The Heart of Networking

Networking! The first time I heard about this, I closed my eyes and thought, “Oh please don’t tell me that this is important. I don’t know how to do this.” Yes, not unlike the subject of public speaking, I had a networking phobia and I really did not “get it”.

It took a while for me to get started.  Since I paid a membership fee, I kept going for the food and a way to get out of the house.

I discovered a silver lining to all this.  Working out of my home as a lone consultant, I broke out of my comfort zone. I felt that I was accomplishing something more than tickling my computer keys and improving my website.

I found myself beginning to putting two and two together. I sat and I listened to others. I did nothing but listen and smile. I began to make connections with people as they approached me to tell me more about their business. I got swept up by their passion and their dreams.

We all had dreams and we were all living for those dreams. I had to admire these people. They were trying to figure it out, just like me. I found myself building a rapport with those people who inspired me.

I got it! Relationships! It was all about going out and building relationships. And it became evident that this was a talent that I had all along. I just never tapped into it. I was emerging as a synchronistic process. I started noticing that I was drawn to the right people for what I could offer and what they could offer.

I took their cards and urged them to contact me.

I got excited about how I could help them.

I started making appointments, attending events, reaching out on social media to develop relationships. The next thing I knew, referrals started to “happen”. Appreciation and thank you notes went out. And then it came back.

Fun!  Once I got into the swing of things, I did not have enough time to do all the networking that I wanted to. I was now being asked to do presentations to entire groups that were potential clients. I was building my business on referrals and no longer had time to pace the floors and fret over maximizing my website. I was not starting from a place of needing or even wanting something from these individuals. I started with a spark that happens when two people “click”.  It was much more exciting to promote someone else and have others promote me.

Passion! I have created a Resource Center of all my networking partners’ cards and brochures. These are “my partners” and I know that each of them has a pocket full of my cards and everything nice to say about my mission and services. What a great feeling! Most importantly, I believe in these people and I am proud to present them to others.

My marketing expenses were significantly reduced.  Now, networking is a way of life. Everyone I meet is up for my inquiry as to what they do for a living and what their aspirations are. And the conversation flows from the other person’s conviction and determination. I never hand out a business card unless I have been asked and it is easy to ask someone else for theirs.

My business began to unfold and I even made some changes as it became apparent what the market needed and what it didn’t.

Now, my schedule is full. I don’t work for myself anymore. I work for the community of businesses of which I am an important addition since my new vantage point began.

My mission is bigger now and my scope of work has narrowed as I have been able to target my market for feedback. I am doing what I love to do and only what I love to do. I am keeping records, making appointments, writing and giving presentations, and most enthusiastically eating well.

I found the heart in networking.  It is all about making referrals. Referrals are the golden nuggets that build a business’s reputation. Referrals and “word of mouth” bring your reputation to the community.  I come highly recommended to my clients.

A word of caution!  You will get business from doing this and you need to be ready for it.  You need to coordinate your networking fun with working! In a way, this can all be so enjoyable that you may find that you are on the phone and out and about only to disappoint your potential clients. Follow up. Track your leads and keep notes on your calls to them.

Take all those cards and plant them like seeds in an Excel spreadsheet.  Keep notes. Engage in the process of isolating your networking efforts and tracking the results so that you can get to work. In the long run, it will be your accomplishments that will become the back bone of your business. First, it will all be about what you say you can do. But to keep the heart of networking alive and well, you must show your accomplishments to your associates.

Tools for networking:

  • Business Cards
  • Transportation
  • Smile
  • Appetite
  • Tracking Sheet
  • Phone
  • Thank You Cards
  • Job well done
  • Capabilities Statement

 

Written by:  Cheryl Ann De Pace

Subcontracts Specialist

Contract Connections Administration Services, LLC

                        410-302-6251

Make Yourself a Checklist!

 

Creating Checklists

When it comes to rolling up your sleeves and really doing the work, there are plenty of things to track.  But, there are habits that you can create yielding a tremendous value! Getting snagged by errors can be a difficult learning experience.  I have gone through plenty of those! But, I now have thousands and thousands of iterations invested in a new way I do my work.

I use checklists.

I do not mean a checklist that you make for your daily tasks. Those get tossed when they are used and the work is completed.

