How to Get Government and Corporate Clients
To expand beyond your current customer base, investigate opportunities for new revenue streams.
Q: Weare a 100 percent women- and minority-owned fabric wholesaler inbusiness more than 10 years with sales in excess of $1 million. Ourcustomers are interior decorators and designers, but we feel thereare some significant opportunities for us to expand our client baseinto the corporate and government purchasing industries. Currently,these channels represent zero percent of our sales. How would yousuggest we begin this road to expansion?
A: Youare right on track. After 10 years in business, it is mostdefinitely time for you to begin exploring options for new revenuestreams and expanding your market share. I will give you some basicstrategies to begin pursuing and also some resources for you toinvestigate to help you identify opportunities to expand.
The most important thing to remember is that, like everythingyou've done this far, there are some must-do steps you need totake, and it may be at least a year before you bare fruit from yourefforts. However, it sure sounds like you are well on your way.
Step One: FeasibilityStudy
It is entirely possible there are corporate entities and governmentagencies who could become direct customers for you. What seems evenlikelier is that there are suppliers to these groups that youshould be seeking out as well. Do your homework and be direct.Identify up to 10 diverse companies and three to four governmentagencies procuring minority contracts that you'd like to dobusiness with. Read up on them; find out who the purchasing agentsare and investigate where they post their RFPs (requests forproposals). Before responding, read the RFPs and learn what will berequired of you. For instance, you may have to obtain your MBEcertification, increase the amount of your insurance and providereferences.
Write them a short e-mail or letter, or call and simply havethem answer the question as to whether or not they have RFPs torespond to or what their requirements are to do business with you.As you know, many have their supplier development programdescriptions right on their Web sites. Learn what will be expectedfrom you in terms of meeting their demand for product, delivery andservice. From this, you will have some clarity on whether or notyour hunch is right and if your infrastructure can accommodate thedemand from expansion. You may be surprised at some of the hiddenopportunities you uncover.
Step Two: StrategicPlan
I'm assuming you began your business with a sound business planthat has served you over the years. A good business plan,however--one that will serve you throughout your growth--needs tobe updated. Before you begin your external campaign, it'simportant to get your own house in order. After you've doneyour feasibility work, you'll need to come up with a strategicplan for managing production--the biggest mistake I see many smallbusinesses in your position make is taking on the work and thenfinding the human capital to produce and service.
Answer this: Do you have the capital to add the personnel beforeyou get the deal, or will it be contingent upon the sale? Thelatter is never the best approach. Once you've put together astrategy on the inside to take on the new market (sales, marketing,production, fulfillment and so on), then it's time to putyourself out there.
Step Three: CommunicationTactic
The final step in the process, whether you're going solo orlaunching a strategic alliance, is to map out, very precisely anddeliberately, a tactical plan for communication. How will you getthe word out, and what is the word?
I like to bite off small pieces rather than swallow the wholepie. You may want to consider focusing on one industry at a time,and within that industry, a handful of particular organizations orcompanies. In that plan, you'll want to make as manyimpressions as you can. You want to be seen on the Internet and intheir industry publications. You'll also want to develop somestrategic marketing letters, join their association for access tomembers and opportunities for exposure, and establish yourself or acompany spokesperson as an expert on your topic. For example, ifyou target the transportation industry, you may launch a campaignthat talks about how the fabric (texture, color) of a seat orwindow cover enhances or diminishes the mood of passengers. You getthe idea: Make it known how you can add value to their service orpurpose.
If you're ready to get started, I recommend you evaluate thefollowing resources:
- How to Write an Effective Proposal to Government: Thisdocument provides tips on writing proposals to do business with thegovernment.
- Gtracts: This firm works with companies that areseeking opportunities for government contracts and has worked withcompanies to find and secure opportunities.
- Getting Ready to Do Business with theGovernment: This is the About.com site for what you need to doto prepare for approaching the government to do business withyou.
- Women &Diversity WOW! Facts: This site has an entire paper on howminority and women businesses can procure major corporatecontracts.
- AbusinessResource: This site provides a thoroughdirectory listing of organizations by state that provide assistancefor minority supplier development programs.
Best of everything to you.
Robert L.Wallace is the founder of EntreTeach LLC, a new Web portal designed tofoster the development of minority and women entrepreneurs. He isalso the founder and chairman of The BiTH Group Inc., an IT consulting firm thatprovides services in management consulting, telecommunications, PCsupport and integration, and document imaging services.
The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.