Think of your favorite childhood superheroes. What made them great? In a world where everyone is too busy trying to be the superhero, we often forget how critical the sidekick is to the hero’s success. Let’s draw this into our perspective for a second. We’re a few months into the year, and you’ve spent the past few months vying for opportunities to do business with the world’s largest consumer, the U.S. government. Being the prime contractor may seem like the best choice, but subcontracting opportunities are equally beneficial. I like to think of subcontractors as the sidekicks of federal contracting. While it’s difficult to out-“cool” the adventurous swagger of Robin, Bucky Barnes, and their peers, subcontractors have one advantage that other sidekicks don’t—they have the opportunity to become the true heroes, and let me tell you why.
The federal government defines a subcontractor as “any company that furnishes supplies or services to another company for performance of a prime contract.” In this arrangement, a prime contractor is responsible for the management and human resources needed to complete the project specified in the contract, while subcontractors add to the prime’s capacity to execute project tasks.
On the surface, it may seem like being a prime is more advantageous than being a sub, but please forget the notion that subcontracting is at all inferior to prime contracting. Huge tangible and intangible value is added to your business when working with a prime.
If your company’s long-term goal is to be a prime contractor, subcontracting is great because it builds experience and relationships without the complications and costs of being the prime. Here are just a few scenarios that I believe are ideal for subcontracting:
1. If you lack experience with contracting
Subcontracting is a great way to ease into larger contracting projects. Operating under a prime contractor, you can focus on building your expertise without the complications that come with reporting directly to a federal agency. You’ll avoid the hassle of aligning your operations with government regulations and procedures. Subcontracting entails less of the demand, but still provides exposure and substantial experience.
2. If you value working with less business development and administrative costs
Subcontractors avoid aspects of capture management, like identifying opportunities and considering their approach. This means cutting costs related to marketing and proposal development. Furthermore, subcontracting is great for businesses that do not hold a GSA schedule contract—it’s not a requirement for subcontractors. Subcontracting familiarizes you with the sometimes-peculiar territory between independence and employment, which is good practice for becoming a contractor subject to the regulations of the federal government.
3. If you are interested in future work opportunities
Subcontracting is an amazing way to build past performance. Once your foot is in the door, you can develop a track record of performance and work toward becoming a prime contractor. The added advantage of a relationship with another company will help to build performance in a specific area, and provides teaming opportunities once you decide to become a prime. By performing well as a sub, you also show contracting officers your potential to execute your craft on a broader scale, making them more likely to partner with you in the future.
So, the next time that superhero signal (or RFP notification) lights up your computer screen, go for it! You may not bear an “S” on your chest, the recognition, or the headlines, but you’ll definitely be your own hero for allowing yourself to reap all the benefits of the subcontracting experience.
About Amber Dozier
Amber Dozier is a speaker, scholar, and consultant. As the Managing Partner for Research and Development, Dozier oversees the creation of client solutions and internal processes. Known as “the braintrust” of ABCD & Company, her ability to strategically acquire and utilize information has led to groundbreaking advancements for clients across the nation. To read more about Dozier, click here.