It’s Better Together With Joint Ventures

joint ventures

The following article appeared in Bloomberg Government November 4, 2022, Author Chelsea Meggitt

There’s a better way for small business to win big government contract money.  Chelsea Meggitt talks about joint ventures, a trending type that small contractors are using to size up the large competition.

Who is the prime, you ask?

“We are” is an increasingly common answer. It might confuse some who are versed in other well-known types of “Contractor Teaming Agreements” (CTAs) such as the prime contractor/subcontractor structure.

There’s another handy teaming tool that’s long been lurking in the shadows. The Joint Venture (JV) is a lesser used CTA that enables the participants to function and maneuver autonomously, a trait that the traditional prime/sub relationship doesn’t offer.

The answer to the question “who is the prime?” isn’t just one company. It’s the entire JV.

The common definition of a JV is an association of individuals and/or concerns with interests in any degree or proportion intending to engage in and carry out business ventures for joint profit over a two-year period, for which purpose they combine their efforts, property, money, skill, or knowledge—but not on a continuing or permanent basis for conducting business generally.

Simply stated, a JV is a group of two or more companies, entities, or individuals that have joined forces under the umbrella of a separate legal entity to pursue work together over a two-year period.

JVs can be formed by any combination of large or small businesses and can include two or more companies. The biggest difference from a traditional prime/sub relationship is that a JV involves the formation of a separate, unpopulated legal entity, often an LLC.

Why Not Just Go With Prime/Sub?

Coming together to form a JV offers measurable benefits over the hierarchical prime/sub relationship, especially for small businesses. Structured like LLCs, the companies participating in a JV are all considered members. They all serve as prime contractor to the government, share the responsibility for ensuring delivery, and reap the benefits of prime contractor past performance.

In a JV, the members are equals. A separate legal entity is established to ensure each member company maintains independent operating authority in the JV and doesn’t rely solely on the JV for work.

Each member company brings its unique offering to the relationship to deliver a complete platform as the JV. The result is a completely modular vehicle that’s cheaper, lower risk, and often delivered faster than the traditional top-down prime/sub system. Utilizing this approach has resulted in some big wins for groups of small businesses teaming up to bid large government contracts.

All Small:

Of course there are nuances. The composition of the JV matters.

If all member companies of the JV qualify as small businesses under the Small Business Administration, the JV itself is then considered small. That means it qualifies for set-asides awarded only to small businesses.

If one of the small businesses has a socio-economic certification that warrants its own set-aside, the JV also holds that designation.

If each member of an all-small JV holds a different socio-economic certification (like being women-owned, service disabled veteran-owned, or located in an economically underutilized region), the JV retains all of their designations.

In all small JVs, companies can pool their set-aside statuses and compete for bigger contracts as a group while maintaining other operations independently.

Large businesses entering JVs have fewer collective benefits across the board. But they can access set-aside contracts as a large business in a JV by being part of the SBA Mentor Protégé Program. In this way, JVs offer bonus points for large businesses mentoring small businesses in an SBA-approved mentor protégé relationship.

The JV formed between the large company and the small business protégé retains the set-aside status of the small business.

Why Not Use JVs All the Time?

It can be tricky for JVs pursuing set-aside opportunities. If one of the members is a large business, the JV might not be able to pursue set-aside contracts unless the members have an SBA-approved Mentor Protégé relationship.

Also, the rules surrounding the two-year time limit are vague. The two-year period is an arbitrary timeframe put in place to ensure the companies that are entering the agreement don’t intend to rely on the JV alone for revenue.

Even though there is a two-year limit on a legal JV entity, the members can choose to form another legal entity and continue working together. The JV legal entity must be registered in government databases, which means delays in processing registrations can potentially prevent JVs from winning awards.

The two-year time frame can also serve as a helpful exit plan for JV members that have a dispute. Knowing it is only a two-year headache can make unpleasant relationships easier to bear compared to other longer duration, higher commitment prime/subs teams.

The decision to form a JV should be made on a case-by-case basis, but the agreement type offers groups of small businesses flexibility and power of scale. By giving them a chance to play with the bigs, and in some cases compete against them, multi-party JVs are showing the true strength and power that small business collaborations have in the federal market.

