Developing Rates for Government Contracts, Part 1

I have been working in the complicated government contracting world for over two decades as a small business owner. In that time, I have been asked many times by other companies how to develop indirect rates for Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) contracts. This post will give you some idea of how to start the process. I’ll start with reviewing the different types of contracts in this post and then next time we will address budgets and developing your indirect rates.

There are essentially three different types of funding for contracts.

Firm Fixed Price (FFP) — a set price for doing the work regardless of the actual costs incurred. For example, “We will deliver 10 sandwiches for $100.” If it ends up costing us more than $100 to make the sandwiches we still can only bill for $100. If it costs us less than anticipated, we will make a larger profit.

Firm Fixed Price Contracts should be clearly defined tasks as there is no flexibility in the cost structure.

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Time and Materials (T&M) — a price based on a Fixed Hourly Rate plus the Actual Cost of Materials. For example, “We will deliver 10 sandwiches. We will bill for $80 worth of materials and it will take us 5 hours at $50/hour.” If we get the materials for less money than anticipated then we bill at the lower cost. However, the labor is a set price per hour even if it costs us more than we proposed. The actual number of hours expended can be charged, however.

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Cost Plus Fixed Fee (CPFF) — a price based on the actual cost of doing the project plus a fixed fee. For example, “We will deliver 10 sandwiches and will charge you the cost of materials plus the cost of the labor to make them plus a fixed fee (profit).” If the labor and/or materials are less than we proposed, we charge the government less than proposed. If it is more than we proposed, we technically can charge the government more than we proposed.

Keep in mind that the government will only budget as much as you proposed and thus your chances of being reimbursed for any additional costs are minimal as your customer will not have the funds available.

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You can see that a CPFF is the most complicated type of contract as you have to closely monitor your costs to stay within budget. Many government contractors go for years without ever having a CPFF contract but eventually the time comes and then they are scrambling to bring their accounting practices up to speed.

It doesn’t sound all that complicated – calculate what it cost you to do the contract and then charge that to the government. The complexity comes in calculating what makes up your costs. There are three basic parts to the “cost”. They are Direct Labor (the salary paid to the employee), Indirect Costs (the costs of doing business), and Fee (also known as profit).

Indirect costs are typically the most difficult to quantify. Although every contractor can divide the pools differently, they are typically broken down into three categories:  Fringe (health care, retirement contributions, vacation, sick, etc), Overhead (computers, rent for space used for billable employees, salary paid to an employee between two billable projects, etc) and General & Adminstrative (accountants, lawyers, rent for space used for administrative functions, etc.).

What makes calculating your costs even more complicated is that the resulting rate you charge on direct labor is a percentage of the Indirect Costs divided by the Direct Labor.

So if your Direct Labor is less than you anticipated then the costs in the Indirect Pool have to be correspondingly less to meet your projected % Rate. Or if your Direct Labor is higher than anticipated, your Indirect Pool costs must also be increased or you will be paying funds back to the government at the end of your fiscal year. To prevent that tragedy, you MUST track both your Direct and Indirect Costs unfailingly so you can make adjustments as needed to your spending.

Be sure to check back here for part 2, where we will review the Indirect Cost Pools a bit more, how to create a budget, what provisional rates are and ultimately what you can charge the government for all your hard work!

Ten Things to Banish the Winter Blues

During my Tuesday Sunrise videos (I do these Live every Tuesday on Facebook and YouTube), I shared I was feeling the winter blues. There wasn’t anything really “wrong” but I just felt blah and unmotivated. I asked for ideas to help shake the blues and got some good ones! Share other ideas in the comments to help others.

