How do I diversify into government?

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At a recent business forum on business diversification and growth strategies, I spoke on the topic of why businesses should consider government as a strong growth option, and how to identify and create government business opportunities. This is a part 2 of my presentation, which looks at how.

Now we’re going to talk about how to diversify into government business and grow your organisation. (First, read Part 1: Why should I diversify into government?)

Let’s look at what I said earlier: to be successful in government business you need to engage with a different group of people, learn a different ‘language’ and understand a different set of priorities. You must ‘hang out’ where your future clients hang out, and to this I will add, you need to make yourself known to government in order to create opportunities.

Many businesses seeking government contracts start with applying to tenders. This can be a good strategy – responding to tenders is an important form of marketing, even if you are unsuccessful. By responding to a government offer document you are demonstrating your skills, people, capabilities and assets. This helps you make your business known to government.

If unsuccessful with a tender, always request a debrief. Often government officers use the contact details provided in tender responses or gained through a debrief to build a library of industry capabilities against a given product or service. Within government procurement guidelines, requests for direct quotations can be sent to these companies for smaller pieces of work.

You must also differentiate yourself from competitors and make every approach count. This is true for responding to tenders and direct government engagements. Make sure you have identified and communicated a single and consistent value statement that underscores why you? Why would government want to work with you?

When I’m working with clients or delivering workshops, we always spend a few hours working out this value statement. And it’s worth spending this time.

However, to be successful long-term you need to create other opportunities. It’s not all about tenders.

Find out what government needs

How do you do that? It’s simple. You take the time to find out what government needs. Just as I did when I proposed new Winning Government Business workshops to Business Victoria, just as all my successful clients have done, you take your value proposition and identify a government problem that needs your solution.

And herein lies another advantage of pursuing government as a client. All the information about forthcoming projects, strategies and budgets is in the public domain. Annual plans, budget papers, forward procurement plans – everything you need to find a problem government is seeking to solve – is generally available on government websites if you go looking.

It is, however, fair to say that government is huge so you would be wise to target your activities.

Taking Mia again as an example, our focus tends to be around industry and programs for industry development. Even though we have clients operating across multiple disciplines, we are largely interested in technology, procurement, environmental and legal disciplines. Government is too big for us to have in-depth knowledge across all disciplines. For example, transport is a sector we deal with more peripherally.

In those target areas of technology, procurement, environmental and legal, however, we make sure we stay up to date with government strategies, grants, projects – anything that may lead to opportunities for us and our clients.

We have also been successful by mainly focusing on the Victorian State Government. My business is not (yet) at a size that will support other jurisdictions. However, as part of Mia’s growth strategy I know what we will be targeting next.

So, once you have matched your value proposition with a government problem, you then need to take the time and use relevant resources to target the right audience to meet. Generally government will meet with industry where the discussion is targeted and relevant. I prefer to use an email introduction to gain a meeting, followed by a phone call. This ensures the neat thread of proposition, problem statement and point of differentiation are apparent.

Hang out where government hangs out

I also want to mention the role of online or social networks, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, in creating opportunities and making yourself or your business known to government. Remember I said we need to hang out where our market hangs out? Well, government people hang out on LinkedIn.

Government, like most businesses, uses LinkedIn and other social media profiles to keep up to date on movements within their networks as well as industry trends. Senior executives in government can use LinkedIn to understand industry initiatives, and to promote government programs that require industry input. Also, connections on LinkedIn, once fostered, can create a warmer lead to a direct approach.

The power of social media can also help get out the message of why you, and help you understand government problem statements.

While hanging out where government hangs out, also look at industry associations and groups like Small Business Victoria and the Industry Capability Network. They all hold events designed for industry to better understand government and its priorities – and vice versa.

Now these things take time to do, and they are not one off activities. Every quarter you should be reviewing changes to a strategy or updates to procurement plans. Every week you should be reviewing tender sites.

This is why at the beginning of this session I said the very successful businesses are the ones ready for growth. You need to have the resources to focus on government for at least one day a week, every week to achieve the momentum that will lead to growth.

And finally, be kind to yourself. Start small with no more than five opportunities to create or progress in the first quarter and build on this. A good starting strategy might comprise joining a business network (or getting active in an existing one), having meetings with two or three targeted contacts, and starting a blog program through LinkedIn.

And always remember that government wants to hear your solution to its problem.

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