Can the Government Teach Small Businesses to Do Business?
There seems to be a buzz about government creating more programs to teach businesses, especially small businesses, how to do business. How to compete. How to cut costs. How to (fill in the blank). More and more programs are being discussed, and I suppose funding is being “appropriated” for those programs as some line item on the Federal budget. But when you get into the details and the so-called “design” of those programs, what are they doing that is different from the past? What are these programs doing to actually help small business? How does a multi-million dollar program that creates one more Web site that provides links to a multitude of other Web sites that all either provide you with convoluted language, complex legalese, government speak, and more regulations and “oversight” actually going to facilitate competitiveness?
Where is the investment in the universal translator of the regulations, hurdles, and the ever-evolving complexity of “help” to actually provide meaningful change and measurable metrics and—GASP—tangible programs that do facilitate competitiveness? What is one more Web site or one more helpline that provides “advice” that is non-specific and falls short of what everyone needs?
Failure to Understand the Problem
The first impulse of various governmental “components” seems to be to repackage existing “solutions.” What’s the definition of insanity again? Oh yeah: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. IF the current problem could be solved as a matter of searching existing Web sites for information, there is this thing called the “Internet,” with numerous search tools already available.
But it isn’t about finding the regulations, or not just about finding the regulations; it is about how a regulation applies to a certain business, project, program, etc. It is about which set of regulations apply and how the combination of rules and conditions impact what the business is doing and what the government is trying to achieve.
Communicating the Issues
The issues for small business are about what regulations and how they apply to each individual business. For example, knowing where a specific tax regulation and related publication is on the IRS Web site is simply okay. Knowing how it applies to the business in question and the decisions being made is invaluable. Applying for a grant and thinking you are eligible as a small business, but you’re venture-capital funded: Maybe you aren’t eligible, but HOW DO YOU KNOW?
Small businesses aren’t looking for generalities and more regulations and programs that purport to help. Small businesses (and arguably all businesses) are looking for meaningful information and translation of that information to how it impacts their business, today, tomorrow, and every day after!
A Need for New Content
Government programs are costly to deliver for many reasons from oversight (control) to oversight of what is really needed. Grandiose programs and “technical” solutions exist where simple tools are what are really needed. Sometimes the solution is simple, even to complex questions and situations.
Real Assistance: Substance over Flash
What is it that businesses REALLY need to do business with the government?
- Clear definition of the requirements
- Specific how-to’s on what to do
- “Allowability” of the costs for meeting the requirements
- Metrics that are clear, measurable, and meaningful
- Day-one start on the requirements: Here’s the program and here is the result we want (the deliverable)
What does the business need to do?
- Understand the full scope of the deliverables and doing business with the government
- Develop a resource plan with timelines and monetary requirements
- Subcontractors, consultants, etc.
- Understand the business process changes that will be required
- i. Systems
- ii. Audits
- iii. Reporting
- iv. Compliance
- v. Staffing
- Human resources
- Information technology
- Intellectual property
- Marketing/business development
- Understand the costs of changes in business process
- Determine the breakeven point for the government business
- Establish strategy for government activities and impact on business operations.
What Government Can Do
The best thing that government can do is reduce the complexity—and thus the cost—of compliance. The effect of the multitude of regulations and scope of requirements means that most businesses have to spend as much time on figuring the rules and regulations as they do on delivering on the actual “product” they are developing.
Action items for the government:
1 Standardize requirements
2 Recognize differences in scale and scope of entities, projects, etc.
3 Streamline reporting
4 Utilize technology
5 Focus on the results
6 Get out of the way!
The reality is that the private sector is known for innovation, creativity, and process improvements. Government is known for red tape, bureaucracy, lack of progress, and institutionalized inertia. So, who do you want to rely on to improve competitiveness and “teach” new businesses how to do business to be successful?
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