Security First & Assoc. LLC

July 5th, 2009 by | Print

company_nameI conducted this interview with Diane Griffin, President / CEO (and solopreneur) of Security First & Assoc, LLC.


With the recent change in administration and growing focus on government run services, I was interested to interview Diane to see how a solopreneur deals with this significant change. Plus, here is another solopreneur that you can learn from about the “what”, “when”, “how” and “why” of starting and operating a solo enterprise.


Let’s jump right in.



TSG:     What was the inspiration to create Security First & Associates and when did you actually open your doors?


DG:     I worked for large government contractors for many years serving in a variety of human resources, staffing, and ultimately, security roles. I saw from the inside how many people it took within these behemoth corporations to keep up with ever-changing governmental rules and regulations, and could not imagine how smaller contractors could stay apace of these mission-critical procedures.


Then, after the events of 9/11/2001, and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the rules and regulations mandatory for compliance increased a hundredfold, which I knew would have the potential to crush the medium-sized contractors that would so desperately be needed to fill all of the new and evolving security roles we needed in an era of increased vulnerability. I subsequently opened Security First & Associates, LLC, in 2002.



TSG:     Can you give percentages to the following four items as contributing factors in your decision for creating your business: previous work experience, personal strengths, a love for the type of business and the perceived amount of money that you could earn?


DG:     My previous work experience and personal strengths likely together add up to about 60% of the decision-making factors – probably 30% each. A love for the type of business, I would assign another 30%. The perceived amount of money I could earn, while not a negligible factor, I would rank at 10%, because it has always been my goal to help people first and foremost, and to do well from a financial standpoint by doing good.



TSG:     How much time did you spend on research and planning prior to opening for business?


DG:     As I had spent my entire professional career working in and studying the fields I intended to and do in fact pursue in my current entrepreneurial career, including the following areas:


  • Applicant Prescreening;
  • Personnel Security;
  • Program Management;
  • Audit Control;
  • Computer Security;
  • Policy and Procedural Development; and
  • Background Investigations,


I did not spend a great deal of time researching the business discipline before opening for business. I already had a good idea of my potential competitors in the field from a consultatory standpoint, having worked with several of them through the contractors with whom I was employed in the corporate world.


Additionally, I was blessed to have several commitments from clients at the time I opened my doors, so I was able to predict cash flow somewhat at the time I opened my doors, and thus to forecast and manage expenses. I planned to use additional personnel resources when required by a large job in a just-in-time manner, and I knew that I would operate primarily at client sites, keeping an office at home, so I anticipated being able to keep overhead at a minimum.


These evaluations constituted the majority of the research and planning I did prior to opening my business – still, probably 40 hours worth in total.



TSG:     Now that you are up and running, do you feel that you spent not enough time, just the right amount of time, or too much time on research and planning? Why?


DG:     I think in many cases entrepreneurialism in its earliest phases is not as much about the landing, but about making the jump in the first place. Particularly in today’s business climate, it would be very easy to plan oneself right out of the decision to start one’s own business. Everyone knows their own risk tolerance level, and what types of information it will take in order to make the risks of entrepreneurialism qualified ones. I don’t think there’s any such thing as spending “just the right amount of time planning.” Sometimes it’s more critical to just do it.



TSG:     Please define your perfect customer.


DG:     My ideal customer is a small- to mid-sized government contractor without the personnel to stay abreast of ever-changing National Industrial Security Program (NISP) requirements and Director of Central Intelligence Directives (DCID) and in cohering with other federal guidelines.



TSG:     Why did you choose this demographic?


DG:     Because this group had very few resources to deal with the rapidly increasing amount of compliance required to simply stay in operation, yet they are a critically important part of our nation’s infrastructure.



TSG:     What important role do you see the smaller companies playing that aren’t being serviced by the larger corporations?


DG: Many of the post-9/11 demands placed on the government in the areas of homeland security and emergency management are very niche-oriented. There simply are not large, behemoth corporations out there servicing these needs. There were and are private practitioners and small-to-midsized companies providing these services, generally companies that had vision far beyond what was deemed practical before 9/11, before Katrina. Now these companies have been folded into the warp and weft of governmental services just as a matter of rule.


Additionally, their size generally makes them more agile, which is truly a huge advantage in today’s competitive climate. Thus, as far as the specific roles they’re serving, these companies are the ones helping us stay ahead of the curve where possible from a vision standpoint, and adding some flexibility, speed and agility to our processes – pushing the system as a whole to be more responsive.   



TSG:     If you had to take the Tweeter challenge of describing your unique value proposition (UVP) for your target market in 140 characters or less, what would you write?


DG:     SFA is your security solutions partner, assessing gaps in all facets of your operations and closing them quickly and cost-effectively. 



TSG:     What surprises have you encountered since launching your business?


DG:     I was making profitable sales, creating happy customers and generating strong cash flow … and then suddenly my business client decided to end our contract at the end of the month. Also, not really getting a great return on my marketing strategies.



TSG:     Did you change anything in your business due to these surprises?


