Government contracts can improve and scale up any business.
But, many of us think that doing business with the government is not a reality.
Our guest today believes that's a myth.
Jean Kristensen is the owner of Jean Kristensen Associates, which is a full-service consulting firm that provides tools and resources to small, minority, and women-owned firms seeking to increase revenues through government contracting, certification, and innovative business strategies.
According to her, any government wants to diversify their suppliers and there is a certain percentage of allocation of contracts intended only to small businesses.
During this interview, you'll discover...
Why it's important for small businesses to be working with a bookkeeper to be ready for potential government contracts
Why it's necessary for your business to be procurement ready and have a strong foundation
Different services available for government contracts
To learn more about Jean and her services, visit this link.
To find her on LinkedIn, go here.
To connect with her on Facebook, check out this link.
Michael Palmer: 00:56 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I'm your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be a great one. Our guest is the owner of Jeanne Christianson associates, which is a full-service consulting firm providing tools and resources to small minority and women-owned firms seeking to increase revenues through government contracting certification and innovative business strategies. Jean Kristensen, welcome to the podcast.
Jean Kristensen: 01:24 Thank you, Michael. I'm really excited to talk to you today.
MP: 01:27 Yeah, me too. And I think it's going to be a really interesting conversation for us to have. And before we get into it, Jean, I'd really love for you to share your career journey leading up to this point.
JK: 01:41 Yeah, so my journey, I started out after school going into marketing and I love marketing. I worked for Thompson financial services in their professional marketing departments, and that was back in the 1980s so my function was really to get corporations and like law firms to buy these business books. And at the same time my parents had a security guard firm and they were, they were, it was at the nascent stage, but I was interested in what they were doing. My parents are serial entrepreneurs, they have multiple different businesses. Some were successful, some, some were not. But this one I was interested in. So I started working for them on the weekends and eventually I quit my corporate job because I really saw a wonderful opportunity to partner with my family to help them kind of figure out how to do business with the government and how to, you know, make their business a success. And I never looked back after that. So I've been on my own or you know, an entrepreneur since then.
MP: 02:48 Wow. And so it's a, it's an interesting career path. I mean to be helping businesses be able to do this work. And you've been doing for a while now, what have, what have been sort of the Aha, some of the Ahas as you've, as you've built your expertise around doing this?
JK: 03:07 I think the most important thing that I have realized is the role that small businesses play in the United States with regard to the economy. Because although you think you would think big corporations are driving all the jobs, it's really small businesses under 20 employees that drive a good majority of the jobs that are generated in the United States. So the Aha moment for me is and continues to be the huge impact that all of us entrepreneurs have on the economy. So I got into the, you know, I was in security for probably two decades, you know, helped my family grow that their business into a multimillion-dollar company, sold that company and then opened my consulting practice. And it's, it's really to kind of close that gap in the marketplace to help people understand that, you know, government contracts can be away, that they can scale their businesses while also having a huge impact in their communities. And you know, in the world. If you think about again, what the power of what small businesses really do.
MP: 04:18 Hmm. I would think that when people think of big contracts like this, it almost would seem unattainable. You know, if for a small business to think, oh look, I'm gonna work with the government, which is such a massive entity. Is that something that you come up against or is that a similar viewpoint from small business perspective?
JK: 04:39 Yeah, no, I think that that is a, that's a myth actually that, that, you know, doing business with the government or even large corporations is, you know, it's all these big giant contracts. There is certainly a place for larger contracts, but the government has, um, the federal government specifically has set asides because they want to include a variety of diverse suppliers. So they have a set aside for small businesses, which means that there are 23, they have a goal where 23% of their contracts, they want to award them to small businesses and then those goals further break down into other groups like service disabled veterans or women owned businesses. So I think it's really a myth that, you know, doing business with the government is all large contracts. The government has multiple ways of doing business with companies depending on where the company is, what the capacity of the small businesses and depending on what the needs of the government are.