Government Marketing Best Practices

Government Marketing Best Practices

Government Marketing Best Practices 2.0:  What You Need to Know for Accelerated Success – Kindle Edition

I am pleased to announce the release of Government Marketing Best Practices 2.0 –  What You Need to Know for Accelerated Success.
Click here to view on Amazon Kindle.

I am proud to have a chapter in this book,  Creating Buzz and Building Relationships Through Events: Chelsea Meggitt

– Chelsea Meggitt –

By Mark Amtower (Author), Sheri Ascencio(Author), Joyce Bosc (Author), Carl Dickson (Author), Stephanie Geiger (Author), Katie Helwig (Author), Larry Letow (Author), Chelsea Meggitt(Author), Chris Parente (Author), Stacey Piper (Author).

Book Content:

The federal government market in the U.S. is the largest market in the world. It is Fortune One. The government buys nearly every product and service imaginable.

It is also one of the most complicated and competitive markets in the world, filled with arcane rules and minutiae, public laws and regulations regarding the procurement of goods and services. These effect the bidding, sales and marketing processes we employ in the arena of government contracting.

Marketing plays a huge role in winning business in the public sector, but marketing here is different and it has to address the market, and the segments of the market, in ways that resonate with buyers and influencers making decisions that impact the lives of citizens and soldiers, civilian government employees and others impacted by the products and services purchased by Uncle Sam.

Government Marketing Best Practices 2.0 is a collaborative effort among several leading government marketing experts. It is designed to provide both the novice and experienced GovCon marketer with strategies, tactics and tips to develop and execute successful marketing plans in the vast public sector arena. It will help all who read it to become better public sector marketers and tom level up your game.

The book does not have to be read sequentially, as each chapter is designed to be a stand-alone work.


– Annual Strategic Planning: Stephanie Geiger
– Corporate Branding: Eileen Cassidy Rivera
– Thought Leadership in GovCon: Mark Amtower
– PR for GovCon: Joyce Bosc
– Association Involvement: Katie Helwig
– Positioning Your Digital Footprint for Growth: Janet Waring
– The Importance of Content Creation — Owned Media: Chris Parente
– Events: Stephanie Geiger
– Webinars: Sheri Ascencio
– Developing a Marketing Campaign: Stacey Piper
– Email Marketing: Stacey Piper
– Pre-Programmatic Marketing: Why it Matters When you Are Trying to Win Government Proposals: Carl Dickson
– Marketing to the Intel Community: Larry Letow
Creating Buzz and Building Relationships Through Events: Chelsea Meggitt
– LinkedIn and Social Selling: Mark Amtower

Chelsea Meggitt Govmates Podcast

chelsea meggitt govmates

Chelsea Meggitt Govmates member discusses how to acquire government contracts in this podcast.

Govmates, a technology scouting platform, provides amazing new resources and relationship development opportunities.  They merge the best practices of technology as well as the human element to promote non-traditional defense contractors within the federal community.

Govmates has assisted with more than 30,000 matches from their system of more than 4,500 government contractors.  They are experts in creating valuable relationships within the federal sector.

Chelsea Meggitt Govmates Podcast:

For more information and assistance in acquiring government contract, contact Chelsea Meggitt, Collaborative Compositions

Prime Contractors – Move From Sub to Prime Contracting

prime contractors

Following article appeared in Bloomberg Government  September 8, 2022

Jumping the Line from Sub to Prime Contracting: Chelsea Meggitt

Working with the federal government has a pecking order. Recent changes from Congress have made it slightly easier for small businesses to move up the chain, but there are still several factors that contractors must consider before attempting to make the leap.

Prime contractors, those that work directly with the government, hold the most power. They have privity of communications with the government customer, they receive credit and past performance ratings directly from the government customer, and they hold the contract with the contractors

Subcontractors, those that work directly with the prime contractor, hold less power and are generally not afforded those same privileges. Subcontractors are often limited to a specific workshare, restricted from interfacing with the government customer, and they rarely receive credit for their performance on a project from the government customer or the prime.

