1. Introduction: Landing Bigger, Better Clients
Small business and big contracts go hand-in-hand more often than many entrepreneurs realize. As the owner of a small business--even if you’re a sole proprietor--you can bid on public and private sector contracts that have the potential to dramatically increase your revenue and strengthen your prospects for long-term growth.

That’s good news for the 40 percent of small business owners who said in a 2015 survey by The UPS Store and Inc. that their greatest marketing challenge is getting new customers. By targeting large corporations and government agencies, you can generate more revenue from a single client than you may be able to realize by continuing to focus on smaller accounts.

How big is the opportunity? The federal government alone buys nearly $100 billion worth of goods and services from small businesses each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports. And the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee website notes that the law “requires that 23 percent of all federal prime contract dollars be awarded to small businesses.”

Large corporations also seek out relationships with small business vendors, service providers, and consultants. For some, small companies play a key role in meeting their supplier diversity targets or fulfilling small business subcontractor requirements in their own contracts with government agencies. Other big businesses have signed onto projects like Supplier Connection, “an initiative to grow small businesses and create jobs.”

Government contracts and contacts
These free online resources can support your company’s move into government contracting and help ensure that your small business competes effectively in this lucrative market.

• The U.S. Small Business Administration offers training through its online Government Contracting Classroom

• The General Services Administration’s FedBizOpps.Gov maintains a database you can search to learn which federal agencies need your products or services. To qualify as a contractor, you must register your company with the GSA’s System for Award Management.  

• Do you run a minority-, woman-, or service-disabled veteran-owned small business or a small disadvantaged business? Learn how certification can benefit your company. 

• Want to start by subcontracting to an established government vendor? Check this SBA directory for opportunities. 

2. Developing relationships and resources

Identifying and competing for big contracts is only half the challenge. Before you begin responding to requests for proposals from large corporations or government agencies, you have to prep your company and yourself to handle big projects successfully. Achieving that goal will mean some combination of enhancing internal resources and creating strategic alliances with partners, vendors, consultants or freelancers, and even customers or competitors.

Can your systems scale to your ambitions?
To identify areas of your business that need an upgrade, think about your target clients. If they were your clients right now, what problems would you face? To succeed with big clients, you need to solve those problems before you go after that business. Areas to assess include your:

• Accounting systems and procedures
• Communications systems and standards
• HR function and recruitment
• Process documentation and training
• Marketing, sales, and customer service
• Distribution and fulfillment

Each of these needs to be capable of scaling as you take on bigger clients with more formal, structured, or just time-intensive expectations. And when you conduct your review, be sure to include all the strategies and tactics that so far you’ve opted to keep in your head. Those need to be formalized in writing so that you can delegate successfully and focus on cultivating and sustaining the new business relationships that will drive your company’s growth.

Partnerships are the other side of the equation, and ideally, those are an outgrowth of relationships that you’ve already established. “You have to build your network and continue to build it over time, because you never know what the next opportunity is going to look like,” says business consultant David Hamme, managing partner at Ephesus Consulting and author of
Customer Focused Process Innovation: Linking Strategic Intent to Everyday Execution (McGraw-Hill 2014). “That really can be a game changer for you.”

3. Building brand and bandwidth
In fact, when asked in The UPS Store/Inc. survey to name the most effective way to compete against larger or more established businesses, 29.7 percent of small business owners cited networking; 24.8 percent favored using speaking engagements and publicity to position themselves as experts; and 23.1 percent favored teaming with other providers to increase their capabilities.

St. Louis-based The Catalyst Center has made the use of independent contractors a central component of its ability to meet the needs of large corporate clients across a broad spectrum of industries and markets. CEO Laura Burkemper says the key to making this model work is focusing on how these partnerships can strengthen the company’s ability to build client relationships and deliver enhanced value.

And in Cincinnati, Natalie Martin has entered into partnerships that have strengthened the platform she uses to promote her business, NCM Equestrian. In addition to establishing a strong client base, she has published an e-book, launched a line of branded merchandise, and signed sponsor agreements that underwrite her competition costs.

4. Network strategically and profitably
To build your network and optimize its value to your growth plans, develop connections through a combination of online sites such as LinkedIn and real-world meetings through associations, conferences, and local networking groups.

“Take advantage of professional organizations to learn from those who are doing what you do,” says George Labovitz, PhD, founder of ODI, an international management training and consulting company, and professor at Boston University School of Management. “I’ve had opportunities over the years to meet with essentially competitors in a very informal setting to answer questions like, ‘How do we grow the business? How do we scale up? What systems are you using?’ I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone reluctant to share.”

Be sure to include your customers in that networking, because ultimately, their needs, areas of satisfaction, and pain points are the metrics of your company’s success. As a small business owner, that creates a competitive advantage for you because you have closer and more immediate contact with your clients than a larger company can maintain.

That advantage positions you not only to become valued by your new, bigger clients, but also to retain your legacy accounts, Hamme says. By remaining communicative and soliciting their feedback, you can establish a record of success in meeting the needs of each of your clients, from the largest to the smallest. “Make sure you’re working toward those same service metrics that you were always working toward,” he says. “Continuous improvement has to be part of your culture, and that has to start with your dialog with your customer. If you’re doing that, size really doesn’t matter.”

SCORE-ing your success
Your networking is only as good as your network. To get the most value out of your small business support system, it pays to tap every available resource and access a broad range of perspectives. One asset that can be overlooked: the wealth of business expertise available from retired executives and entrepreneurs. For more than 50 years, SCORE has converted its volunteers’ lifetime of industry, market, finance, technology, and management expertise into competitive advantages that have benefited 10 million business owners. A resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, SCORE delivers mentoring services that’s free of charge--and has been proven priceless. The UPS Store is proud to maintain a partnership with SCORE as part of its commitment to supporting mentoring programs and guidance that help encourage small business growth. For more information visit www.score.org.