I am talking about checklists that serve as templates that guide you through a process, over and over again.  In time, you will learn the process and you will find that you barely need the checklist!  These checklists save time. They organize! They expedite your work. They document progress and keep a record of where you stop.  They allow you to take a break and resume what you were doing if you have interruptions.

It is all very simple but have you tried it? Can you build a nice collection of these types of checklists for the intricate tasks you have?

This is the easiest way that I know to build a checklist:

  1. Figure out each step in what needs to be done,
  2. make it into a refillable list,
  3. and print it out.

(It is important that it is on paper. The point is to use the checklist as a dynamic document, right where the “action” is, without struggling with technology.)

I like making checklists so much that I really came up with some good ones. It can be very creative to make a guide that simplifies my work and makes it enjoyable at that! That is because I can relax and rely on it to keep my mind clear.

That’s all, folks. It is a simple thing and it is easy too.  The important part of what I am speaking of is that you do it. Just do it and see how it enhances your performance. You will be pleasantly surprised; I am sure.  Please get back with me and let me know how it goes for you.

Cheryl Ann De Pace 

Contract Connections Administration Services, LLC

410-302-6251

Lessons Learned

lesson-learned1

 

LESSONS LEARNED

What is a “Lessons Learned” session and what is it for?

We all learn as we go in business. As different scenarios come along and we struggle with them, we learn. This is why experience is the true indicator of probability of success.  A session doing a “Lessons Learned” can be a quick discussion but to the point and can reap great benefits.

Doing an “LL” creates cohesiveness to your team. It identifies mistakes immediately and brings about solutions and resolutions to do things in a different way the next time.

The most important “LL” sessions come after proposals that do not win the award. Typically, you can obtain a briefing verbally from the Prime or the Government buyer regarding the reasons why you did not win. If not, your team can generate its own ideas and research those ideas.

What if the funding on a contract goes wrong and you lose incentive fees on a Cost Plus Incentive Fee type contract? Discuss this with your team and it will not take long to create a learning experience out of the brainstorming teams do.

There is no blame or shame to looking at your failures. As a united front, the team looks at these failures and gets stronger and better.

Now here is the most important part:  Don’t forget the great things your team accomplishes! Those are great “LL”. If you try something new or you implement a specific process, examining the success will enable the team to repeat it.

How do you do a Lessons Learned session?

1. Site the object of the lesson. For example: Did not manage costs and now have to ask for more funding sooner than anticipated.

2. Discuss the way the costs were handled and what circumstances lead to the over expenditure.

3. Brainstorm on how to avoid this in the future. Ask the team who can help mitigate the problem in the future and how.

4. Write down the Lesson Learned and distribute to all the team members for their safe keeping.

5. Conduct all discussion in a constructive and open-minded manner, never leaving the lesson in one individual’s lap.

Last note on the subject:

Include your “LL” with your record of your performance rating in order to assist in creating a past performance history that is truly meaningful so that it becomes evident that your team is progressive and strong.

 

By Contract Connections Administration Services, LLC

Cheryl Ann DePace 410-302-6251

Government Contract Compliance

 

Yes I'm Compliant on a badge with lanyard to tell customers that you comply with important legal rules, regulations and guidelines to give them confidence that your practices are legitimate and safe

 Government Contract Compliance

What does it mean to be “compliant”?  In the case of Government contracts, who are you complying with?

Well, the answer to that might be easy. We comply with the Government’s rules and regulations.  But how do we do that? Who knows if we have been naughty or nice?  Do they come looking for us like the IRS and tell us to be prepared because we are getting audited?  Do we submit anything to anyone that holds us accountable on a regular basis?

Let’s look at this!

The Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) is the cognizant audit agency that is responsible for performing audits to ensure Government compliance with FAR.  Predominantly, it is the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) which determines how contracts with the Federal Government are regulated.  DCAA approves a company’s accounting system for the Federal Government.  DCAA approves a company’s indirect cost rates (Overhead, General Administration, Fringe Benefits, Material and Handling etc.).  What is the purpose of these audits?  Why do FAR regulations exist? FAR regulations exist to minimize the financial risk of the Government and thus, saving the taxpayers’ money.