MP: 05:39 Hmm. Well, you know, I think we had a, we had a bit of a chat before starting this conversation and such a massive opportunity for bookkeepers to be aware of this conversation and how it works. And you share a little bit as to why it's so important for a small business owner to be working with a bookkeeper to prepare for the potential of a, uh, a government contract or a large corporation.
JK: 06:12 Yeah. So that's one of the reasons why I'm so excited to talk to you because I see a, another gap in the marketplace where small business owners are kind of thinking wrongly that, that they need to do everything themselves. So they kind of hang their shingles on out there and then they wrongly think, wow, you know what? I'm gonna do my own books or I'm going to kind of bootstrap it, you know, in preparation for what's next. And I'm really here to say that I think that is totally the wrong approach. I'll share that. You know, when I first started, I did my own books because I did not understand the complexities of it. Quite frankly, I'm not a bookkeeper. I should have never attempted to do my own books and I don't think anybody should. If you're thinking about growing a sustainable business, the first thing you need to think about is hiring a bookkeeper.
JK: 07:05 You know, and getting good quality support because as a small business, if you do that, you're going to position yourself for success, particularly in government contracting because the government is very thorough about who they do business with. So although they will do business with companies of different sizes and different capabilities, it's going to be important for them when they're selecting their vendors to know that that vendor has a solid platform. And so I think the real opportunity for bookkeepers in small businesses is to start for small businesses to start thinking of it as a must-have, especially if you thinking about scaling your business, where you're going to try to attract larger clients. Building that foundation from the very beginning is critical.
MP: 08:01 I love this. And I think if, if anything, this is a great conversation for our listener to be using some of this language, some of this thinking and, and communicating the value they provide to business owners. I mean, whether it's a bank, you know, a small business that wants to get investment into their business with a bank or our investors, uh, or going to work with a, a large entity like the government, they need to have great financials. They need to have things figured out. And, and those are some of the Ben of, I mean, it's also just knowing where your business is and, and knowing the financials and being able to make better decisions, more powerful decisions based on where you are financially. So this is w w in, in your work you've seen this go sideways, I'm sure. Tell a little bit about what that looks when you're consulting with folks that don't have this, right?
JK: 08:55 Yeah. And you know, I think of the bookkeeper as you know, and I think this is something that small businesses need to need to consider that a, a qualified bookkeeper is a, is a vital teammate and that person is not just someone who is entering data into a software platform. Because I think that's the other thing that people think, oh, you know, like it's not that big of a deal. You're just putting data in. And that's not true. That person, that a qualified bookkeeper becomes someone almost as an advisor because they're looking at your finances, some of, from a place that small business owner can't see that because they're doing what they're doing. So when this goes wrong for a small business, it's all the things you mentioned. It's the inability to grow because you can't get financing from a, um, from a bank or financial institution, our or lender.
JK: 09:48 And that business owner is also an overwhelmed because if they're trying to manage this very important function on their own, then they're not, they're not managing the business correctly. You can't do both really well as far as I'm concerned. The other, the other critical role that the bookkeeper plays when a company is trying to scale, they can help a person with cost estimating and cashflow management so that when you're thinking about taking on a larger client, let's say I'm looking to acquire a government contract of half a million dollars, I rely heavily on my bookkeeper to figure out, okay, help me based on my statistical data, let's help come up with pricing and also how much cash am I going to need? You know, because doing business with the government, you know, you will start a project, let's say on the first of the month, you'll invoice on the 30th and you're going to get paid probably 60 to 90 days after that.
