Uncle Sam's Secret Sauce
Uncle Sam's Secret Sauce

Episode · 1 month ago

The Accidental Entrepreneur with Linda Rawson

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

There is beauty and grace in the data, and for Linda Rawson, that has made all the difference in her career journey with DynaGrace Enterprises. Since 2006, DGE has provided technical services, products, and integrated solutions to government and commercial customers.

Linda Rawson is the Founder and CEO of DynaGrace Enterprises. She joins the podcast to share how she leads her boutique firm and team of 10 to drive over $3 million in revenue per year. Throughout the episode, she shares her experience in the mentor-protege program, how she still is able to do the work she is passionate about while running DynaGrace, and the unfortunate hurdles that women-owned small businesses still face today.

Uncle Sam’s Secret Sauce is hosted by Rafael Marrero, Founder and CEO of Rafael Marrero & Company, which helps small companies do business with the world’s biggest customer: the U.S. Federal Government.

You're listening to Uncle Sam's secret sauce, a Raphael Morrero and company podcast. This is a show for US small business owners and decision makers looking to grow their business. You're about to hear a conversation with successful entrepreneurs in the fields of construction, janitorial, cybersecurity and more. Here you'll learn how to sell to the government and what the secret ingredients are for effective marketing for small businesses. Let's get into the show, and today we have the privilege of having Linda Rawson with us on Uncle Sam's secret sauce. Linda, welcome to the show. Thank you so much, Linda. You know, I was very impressed with your background. I read about you well, first I saw you on Amazon because I was researching authors on government contracting and your book caught my eye. I ordered it and when it arrived, I sat in my couch and I read it from beginning to end. Right I wouldn't put it down. So I sat down and I went to work. I loved it. Tell us about the book. Tell us what made you write the book and tell us about that story. Let's start there. Okay, absolutely. So the book was written in a two thousand sixteen the first edition. And everyone says when you write a book you write about something you know, and what I knew was government contracting. And a lot of people are like that's so boring, I don't want to write about government contracting, but if that's what you write about, and I sat in a room. I had some interesting things going on in my life in that time frame. My mother was dying. She was on her last days. I also, of all things, when you say I had that fun fact, well, my fun factoring in that time was I was hosting the Jamaican bobsled team in my house. I had five Jamaicans in my house. They training in Park City and they're so...

...happy. They're optimistic people and I am like, this is the motivation and the happiness I needed. I'm going to sit myself down and I'm going to just organize what I know are the steps to create a woman owned or a minority owned small business and how to do government contracting, and that I wanted to portray lessons learned and the things that you might not know or you might find out later when you should have known to begin with. It was my first entry into, you know, self publishing and I just had so many people say, how do you do this? How do you get started? Rather than repeat myself, it seemed like the thing to write everything down and to be able to give them a reference. So That's how the book came about. Is My very first book. I found that I continued to write about what I knew or what I wanted to write about. So I have several more books for chill, drain and I even have a book on grief. So you noticed my book on Amazon. It's not really expensive. I'm not out to make any money. I'm out to help people and I'm out to make people better and realize that they do have the mindset, they do have the abilities to have their own business, and that's what that book was about. I have to congratulate you because I think actually it's one of the better, if Thatt the best. It's direct, it's not too long, it's written in a language that people can relate to and resonate with. I think that's what really caught my eye, and also the structure rate, the number of chapters. So you concentrated on the key areas right, and we'll touch upon this later on, because I wanted you to share with us your secret sauce, right, but I mean fascinating book, Great Book. I was fascinated by it and that's actually what led me to connect with you on Linkedin and I said you a note saying hey, I really admired your work and I'm learning from you and it's a pleasure to connect with you, and we've connected, and then after that I invited you to the show. You know, I said she has a good message to share with our listeners.