As one of the most used evaluation factors, past performance is a key resource when submitting a bid to work directly with the government as a prime contractor.

For large prime system integrators that have held government contracts since their inception, providing evidence of past performance doesn’t pose a challenge. These contractors simply direct the government customer to the Contractor Performance Rating System (CPARS), which provides an official record of prime contractor past performance ratings.

CPARS qualitative ratings rank the prime contractor on factors such as quality of product or service, cost control, schedule/timeliness, management/business relations, and small business subcontracting. Those factors are rated on a scale from A=Exceptional to E=Unsatisfactory.

Previous experience as a prime contractor and the availability of CPARS ratings gives primes a substantial competitive bidding advantage.

Subcontractors historically haven’t received CPARS ratings and until recently, due to the legal agreement of the prime contract, didn’t have a right to request them from the government-end customer.

Congress recognized the lack of available, qualifying, relevant past performance ratings as a barrier for small businesses seeking to make the transition from subcontracting to prime contracting. To make it easier for small subcontractors to qualify for prime contracting opportunities, the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (Pub. Law 116-283) revised Section 868 to recognize and require past performance ratings for small business first-tier subcontractors and joint ventures.

The Small Business Administration finalized a rule on the change in July. It gives first-tier small businesses the right to recourse if they’re not provided past performance CPARS ratings by a prime contractor on a vehicle with a subcontracting plan.

Next Hurdles

Will this change result in a flood of new small business prime contractors? Qualifying past performance isn’t the only evaluation factor in competitive procurements. For small businesses seeking to make the jump from sub to prime, there are numerous considerations, and the path isn’t clear cut.

If you’re a small business that now finds it has the qualifying past performance for prime bids, I urge you to consider the following steps.

  • Assess your financial runway. Does your company have the cash flow required to support investments in compliance measures, audited financial systems, bid and proposal teams, or contract management?
  • Perform a corporate review to determine what types of tools, systems, processes, or other resources you’ll need to support prime work.
  • Determine your current corporate security posture. Prime contractors have the responsibility to ensure that the government data they interact with is protected at the appropriate level internally and throughout their supply chains. As the prime, the responsibility is yours.
  • Review your current customer landscape. Are the government customers you currently serve on subcontracts likely to contract with you directly?
  • Refine your current corporate policies, processes, and procedures to create efficiencies that drive down cost and time spend.
  • Poll your current team to ensure any internal capability gaps are filled and your core competencies are supported.
  • Secure your current supply chains. Having a robust and diverse supply chain is critical as a prime contractor. No one company does everything, and having a strong network of capable and reliable resources is key to providing a complete solution, especially as a small business.
  • Determine the impact your bid will have on your existing prime relationships. While primes are required to provide you with past performance ratings, they aren’t required to support your prime bids. Without taking stock of existing prime relationships, the outcome could damage them.
  • Evaluate your current contracts and past performance to identify work done as a first-tier subcontractor, as well as efforts performed as part of a joint venture, before requesting ratings from the prime.
  • Forecast your recompete opportunities to develop a capture list to pursue as a prime bidder in the next 12 to 24 months. This gives you time to ghost the competition by highlighting your company’s value and strengths as the competition’s weakness, without mentioning the competition by name.
  • Launch marketing efforts aimed at educating prospective government customers and corporate partners on the benefits of contracting with a small business. These advantages include industrial base development, innovation, accessing new technologies and the brightest minds, flexible/agile processes, and often better rates.
  • When opportunities are released, be prepared to craft compelling and compliant proposals utilizing the past performance ratings as evidence of ability to perform.

Entering the government contracting industry looks slightly different for every business. While it has just become easier with the changes to the law, businesses of all sizes need to take an adequate amount of time to assess the risk before making the leap from subcontractor to prime. The process sounds straightforward, but it’s a long-term strategy with no guarantees of success.

Author Information

Chelsea Meggitt , CEO of Collaborative Compositions, has an MBA from the University of Washington and is a business strategist and government contracting consultant with more than a decade in the industry. She works with small and mid-size businesses to launch and expand their government contracting business and has a knack for identifying the path of least resistance to achieving government contracting success.