JK: 10:45 So the bookkeeping function is essential because it can, it can almost help you see into the future to say, Oh, I'm going to need, if I bring on a contract with the $100,000 I'm going to need about, I dunno, whatever, I'm throwing out numbers, $15,000 to maintain my operations before I get paid. These are, these are fabulous value-added services that many, you know, the conversation is there. I don't think we have this conversation enough on the podcast and we'll probably have it a lot more. But these are value-added services that are nontraditional and really the future. And, and when we say future, right today, this is the upskilling. If there was any upskilling to do these would be the areas looking at helping someone like yourself in your business. Uh, but as well all of those businesses that you serve, that these companies that are, are trying to take on new business, trying to expand their business, trying to grow, what does the future look like from a financial stand point in their business is hugely valuable. So whether it's this kind of an analytics, looking at statistics, cash flow projection, these are the things that business owners don't often have as their expertise. And, and this is a great place for the bookkeeper.
MP: 12:04 Absolutely. And I can tell you that it is a place where I see, you know, small businesses really suffering. And on the other side, you know when I'm talking to a new bookkeeper who's trying to break in like they're not sure how to approach, you know how to approach the, the small business because again, the one does not see value sometimes of the other. So I am really a big advocate for what I call procurement readiness. I do not recommend that clients attempt to take on, not that I won't work with them, but I will. I will refer them to other places because if they do not have a solid financial infrastructure, they are, they're not going to be successful longterm in the government marketplace or even in their business longterm. The small business may be able to sustain itself with all of these bandaid type practices. But I think it's important for people to realize that if you're going to build a successful business, a strong foundation and the financial piece of it is so critical, strong financial foundation is essential.
MP: 13:15 Love it. We love that conversation. Now for our listener, they would be working with lots of small businesses. How can we help them understand this opportunity of large government contracts where they might be able to help their clients put this on their radar?
JK: 13:35 Yeah. When we say government, you know, one of the things that I want people to think about is what is in their own backyard. So it's all of the municipalities that you're working with. It is the libraries, it's the schools. So we don't always have to think big government. We can think smaller. We can think locally. And when I work with clients to try to get them to see the government as a potential opportunity, I start local. What's in my own backyard? What are the, some of the services that I could potentially provide to my local government and start there. So for any of you know, the bookkeepers that are listening and they're trying to connect their clients to opportunities, it's, you know, we're, what is your, where is your target audience? And started thinking about and helping clients also think about what their capacity is to do work. Because government contracting as extremely lucrative. It's a great opportunity. But that foundation is again, really, really important.
JK: 14:35 And what's the journey look like? I'd love to, I'd love to hear a story perhaps of you know, one of your clients where it's like this is the, seems like a good opportunity. You've helped them start, start thinking local. What's that, that pathway look like?
JK: 14:54 Okay, well once a client is ready to make the next leap, I'm thinking of a video company that I worked with who when they came to me, they were small. I want to definitely say small mom and pop type organization had maybe less than a hundred thousand dollars in revenue and they, they just thought of themselves as small and because of the world, you know, the changing world, I saw them as infinite because everybody's using video. Digital is such a big marketplace. So the first thing we did was we focused on, you know, the education part of it because I think people don't, you don't want to just jump into government contracting. I call it like jumping into the ocean. Yeah. So it's, it's vast. So really kind of help. We helped them identify their target audience and then we help them craft the marketing message because it's so important for you to think about, all right, who within the government do I want to work with and what is their needs and doing this with the government, it's fully transparent so you can do a lot of research to figure out who they're doing business with, how they're doing business, what some of their problems are.
JK: 16:01 It's more transparent than you know, working with client private clients where you have to figure that out. And we identified several projects for them and it took them, I want to say probably about eight months from the time they started their journey. And again considering that they were ready, you know, they had a nice book of clients already and they were ready to invest time into doing market research. But it probably took about six to eight months before they landed their first contract, which was half a million dollars.
MP: 16:32 Wow.
JK: 16:34 Yeah. Life-changing because in half a million-dollar contract, you know, now you start thinking about, okay, new location equipment, maybe hiring people. And that is typically what happens when people add their first government contract, they scale up.
JK: 16:54 And that must have been a, yeah, an incredible journey for them. And I would imagine the impact on that if they didn't have a financial proper financial foundation could be catastrophic.
