Being a leader in charge has always been in my blood. Growing up, I was a "bossy girl," the one with the ideas, the troublemaker, and the instigator. As the third of six children, I naturally fell into the mediator role between older and younger siblings. But when the older two left for the military or school and with both parents working full time, at 12-years-old I became the gal in charge, and I quickly grew to meet those challenging responsibilities
.Fast-forward a couple of decades to today, I spend my time running a successful nationally recognized consulting firm where we have created a unique problem-solving approach for companies tackling the world's largest and top customer, the U.S. federal government. Our clients have won over five billion dollars in federal contracts in just the last seven years, which is when we began tracking that return-on-investment (ROI) metric.
As a child it was second nature to get my younger brothers and sister corralled, fed, homework done, bedtime ready, and tucked in—all the while managing my own school and housework load. It meant juggling many tasks at once, figuring out time management, and satisfying my mom's high standards. All of these responsibilities created the perfect fuel for a budding entrepreneurial mindset.
I studied how my grandpa ran his gas station/candy store—always with a smile and kind word to everyone who came in. His customers counted on him for help and advice to keep their cars running, and he added the candy store to keep their children (and me!) happy. He came to the U.S. as an immigrant, with little to get started beyond a sharp mind, tenacity, gumption, and a creative "make-it-work" attitude. I loved being his shadow and delighted in receiving his praise for picking the right tool, selecting the correct part, and learning how to count exact change at the cash register.
When I started my own business twenty-two years ago, there were no databases to access, no road map to follow, and no mentors to reach out to. I started the business because I was working extremely hard as an employee in a different market, and while partnership was often discussed by the owners it remained elusive. Finally, I decided that if I was going to work that hard, I might as well do it for myself and have control over my own destiny. So, I jumped into business-ownership with both feet and never looked back.
Initially, I focused on marketing consulting for the business-to-business (B2B) market. I leveraged all I had learned and created a unique process for our clients to reduce time and money while increasing ROI with an effective business development model. Being located near Washington DC, a number of our clients also wanted to be more successful selling services and products to the federal government and asked us to help them in that very unique market. Once again, it was natural for me to rise to the challenge. That's when I had the idea to create TargetGov, where I developed the FAST™ Process, a trackable, measurable, and repeatable federal revenue growth program that our clients could readily execute with their own internal team.
A few years into the growth of my company, I discovered a group of businesswomen who inspired and energized me. They were like me, serious about growing their business, and they offered guidance and mentorships. Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) opened my mind to many critical business needs, such as the importance of working together to achieve a goal, honoring others with different perspectives, and finding ways to compromise. They confirmed the exquisite beauty and necessity of being a mentee or a mentor.
I learned that being a mentee meant I had to do the work my mentor asked of me, always be prepared, be ready to think in new ways, and be able to recognize when failure (while inevitable) was not a death sentence. I still don't like failure, but I'm not afraid of it anymore, and for that life-changing lesson I thank my mentors. In becoming a mentor, I found that it is just as challenging as many people who want to be mentored have no understanding of the commitment required from both participants.
Mentoring is more than offering off-the-cuff advice. It also takes time, effort, and energy to get to know with whom you are working with, what is her motivation, her fears, desires and goals, and, most importantly, are you a good match for each other.
Today, the federal government's Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a formal mentor-protégé program designed to help small businesses new to this marketplace work with established large and small businesses already successfully selling to the government. It is your responsibility to identify and connect with a mentor, and while difficult, it is entirely possible to do with a strong commitment to the needed effort.
The SBA and WIPP have also teamed up with American Express in the creation of the ChallengeHER Program, a national initiative to educate women and boost government contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses. Since its inception, ChallengeHER has educated more than 21,000 women entrepreneurs at 70 workshops across the country and facilitated more than 5,350 meetings between women small business owners and government officials. I am involved in ChallengeHER events across the U.S. and have had the honor to meet, mentor, and work with women who are ready to tackle the federal government as a target customer. One of my mentees, Denita Conway, President of Proven Management, LLC has taken advantage of the ChallengeHER program; through her hard work and dogged persistence she has been named the SBA's 2018 Maryland State Small Businessperson of the Year. Denita is a true success story.
Now is a perfect time to consider the federal government as your biggest and best customer. They spend more than any other single entity in the world with businesses of all sizes, and every year it spends over $120 billion with small businesses, of which over $22 billion is spent specifically with women-owned businesses. These contracts may be worth a few thousand dollars to millions and tens of millions of dollars.
So, getting started is not complicated, as it merely requires that you register your business at the official, mandatory, free federal government website System for Award Management. SAM.gov is where you will enter all of your important business facts, such as your tax identification number, your unique DUNS number, the NAICS codes describing the services or products you provide, the points of contact for your business, and bank account information. This website also provides a help desk number and email if you run into hurdles or have questions about registering.
Getting certified as a woman-owned business is optional, but also beneficial to stand out from the competition. A formal certification makes you eligible for a group of set-aside contracts and also eligible for other direct award contracts where no competition is needed. You can learn more on their website.
Women are generally strong networkers, and the government marketplace has many opportunities to network and meet prospective customers, prime contractors, teaming partners, mentors, and others who are interested in this marketplace. To explore where these networking events are taking place, visit the official government website. On the home page, you will see a green button called Search Small Business Events. Click that to bring up a list of nationwide events sponsored by the federal government, from national conferences to small matchmaking events.
A great first event for someone interested in working with the U.S. federal government is a matchmaking event. A matchmaking event is like speed dating for businesswomen who want to meet and talk with government decision-makers and prime contractors. You'll have 10-15 minutes at each table; when the time is up, you move to the next table. It is a terrific way to meet decision-makers, tell your business story, and discuss how you can help that customer with your services and products. You can find an array of matchmaking events in your area on the website too!
My final piece of advice is that the U.S. federal government marketplace is extraordinary; it can grow your business beyond your wildest dreams and take you on an adventure offering every opportunity imaginable. However, it is a tough market, and you will be tempted to walk away because of the long, enduring process. Don't give up! Your tenacity, perseverance, and dogged persistence will be rewarded as you pursue the opportunity to add another zero or more to your annual revenues.
We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.
A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:
Speaking up about their successes and achievements.
Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.
Telling one too many people about that date night.
Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.
These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.
The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.
Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.
Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.
Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.
Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.
New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.
The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.
Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":
1. Approve of yourself.
While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.
2. Connect deeply to those you serve.
One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.
3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.
Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.
4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.
The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.
5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.
Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.
6. Accept you can have it all.
Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.
7. Celebrate everything!
The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!
May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.