Prime Federal Contractors

prime federal contractors

Following article appeared in Bloomberg Government  July 14, 2022

Maximize Your Bid Options With Small Businesses: Chelsea Meggitt

Procurement officers for weapons systems have far fewer choices now than they did 20 years ago. Chelsea Meggitt explains how prime federal contractors can serve their customers better by pairing up with nimble small businesses.

Variety is the spice of life, right? Whether it’s the cut and cook of steak or having more than one choice of dessert, people like having options.

Federal contracting officers are no different. They too enjoy having a variety of choices. That’s getting tougher for them.

With the consolidation of prime weapons contractors from 51 in the 1990s to five in 2022, the number of options available to government customers has steadily dropped over the past 30 years. To stand out in today’s competitive landscape, primes need to be asking themselves how they can provide their government customers with more options through their already held contract vehicles.

One approach—build out a robust and varied small business pipeline to offer your government customers accessible options.

The benefits to large primes of sustaining small supplier and teaming partner networks are five-fold:

Lower perceived risk: If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that a single point of failure, like a sole supplier of a critical component, is a significant risk that can cause a catastrophic system failure.

In federal contracting terms, vendors with single points of failure in their supply chains run higher risks of delays and cost overruns than those with diversified supply chains of healthy small businesses. If the goal is to maintain a high rate of availability and reliability, having a robust supply chain helps ensure that and lowers perceived risk in the customer’s eyes.

Best targeted solution: Small businesses have a unique advantage of being able to pivot quickly and provide agile and responsive development processes that truly adapt to evolving edge requirements. They often provide a niche or specialized product that isn’t yet offered by large system integrators.

Offering a small/large business pairing can deliver more value and allow the prime and their customer to access bleeding-edge tech as a faster alternative to developing it in-house.

Access new markets: The first contract is the hardest to win. This is no different for large primes. When contemplating new market entry, large primes can look to their small business counterparts with existing contracts or other footholds in agencies of interest.

Supporting small businesses for set-aside bids limits the competition further and allows the prime, as a subcontractor, to get a piece of a pie that would otherwise be limited. Ultimately, the customer gets additional capabilities from the small prime.

New technology integration: Large primes with varied supply chains of agile small businesses are substantially more likely to be conscious of emerging tech and keep interoperability in mind while developing and maintaining their large platforms. Small businesses can integrate technology rapidly.

Congressional satisfaction: Congressional interest in small business mentor-protégé programs has increased in recent years for a variety of reasons, but primarily because they help small businesses become competitive as federal contractors. That, in turn, creates and retains jobs.

Mentor firms have incentives to maintain more resilient supply chains and meet subcontracting goals. They can receive reimbursement of certain expenses for participation.

Maintaining a robust and varied portfolio of small business partners gives your government customer more options and raises your odds of winning across the board.

When You Get Your 8(a) Matters!

SBA 8(a) Small Business Program

When a small business decides to participate in the SBA 8(a) program matters…..

Upon entering the government contracting market, the runway for receiving the first award is in the range of 12-24 months. This is just the first award and it usually won’t be a prime contracting opportunity, meaning you don’t have direct access to the government customer. With such a long runway, many companies initially try to seek any advantages they can. There are many programs that are advertised as being propitious but beware of the nuanced considerations involved in the decision to pursue any of them.

Programs Of Interest

Programs like the SBA 7(j) Management and Technical Assistance Program, small/disadvantaged business certifications, the SBA 8(a) program, and GSA schedules, are often promoted in a way that appeals to small businesses. The programs are all different, they offer different benefits for different businesses at various stages of growth. Missing from the descriptions of these programs are details that interested prospective contractors should consider before participating. To reap the advertised rewards, contractors need to consider not only which program they join but also when they decide to enter.