MP: 17:07 Yeah. It would have definitely have been catastrophic. Um, and, and I wouldn't have worked with them if that was the case because I think it's necessary for people to have a strong foundation. It does not have to be perfect, you know, but you definitely need to have something in place.
MP: 17:24 And how, how do people find out more about you? Like is it like, it seems like an obscure work that you do. What's a typical experience that you would have when someone starts working with you? Is it just they just decide, hey, I want to grow my business. Maybe this person can help me.
JK: 17:44 Well, people often learn about me in two ways, one of, one through referrals because if it's someone has worked with me and achieved this leap, um, they're anxious to tell other people about it and their life has changed their situation. Has changed. So people will ask them, well how did you get that government contract? Um, I think people need help with doing business with the government because it is a process. There's definitely a learning curve if you've never done it before. But what I'm finding now is that people will mostly hear about me or find me because I am also doing business with the government. There are a number of organizations within the local government as well as the federal government who that that provide resources to small minority and women-owned businesses. And that's who tends to be my clients. So, uh, there's something like, uh, a women's business development center. For example, there is a small business development center. There's something called procurement technical assistance where the agency or the organization provides help two small businesses to learn how to do business with the government. So those entities tend to be my clients and the, all of those entities provide services free of charge to small businesses. So that is where, that is where I'm doing the majority of my work now.
MP: 19:18 Wow. So there's some great resources out there. If you fit into one of those categories, which a small business, there's lots of resources and opportunity for small business, what would it look like for our clients to see opportunity? So our listeners to see their clients as potential opportunities to be thinking about going after government contracts. Is there, is there a specific, obviously there are small businesses, they're minorities, women-owned, there's like resources. There's likely um, some, some large opportunities there. But what type of business would you say is a, as a hotspot right now?
JK: 19:57 Professional services and my region, I see there's an uptake in professional services. A lot of people, Wally assume that, you know, construction is, is what the government buys and the, the government actually buys everything. They're the largest consumer of goods and services in the United States. So if you think about something as simple as like daycare services, which I never thought of as daycare, fitness, flowers, computers, you name it, the government is buying it. They're also buying an increasing amount of professional services. So that's administrative management support, you know, legal services, graphic design. So it's where a lot of our small businesses are. So you know, the easiest place to find those opportunities. And is, is again to connect locally where you are, you know, start thinking about what's happening in your own community and how your local, local government agencies are buying goods and services.
JK: 20:56 And are there opportunities there either earmarked for small businesses or for minority businesses or women-owned businesses or you know, service disabled. They have a few different ones. Uh, there were some great resources, um, which I'll share the links with you. Like the uh, United States small business administration has a great place for people to start because through that website you can connect to your local regional opportunities. And they also have a bunch of, uh, free training videos on their website, which helps people to think about how the, how of doing business with the government because they, how of doing business. There's a, there's a process, um, in terms of, you know, registering your business and you know, getting your tax id number and your duns number and all those types of things. And all of that information can be found on the, uh, SBA website.
MP: 21:50 That's great. Well, that's a fantastic Lincoln. I would say we have a lot of international listeners, the United States, Canada, Australia, B, very similar concept in all of these countries in terms of there's huge opportunity inside government and there'll be link specific links for sure in every country, but that, that some of the research to do and perhaps sourcing and finding someone like yourself, Jane, who can help businesses navigate through this. I mean, if there's a real opportunity for, for a small business to actually go and get a large contract to start, you know, this, this journey in their business of going after these types of contracts, you'd be a fun, fantastic person to, to learn from, to, to get more resources and potentially work with.
JK: 22:38 Yeah, and there's plenty of myself and there's, one of the reasons I do this is because, you know, it's had such a tremendous impact on myself, my family and clients that I work with. Most of most small businesses, you know, there are so many small businesses that fail or there's so many small businesses that really struggle to identify, you know, individual clients. And what I have found is once you, once you've been successful in identifying who your market is within the government, it is a sustainable business model that can really help you grow. So that's one of the big reasons that I do it. And I'm happy to connect people with either working with me, so my colleagues, or to some of the free resources that are out there.
