Working With the Diverse Interests of the Federal Community

Most small businesses fail in the first 10 years. We are grateful to our readers for helping the website and newsletter to survive and for passing along the information to their colleagues.

According to various reports relying on different statistics, between 65 and 90 percent of small businesses fail within the first 10 years. Most businesses fail due to lack of planning, lack of business experience, or not having enough resources to stay in business even if the future looks promising.

With that in mind, FedSmith is delighted (and, perhaps, also surprised and relieved) to announce that we have the pleasure of celebrating our 10th anniversary of providing information to the federal community and to have the opportunity to continue enjoying the daily interaction with our readers.

FedSmith started, as many similar enterprises do, with a family discussion. I had sold a successful business that had been operating for a number of years. Going from working 60 or more hours per week to a lifestyle where there were few demands, no travel requirements, and no immediate problems to solve was a different experience and stressful in its own way.

My son challenged us to come up with an idea for a family business. He is a computer programmer, my wife is a retired federal attorney and senior executive and I had no specific qualifications other than having run a business providing human resources to the federal government and having worked for the government as an employee for a number of years.

Unlike many start-up operations, we knew many of the challenges we would face—largely from having made many mistakes previously—and still having been able to stay in business. We wanted to take advantage of new opportunities. In my former working life, we had created, written, edited and published various monthly newsletters. These were printed and mailed out each month on topics of interest to federal supervisors or human resources professionals, including federal union officials.

We thought it would be possible to provide more frequent and more timely information to the federal community without the time and expense of printing and mailing. In effect, a “virtual” newsletter that would be written and distributed to anyone who wanted to read it and who had a computer and an internet connection to visit the FedSmith
website to see the entire articles.

After the family attorney drafted a business plan, we quickly went from a state of euphoria (“how could this idea possibly fail?”) to a more realistic perspective including the equipment and skills that would be necessary, the funds that would be required to establish the business and even going down to the level of what software would be required and how much it would cost.

It started out as a weekly publication with a very small list of subscribers. It soon seemed possible to provide this service more frequently and, over time, we moved to a daily newsletter with more features on the website.

There have been ups and downs. We have managed, on occasion, to “crash” a server during times of intense activity when we underestimated potential traffic and had delayed spending the time and money to expand to more robust computer systems.

And, more importantly, we have been fortunate that the readers of our website tell their colleagues about the free service and pass along information about how to subscribe to the free newsletter or how to visit the website.

The federal government is unique in many respects. To provide information to this audience requires expertise that can usually only be gained from having worked for the federal government in some capacity. Moreover, a person who has this unique expertise has to be able to communicate complex ideas in writing with a style that can be entertaining but also has to be informative and accurate.

We have been fortunate in meeting and working with a number of these subject matter experts. Many of them have their own small business as they provide training or consulting services. The FedSmith site helps our readers by providing information that we have determined will be of interest to our diverse audience. At the same time, it publicizes for the federal community the expertise of these subject matter experts, and how their skill is useful in federal agencies or to federal employees on a wide range of topics from retirement planning to labor and employee relations issues and leadership and communication techniques.

Any successful business continues to evolve and change if it wants to stay in business. The “look and feel” of our website has changed over time as the site has expanded and as the number of visits to the website is as high as several million each month.

We have recently added as a free service for our readers to provide a database of historical TSP rates as well as the TSP Portfolio Tracker™ for tracking one’s TSP investment performance in real time against the daily share prices.

And, in the very near future, the website will display a new look as we are putting a more flexible platform in place to allow us to have more interaction between the authors and our audience. Many of the substantive changes in the website will be invisible to those who visit the site but these changes will make it possible to add new features as we continue to grow.

We hope those who honor us by visiting the FedSmith website on a regular basis will continue to send in comments and suggestions as we make changes and continue our growth. We do read the suggestions from our readers and have incorporated many of these in the new website design. No doubt, this new approach to presenting information will ultimately be a new starting point for even more changes in the future.

We recognize that we are providing information to a large community. There are substantial differences between agency cultures and their employees. Their interests and political preferences are often different.

We often receive suggestions or complaints from our readers that we should not provide information from sources that some see as too liberal or too conservative. Others think we should only voice opinions that provide a favorable impression of the federal workforce or its retirees.  We also receive comments or complaints that we provide information that provides an impression of the federal workforce that is too favorable and not sufficiently critical.

Oftentimes, these comments are in response to one particular article or trend that may be occurring over a short time period. Our philosophy has always been to provide the news and information that is available and that we think will be of interest—regardless of whether the information is flattering or critical or generally seen as favoring one political interest over another. The key element in deciding to publish an item is will it be of interest to our readers or help them in planning their financial future or their career path.

We would like to thank all of our readers for their interest in our website and our newsletter, and we have a special appreciation to those readers who take the time to offer substantive, analytical comments on issues of importance to others in the community. Without your continued interest and support, we would not have been able to survive as a business for the past decade. We look forward to continuing to be a primary source of information as we help interpret, explain or simply announce the changes that occur every day that impact the federal government community.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47