Once an accounting system is approved, it is approved.  However, indirect cost rates will go across the desk of a Contracting Officer if you bid on Requests for Proposals. How does the Contracting Officer determine that they are fair and reasonable? Why, they are reviewed by DCAA by request of the Contracting Officer!

So, our contracts go to DCAA for audits of indirect cost rates on a frequent basis if we are competing in the open Federal Government contract market.

This is all about being in compliance and the best way to be in compliance and to remain in compliance is to be proactive with the infrastructure of your business.  What does that mean?

It means that, from the very beginning of doing Federal Government contracts, you must set up your accounting system so that it will meet DCAA requirements.  How is this achieved?  You must seek a firm who is knowledgeable, and experienced about the FAR regulations.  Remember, Government contracting is a special niche which requires customized and flexible solutions for the technical issues that comes with government cost accounting.

And what about Indirect Cost Rates?

The important thing to remember is that a small business will have rates that go up and down a lot in the beginning. You must calculate your indirect cost rates as it is stipulated in the FAR and bill your Prime contractor or the Government accordingly. Basically, it is simple. Your total costs are compared to those that are related to overhead as a percentage. The same is done for your other indirect costs.

These “cost pools” and their ratio to the expenses in each category of indirect costs are calculated as of the date of their implementation.  Those Indirect Cost Rates are then applied to labor costs.  A labor rate submitted on a Government proposal is then “burdened” in that it contains the applicable indirect costs and wrapped into a combined cost.  Rule #1, aside from accurate math calculations, is consistency. You must settle on the indirect rates you are going to use for a time period and ask the DCAA to make a determination as to their reasonableness.  Provision is made for the time constraints in proceeding with the process. Small businesses in particular with rates that go up and down need to revisit their rates annually.

This is where the term Provisional Indirect Cost Rates comes from. The DCAA will allow you to predict your actual indirect rate costs and make provisions for you to use those rates in your bids until they are audited and either accepted or adjusted. If an adjustment is necessary, then it is made before the contract is closed out.

DCAA will come to audit your accounting system. They determine that it can calculate and burden these indirect cost rates along with allocating, allowing or disallowing, all costs incurred to the contracts.  This will occur when you bid on contracts that are large enough to require an approved accounting system. As a subcontractor, a small business may not need to have an approved accounting system; that is until they work on a contract that is awarded over a certain amount.  This is determined by The FAR and the amount changes periodically.

This is just a short and vague description of the auditing functions of the Government but it makes two things very clear:

  1. Compliance from the beginning will save you much consternation later on.  This includes timekeeping compliance to support your costs.
  2. Understanding Cost Accounting Standards is of top priority for contractors and subcontractors.

Please refer to the following link for an excellent resource of information on this subject (given by DCAA).

http://www.dcaa.mil/cam/Chapter_08_-_Cost_Accounting_Standards.pdf

Does this seem to be overwhelming?  Contact me and I will refer you to a Compliance Professional who is working with Contract Connections Administration Services.  Sign in to my website so that you will be informed of any changes in the area of this part of Federal Government contracting.

Cheryl Ann De Pace www.thecontractnavigator.com    / Mark Vilches   Main@dcaaspecialists.com       410-302-6251

Grow Your Business, Subcontracting!

verhuis1  Don’t Let This Be Your House

This house is the house of many who are struggling with their small businesses right now. I have sent my workers to take it away and replace it with a win-win house of prosperity.

home1

This house is owned by someone who does subcontracts with the Government.  This is a win-win house of prosperity.

It may seem like a whole lot of extra trouble to do subcontracts with the Government but remember: The process for doing well with your subcontracts is easily taught. The government always pays its bills!

There is a big demand for GOOD subcontractors who know what they are doing.

You need to do a good job and build a significant past performance. The key is to manage your contracts like projects and to learn the metrics and analyses that keep things easily monitored and controlled.

And when you are at the end of the subcontract, you need to close it out. This means that it is done  and you are not billing incorrectly on your final payment.

So, you need to stay in compliance with the regulations regarding subcontracts in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).  This is accomplished by understanding the FAR and looking up the clauses that are given in the subcontract.

Subcontracting opportunities are listed on various databases. These databases exist in an effort to keep a supply of small businesses available for the Government and to be assured that small business will get 30% of the Government contracts awarded.  This is a regulation!