That's a good thing. So thank you for all that you do and I'm so happy to be hair. You're just glowing. I know our listeners can't see you, but you glow with goodness. Thank you. It's hard felt having you on the show. Yeah, it's really, really nice. Listen, you have a friend and you have friends now in Miami. All right, just so you know. Okay, so, Linda, let's start with the family, right, the basis of it all. You obviously your mom is someone that's significant to you, and I understand your daughter also works with you. Right, so please tell us about your family origins and then tell us about your professional career. Okay, certainly, I live in Utahime a native, I've lived here all my life. I am a third generation government worker at Hill Air Force Base. My grandmother came when it was still an army base and my mom was a civil servant for the F six team. She was an idem manager and then, uh, I worked there. Obviously I'm working there. I came from their to become have this interview, and then my daughter has also worked there. So we are a family owned business and I needed, when I obtained my eight a status. You cannot do it as a single member LLC, so I quickly brought her on after they were going to reject our application, brought her on. We became a multi member L C and we've been operating ever since, and that was two thousand six. Well, congratulations. Yeah, we've been in business. This year will be our sixteenth year. Sixteenth year. Yeah, you started right around the time we launched stars and you started at a very challenging time too, because in two thousand and eight the economy took a big hit and there were a lot of people losing their homes and it was a difficult time. Yes, so I grew up in a small rural community, typically religious and Mormon and very patriarchal. Men were considered head of the household. And women were expected to support the household and to, you know, stay at home,...

...raised children and I remember being in the top of math and science classes and having to help the football players passed their math exams so that they could play football. It was quite the experience. My mom was a single mom. My father left about when I was probably about a year and a half. He had an alcoholism problem and so she raised me. I was what I would consider the second litter, like she had two kids from her first marriage, me and then subsequently raised her grandchildren. So she was raising kids well into her, you know, mid sixties. So she was a wonderful woman, very independent. We always had farm animals everywhere. I didn't have four stair heat till I was in high school. We were at a cold stove that he did the whole house and she traveled to hill a four space to you know, support our family and I got married very young. I had children very and I embarked on a career where I went from a clerk type as civil servant and all the way up and to like a GS eleven within a few years. And at that point in time I felt that there was no reason to be a civil servant if I was going to be that for forty years. And started working for my first contractor and from there I changed contractors about every three years and on the last contractor I was sitting in a cute writing code for radar software. I'd either written radar software, bio, environmental, environmental, you know, all the sciences, it seemed like, and I got a call from my past and he said we're going to offer you this subcontract at NASA and you know if you would like to take it. And he said, Oh, by the way, you have to quit your w two job and start your own company. So I called me the...

...accidental entrepreneur. Right, there was an accident. What a great accident though, right. And so I had the weekend. At this point in time, I'm divorced and I have three kids and I took the weekend and I was like, what am I gonna be about health insurance? How am I going to support these kids? What does this mean? Like I don't have a steady paycheck, I don't have steady time off. What does this mean? And decided, well, what's the worst thing that could happen? And I say that to people. What's the worst thing that could happen, and in my mind it was their teenagers, three teenagers. They're gonna have to eat Ramen, you know, for months and we can all go sleep on my friend Michelle's couch, not to work. But the reality was none of that ever happened. It just kept growing and growing. So I say that the universe forced something on me that I would have done anyway, but it was that extra little push to do it. That's right. And now you're a square engineer. Correct background in software engineering. You blend together several components. As a corporate executive. You blend technical and functional expertise, which is unique right in the business world, and I think this may have given you an unfair competitive advantage. Oh, it was all fair to me. Yeah, that's right, that's right. You're you're you're very good at what you do. And Uh, and you've had a great journey as a federal contractor to date. What have been the aggregate sales for your firm, Diana Grace Enterprises? Ah, boy, I don't know that number off the top of my head, but roughly about at least three million a year. So when we think about that time sixteen it's been higher than that. And it's been a little lower than that, but probably averaged. So that's a very decent neighborhood for software development. And how many folks do you have on your team and who works on your team? I have about ten and that's kind of where I like it. So you want to maintain a boutique concept and deliver...

