As one of CIRAS’ chief points of contact, you’ve been inside hundreds of businesses over the past several years. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen happen in an Iowa company?
Many companies we work with are frustrated and overwhelmed with the sheer vastness of working with the government – so many processes, so many steps. But probably the biggest change was a staffing company I work with. When I first met them, I was actually still a federal employee. But then I met them again as a CIRAS employee, when they were just completing a small business certification process, and to say they were jaded with the process is an understatement. At that point, they didn’t know much about government sales, and the certification process almost turned them off of government contracting altogether.
Through persistence on both their part and our part, taking small steps, discussing not just how to win contracts in general but how to pursue them in ways that worked with their current business processes, developing short and long term strategies with them and really helping them build a government contracting network, eventually the lightbulbs went off and the connections were made.
This company has now had a few mentor protégé agreements, many federal government contracts and has developed strategic partnerships that have expanded their initial plans of working with the government. They went from frustrated to successful and are the best advocates for not letting your frustrations in this market take you off course. Once they changed their mindset about this market and had complete leadership buy-in, they saw the potential for themselves and their sales. It was really cool to see that, and even now it’s neat to see them mentoring other companies.
Tell me what a client should expect the first time that you meet with them.
I learned very quickly that walking into a company and giving them the ABC and 123 of government contracting is just too much and likely very little if anything will stick. So I use the initial couple of meetings really just to get to know the company and their goals in the government market. I also take some time to discuss how we can assist in their efforts and the expectations they should really have when pursuing government contracts. I try to be less formal and use this as a time to really build rapport with the company, to let them know the things they should consider before pursuing government contracts (especially if they are a new company or are trying to sell new products or services to a government entity) and that no matter which direction they take, we will be a resource for them.
How many miles do you drive in a given year?
That really depends on the need of the clients and our current client base at the time. I would say an average would be 8,000-9,000. (Honestly, probably more now that I think about it!)
What was your first job?
I was a hostess at Shoney’s restaurant in Bettendorf, Iowa. My dad had to drive me to the interview. As I was leaving, they actually came out to the car and said, “Can you start tomorrow?”
How much time did you spend in the private sector before coming to ISU?
Honestly, I didn’t spend much time in the public sector before I started college. I worked in the hotel industry for 5 years and started college and the Department of the Army as a contracting intern at the same time. I spent 13 years with the Department of the Army.
If you could wave your magic Government Contracting Specialist wand and change one thing for Iowa manufacturers, what would it be?
It would be for most companies to just have a crystal ball to see that if they put in the time and effort, and use CIRAS as a partner for their company, they can be successful in this market. It is overwhelming, but we have so many success stories for companies, I would love for every company that is suitable to work with the government to have the confidence and perseverance to keep going and see their potential and not give up with one challenge! If I am being honest, I would also use the magic wand to give every company a dedicated government sales staff. 🙂
Beth White, who works out of Bettendorf, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 563-370-2166..