Past performance can be documented through a method called The Subcontract Project.  Anyone with project management experience can easily follow this methodology. Bid on opportunities and network with other small businesses. Involve yourself with forming teams of competent vendors that join together and create an effective work plan.  When you win, you will need to manage your subcontract from the very start.

With templates and good old fashioned hands on experience, you can become a certified subcontractor and this will make the Prime look twice at you in its hunt for small businesses to subcontract. After all, you have been trained and have demonstrated your knowledge of the things that matter the most to your Prime contractor.

Subcontracts are also negotiated regarding terms of payment. You can, as a subcontractor, negotiate for net 30 or even payment bimonthly based on the fact that you are a small business.

The Statement of Work is given to establish the explicit expectations of the work you will do. Follow it and your other terms and conditions. Then document your success!   The most important part of the proposal, aside from the actual financial bid, is proof that you have done well in the past and will continue to do well with the new assignments from the Prime contractor.

In order to prosper more in this economy, put yourself where the money is.  Understand that it is mandatory that you, as a small business, are sought to do work that the Government has to offer.

How long does it take to make the transition into Government subcontracting? Simple! It could be one day or months, depending upon your level of understanding of the process and the project of a subcontract.

You must be registered as being approved to do work for the Government by being registered on www.sam.gov .  There are codes and other formalities but you can be guided through the steps move through it quickly. Once you are in www.sam.gov , you are visible to all Primes looking for someone who does your work.

Subcontracting is said not to be as lucrative as being a Prime and contracting directly with the Government. In my opinion and with my experience, although your profit may be lower- in the long run, you will do well to become a popular subcontractor and reap the rewards of your past performance and naturally progress into the position of bidding directly to the Government.

Consistently working and consistently getting paid is a more lucrative choice.  There are no collection agencies necessary in your life when working for the Government. There is no advantage to withhold money from you in this industry as you are always working under strict regulations. So, you won’t be calling on collection agencies with Federal Government subcontracts.

Reach out to me if you are interested in The Subcontract Project class. Sign into my website at www.thecontractnavigator.com .  Dates and times will be sent to you.

verhuis1

Contract Connections Administration Services, LLC

410-302-6251

Cheryl Ann De Pace, Director of Operations

Just an Important Referral- Check this Site for Free Information to Help Small Businesses

A Jewel for your Information

The Subcontract Project

Contract Tracking        +        Financial Tracking     =          Closeout

Watch a video on Closeouts

Here is a very simplified formula for the process of a subcontract.  There are Terms and Conditions to follow (Contract Tracking) and there is your Funding (Financial Tracking).  Lastly, there is the Closeout when you have performed a reconciliation of your records with the Prime contractor’s records and you have a complete record of the administrative details of the contract.

There is a lot that goes along with this simple diagram. As you can see, there is a starting point that leads to a closure of the contract.  The contract has been initiated; it has been administrated, has expired and is now over. Both parties agree that the contract has come to its end without any miscalculations and with a delivery of the products or services in a satisfactory manner.

If you remember this diagram, you can use it to simplify your filing system and your process.

It is true that much has to transpire between the award and the closeout.  This is where your ability to remain organized and to document all conversations during the execution is of paramount importance.  Within the Financial Tracking is the need to apply indirect rates to the billing under circumstances and in most cases a fee percentage.  Fluctuations in this area are typically caused by changes in the indirect rates which apply across the costs as they are forecasted and must be approved.  Indirect rates are the percentages applied to the costs according to overhead and fringe predominantly.  With an approved accounting system, you do have the option to fix the rates for the contract and not delay the closeout for approval and adjustment.  So, with everything else tracked and all terms and conditions met, the closeout becomes the unpopular task of the process of a subcontract.