When considering participating in one of these programs it’s important for small businesses to consider that the 8(a) program has an expiration date, GSA schedules have minimum orders, and small business certifications must be renewed on a regular basis. While it is generally true that having a small business certification can be helpful, it’s equally well known that capabilities matter more than certifications. GSA schedules are not a guarantee of money. Obtaining a GSA schedule without a strategy for identifying and pursuing government customers can easily end up as a negative return on investment. On the surface, while the program itself might not have an entrance fee, each of the maintenance activities requires an overhead labor expense and often other additional unforeseen costs.

8(a) Program

The 8(a) program in particular requires participating at the most opportune time to maximize the potential for profit. The 8(a) program has a nine-year life span which is divided into two phases: an initial four-year developmental stage and a final five-year transition stage. The application process is extensive and requires financial, business organization, banking, and personal information to address the eligibility requirements such as proof of ownership and control of the business, social and economic disadvantage statements, business acumen, experience in the government market, and business revenues and number of employees. Generally, companies interested in the 8(a) program should already have worked with the federal government directly or as a subcontractor to a prime. The following discussion addresses the necessity for careful consideration by individually owned businesses of when to participate in the SBA 8(a) program.

The 8(a) program provides business development assistance to businesses owned and controlled by person or persons that are socially and economically disadvantaged, have good character, and demonstrate a potential for success. The program was established for disadvantaged individuals but now includes small businesses owned by Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), Community Development Corporations (CDCs), Indian tribes, and Native American Organizations (NHOs).  The three-part test used to determine economic disadvantage sufficient for participation in the 8(a) program is as follows:

  1. Net worth of less than $750,000 (excluding ownership interest in the applicant’s business, equity in their primary personal residence, and funds invested in an official retirement account.)
  2. Generally, no more than $350,000 in average adjusted gross income over the preceding three years
  3. No more than $6 Million in assets (excluding funds invested in an official retirement account)

Risk vs. Reward

Many companies will join the 8(a) program with hopes of receiving a sole source award. For an 8(a) sole-source contract including any options the maximum award for individually owned businesses is $4.5 Million. The threshold for awards to CDCs, ANCs, and NHOs is higher. That’s an attractive number, however, simply participating in the 8(a) program comes with no guarantee of business. The company still has several other hurdles to jump over before being considered for a sole-source contract award.

There is no requirement for companies entering the 8(a) program to have demonstrated past performance with the government. When bidding on contract work companies must demonstrate to the government that they can accomplish the work in the contract and perform successfully. Typically, Contractor Performance Assessment Ratings (CPARs) are the only way for companies to provide evidence of related past performance with the federal government.

These ratings are filled out by government contracting officers at every contract performance milestone and stored in a federal database for other contracting officers to access.  Typically CPARS are reserved for prime contractors. If CPARs are unavailable for a company, there are certain circumstances in which the evaluation factors for a contract might allow for another type of past performance but there is no consistency with this consideration. Ultimately being awarded the first contract is the hardest as many opportunities require companies to prove their abilities.

In addition, if the company previously hasn’t received a contract award from the government valued at over $1 Million, they are perceived as being a higher risk bidder by the government. Providing evidence that the company has performed the same type of work that is required by the government is helpful. However, if the work was at a smaller scale the government construes the company’s capacity to handle larger amounts of government work and funding as lower and the risk higher.


The path to a $4.5 Million Sole-Source contract under the 8(a) program is not short nor is it without competition. Without adequate planning and relationship development ahead of time, the beginning of the program can be spent learning and catching up instead of getting the crucial first wins that are necessary to build upon. When assessing the probability of success it’s helpful to identify meaningful statistics. For instance, the DOD awarded 105 sole-source 8(a) contracts on or after March 17, 2020—the date that the increased threshold was implemented —which reflected an increase over prior years. These contracts were all over $22 million Half (50 percent) of the 105 sole-source 8(a) contracts were awarded to firms owned by Alaska Native Corporations; 32 percent were awarded to firms owned by Indian Tribes; and 18 percent to firms owned by Native Hawaiian Organizations.

With a longer than average runway for contract award and half of the sole-source contracts awarded by the DoD ultimately going to other than individually owned businesses, the landscape is still quite competitive and not for the faint of heart. Pursuing the 8(a) program can be helpful for companies with a clear understanding of government contracting processes and an aggressive plan for maximizing the program’s potential for growth. On the other hand, companies that are in the earlier stages of their government contracting journey are unlikely to find the 8(a) program to be an easy button. Early-stage government contractors would be wise to consider getting some experience in the market under their belts before pursuing programs like the SBA 8(a).


