Monday, October 29, 2012

Sustainable Visibility (The Waldo Factor, part 14)

Make no mistake about it: government contracting is a relationship driven market. You have to become visible. You are known by the right people or you are not.

Attaining and maintaining visibility in the market niche you serve should be top of mind. There are several paths you can take, but be certain you take a path that adds value to the community on a regular basis. Do not take a path that is more hype than substance.

You have probably run across the concept of "personal branding" more than a few times over the past few years. Each of us wants to believe that we are important and that we add value. The outward reception of that premise is not a given until the outward perception aligns what we think and how the market perceives us.

Once these are in tandem - and until that alignment takes place, there is no guarantee that others will pay attention to anything we say, regardless of how or where we say it.

Personal branding has been embraced by many looking for short-cuts to fame and fortune, but without adequate substance (an associated product or service), it leads nowhere because there is nothing to "brand".

There are no short-cuts. It takes work and dedication, persistence and perspiration. You need something that resonates with the prospect audience you wish to influence.

Winning business in the government market, any market, is about being visible to the prospects, partners and influencers in the buying process, visible in a positive way on a regular basis. Showing up on the radar on an occasional basis is not good enough.

This does not mean you have to be on the radar of the entire market. In all likelihood your products or services are not needed by everyone. It does mean that you need to define your niche carefully and find multiple ways to become more visible to your niche in a perpetual manner.

The best way to get on and stay on the radar is to add value to your market niche in as many ways as possible. Finding, developing and delivering content is the best way to do this.

There are many venues for developing and delivering content. Among these venues are:

- blogs
- webinars
- video
- white papers
- podcasts
- starting and otherwise participating in discussions on social networks like LinkedIn
- speaking (large group, small group, one on one)

In order to add value, the content must be germane to those you seek to influence.

It is always about relationships: if they know you, they are more likely to buy from you. The more visible you are, the more likely it is they know you. The more good content you develop, find and share, the more your "net worth" rises in your niche.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Five Areas Contractors Need to Watch in 2013

Five Areas Contractors Need

to Watch in 2013

We live in interesting times.

There have been bad periods for government contractors several times in the 30 years I have been advising companies in this market, but beyond any doubt, these are the strangest and by far the worst of any I have seen.

To successfully stay ahead of the curve, to be as competitive as possible, certain activities must be monitored on a very regular basis. These activities require an investment, sometimes of time, sometimes of money or other resources, and sometimes a combination of several.

But make no mistake, these activities must be closely monitored if you are to remain or become successful.

1-      Careful attention must be paid to how your prospects and customers are being driven in their purchasing. Strategic sourcing is expanding; low-price, technically acceptable is the rallying cry of bean-counters inside OMB and elsewhere; and fixed-price contracting looms. Each of these have serious downsides for the government, but in their cyclic mind frame, they won’t figure this out for the next four or five years. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of companies will be removed from various GSA Schedules by then, and many of those will go out of business as a result. Study these issues carefully and be prepared to deal with each as it encroaches on your niche.

2-      Fraud, waste and abuse’ is yet another rallying cry from those who have little or no clue as to what “common commercial practice” actually is. That does not remove it as a threat to the contracting community. Make certain you are getting the proper legal advice in all areas of contracting: pricing, partnering, prime/sub relations, audit and other activities which raise red flags inside IG offices. I am not saying that contract fraud does not exist, but I am certainly implying that over-zealous government lawyers often don't have a clue as to how the business world operates.

3-       All things “small business”. Small businesses continue to seek sub-contracting and other arrangements with primes, and primes seek to find competent sub-contractors for specific bids. With the number of bills in Congress impacting small business, in particular set-asides, both small and larger business must take into account all the rules impacting how they can work together. It does not appear that Congress, despite all their lip service, will make this easier for anyone. But keep in mind that missteps here can lead to #2 above.

4-      To get away from the pitfalls for a moment, let’s look at social networking. With the temporary demise of some major events sponsored by the government, new ways must be found to identify and influence prospective buyers and other influencers. LinkedIn is particularly well-suited to this task, and while many contractors are here, along with the governmental counterparts, few companies use LinkedIn to its maximum advantage. Invest in some training to see if you are among those missing this particular boat.