  1. Take a walk. Fresh air and exercise are by far one of the best things you can do. I took a walk in the cold air yesterday and felt so much more motivated and awake the rest of the day. The dog enjoyed the time too. Yoga, bike riding, or an exercise video work too. Anything to get your blood pumping is helpful.
  2. Pet your dog (or cat or horse or iguana). There is scientific evidence that being with your pets can decrease stress. If you don’t have a pet, “adopt” the wildlife by putting up a bird feeder so you can watch the birds and the thieving squirrels up close!
  3. Get dressed up. Even if you don’t have anywhere special to go, put on nice clothes and do your hair and makeup at least once a week. If nothing else it will make your family wonder what you have planned! When my son and daughter-in-law got married, they wanted to be able to get a second use out of their wedding attire so they dressed back up in them later in the week and walked around Target. They had a great time getting strange looks and congratulations from other shoppers.
  4. Dance like no one is watching. This one is from my friend Jason who regularly posts videos having a great time sharing his solo snazzy dance moves from his living room. Music and dancing can boost the mood of anyone – even if you dance like me and have two left feet!
  5. Prep your meals. Eating a healthy diet keeps your mind healthy too. It is hard to prepare a healthy dinner though when you are tired from a long day at work so prepping at the beginning of the day or on the weekend when you have more time ensures you get a healthy meal on the table with less stress.
  6. To do list. Keep a realistic to do list for each day so you can cross off your accomplished tasks. The key is to make the list realistic. If you have so many items on there you cannot realistically accomplish them in a day, it can have the opposite effect.
  7. Put on a good pair of socks. After my Mom died, we found a journal she kept that included her thoughts on socks – “A humble piece of cloth, yet what a difference they can make.” The difference between wearing old worn out socks and fresh comforting socks that keep your feet warm can make a day.
  8. Share your feelings. Just telling someone you have the blues can help. You may find that whoever you tell may have some of the same feelings and sharing can help both of you.
  9. Pray or meditate. Asking God for help may bring you some answers. Meditation can bring stability and calm. When I meditate, things that seemed to be super important and stressful lose their level of importance.
  10. Volunteer. If you are feeling down in the dumps or sorry for yourself, volunteer to help others. It reminds you that some have it worse than you do or at least there are others that are feeling pain as well. Your volunteer hours will also make the world a better place!

Two Steps to Move from Struggle to Strength

Megan R. Fenyoe, LCSW and best-selling author of You Are Enough, gives us concrete steps to transform negative self-talk into positive self-empowerment because YOU ARE ENOUGH!

Megan told her heart-wrenching and inspiring story about how and why she formed the “I Am Enough” movement. The movement prompted a book and helped her gain the confidence that she had a story to tell and she could “inspire and help people.”

Every one of us has a story and there is at least one person in the world that NEEDS to hear your story.

The steps Megan shared to help us get from struggle to strength were:

  1. Acknowledge your limiting self-beliefs through acceptance: rediscovering who you are today by going through the acceptance process
  2. Use grounding skills to reduce negative thoughts: acknowledge the thought and then use a visual to distract yourself from that thought

There are so many more details to the two items listed above. Be sure to watch the video below to find out more.

 

Key Things Parents Can Do to Help a Pre-Teen Reach Full Potential

Dr. Ali Lankerani, known as the “Parent Whisperer”, and Clinical Neuroscientist and creator of the Amazing Parents Network gave me three key things parents can do to help their pre-teens reach their full potential. The three items are:

  1. Nutrition – certain foods are better for brain optimization than others. For example, some foods may even help with autism and ADHD. Dr. Lankerani also gives us some great tips to get your kids to try and even like new foods.
  2. Rest – ensuring children’s lifestyle allows rest.
  3. Oxygen – making sure breathing is correct and beneficial. This includes correct breathing during sleep as well as at rest and during activity.

Dr. Lankerani began our talk with this great quote, “Parents are trying to do their best and be great role models who lead by example.” Thank you Dr. L for giving us the tools to do just that!

There are so many more details to the three items listed above. Be sure to watch the video below to find out more.

 

Proposal Writing: Understanding Benefits vs Features to answer “So What?”

My first attempt at writing a proposal was a disaster. The client wanted our company to win and had tailored the RFP so we would have a great shot at doing so. We bombed it and lost by just a few points despite the client wanting us to win.