SOFIC 2022 First Thoughts

 #sofic2022 saw the largest in-person attendance ever at approximately 16,000 attendees in Tampa.

The theme “Campaigning with partners for integrated deterrence” was very clearly demonstrated with strong representation from international allies including #australia #UKDefence #InternationalDefenseCooperationDirectorateoftheIsraelMOD #TeamNorway and a variety of individuals from #allynations.

Integrated deterrence considers the #internationalpartners highlighted and the #crossdomain coordination demonstrated at #SOFIC2022. Representatives from every major command at #USSOCOM and representatives from each branch of the DoD were in attendance.

Much of the message communicated was “we are stronger together”.

In line with that message, many representatives spoke about what they need, in terms of technology, industry participation, and cross-domain coordination to accomplish their long-term vision. In each room were discussions of pathways for contracting, with each speaker highlighting accessibility and their available mechanisms for working together. This sentiment was reflected in speeches by Heidi Shyu, Jim Smith, Lisa Sanders, and others.

There were introductory panels and deep dives with the Program Executive Offices (#PEOs) that allowed industry participants to ask questions to understand how to better serve their mission sets. As well as panels with discussions around working with allies, developing technology faster, nuances of RFP sections, non-traditional contracting mechanisms, what it means to be SOF peculiar, and so much more.

On Tuesday afternoon Collaborative Compositions had the opportunity to sponsor the Govmates matchmaking event. The event matched buyers from various commands and large primes with innovative non-traditional businesses based on the buyer’s preferences to have 15 min conversations about product-market fit.

Co-sponsoring the event were Bank of America, ATI, and the Global SOF Foundation. This was an incredible opportunity to bring together small businesses with potential customers for open dialogue. The event was completely free for all to attend and provided an additional forum for discussion at the conference. It was especially helpful as the opportunity to schedule 1-1s with buyers was quickly filled up when made available online before the conference.

Aside from the highlights above, the #SOFDemonstration on #TampaBay was unforgettable. The large-scale scenario included numerous displays from special forces aircraft, divers, SEALs, ground vehicles, and more on the bay and around the Convention Center. The idea was the Mayor of Tampa had been captured and held hostage. #LittleBirds #Blackhawk #Snipers #groundforces #Armoredvehicles and a variety of #watercraft came together to portray a very real scenario with simulated (real blanks) live fire. With heavy fire all around and the smell of #gunpowder fresh in the air, tourists in Tampa that might have been unaware of the conference undoubtedly got the surprise of a lifetime.

There was without question a sense of urgency in terms of pacing threats and the speed of technology development, however, it seemed to be paired with a new openness to work with industry to identify and implement solutions faster. Having government decision-makers actively work to make themselves accessible to industry partners left me with a sense of optimism, and a conference experience I will never forget.

 More to come soon…..

Market Invention & DoD Contracting

About Merit

Merit is a market invention agency.  More than a traditional brand development agency, Merit maintains a focus on achieving category leadership for its clients regardless of their current size. Business strategy drives everything at Merit. These are the folks who put strategic intent above all else and in doing so help shape the future. As defined by Merit:  Market invention is a paradigm shift that rejects industry standards in favor of a bold, new vision. Merit is driving that shift to shape a bold new future with its clients.

DIB Tech Talk Episode:

Have you ever wondered what the future of defense contracting holds? What about how you can help shape the future of the defense industry?

This video features Market Invention expert Adam Vasquez talking about shaping the future of defense contracting. Adam is an expert at redefining markets to shape the future. This conversation focuses on the trends shaping the future of the defense industry.


About Collaborative Compositions:

We provide business development consulting services for the federal sector.