My recommendation is that you start documenting your process from the very beginning by utilizing a uniform format that pulls your project together in a linear fashion. If you have not had instruction in project management, I recommend a class that explains the principles and the stages of a project. Learn the tracking of a project. Organize what you do, religiously.  If it takes a little longer on the front end to organize your files and follow a consistent path, do it. It is well worth the effort.  Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Lastly, some words on the Federal Acquisition Regulations (the FAR):

Read the FAR Clauses associated with your subcontract. These have been passed down from the Prime contractor without explanation or clarification. You must look them up and read them and note them. This may seem daunting as the FAR is a very large body of regulations.  This is where you set up your file for tracking and note what needs to be considered part of the terms and conditions of your subcontract.  The individual who read the RFP became well versed in these regulations so that is the individual who can be most helpful.  Before you were awarded your subcontract you did a proposal in consideration of all these clauses.

In financial business settings, there are products that have different guidelines.  The underwriter of a financial product application has to know the product description to be effective. The FAR has a similar application. It is not uncommon for companies to write their own product description manual in order to have a good reference tool.  You can do this with the FAR.  Create a manual that has the primary sections of the regulations and then break it down into sections for the “parts” you may need to look for.  This is a project in itself but a good administrative support person can do this and it is well worth the effort. Then you have your guidelines that change.  These become this individual’s focus.

To summarize:

You may ask why someone would need to be so fastidious about tracking the projects you call your subcontracts.

If you are armed with order, consistency, good tracking, and easy references- subcontracting with anyone will be much easier.

The answer is simple and mitigates your risk in not developing a good past performance.

The better you are at organizing and tracking your subcontracts, the better you will be in the end when it is time to do a closeout.  Consider that the Closeout of the contract is the most important element of your project. It is the most difficult too.

Therefore, the simple diagram above can truly represent the simplicity of it all and that is what this blog is all about; keeping it simple.

 

CONTRACT CONNECTIONS ADMINISTRATION SERVICES, INC.

Cheryl Ann De Pace

410-302-6251

Where you get a D U N S number!

 

 

 

http://www.dnb.com/duns-number.html

Just go in and register and follow the process. If you intend to do business with the Government, you need to register with SAM at www.sam.gov .  To complete the paperwork,  you will need a DUNS number from Dun and Bradstreet. It is free of charge for you if you are going to be in SAM.

 

What I Want.

 

business_start_up[1]

Starting is never easy at the very first step. Taking that first step is everything. I’m like a drunk among the never ending tasks and their differences. But I am driven by a part of me that I am not familiar with. It is one thing to feel competitive in a game of checkers; it is quite another to feel it over that thing you have on your bucket list.

The world can be very big and it can be very small. Social media is a reflection of a new paradigm. And there are a lot of unemployed college graduates who can use this media with such flair. I came into this without knowing about how social media works. It’s just like learning about using a computer. There is so much to it but its spread out evenly on each level. It’s something that works wonders. So I have stepped into the world of Social Media.

I am a thought-provoked kind of writer. That is not to say that reading me gives you nothing but psycho-babble. “Quite the opposite!” I think about what I write and apply a lot of depth to it. This depth is the disclosure of vulnerabilities. I seem to have been armed; however. I love to write. Love is a tough shield, don’t you think?

When I started my business, I had tried many times before. I failed. Does failure bother you? It bothers me. I was not going to give up a career that I built. I had created a place in the business world and established myself. Oh, I thought about different other businesses. Nothing fit and I had a desperately nervous time of it.

I did not want to change what I was doing. I gave up too easy and changed my first career and I loved that career. I was an underwriter for the Government and a real estate appraiser. I loved it.
Well, I love working with contracts…more. So I am out here, with a wealth of knowledge and more than happy to share it. Money? What does it have to do with money? Well, it is my source of income where there are also many people who do things- because they want to. I am doing it because I want to.

I want to teach what I know. I want to do the jobs that others can’t or just don’t. I want to do them well.

I don’t know it all. But, every day, I am educated. My business has a healthy allowance for education. This, combined with the experience of a wide variety of tasks, increases my value every day. And that is really what my job is. Increase my value until I make a sufficient income. So, if I just do what I am supposed to, my business should grow. And I am going to put my money on it. I know that I am worth a try.

My business, not unlike the internet itself, grows in depth not just worth. I have sacrificed many things. But I am watching this phenomenon of how a business grows. It’s the American Dream and now I know why. You have to live it to understand it.

