Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Business Success in Turbulent Times and the Use of Government Minority Business Set-Asides

By Sophia Zhou

Business success over the last several years has certainly been a challenge. But with over 400% growth from 2007 to 2011, I believe EPM Solutions is on to something.  While our success with government set-asides and SBA 8(a) programs has certainly contributed, I believe that the foundation of our success was established in our formative years.
Three keys to Entrepreneurial success
EPM Solutions was founded in 2003. We provide enterprise project management, collaboration and business intelligence solutions for commercial and government clients. What has helped our success, I believe, are these qualities – focus, persistence and knowing the marketplace.
First, to succeed in a challenging business environment, it is critical to be hyper-focused.  And to start, you need to understand your strengths and your passions.  Knowing what you are good at assures that you will have the capacity to achieve at a high-level.  Understanding what you feel passionately about motivates you to prevail during turbulent times – because they are inevitable.  As talented as you may be, you will surely face external challenges such as economic lethargy and changes in your specific industry.  It is the passion that will keep you focused through such inevitable challenges.

Knowing your passions help fuel the second critical element to business success – persistence. I have big dreams and persistence is a necessary ingredient to realizing those dreams.  Big dreams are conveyed through a vision that can be shared by others. I have gathered a strong team who draw inspiration from our shared vision for our company.  But dreams without action will amount to very little. It is the day-to-day persistence that brings results. A clear vision may help everyone on your team keep their ‘eyes on the prize’, but it is the day-to-day actions and choices that, cumulatively, lead to success. 

Focus and persistence help lay important groundwork.  The third key is far more practical: Understand the marketplace – what are people buying, what do they need. For example, the last decade has seen extraordinary growth in enterprise project management software as companies have recognized the exceptional productivity gains they make possible.  Industry standards such as Microsoft Project Server and SharePoint are sophisticated tools, but businesses have struggled to successfully deploy these solutions.  Lacking has been the capacity to implement these powerful tools to address a specific company’s unique needs.  EPM Solutions has focused our energies on this gap and persisted in becoming a leader in providing services to configure, customize and train employees to use these enterprise solutions.

Making the Most of Government Set-Aside Programs:
When determining what the marketplace demands, the minority business entrepreneur needs to be especially attuned to what the government, in particular, is buying. However, when I started EPM Solutions, I didn't even know there were government set-aside programs available.  Ironically, I think our initial lack of reliance on set-asides gave my company a competitive advantage. We had to first demonstrate our trustworthiness to procure government contracts by succeeding in the broader marketplace.

We had first established ourselves by targeting commercial clients until the State Department reached out and asked us if we had a GSA contract. We said 'what is a GSA contract?   The same thing happened with the SBA 8(a) program when government clients asked the company to consider obtaining 8(a) certification.

By this time, we were at a stage in our growth where we could strongly compete for and benefit from these programs. We had a reliable team in place and had established a solid performance history with prime contractors and government clients. I have observed that many companies in these programs do not have adequate experience and a proven reputation to take full advantage of the opportunities presented. I believe EPM Solutions is in a better position today to compete for set-aside business than it would have been closer to its founding. And there is no doubt our success with government contracting has played a part in our ability to succeed through the turbulent economy of the last several years.

Sophia Zhou is CEO of EPM Solutions (, a Microsoft-based Project Portfolio Management and Collaboration solution software and service company, serving customers including Cisco, Boeing and US Navy. EPM Solution is an ISO 2009:2008 certified and one of INC 500|5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America in 2011.

1 comment:

  1. If you don’t know where your business is coming from, how do you know where to spend your time, energy and money?

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