DG:     I made sure my consultant agreement included a blurb that provided a statement that I require a 60 day in advance, cancellation notification.



TSG:     Why did you decide to go solo?


DG:     Having operated at the management level of many similar contractors, I know how difficult it is to stay abreast of constantly evolving security regulations and procedures while fulfilling your day-to-day responsibilities. Staffing up to a level that would meet such demands would have meant a considerable overhead burden for companies in a time where contractors must be increasingly competitive—so I knew that allowing me to take over these services proved to be a smart business solution for my clients. It was a great solution for my clients – and a great challenge for me.


Additionally, in this environment, missing even one bulletin, update, or procedural or rules change could result in a gaffe that is catastrophic to even the largest international enterprises. I perform these functions for my clients so they don’t have to worry that their projects and services may be creating damaging security violations – and that’s very rewarding. At the end of the day, I’m sure my clients would say that confidence is worth as much as their profit margin on any given job and that is very meaningful to me.



TSG:     Have you ever outsourced any aspects of your business?


DG:     Yes, on larger jobs I work with other independent contractors in subcontractor relationships to assist me in meeting my clients’ needs.



TSG:     Have you ever engage in any joint ventures?


DG:     No, I have not engaged in any joint ventures.  



TSG:     I see that you have a section on your site for Employment Opportunities. What are your plans for hiring employees in the future?


DG:     For the foreseeable future, I will probably continue to use subcontractors on a just-in-time basis for larger jobs and not actually hire any employees in order to maintain low overhead. That area of my site is meant more as a networking opportunity for others in my field to locate opportunities in which they might be interested, and as an ancillary revenue generator for Security First & Associates.



TSG:     What marketing do you do to draw in business?


DG:     My most successful marketing comes through word-of-mouth referrals. I am preparing to launch an eBook about my line of work, and I am very excited about this, because I think this will be an excellent marketing tool, and will be a way to, in effect, extend those word-of-mouth type referrals by showcasing my expertise on a larger, broader scale. 



TSG:     Security first is an LLC? Why did you choose the legal structure of an LLC? Please let us know the basic of what it took to set up it and roughly how much it cost.


DG: Limited Liability Companies are one of the simplest, most flexible business entities available in the United States. I was interested in the limited liability as a company structured in this manner provides to its owners (technically called ‘members’), meaning that any liability created by the company is limited to the company. The members’ personal assets are protected from all claims against the company. Also, LLCs allow flexible ownership structures, which can be helpful on a move-forward, growth basis, and there’s no double tax with an LLC. Last but not least, LLCs are generally quick, easy and relatively inexpensive to set up.


It’s possible to even file all the paperwork for an LLC yourself – although unless you are fairly clear on what you are doing, I would not necessarily recommend this. There are many online legal services that are worth evaluating when you are considering setting up your business legally, and of course, many qualified attorneys in most markets who can help with this for a reasonable fee.


New business owners should consider consulting their local One-Stop center, Small Business Association office, or, if available, Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) for advice on these matters. Generally, you should expect to pay $100-$500 in filing fees and procedural fees to set up your LLC, depending on where you reside, and fees to a service or an attorney would be additional to this.



TSG:     You have given yourself the title of President / CEO. How did you decide an appropriate title and what advice would you give other solopreneurs for selecting a title?


DG:     The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is often but not always also the President of a company, reporting to the Chairman of the Board and board members. SFA does not have a chairman of the board or board members, so I gave myself the title of President/CEO because the CEO’s responsibilities are essentially everything, especially in a startup.


The CEO is responsible for the success or failure of the company. Operations, marketing, strategy, financing, creation of company culture, human resources, hiring, firing, compliance with safety regulations, sales, PR, etc.—it all falls on the CEO’s shoulders. The CEO works on the company’s long-term strategies and strategic partnerships, while presidents deal with day-to-day operations and bottom-line performance. Since I am solo, I determined that both the CEO & President titles fit my responsibilities the best.



TSG:     Have you noticed any changes in the demands on your business or how you must interact with government agencies since the recent change from the Bush Administration to the Obama Administration?


DG:     I am aware of change in that the new Administration is requesting the Rebalance Defense Capabilities for the 21st Century. It will increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for troops in the field and research and development, as well as spending on helicopters and crews, and will grow U.S. Special Operations capabilities. This will affect my business as the need for cleared personnel will increase dramatically.


The increase in the demand of my business has not changed as of yet, but I feel this is due to the current economic situation and small businesses being the first to cut back on spending. As the economy rights itself, I believe increased demand will flow into my business as a result of these changes.



TSG:     Who inspires you?


DG:     I was most inspired by my Mother, because she did all she could to better herself and to give her children the things that she didn’t have. She was very compassionate and caring. She inspired me to do my best and give 100 percent at all times. I miss her dearly.



Diane, I thank you for your time and insight into your business. If you would like to contact Diane or if you have a need for consultation on security clearance issues, go to:


Security First & Assoc LLC
Diane Griffin
President / CEO
Phone: 410-312-3597


All The Best,

Doug Dolan
The Solopreneur’s Guide


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