...a quality product and serve your clients well and not have to scale things out crazily. So you're focusing on quality. Yes, what are some of the projects, the most fulfilling projects that you've had during this time, and someone maybe some projects that you can recall that were the most memorable ones that really filled you from an experience standpoint, that gave you the most satisfaction. I think any time that you're able to help a government customer with something that they couldn't get done because of their rules and their restrictions is always a good product. You know, obviously R and D is my favorite. There seems to be a lot of money and not as many rules and clients are PhDs and fun and like smart, and you know, those are obviously some of my favorite but we also provide a great service for the Air Force in the world of equipment, batchelsts. We also provide great software for the navy and also Great Project Management for the Air Force Research Lab. So all of those things combined are fulfilling when you see not only you working hard and doing a good job, but everybody that works for you really trying their best to give the government a good experience. What are your current areas of focus on? What do you specialize in right now? I'm currently oddly enough. I mean I still write software on the weekends. I write some image processing and some opacity software that does visible emissions, those kinds of things. So I'm still a part time programmer and then, okay, you really enjoy it, though, right that's part of what you enjoy it. I enjoy that. Currently we are working a high visibility five g dynamics spectrum utilization project at Hill Air Force Base. It's a private five g network on a demo site and we are...

...doing some important work for the office of the Under Secretary of Defense and I'm pretty proud of that project that we are making headway and that's a current project. We do also software defined radios. To help you know, we're trying to get the cost of those down to a lower level, so people can utilize those. You know, like I mentioned, we do equipment specialist functions that we have a hundred percent inventory. That's found every year. We have no problems finding all of our items because we're you know, we track it and also our G S A schedule. My daughter, Jennifer has taken that to a new level. She has added I don't know, nine thousand products to it, working out all of the order automation that it takes and we put those out in in a couple of weeks. We are doing work for another multiple agencies. So although I was like I don't know if I want to sell pencils and crams and you know, but all of a sudden I'm like man, we should have been selling pencils and crans a long time ago. So she also adds so much value and she's really really taking it on. So it's good, it's fun. That's great from a diversity standpoint. Please tell us about your socio economic designations and how that's played out for you throughout the years or dining. Grace is an eight graduate and we've been graduated, I want to say, a couple of years for the exact yeah, I think it was two thousand and sixteen. That rings a bell and I preach and try to talk to people that don't waste it. I wasted my entire first year of eight a. We didn't do anything with it. And then we had another blast from my past that came and toward us and we...

...were able to really utilize that status. I mean we've always been women on small business but, as we know, in the last couple of years it's become more important as they push some, you know, best of two in through Congress. So we're economically disadvantaged women on Small Business, certified through the S B A, and we utilize the United States women's Chamber of Commerce to do that. Very good. Have you ever been in the mentor protegee program have you had any experience there? Yes, my mentor and I select engineering services once. I had wasted that year right and they're like, I had worked for them previously and they said what are you doing with that eight a? And I go I nothing, I don't know what to do with it. You know. I'm like, I was a good writer, I could prove gender discrimination. I got it. I don't want to do with it, you know. And and the SP is not a lot of help in that arena. They want you to market yourself. So they said, well, let's go ahead and established a joint venture with a minnor protege agreement, and then they started to introduce me to their customers and of course, when we would get awards, I'd get fifty and they would get forty. Nine. Our joint venture, you know, worked. We just worked off the profit. It was an unpopulated joint venture so we could each have our own employees, and then we were involved with that. I think you know maybe a year after my eight a. It was a good move for you then it was. It was a good moe and you received mentorship from them in accounting systems. I understand, right, negotiations with contracting officers and marketing to the government and always the go, no go strategy. Right. This is the big sticking point where approached by clients, most of the time they just want to bid on something for because they want to bid on something, and I argue with them and I say look, I'll take your money, don't get me wrong, but I think it's wrong for you to go after this opportunity because you have a chance of winning this. That's the biggest thing is...