It’s mine; all mine, all…mine, mine, mine. Ha! That entrepreneurial spirit has me stoked. Do you get the same feelings and want to run out and tell the world what you want to do? I recommend it. It took me a year to get a bead on what to do and now I am calling on Phase II. I am going to promote myself. I am going to stand up and take my self confidence up a few notches. I am going to give more. I will give all I can because when I give, I learn! When I learn, I grow and when I grow, I am positioned right where I need to be to get the opportunities I want.

I had a thought the other day. I am going to share it with you. When I started my business, I felt like I would have done better if I had a cardboard sign that said that I will work for mortgage payments…as I stood in the middle on the median in Baltimore City. I have since then had many ups and downs, ins and outs and traveled far. Today, I am carrying a special promotional postcard, through the mail, that will go to small businesses that will tell them I will work for a fee and clear up their difficulties. I have come so far! I am proud to be an American with the opportunity to make a run for the gold ring so I can swing from it howling “yippee!”
And the sacrifices were substantial. It takes money to make money because you have to promote yourself. But Social Media is of a negligible cost. And it is powerful. There are so many others like me out there. There are great folks that read my posts and comment. They take my posts to heart. They appreciate me and what I am doing. I appreciate them so much. I read their posts and write them and cheer them on because they lifted me higher that day. It is amazing what we can do with each other’s support from a photo and emails. I have made over one hundred connections that care for me to succeed. Thank you my connections!

I feel hopeful beyond belief and that is showing on my face. My fellow associates and still yet to be known entrepreneurs out in the world and on LinkedIn, if there is anything you want to ask or discuss with me, do it. I am here in a very real way even though you are not talking to me in person. Hey, I am always available for a good cup of coffee and business discussions.

Email me at contractsconnection@gmail.com . Comment on my posts or message me. I welcome you to my world if you are just starting out or if you are looking for a person with a good work ethic to help out.
This post is for me. And in it being for me, it is for you.

Best of the best,
Cheryl Ann De Pace
Contract Connections Administration Services, LLC

Check on my Fed Gov Contract Closeout Promotion for the months of January and February.
410-302-6251

I MADE IT!

finish_line[1]I made it!
It is a daunting task to start a business foundation, right? The first year is a thin and lean one, for sure. You are discovering who you are and what you have to offer and there is plenty there, no doubt. Your passion is the blessing that keeps you moving and your new associates are the ones that show you what direction to go in. I have met so many great people this past year. There were times when I did not think I could make my dreams come true…but, I made it.
I haven’t hit it big yet. I am still figuring out my books. I have learned more than I ever learned at any place of employment, however. I am really going to do well in 2016. Thank you to my customers in 2015. You were all special and I mean that. I did some volunteer work and I want to thank those who allowed me the honor to contribute to their cause. The Universe gives back, I am sure. So now what?
Hand me some bottled water because I have been running like an ostrich. (That brought some humor into the picture.) Give me a towel so I can get ready for midnight when I shall start another run for it. A little dab here and a little dab there. Never let them see you sweat! And my wish list for any gifts to include late Christmas presents, birthdays, and anniversaries would include the following:
Sticky pads
Notepads
Ink for my printer
Ink for my printer
Ink for my printer
Pencils for my calendar
Erasers
“Tacky Fingers”
And a great bookkeeping software.
Oh, and don’t forget gasoline cards, EZ Pass, and rubber bumpers and ABS…
Books on tape, Rock and Roll CDs, a Bluetooth,
Staples, tape, stamps….

The list goes on. In return, you are going to get a big smile and good service,
continuing education, soup to nuts capability, and my blogs on my website at www.thecontractnavigator.com and on www.LinkedIn.com/in/cherylanndepace .

I am positioning myself for more exercise on the hamster wheel and looking forward to the greatest place to work in the country- Washington DC / Baltimore corridor. God Bless I95 and I270 and the beloved I495. I dislike you I695 but God Bless you too. My brakes are your very special punching bag. Watch out for the guy in front.

Let us all pray now for the biggest consideration of all for the upcoming year of further success…SOCIAL MEDIA. Lets rock! We know the way things are and we need each other. Thank God for the following and the followers. We are all in the same boat and I admire you all deeply. It takes fortitude and spirit to take this road. We shall all succeed because the more the boats the higher the water is!

This is business in 2016. Freedom. Generousity. Gratitude. Hard work and good friends. I’ll take it!