5-      Thought leadership has been a hot topic for a few years now, but like social networking, many really do not get what it means and how to develop a thought leadership platform. While many claim to be thought leaders, but few can substantiate the claim. Thought leadership is differentiation on steroids. It is the development of expertise in a niche subject area, and the sharing of that knowledge base in multiple venues throughout a defined community. And still, it is more. It is ultimately the acknowledgment of that community that you are among the thought leaders. You can learn the elements, but you never claim the status without broad recognition from the community.

There are other areas that may need to be monitored for you particular niche, but these five cut across the entire market.

Pay careful attention to the first three and start acting on the final two.

Best of fortunes in 2013.



Monday, October 15, 2012

WashTech Redesign

A week or so back I visited one of my favorite web sites, And I was stunned.

What was previously an easy to navigate news site is now ... well, I'm not sure.

When you visited the WT site before, the news regarding the government contracting community was clearly visible- front and center, with the "Top Stories" list on the right (most read and most emailed stories), breaking news down the middle, and on the left side the major categories for the GovCon market. It was easy to find what you were looking for.

I liked the "most read/most emailed" feature as it let me know what was trending in the market. It is gone.

Now we have the top navigation bar with Nick Wakeman's blog (worth reading), contract news and Top 100 news. The we have one visible opinion column until you scroll down and get past the ads on the right side.

Before when you read a story, there are "related stories" next to or under the text. I liked that as I could get more information on a specific topic. I don't see that now.

Remember when Coke launched "New Coke"? I don't find the new design to be a user friendly experience compared to what was there before and I think this redesign will lead to less traffic and shorter visits to the site. 

It has certainly made my visits shorter. I want the Classic WT.

10/18/12 UPDATE

WashTech has revoved the "one story above the fold" look and now it is relatively easy to scroll down and see some news. Still not what it was, but much better than their first pass.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Facebooking of Linkedin: Endorsing "Skills and Expertise" : Take 2

Last week I posted my first impression of the new "endorsement" feature on LinkedIn.

On first pass I admit to thinking the endorsement of "skills and expertise" feature was pretty neat. So I wrote that in this blog. 

But I threw in a caveat that some LIONs (open networkers) and others would devalue this currency by seeking hundreds of endorsements from those they do not know. This is already happening.

I posted the blog link into more than 40 LinkedIn groups and the feedback started to come in. Some thanked me for explaining what the heck was going on, others started questioning the value of the tool, the further Facebooking of LinkedIn.

Facebook has the "Like" button which seems to be attached to everything: groups, people, events, pets, music, halitosis and haggis. It is too easy to like something, anything, on FB.

Many of those responding to the discussions on LinkedIn think it should be harder to endorse people in a professional setting, preferring the "Recommendation" method.

I have to agree.

I think it is important to point out that some people have skills worth recommending, and it should take more than a click of a button to say why I feel this way.

I have "recommended" 343 people on LinkedIn, people I respect and who have added value to my professional skills set or otherwise helped me along the way, friends like David Powell, Scott Heller, Olga Grkavac, Dendy Young, Richard Dean, Ann-Marie Clark, Tom Hewitt, Nick Wakeman, Max Peterson, Tom Tweedie, David Meerman Scott, Guy Timberlake, Sheila Schatzke, Bob Davis, Michael Keating, June Jewell, Lisa DeLuca and hundreds of others. It is a long list.

While that number may seem high, I have been a LinkedIn member since February 11, 2004 and have been in business as Amtower and Company since January 1, 1985. Lots of people have helped me along the way, and many continue to do so.

As I state in my second book, Why Epiphanies Never Occur to Couch Potatoes, I prefer to acknowledge the contributions of others while they are still with us, not after they are gone.

I like LinkedIn. I teach classes on using it, coach people and companies on maximizing the value of it, and use it myself on a daily basis. It is a great business tool.

But I hope that the powers managing LinkedIn resist temptations to "dumb it down" and further emulate Facebook.

This is a business tool and a business network. Let's keep it professional.

In Epiphanies, I warn against falling for every shiny rock that is in your path.

Every day we are confronted by offers that seem to be shortcuts to success. We get assaulted by these from all media- television, the radio, in publications we read, phone calls we get, the people we see in the parking lot, the grocery store or an elevator. Too many people, it seems, are looking for angles, not purposes; a quick and easy ride to wealth, not for the satisfaction of a life lived well. So when the shiny rock offer comes along, we are susceptible.