...finding that niche and being able to ignore. Oh, I should go after that twenty million dollar solicitation. Well, now you shouldn't. And I had a client telling me I will pay you five thousand dollars to write this proposal to get it done for us. You know, five thousand dollars. I don't feel comfortable taking your money because you're not gonna win and I don't want a relationship to start off on the wrong foot. Right. So let's let's go after something we can win together. Right, let's develop some relationships. Can you share with us an important lesson that you've always admired and respected about your mentor scs? So they are another small business. They encourage you, as an eight a, to establish them inner protege with a large business, and I did not another small and what I respect about them is unbelievable. They're such hard workers, they're honest and what they do, they have tons of integrity and they take care of their employees like family. It was all the things that I aspired to do with my company. Culturally speaking, there were things that they were doing that resonated with you and it was above and beyond the actual mentoring points. You actually got some good guidance from them and you learn from them. Sometimes the mentors out to just utilize your check mark. They don't really want to know you, or they'll use you to win something and then not give you any of the work. That's right, and that's the worst ever. That's horrible. That's horrible. They were not like that at all. We've run into a couple of situations like that where the protege was leveraged for the opportunity, the prime got the contract and then they just left them hanging right. That was just not not a good thing. That's pretty common. Yeah, part of the problem is a lack of enforceability on the part of the SPA with some of these actions. Right, the SBA needs to have a little bit more teeth in its per view. That's part of the reform that's needed at the SBA level right there. Right, I don't know if you saw Jackie Robinson's latest yeah, I love Jackie. Yeah, it was great. She said here's what needs to change. That's...

...right. She was right. In fact, I invited her to be on the show and she's a busy Gal these days, very, very busy. Yeah, she has her own company. She's someone that I truly admire and respect and look up to. She really knows her stuff. I think she's one of the most effective administrators, or you know, at least in the government contracting domain and experts that the SBA has had in the last several years. I mean she's a powerhouse in government contracting. Knows her stuff and it's coming from about thirty years yeah, when she walks in a room you notice. Yeah, yeah, you know she's she's a force. Tell us about some of the recent contracts you've won. You know, it's odd when you're an eight a your prime, you're a prime contractor, you call all the shots and all of a sudden when you graduate and you have this year where you're trying to find yourself kind of thing. I don't know how it is to describe it. And currently we are on our last prime contract, last eight a contract actually, and our subs to several large primes, and these kinds of projects are big cloud based data solutions, the five g project I spoke about earlier, and software defined radio. So they're actually the fun stuff coming up and we don't have to have all the responsibility of being the prime so, Linda, during the pandemic a lot of government contracts, especially in small businesses, right, faced many challenges. Right. There were constraints with Labor shortages, folks not wanting to go back into the Labor Pool because of fear of covid and fear of the unknown. Some people got hit financially, I mean very hard. Right. So during the first few weeks of the pandemic it is estimated that three percent of all American small businesses went billy up never to return. Right. I mean that's a large number. The American economy is mostly small business and that's what people fail to comprehend. They think it's multinational corporations and it's totally the opposite. Right. Of the twenty eight million businesses in America like actually small businesses. And so how did you remain...

...open during the pandemic? Well, I'm sure you've talked about pros and cons of government contracting. One of the pros is you have a steady paycheck. So because our contracts were firm, fixed price and our customer said please go home and be safe and healthy, the pandemic really didn't affect us much, and that's one of the pros of government contracting right there, steady paycheck. That's right, that's great. And during the pandemic several companies leaned on the SPA to help them weather the storm. At some point, did you apply for any help with the federal government and if so, were they helpful? But they able to facilitate as a woman owned small business, I have never had, never been able to get capital. They would always be like will own your five thousand dollars if you put your own five thousand dollars back behind it. Or Oh, you have two or fifty equity in your House, Oh, will own you five thousand dollars. will tie up that equity. You know, I mean it was like ridiculous, right. We experienced good experience with capital one in American Express, getting some credit that way, but never had I had a bank or a credit union loan me anything. A business line of credit, not a and then they say, well, yourself employed, so we can't. You know. I mean it's all kinds of excuses that really, I felt like came down to me being a woman, right. I mean one year I went in with four and a half million dollars with the revenue. No brainer, and that was will loan you five thousand dollars if you'll put your own five thousand dollars behind it. It was just insane. And so I found a good thing during the pandemic. They were willing, they wanted, they were searching for people to loan money to. So we were finally able to get and we we took the P P P loan, you know, finally able because we did keep our people employed the whole time. Um, there's kind of a fine line there, you know. But we submitted everything they wanted documentation wise, and it was you know, if we were not following the lot, you'd tell us and we...

