By Stacey Piper
What a month it has been for this horse lover—the stunning Kentucky Derby, followed by Mother’s Day with my equestrian daughter! The last three years since my 11-year-old got into riding have been the realization of my childhood dream. Practice, patience, and perseverance are just a few of the life lessons imparted from a horsey life, which got us through the pandemic with new skills and peace of mind.
Owner Rick Dawson, trainer Eric Reed, and jockey Sonny Leon must have been celebrating the manifestations of their own life lessons at Churchill Downs when Rich Strike took the crown in the second largest upset in the 148-year Derby’s history. Rich Strike was an 80-1 longshot and almost didn’t race, albeit for a last-minute scratch by another horse. That put Rich Strike in the 20th (last) position and put the trainer in his first Kentucky Derby. Surprisingly Rich Strike remained near the back of the pack for most of the two-minute race, moving to the top spot only in the final stretch.
Gearing up for another week of adulting at Piper Strategies, I’m reminded that the art of winning government contracts requires a similar stamina and well-paced strategy.
- Build a solid brand. Your reputation starts and ends with your people. Bringing together the right skill sets is essential, but you’re not just filling seats and aligning them to your mission. In 2016, Reed lost 23 horses in a devastating fire when lightning struck a training barn at his Lexington farm, but another 50 horses survived. He said his workers “were heroes… They went above and beyond what I could even imagine anybody trying to do.” Hire people who are passionate about their work and treat them well, so they’ll make the extra effort for you when the moment counts.
- Start small. You’re unlikely to win the big races without a proven track record of smaller contract awards. Accept the small set-asides and learn from the experiences. Looking back, Rich Strike had a track record of late moves and passing horses in the final stretch. He only had one win before the Derby, but it was by 17-1/4 lengths! If the betters had done their research, they’d be sipping mint juleps counting their winnings right now!
- Refine your messaging. No one knew Rich Strike before the win. In federal contracting, it’s better to get your name out there and become a familiar resource. Join the industry conversation on social media. Disseminate white papers. Host webinars and podcasts and speak at conferences and tradeshows. Leverage your website to feature thought leaders and technical blogs about your solutions. Positioning yourself as an expert helps prepare you for #4.
- Position yourself for the big opportunity. Put in the work. As in horse racing, you’ve got to assemble and prepare your dream team: people, training, practice, gear, support. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Build your team and partner alliances. Overcome challenges together. Refine your project management. Strengthening your foundation will ensure that when the time comes, you can rise to the occasion and win the bid. Planning, investment, and tenacity will get you over the finish line.
- Know your strategy and tactics. You know your team’s capabilities and how you work together. You understand your client’s needs and requirements. And you’ve studied the competition. Be ready to put all your experience into action. Eric Reed and his jockey were ready: “Get a good break and work your way over to the inside. Pick them up in the middle of the backstretch and pass them all before the finish line.”
When you’re the contract frontrunner in the ninth hour—or end up at the gate five minutes before the race—know what your next step is going to be, how you’re going to put all your preparation into action.