Many small businesses trying to break into the world of classified work face a “chicken or egg” conundrum. In the world of RFPs and proposals for cleared work, we see this problem all the time. You have to have cleared personnel to do the work, but you can’t do the work in the first place, because you can’t hold clearances. And to hold clearances, you must have a valid justification, like doing work that is classified. So, how do you get your foot in the door?

Need to Have a Long-Term Mindset

The investments required to enter the cleared enterprise world are high, but the returns can be even higher. The catch is that you can’t approach cleared work with a “one and done” or an “instant grits” mentality, because it can take a long time for you to realize any return on those investments. To be setup for long-term success, you must conduct an initial assessment, have a plan to move forward, establish a long-term sustainment plan, and develop an exit strategy.

It’ All About the Right Relationships

One action a small company can take to enter into cleared-level work is establishing a Mentor-Protégé (MP) or Joint Venture (JV) relationship with a business partner who is already cleared. Let’s put aside for a moment the qualifiers that should be evaluated when looking for an MP or JV partner. Let’s assume that all things considered, the MP or JV relationship is mutually beneficial, equitable in labor and revenue sharing, and of course “clean as a whistle.” With all the baseline requirements met, what does a healthy “quid pro quo” look like for the companies? The Mentor (i.e., the bigger company, and in this case the one with the facility clearance) gets access to a unique asset (e.g., the Protégé’s technology or personnel, or access to a set aside contract), and the Protégé (i.e., the smaller company) gets to do work on a classified project.

Create a Long-Term Win-Win

This mutually beneficial arrangement results in a win-win situation where the company trying to enter the “chicken or the egg” cycle gets to do so without incurring a significant financial or schedule penalty. This, however, is just the beginning of a journey where a good business plan – for the company entering the cleared market – must be aligned with a capture plan that has a contract with a horizon of no more than three years. Why three? Three years is the notional maximum age or horizon of a JV.

This means that identifying the cleared job you can contribute to is just a beginning. You need to sort out the next set of contracts that you’ll pursue in order to remain on the “inside.” The MP/JV approach may not be simple or fast, but it can be practical and effective. If both companies enter into the agreement with all their cards on the table then both companies can get what they want and need. In the end, rather than just “parking a clearance” with a friendly teaming partner, a company entering the cleared job arena can earn its stripes properly and gain actual experience in performing cleared jobs and the formidable responsibility that comes along with that.

Bonus: Less Risk 

In addition to all of the above benefits of a MP or JV relationship, a well-formed partnership may also lower the risk for both the Government and the new entity. The Government gets the benefit of a Mentor with experience managing the relationship (and gains access to technology or personnel that they need), and the mentee gets to confirm whether they have the appetite to support and to build the delivery structure to operate successfully in a cleared environment. As you explore cleared work, it’s worth the effort to explore a MP or JV relationship. This has the potential to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.

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Trident Proposal Management is a SDVOSB full-service business development, capture, and proposal solution company for U.S. government contractors. Our focus is to help government contractors identify, position for, and win government contracts with a professional staff that provides quality service. Trident Proposal Management’s SMEs provide readers with helpful content on understanding clearance-level projects and how to bid on government contracts. Learn more by visiting our website.