MP: 23:20 It's wonderful. And it is, it's a, it's fantastic to see. Small business is the lifeblood of our countries. And, and it's great to hear that there's things happening to help help small business. Now if we think of, um, this calm, this conversation of most businesses don't get how valuable having a bookkeeper on their side is. We've talked about that a little bit already. I'm really curious to get your take and how if you had a bookkeeping business in your positioning, what, what are you gonna tell this business owner to say, hey, get a clue here and hire a great bookkeeper? What would you say?
JK: 23:59 I would, you know, I would dare to say, um, to, you know, somebody coming into my office or somebody thinking about scaling or doing something is, are you serious? Are you not? And that's really what it boils down to. Not, you know, with hindsight, if somebody said that to me, it would have clicked. Like you're not serious if you're doing all of these other things. I am not a trained bookkeeper, so, therefore, I should not be doing my own books. And what it eventually ends up costing you. Because that's the other thing that, you know, it's a mindset that some people have like, oh, I can't afford this. My, my comment to that is, you really can't afford not to do this because if you're making mistakes in your day to day financial transactions, which is bound to happen. I see people wanting to do with themselves. I met with a client yesterday who, you know, has an untrained administrative person doing it because they don't understand the impact.
JK: 24:57 This is the exact same client who was unable to get alone. It's the exact same clients whose financials are not finished, you know, year-end. So it boils down to are you serious or not? Are you serious about scaling your business to the next level? You know, I help clients also connect with why did they start their business in the first place. And most entrepreneurs start their business because they want more freedom, right? They want to control their own destiny. They want to have a big impact in the world. So if those are the reasons that you're starting, let the other small businesses do what they're really great at and it's a wonderful partnership, in my opinion, when you have that strong financial team in place, that's critical. I think the other thing I would say to bookkeepers is, you know, they may find that they have a particular type of client that they like to work with.
JK: 25:53 One of the things I advise my clients is that a bookkeeper's not just a bookkeeper, right? Sometimes if the bookkeeper's a partner, I tend to like to work with a bookkeeper who specializes in professional and administrative services cause they already know all the little, I don't know, nuances of the business where if I was a restaurant I might want to work with somebody who specializes in, um, the restaurant field. So I think for bookkeepers it's really thinking about what are their favorite clients and maybe trying to go after more of those and, and, and not serve everyone. What I am finding with the relationships that work well is that the bookkeepers that are niching in like construction or construction-related services or professional services or whatever they do, those tend to be really great.
MP: 26:44 I agree fully. I mean there's, it's amazing what, what can be learned and the knowledge transfer that can occur when you, when you do have some specialization because you're working in it all the time and you can get really great at it. Whether it's just the, the industry nuances as you say or, or the technology that's being used in that industry. And if you're working in every industry, there might be different technologies that are being used and that you'd have to sort of understand all of them. So there's just these, these economies of scale, if you will, that that play in your favor if you specialize. So I love that take on it. And I love the way you positioned having a book great bookkeeper or partner or bookkeeper, partner in your business. I absolutely love that. I hope our listeners get some, some, uh, some of that content into their own language and use it to, to express to, to small business owners when they're, when they're, when they are engaging them. These are the things that are coming up. These are the objections that are in the back of their head that they might not be saying that, but they actually have. And so be bold and challenge, challenge you're your prospective business owners to, to make a decision. Are you in this for the long haul or are you serious? I love that. That's so bold.
