The United States federal government is the largest customer in the world, and doing business with the government can unlock a new world of opportunities and avenues for growth. But with its many organizations, sectors and mission areas, the GovCon market can be incredibly daunting to jump into.
Executive Mosaic sat down with Billy Himpler, practice vice president and director for the government contracting-focused recruiting team at SpectrumCareers, to get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions executives have about getting involved and succeeding in the complex, competitive and dynamic GovCon ecosystem.
Himpler is a licensed certified public accountant with deep experience and expertise in recruiting across multiple industries. Throughout his nearly five years with SpectrumCareers, Himpler has focused on serving the GovCon industry by recruiting for key positions ranging from entry level accountants to CFOs and other senior-level roles.
In his conversation with Executive Mosaic, Himpler shared insights into how small businesses can win more federal work, which factors can make executives stand out to companies and what not to do as a company working in the government sector. Read below for the full interview.
As an owner of a small business, I’d like to start winning government work. Where should I start and what do you recommend for a new player to the market?
If you can win your first prime award, you’re off to the races and hopefully you can start to pad your awards from there. Before then, getting in with another GovCon that sees your value — either as a sub or by doing a joint venture — can be a good route for success.
The federal government is the biggest buyer in the world. Odds are you have something to offer — or you could, it’s just a matter of getting you and your team in front of the right customer.
Exploring the 8(a) program via the Small Business Administration is always a huge boost for smaller firms. Especially if you’re a women-owned, minority-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned firm, you can likely apply to the 8(a) program. Every year, the federal government outlines and incentivizes work being done by small businesses and specifically businesses that are 8(a)-certified.
Lastly, like with any business, having the best business development team makes a world of difference. In GovCon, proposals, pricing and capture all fall into the business development sphere. To be best set up for success, finding professionals that know not just how to find the opportunities but win federal work is the turning point.
I’m a small government contractor and not sure who or what position to hire for next. Can you give me an idea of where to start?
Many of our clients in that $20-40 million range or are around the 100 employee mark start to ask this sort of question. It will definitely depend on what you already have and what you’re trying to accomplish based on your current team’s ability.
You likely have a CFO already at that level but you may or may not have a true controller — that is an absolute must. The CFO needs to get out of the day-to-day debits and credits at that company size.
For your accounting/finance team, a total size around four to eight or even five to ten people is a safe bet.
Pricing and proposals will need to be dedicated positions. This could be a director of contracts and pricing or a stand alone pricing and proposals role.
Many firms we work with at this size will supplement their corporate pricing or proposals person or team with consultants as needed because it may not make sense yet to have multiple permanent employees yet. However, when you’re using that consultant resource on every solicitation, it’s safe to say you probably need to hire someone permanently, both for cost savings but also for direction and course command.
I’ve never worked for or with a government contractor but I would love to enter the industry. How can I distinguish myself as a candidate to break in? How can I distinguish myself as a c-suite executive?
Searching for a new role is always an adventure with hurdles regardless of which industry you’re in. Specifically for c-suite level professionals, there are just less opportunities to go around, and if we’re focused exclusively on GovCons, it’s an even smaller pool.
Executives can distinguish themselves by:
- Getting involved in M&A activity
- Working with private equity firms
- Consolidating entities
- Implementing a software, CRM, ERP or process — Deltek Costpoint or Unanet are the bigger players for finance software these days
- Being involved in pricing/proposals — in other words, winning work
Those are all things other firms are going to look for. Beyond that, it really pays to be well-networked, and it can pay dividends when you’re not even aware. It goes without saying, but networking events, reaching out and staying connected to other c-suite executives and talking to recruiters focused on the Govcon space are all easy tools available for when you do want to switch.
What are some definitely “don’t do actions” that you’ve seen companies do, that unfortunately hurts them long term? What are some recurring themes that you see amongst companies that struggle to grow or hire?
Some of the biggest hurdles that I see regularly for government contractors are:
- Most of your back office can be done hybrid or remotely. Making people come in five days per week is an automatic candidate pool killer. Pricing and proposals professionals are in high demand and many really require remote flexibility. Accounting and finance has less flexibility, understandably, and contracts/subcontracts kind of fall somewhere in between. These are general ideas from what we see in the market, and it really depends on each firm’s org chart and outlining of tasks. In sum, the more remote the better, and the more in-office requirements you have, the harder it is to get the best talent.
- When they say they need a software such as Deltek Costpoint or Unanet, but the position they’re hiring for may not need it today — or worse, the candidate pool doesn’t have it.
- Lumping too many roles into one. For example, your controller is not also your pricer, your contracts manager is not your billing manager, etc. It can make candidates uninterested and it can also set new employees up for failure.
- It goes without saying, but being under budget by $10,000-20,000 (or more) compared to the market always makes it tougher.