What did we do wrong?

Well lots… we didn’t answer the questions in a way that was easy for the evaluators to give us points, we didn’t format the proposal in way so they could prove we had the answers, but more important — we focused on the features of our company rather than the benefits.

Bottom line is that your client wants to know that your solution is going to benefit them and benefit them better than anyone else.

As you write your proposal don’t forget to continually ask, “So what?”

Let me give you an example…

If an RFP is to provide sandwiches for their employees from 12-1 pm every weekday, you need to obviously state that you will do that.  But so will every other competitor.

A feature of your company is that you have provided lunch solutions to ten other companies in the past year that are similar in size to this one.  You have a history of reliably providing lunch on time and within budget.  You have the experience and know-how to do this.

So what?

How will this benefit the customer?

Your benefit is that their employees can rely on their lunch being ready so they can get back to work and improve their profitability and that employee morale is high because of the quality lunch so turnover is less and will decrease their recruiting and training costs.

As you work through the features and benefits, think about what keeps your customer awake at night and make sure your features scratches that worry… that is your benefit and that benefit is what will help you win new work.

The Most Important Element of Success in Business… and its not Talent or Expertise

A few years ago, I was helping someone with their due diligence when they were contemplating purchasing a company.  He had hired the best attorneys and accountants to review the books and the contracts of the company and the company had proven to be legally and financially sound.   It was fairly certain that the company’s prior success would easily continue under new ownership with little work on the part of the new owner.  It was a good deal.

Two nights before closing, he and I were sitting in a conference room going over last-minute details and he looked sick with worry.   I turned to him and said, “You don’t want to do this do you?”  Before I could get another word out, he nodded, gathered the pile of folders in front of him and as he scurried for the door said, “Nope.  I just don’t have the guts for this.”

He had the experience and had certainly done his homework regarding the purchase.  What he didn’t have was guts and the ability to take action.  He had what I call paralysis by analysis.

Action will get you further than talent or expertise and even hard work.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The wrong action can get you in trouble.  But I see people all too often do nothing because they think it won’t get them in trouble.

Doing nothing because of fear is an action.  And its always the wrong action.

Entrepreneurship is like jumping off a cliff.  You don’t know when you jump if you are going to fly or fall to the ground.  You don’t know if your new product will be a raging success or the biggest flop ever.  I don’t propose you jump off a cliff without putting on a parachute.  You MUST do your due diligence and be prepared – but eventually you need to jump and you will never be totally ready to do so.  I can guarantee you though, that standing on the cliff holding your research in your hand will never allow you to fly.

How Do I Create Goals to Meet MY needs and Not Everyone Else?

Ever feel like you live your life to please your parents, spouse, friends or society? Brianna Bowling interviews Kelly Travis, creator of the She Doesn’t Settle podcast and a health and success coach, as she leads us through steps to live a life that removes excuses and takes action towards YOUR goals.

For those that find value in themselves by being “helpers” in their community, it can be difficult to find a balance between giving and still taking care of ourselves. Kelly recommends evaluating what your core values are to help you decide which activities and goals are important to you. “If you say yes to someone or something else, we are saying no to ourselves. We have to make sense of that and determine if it is worth it. So we have two questions we have to ask ourselves – 1) what am I having to give up in my own life to say yes to this and 2) what am I getting out of this and is it in alignment with where I am trying to go?”

Listen in to get the details on how to avoid the “shiny object syndrome” and the “mean girl” and even practicing “how to say no”.

 

Recreational Oystering

I spent a recent morning with my husband on the Wicomico River in Southern Maryland (Fun fact… did you know there are TWO Wicomico Rivers in Maryland? The other one is on the Eastern Shore.) Recreational oystering involves using oyster tongs to scrape along the bottom of the river on oyster beds, gathering the oysters, and sorting out the ones large enough for harvest. It is hard, back-breaking work and makes the end result of the tasty, salty oyster even better… of course that is easy for me to say because I am not the one doing the tonging!