JK: 28:03 Yeah. And it's true, you know, because again, you know, after seeing hundreds of hundreds of clients, the, the, the do it yourself model is not sustainable. And you know, one of the things why I consider and why I liked the bookkeepers as partners, the ones that I've had the greatest relationships with, they, they continue to tote their value to, to me and to my clients by, you know, sharing information with us on what they're doing with their other clients. Um, now like my bookkeeper does, my bookkeeper's not even in the state where I am, we do everything online. Um, but there was a real focus on customer service and there's a real focus on, you know, I keep on using the word partnership because they position themselves above and beyond bookkeeping. They positioned themselves as a business partner to me, that, and they'd make themselves essential. We have a monthly meeting where we're talking about the business and we're looking at the books together and they're helping me to identify, you know, trends in the business.
JK: 29:11 And they're not afraid to, you know, slap me on the wrist sometimes where I think business owners need that. Like, okay, well why is this expense going up? But why is that going up? And one of the best bookkeepers I ever had, she taught me a trick. She was like, it's the, she, it was something that she called the small leaks in the business because I had all these, um, you know, random subscriptions to this, to that auto, this, auto, that. And you know, when we went through it, it was hundreds of dollars a month that was just on these, you know, automated card payments. And she just, you know, just by shining a light on it and ended up saving us, you know, thousands of dollars, you know, over a period of time, because I'm not trained to look for that stuff. To me, it's like a small transaction where she pointed a, pointed the light on it.
JK: 29:58 She says, why do we have this recurring transaction over and over again? What is it for? What clients are you tying it back to? So that was helpful to me. It made me a better business person because I am like, yeah, what clients am I tying it back to? I couldn't answer that question. So it was, it was helpful to just have that person who cared enough about me and the success of my business to ask me the tough questions because, you know, as a, as a small business, a solo entrepreneur, like we're out there and, uh, you know, we're not used to people holding us accountable in that particular area and it's critical.
MP: 30:43 Well said. I absolutely think that that is such a great window into the mind of the customer. And you have a great bookkeeper working for you and it sounds like you've had, you've had a few, but this is the direction. This is very inspiring and, and I hope, uh, I hope our listener has gotten a ton out of just that thinking. I mean, who wouldn't want to have that type of person on their side as a small business owner? I mean that those are the kinds of services and the, the relationship you want to have, that's what they're not going to be looking at and saying, well, Geez, how do we reduce that spend? It's you, somebody that's totally valuable, essential really to the business.
JK: 31:29 I also want people to think about, you know, when they're trying to connect to small businesses, what it costs not to have it and the, the costs could be enormous. So it's, you know, it's all those little leaks in your business that you're not seeing. That's number one. Number two, it exposes you to, you know, financial mismanagement. So it's all the things you can't get, but it also could create a potential situation with the IRS or your local government where, you know, the, they take reporting very seriously. There's, you know, tax filings that should be done, sales tax that needs to be collected and the average lay person doesn't know all the nuances of how to manage those transactions. So failure to do that could end up costing you even more penalties and lost revenue. So the two top things that come to mind.
MP: 32:17 Love it. It is, it's a completely essential and I've absolutely loved this conversation. Jen, what's the best way for our listener to learn more about you?
JK: 32:30 So please connect to me on my website. It's where I have several articles and you will see in my content because I am a huge so your audience, please feel free to share this content because I talked to people about this all the time, the importance of being procurement ready and to have your foundation in order and bookkeeping is a big part of that. So there are lots of free articles and that's on my website, which is Jean Kristensen and associates.com and through my website you can connect to my social media as well.
MP: 33:02 So there's a bunch of content there and we'll have links as well in the show notes to the website, to your LinkedIn and any other links that you've mentioned to today. Jean, we will have those put into the show notes.
JK: 33:16 Perfect. I was really grateful for the opportunity to get this message out. So thank you.
MP: 33:21 Well, the pleasure is all ours and I thank you for your generosity and for giving us your time and sharing all of your wisdom on my many levels today. So this has been just great. I know our listeners are going to love this episode and a will help to have you back at some point.
JK: 33:37 Perfect. Thank you.
MP: 33:38 And with that, we're wrapping another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's wonderful guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time, goodbye.