Small businesses are no joke at DISA

by Renee Hatcher
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
November 10, 2021

Members of DISA’s Office of Small Business Programs dished out some tough love to companies interested in getting contracts with the agency during the recent 2021 AFCEA TechNet Cyber Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Our job is to help small companies figure out how to work with DISA,” said Carlen Capenos, director of the agency’s Office of Small Business Programs. “We want to point out some things that aren’t helping you win contracts with DISA, and offer some advice on what to do instead.”

Capenos and her small business team of Brenda Leonard and Jessica L. Bathon-Logsdon used humor and performed skits throughout their presentation to deliver contracting advice.

“We want to help you learn, hopefully in a fun way, things not to do as well as what to do instead,” Capenos said.

The team shared several suggestions for things to stop doing, including asking for special treatment.

“Our job is to support and advocate for all small businesses, not individual businesses,” Capenos said. “Our main job is to be sure that DISA is making the maximum, practical opportunities available for small businesses in general, not for specific small businesses.”

Capenos encouraged attendees to ask for help finding resources to identify potential partners, and to look for networking opportunities everywhere. Asking for sole source contracts and complaining are also frowned upon.

“We are your advocates so instead of coming to us with complaints, come to us with facts, and possible solutions,” Bathon-Logsdon said. “Show us that you have done your research and can talk about a subject in a knowledgeable manner.”

Bathon-Logsdon also reminded companies to not send a brand-new employee to a business development meeting alone.

“You only have one chance to make that very first impression,” said Bathon-Logsdon, who suggested business owners be a mentor and bring that new employee to the meeting in an observer role.

Leonard stressed the importance of being on time for meetings, being organized and reaching out for help.

“If you don’t know something, call and ask,” she said. “We don’t mind answering questions; we want you to be successful.”

Capenos and Bathon-Logsdon performed a humorous skit to show why it matters to pay attention to the fundamentals, spell names correctly, and get titles right.

“Getting the little details right matters,” Leonard said. “And emoticons and texting language don’t belong in your solicitations or professional emails.”

Another tip was to avoid insulting, yelling at and arguing with the small business team.

“We are your advocates; we are here to help you,” Bathon-Logsdon said.

Name-dropping is something else the team advised against.

“It doesn’t matter if you knew the last DISA director, or even were the last DISA director, Bathon-Logsdon said. “We want to hear about you and what you can do now.”

On the second day of the AFCEA conference, Capenos moderated a panel discussion with three business leaders whose small businesses have grown to large company status. The three panelists were Jane Brightwell, Walker and Associates Inc., Alicia Kelly, Trace Systems, and Robin Elias, World Wide Technology. They shared stories about business failures, lessons-learned, as well as tips and tricks to ensure success.

“Network all you can and when you network, listen,” Walker said. “Listen to what their problems are, listen to what their plans are, and figure out where you fit. Reputation is everything, so if you say you are going to do something, do it and success will come.”

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