An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day so they are integral to the river’s life. Recreational oystering, by the nature of the difficulty of how the oysters are harvested and by regulation, takes very few oysters from the waters. To help ensure there are oysters for the future, careful measuring and culling of the oysters that still need to grow happens while still out on the boat. Oysters that are too small and empty shells are returned to the water at the oyster bed site so baby oysters, called spat, can grow on the shells.

It takes an oyster 3-5 years to reach regulation size on the oyster bars in the wild.  Farm grown oysters grow even faster, in as little as 2 years since they are suspended in the food and sun rich top layer of the river instead of the dark bottom.

View from the pier as we headed out. Such a beautiful morning – couldn’t tell which was the sky and which was the river. The sun was just coming up through the clouds.
The fog gave the sun an eery look.
Tongs used to gather the oysters
Oyster culling hammer used to measure oysters and break them apart – this one is too small
Cleared culling board after the oysters have been sorted
Can you find the little crab hiding?
Pulling up anchor to head home

Electoral College: Does My Vote Matter?

Michael Maibach (Founder of Center For the Electoral College) recently explained to me the history of the Electoral College and how it works and if our vote really matters when using an electoral college system.

Michael gave a wonderful history of why the electoral college was formed in the first place. The founding fathers wanted to avoid majority tyranny by the U.S. Congress, balance small and large state interests and have an independent President to lead the nation. The electoral college supports those goals.

I thought I understood the electoral college but I learned quite a bit including:

  • the number of electors mirrors the number of senators and congressmen from each state
  • the electors are elected by their individual party and their term lasts just a single election
  • electors do not vote for the President until the Monday after the second Wednesday in December which in 2020 is December 14

This is a video every voter should listen to before the election. There are compelling reasons for the electoral college and our founding fathers used their historical knowledge to create a government and election system that still works to this day.

 

Core Values of Management – Discipline, Affirmation and Tools

Over the years of owning and managing my companies, I’ve narrowed the core values of management down to three main concepts. These core values apply whether I am managing an individual, a team, a project or my entire company. They are discipline, affirmation and tools. Let me explain…

Discipline

Discipline comes in many forms. The first and most important is setting the rules for people to work within. Inherently employees want to do a good job and clearly stating WHAT you want gives you the best chance of achieving that goal. I’ve seen too many projects go poorly because the manager at the END of the project expresses what they want and their dismay that their staff did not deduce what they wanted. Clearly stating the end goal gives you the best chance of getting there. In addition, giving the rules of the road makes sure your staff has the best chance of success. For example, if you don’t want them to work overtime to complete a project, they do and then your project’s budget is blown, it’s not your staff’s fault… it’s yours.

Affirmation

Just as important as telling your staff what they should and should not do, is reassuring them that they are in indeed on the right path. People want to hear they are doing a good job and telling them helps ensure they continue to do so. Employee recognition through “pat on the back” type awards, “employee of the month”, and public recognition at employee events are all good ways of making sure your employees know them and the work they are doing are valued. Simply encouraging your managers to tell employees on a regular basis they are doing a good job is even better. Don’t assume they know… tell them.

Tools

Give your employees the tools they need to do a good job. You can’t expect them to dig a hole if you haven’t given them a proper shovel. Frequently tools are tangible items like a computer or cell phone. For example, as a software engineering firm, it’s important that employees have up to date computers and software that help them produce quality products fast enough to meet their customers time constraints and budget.

Tools can also be intangible items such as training, proper supervision, or confidence they can do the job. One of the incentives, a company I founded put in place was to have an education reimbursement program. Employees have up to $2500 per year to apply to whatever type of training works for them – books, online tutorials, college credits, conference fees or travel costs to get to training. Training, like many of the tools we provide employees, is essential to them doing a good job and has the added benefit of showing them we believe enough in their abilities to invest in them.

Having all three elements will ensure you have productive employees who stay with your company and feel good about the job they perform.

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