...were able to get some capital. So I was like, wow, pandemic was a miracle worker for Women on Small Business Right, finally able to get capital. Well, good for you. And how did that help Your Business? When we were able to do some more R and D and some more marketing and, in particular, expand our G S, a schedule and all of these things that we were always living, I felt like living paycheck to paycheck to try to do I invoice factor I don't know how many times. Yeah, invoice factoring is is one of the options that underfunded. Of course, a small businesses have a reality to deal with because, unfortunately capital, working capitals, that always available to small business concerns, to women own small businesses, to Hispanic owned businesses, and it's a reality. And so having factoring is many times the option. Right you have a bankable customer, they're going to pay no matter what, and so you can factor those invoice and do accounts receivable factory or invoicing. What are your thoughts on the existing supply chain issues that we're experiencing nationally right now? I mean it's a scary time from a supply chain perspective and as an economist I have some thoughts on it. I wanted to get your thoughts. UH, living in Utah and having been in government contracting for so long and we provide a lot of services, we don't have a lot of supplies, but we are noticing, like on our g s a schedules, some delay and getting the customers their supplies. So that's probably where it will affect us the most. However, for our software defined radios it is affecting as chip wise and board wise, so those kinds of supply issues exist as well. So far not crippling, but we can all see that coming. Yeah, there's constraints there, there's a bottlenecks and especially with long lead items, what I've seen is a way to maintain a healthy balance book is just in time inventory. Of course, that all falls apart when the supply chain nichotisms are not able to crank out the inventory...

...in time. Right the in time or just in time doesn't exactly work. Apple, for example, a company that I'm very familiar with, was actually working with less than four hours of inventory at any even moment. They had it down to so that they can look good on the balance sheet and to their investors. But the problem is they manufacturing China right. So how's that going to work out under J I t? So I'm hoping that we can do something in hub zones and relocate America's supply chain and manufacturing back home and bring a lot of the industries to the island of Puerto Rico and other U S territories and in hub zones, because a lot of our small business concerns and and minorities are located in the historically underutilized business zones, and this is a way, a great way, to drive capital to these communities, to our communities to generate jobs and manufacturing America and give Americans jobs, which is a great thing. I think that's fantastic. And you add a little ability one in there and got it. That's right. I'd like to talk to you more about that at some point because I think we can put together a good thought leadership piece, maybe a white paper or something, and Co publish it. Uh, and I'd like to have you back on the program later on with some of the things that you have working. So on the human capital side, you know there's a big challenge right now to get people back to fill billets and task orders and and different things. So what do you think will drive the workers back into the market? I mean, you're a services firm. You have a boutique services firm with the knowledge workers and you're working with software people right so highly specialized talent. But there's a shortage of human capital. So what's going to drive people back into the market? I think that every time I've had a person not accept our job offer and take a job offer elsewhere, I try to have a conversation. If I see someone on Linkedin that is taking in position that's high end demand, I ask what made you take at right, and a lot of the reasons are like...

...time off reasons, and I think our society is going to have to embrace more like these commercial companies that say we have an unlimited time off, you can take off whenever you want. Right, and I think we're going to have to shift into what these people want as far as time off. That doesn't always work when you need a button seat. So it might be hiring multiple people too. You know, you work January and February and you take off March and April. It's going to have to be some kind of hybrid to attract top talent, because we can't attract the type of talent that a commercial company can attract when they're offering something we can't compete with. Agreed. Part of what we've done, Linda, is we have these very nice traditions in the firm. Right, we're about the same size company in terms of person and everything. Uh, and I love the culture that you've described, because culture is everything, I mean everything. Right. I asked you know before, what have you done to scare your business, and the response that you provided was just powerful. Right, you choose not to scale because you're focused on quality of deliverables and you feel comfortable with the culture that you've created and you want to maintain that culture and I applaud you for that. Thank you. That's a great attitude for a small business owner that wants to deliver a quality product. Right. You want to focus on working with good people turning out a good product. You're in a happy spot right now. You're working with your daughter, right, and your plans for your succession is for your daughter to take over the business. Is that correct? That's my plan. She's coming around to that right. I don't think she's gotten the memo yet. Oh, she got the memo. I think she had to think pretty hard about it this year, but that's funny. That's funny. So,...