Ensuring High ROI on Conference Attendance

chelsea meggitt govmates

Conferences, industry days, forums, and other face-to-face activities have long been corporate marketing plan staples in every industry. These events can create an environment that brings together prospects and existing customers, competitors, partners, and suppliers under one roof to network and make lasting impressions. When the number of in-person events dropped during the pandemic many companies significantly scaled back marketing efforts and spending to save costs elsewhere. After all, conference attendance can get expensive when adding the cost of admission, travel, lodging, meals, transportation, and time away from work to attend.

For many small businesses in the government contracting market, these events can be invaluable in the networking, brand awareness, lead generation, and customer interaction opportunities they can provide.  While it is incredibly important to be cost-conscious as a small business in the defense industry, the return of in-person events presents a unique opportunity to get back in front of the prospects you care about. When it comes to conferences in the federal sector, where you are matters. With hundreds if not thousands of events being produced and held specifically for the federal sector every year, it’s clearly not practical to attend every show that seems interesting.

The following ten tips will help you make sure you see a positive ROI and get the best results from conferences you decide to attend.

  1. Start with the basics: Ask yourself what you want to accomplish by attending an event. Identify your goals and narrow them down to a primary objective.
  2. Then determine which events cater to your market or niche. Make a list to start from by checking industry associations, pages like govevents, trade media, or even with large prime contractors. Then, narrow it down by looking into the event producer. Are they reputable with a history of successful, large-scale, well-attended events or do they have very little evidence of successful past events?
  3. What does it cost to attend or exhibit? Is it local? Do you have to send multiple employees to host a booth? Determine the expense of time, money, personnel and compare to the ROI that would be expected from that.
  4. Next, if it is an annual or bi-annual event, what does attendance at previous conferences look like? How many people, exhibitors, competitors, and leaders in your industry typically attend?
    1. In-person events like AFCEA WEST boasted somewhere in the ballpark of 14,000 attendees in the years pre-pandemic, the return of the in-person event in 2022 (two years into the pandemic) boasted half of that level with about 7,000 attendees
    2. The number of attendees is also important to consider when thinking about potential visibility. Small businesses especially need to understand how to stand out amongst the masses of other attendees.

Now that you have decided on the conference(s) to attend you’ll want to make the most of your attendance.

  1. Study attendee lists and floor plans. Make a list of the exhibitors, attendees, speakers, prospects, and competitors you want to meet with. Take note of where they will be and when.
  2. Schedule meetings ahead of time and identify the conference sessions you want to attend along with what you want to get out of them. Plan to have an elevator speech as well as a more focused pitch for meetings with prospective customers. Bring materials for taking notes and capturing information at the meetings, panels, and sessions you attend.
  3. Whenever possible come prepared with specific opportunities to talk to target prospects about. Bring specific and relevant informational materials, projects of mutual interest, or specific synergistic capabilities, not general info that will get lost in the weeds
  4. Plan to advertise your attendance before you go! Utilize the hashtags, follow the event page for updates, post about your attendance on social media, use linkedin and other channels to determine who is talking about and attending the event and actively engage with their content. Write brief notes about what you’re getting out of the conference at the time and be sure to tag people that are at the conference that you want to see or have already met with on linkedin and other socials as well.
  5. If you exhibit— take the right tchotchkes. In the age of cyber awareness, most vendors know computers in the federal sector are locked down yet year after year I continue to see companies bringing USB drives or other plug-ins. Bringing SWAG that shows the lack of market awareness can do more harm than good. Alternatively, great giveaways are not only memorable but lasting. Several years ago, I was at a ChallengeHER event at which attendees each received a Rebecca Minkoff canvas bag that says, “Shop Small”. Due to the quality and the lasting message, I still use the bag to this day.
  6. Finally, don’t forget to do a write-up after you attend! Let people who couldn’t attend live vicariously and give them the highlights, share the knowledge you gained, and follow up with everyone you met. Make sure to take note of what worked and what didn’t as well as noting whether there might be interest in exhibiting or speaking at a future conference. Follow up with hashtags and quick notes with photos during the event AND after the event to stir up buzz about your attendance and start conversations for weeks and months after the event.

Conferences and other industry events can be invaluable resources for growing small businesses. These tips will help you pick the best events and identify and maximize ROI on the events you decide to attend.