The Business of Defense

How one company set itself up to continue thriving post SBA’s 8(a) program

Set up an infrastructure early and start bidding early too, recommends Tabatha Turman, who launched her financial solutions company in 2007. Bidding early lets ...

For Tabatha Turman, a critical aspect of the vision she has for the financial services business she began in 2007 involves being an inspiration to other small and minority- and woman-owned businesses — particularly those in the finance and accounting field.

“The stigma is that most 8(a)s when they graduate, they go away. But I want to be able to motivate and inspire them to actually build their infrastructure and start bidding early,” said Turman, founder and CEO, Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions (IFAS).

In a discussion for the American Society of Military Comptrollers’ The Business of Defense podcast on Federal News Network, Turman shared insights about how she has grown IFAS, which graduated from the Small Business Administration 8(a) program in 2018, and about how she plans for its continued success.

As her own company has found success, Turman has increasingly focused on mentoring and helping other small businesses and startups follow in her footsteps. It led her to author a book that came out in late 2022, “Passion, Purpose, Drive — Elements of a Growth Mindset,” which she described as a coalescence of 15 years of notes and manuscripts that reflected how she pushed her own business and personal goals forward.

Persistence pays off in landing early contracts

Today, IFAS has roughly 300 employees and provides finance, accounting and project management services to agencies governmentwide. Nearly 80% of its revenue comes from work as a prime contractor.

But IFAS began as a one-woman shop, with Turman launching the business after military service in the Army that involved tours of duty during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was the military tours, far from her family, that prompted her to leave the service.

“My last tour on active duty was to Iraq, from March 2004 to March 2005,” Turman said. “And when I came back, I decided this is the last time I’m going to leave my children for that long for the military.”

After a short stint working in government as a civilian employee, she made the leap and began as a solo consultant. Although it was not nearly as simple as she had thought it would be, her military service set her up for success.

“I found out all you needed was the grit, the grind, because it is a grind running around the Beltway getting customers. But I just knocked on the doors that I was familiar with, my old bosses. ‘Hey, sir, remember me.’ ‘Ma’am, remember me.’ They were now GS-15s and in the Senior Executive Service at different agencies. And that’s where I got my start, just use leveraging the network that I had built in the military.”

Setting a vision and instilling an entrepreneurial culture

Another way the military has influenced how Turman leads is through consistently evolving and sharing a vision for IFAS.

“You have to motivate people to want to believe in the mission and to want to follow you. You can be out front — way out front — and turn around, and nobody’s back there,” she said. “You know what they tell you in the military? It’s the same thing in business. You have to be able to motivate individuals to believe in the vision and mission that you have set forth for the company.”

As a company grows, Turman said the message needs to be increasingly crisp and clear. Why? Because there are more people, and “you want everybody marching to the same beat if you want to accomplish the mission together,” she said.

Turman also has instilled a sense that everyone plays a critical role in the company’s growth. IFAS doesn’t have a business development department or team.

“We’re all BD,” she said. “That’s another thing that we strive to communicate and develop within our culture. We’re all kind of mini entrepreneurs within IFAS.”

It’s an approach that helps people develop as leaders and lets individuals grow along with the business, Turman said.

Growth mentality: Build that infrastructure and keep on learning

Early on, a big focus for IFAS was on establishing its infrastructure: creating a base of solid programs and processes and acquiring the right certifications (like ISO 9001).

Standing up an infrastructure is a critical piece of taking advantage of the 8(a) program, particularly if companies want to become government contractors, Turman said. Without it, companies will struggle to bid on federal contracts and subcontracts, she said

“Build your infrastructure. Start bidding early, earlier than your seventh or eighth year because it’s nine years in the program,” she advised. “Start bidding early so you can win or learn. You have to learn how to play when it comes time to bidding on opportunities.”

Turman has fully embraced the SBA approach of win or learn when it comes to competing for business. When IFAS didn’t win a contract, she didn’t view it as a loss; instead, it was a chance to learn.

“We started bidding, winning and learning,” Turman said. “We still have that mentality. We learn, we don’t lose.”

To listen to the full discussion between Tabatha Turman, CEO of IFAS, and Rich Brady, CEO of ASMC, click the podcast play button below:

Discover other The Business of Defense podcasts here.

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