Linda, there's a lot that people that we can all I mean, I told you one of the reasons I connected with you and Linkedin was because I admired the book. I read it and I said I've got to I've got to become friends with Linda and I've got to connect with her on linkedin professionally. So thank you, by the way, for this interview. This has been truly, truly a delightful experience. When you're having fun time flies right. I learned many things from you in your book and I really liked what you have to say. The way you structured your book, no nonsense. It's straight talk and you touch on the points that really matter right. You touch you know, the number of chapters and every day. I remember especially set up your accounting system. Do this today. It was so practical. I really enjoyed the marketing chapter, by the way, how to market to the government, because I'm a communicator and that's part of what we've become a specialized business to government communications firm and project management firms. So we started out as a project and vendor management from this is what we do, manage suppliers and implement programs and projects. Right now I meet Linda and Linda so share with us some of the secret sauce ingredients that you touch on the book. Good solid, real world advice that you can give aspiring small business entrepreneurs that want to work with Uncle Sam. What would Linda's secret sauce ingredients be for those small business owners? Perseverance, don't give up. It really does get discouraging, you know, especially if you're competing against another firm, that you know you're doing a better job. You could do way better than they can, and somehow they're like somebody's brother, you know. And so there's people that are worded that they're not your people. Keep trying to find your people and I would say, Um, to establish those relationships with your government people. Every time I've gone away from that and trying to go after solicitations...

...or try to do something I didn't know anything about, like my work, has always come back from somebody I know or have worked within the past. So established those figure out where they hang out, figure out if they're on the bowling leak, I mean whatever, but established those relationships and they will remember who you are. We're especially gifted right now after the pandemic, to get out network again. That's right, you know, go knock on doors, go to those networking events, shake some hands, you know, being memorable, wear bright colors, you know, whatever it takes right. That's why we got the ducks right. Everybody wonders about, you know, the three little duckies in a row, but people remember, Hey, you're the guy with the ducks. Right. Yeah, be memorable, be any so perseverance, relationship building, and the third point was, I'm sorry, being memorable I think that's good, awesome. So those are three excellent tips, three secret sauce ingredients from none other than the rows and has been a successful a day graduate and small business owner providing services to the air force and other branches and other agencies. Before we close out, let's see here. I wanted to see ask you. Well, obviously we've recently met with not worked together, but I would like to welcome the opportunity, if it's in the future, that we can collaborate on projects. Please know that our doors are open. We'd like to have you back on our show and also we're open to writing and Co authoring and pennying ideas together with you. I think that there's a lot to be said there. Oh, I would love that. I've already got you like Pencil, Dan, and like this and that. Right, right, Linda. Thank you so much and please we would love to do, when your time allows, do a Webinar and have you share your wisdom with other members of the community to speak to you and and and learn from your example and your hard work. Truly an inspiring story. Thank you so much for all that you do. Thank you all right, and hopefully I can help you as something you'll have to let me know absolutely.

I'm sure that on the data side, you and I will be speaking. We're developing a very interesting project right now and when we need to sync up on that perfect sounds great. Well, Inda Ross, and has been a pleasure having you and Uncle Sam's secret sauce folks. Thank you so much for tuning in and until next time. Thank you. Based in Miami, Florida, Raphael Morrero in company is a management consultancy founded in two thousand eight by Dr Raphael Morrero. The firm helps other veteran owned, minority women and small businesses break into the federal marketplace and do business with the world's richest and most powerful client, the US federal government. To learn more, visit Raphael Marrero Dot Com. You've been listening to Uncle Sam's secret sauce, a Rafael Morero and company podcast. Keep connected with us by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player and giving us a rating. That helps us to keep delivering the latest in business growth strategies and, ultimately, learn what Uncle Sam's secret ingredients are. Thanks for listening. Until next time,.

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