better chance of winning a piece of the action. The legislation would:

  • Combat the consolidation of contracts into deals that are too large for small businesses by making sure that agencies justify and identify bundled contracts. This would enable small businesses to challenge contracts that shouldn’t have been combined.
  • Require that small business procurement advocates at the Small Business Administration are properly trained.
  • Ensure that the past performance and qualifications of team members are considered when small business teams and joint ventures pursue large contracts.
  • Create an independent office at the SBA to hear challenges to the agency’s industry-specific size standards, instead of forcing small businesses to go to federal court with these challenges.
  • Hold agency officials accountable for meeting their small business subcontracting goals.

Be sure to sign up for GovBizConnect today and share it with your colleagues.

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About GovBizConnect

GovBizConnect is the premier online professional network for government contracting professionals.

Fraudulent Woman-Owned Contractor to Pay $20 Million

GovBizConnect Featured in Washington Technology

GovBizConnect FeaturesGovBizConnect was featured yesterday in Washington Technology. Senior Staff Writer Mark Hoover described the genesis of the business and outlined GovBizConnect’s vision for the future of business-to-business and business-to-government professional networking. From the article:

Tom Skypek, co-founder of GovBizConnect, remembers how difficult it was to find teaming partners back in his Booz Allen Hamilton days.

“It boiled down to your individual professional network. Maybe a company has an in-house business development database, but that was not the case from what I saw,” Skypek said…

 …Through GovBizConnect, users will be able to build tailored profiles to help identify teaming partners and subcontracting opportunities. The service will also allow government employees to search for qualified small businesses.

There are three profile types, Skypek said—small business, large business, and government employee. Each profile is free to set up, and each contains a variety of different data fields into which users can put information on small business designations, staffing and past performance, for example.

Read the full article here.