The endorsement feature can be a shiny rock. If you choose to use the endorsement feature, use it wisely. But also take the time to use the recommendation feature as well and truly acknowledge the contributions of others.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Linkedin: Endorsing "Skills and Expertise"

I attended a couple networking functions this week and several people asked me what's going on at LinkedIn, particularly with getting endorsements.
A new LinkedIn feature has  some people confused. Early in 2012 LinkedIn did the beta for “Skills and Expertise”, where LI members could claim expertise in defined areas, like marketing, sales, business development, PR and many others, including skills you could create yourself.

While similar to "Recommendations" these are easier because instead of writing a real recommendation, you just have to "click."

The official LinkedIn explanation can be found by scrolling over the "?" on the right side of the "Skills and Expertise" location on a profile:

What skills and expertise does (name) have? You can endorse your connections to give them recognition.
Click on the + to add your endorsement."

Simple, right?

But when a social network adds a function without announcing and explaining what it is and the accompanying value,  people get confused and some get paranoid.

Generally, LinkedIn has been pretty good at adding features, and I think this one will become popular, but an announcement would have helped. If they made one, most of us missed it.
I think this will catch on soon. Indeed, many LinkedIn "regulars" have already caught on and others seem to be following. Those with more popular profiles seem to be gathering lots of endorsements.

Downside? Many of the LinkedIn "Open Networkers" (aka LIONS) will be racing to see who can get the most endorsements, thereby devaluing the currency.

Some LinkedIn members actually deserve hundreds of endorsements, but many will blatantly asked there thousands of connections to endorsement them.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Regarding writing (content) about the government market (The Waldo Factor, part 13)

On October 4, 2012 I was at an industry reception hosted by 1105 Government Media. Several of the people I met mentioned having read my articles or thoughts on multiple forums: LinkedIn, Washington Technology, my blog, even a couple of my books.

It's always flattering when someone tells me they like what I write but most of all I just like that they took the time to read what I wrote.

"Content is king" has become a catch phrase in the marketing world, and as far as it goes, it is true.

A more accurate statement would be that relevant content delivered on a consistent basis to a targeted market over a long period of time can make you stand out in any crowded field.

Writing and editing what I write helps me to think and evaluate the market we live and work in.

Putting my thoughts in various public forums affords me the opportunity to get feedback from multiple sources that I would not normally get. This feedback makes me think not only about what I have written, but about what else I can write.

In my seminars, starting in 1991, I started talking about the value of content delivered via newsletters before I started writing my own.

Shortly thereafter I co-wrote an industry newsletter with Terry Miller. It came out sporadically for about 4 years. From that, The Amtower Report was born in the mid-1990s, which was a hard-copy monthly. Early versions were rife with typos until I had my wife and in-laws proof read the copy for typos and unclear sentences. The newsletter improved greatly as a result of other eyes editing.

In 2002 The Amtower Report became a weekly email newsletter. Then it went bi-weekly, then monthly, and when I started blogging, I retired the newsletter. The e-newsletter ran from 2002-2008 ( and became popular (over 4,000 subscribers) because of the heavy dose of attitude that was present in nearly every issue. Attitude is OK if you are not mean and you are factual. Occasionally Olga Grkavac or Anne Armstrong would let me know when I was going too far and crossing that line to "mean" or simply letting my ego run wild.

During the 1990s I started writing for several publications: Reseller Management, Government Technology Reseller, DM News, Catalog Age, Federal Computer Week,Target Marketing, Government Executive, BtoB and others. For the last three years I have written a monthly column for Washington Technology.

In 1998 the first occasional Amtower Off White Paper came out, followed by 24 more through 2004. Among these, FOSE, the "Big Bag Theory", The Creation of Myths and Marketing Myopia ( is undoubtedly the most popular, documenting the size of the bags given away during the premier trade show in our market. The "battle of the bags" was discussed for a long time.

In 2005 I published my first book (Government Marketing Best Practices), and there have been two more. The latest, Selling to the Government, was published by John Wiley in December 2010.

Writing also contributed to WFED inviting me in early 2007 to host the first radio show anywhere to talk about the business of government. Nearly six years later Amtower Off Center is still on the air.

Writing has led to me being interviewed or quoted in over 200 publications and being invited to speak at over 150 industry events.

What does this have to do with you?

Exposure and name recognition.

Writing has helped me differentiate myself from most marketing professionals, consultants, and agencies and others in this market.

Why? Because I have been doing it longer and in as many venues as possible.

While most marketing consultants have blogs, few if any write for publications, or have written for more than a few years. Fewer still have written books.

Generating content that is germane to your market niche is critical to your growth.