Deliver: You must deliver on your words, every time. You can’t overpromise and underdeliver for long in business.

Leigh Ann Hope is the president of Infrastructure Resources, Inc., a professional resources firm that provides information technology and audit services to United States Department of Defense clients. Previously, Leigh Ann was the director of business development and staffing operations at the company. Leigh Ann has broad experience in account management, technical recruiting, and sales.

Infrastructure Resources currently supports multiple teams, including the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Where did the idea for Infrastructure Resources come from?

Infrastructure Resources was born from my desire to pursue government work. At the time, I was working for a nationally known IT consulting firm. I’d approached the CEO and senior vice president of sales multiple times about doing projects for the Department of Defense. Located in Birmingham, my office was just 100 miles from Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala., which houses the Missile Defense Agency, the Army’s Aviation and Missile Command center, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

The partners of my former employer had no interest in chasing DOD work, and I completely understand why. But for me, it was too tempting — the idea of solving a problem without 100 constraints just appealed to me; that, and the DOD spends more than anyone on IT programs.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I travel a lot, so I’ve learned plenty of efficiency tricks to make the most of my time away from my desk.

I’m headed to the office by 7 a.m. I start with a 10-minute touchpoint meeting with my team to get updates and priorities. Upon reaching my office, I schedule my must-happen tasks, along with my daily research and sales calls. This allows for time to write request-for-information responses and handle program issues. After a quick bite at my desk for lunch, I pick up my research on GovWin IQ. This gives me insight into government contracts coming up for bids, as well as what work my partners wish to pursue.

At 2 p.m., I follow up with my recruiting team to see where we are in terms of their must-happen jobs of the day. For the remainder of the day, I reach out to partners and finish up with sales calls. After work, I pick my kids up from their respective sports, have dinner, help with homework, and get them to bed. Then, I compile the aforementioned must-happen list for tomorrow’s outstanding home and work tasks. I complete my day with a round of yoga.

I plan my travel days much more strictly. I use Evernote so I can build a strategy or client solution while in flight. (The commuter planes I fly are not Wi-Fi-capable, so I have to get creative.) I write touch-base emails in flight and connect to my mobile hotspot as we are taxiing.

I’m a machine on travel days. I might get up at 3 a.m. to fly out of Birmingham, arrive in Arlington, Va., at 9:13 a.m., walk to my car rental (buses take far too long), and head for Pentagon City. During the day, I run all over Washington, D.C., to various meetings, check in to my hotel for a 15-minute snooze, then head out to a dinner with a client. I might arrive back at the hotel at roughly 10 p.m. For those counting, that’s 2 a.m. EST to 10 p.m. EST. I can do it with my eyes closed — I’m fairly sure that’s actually happened.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I use Evernote to get ideas out of my head and into an online “notebook.” Sometimes, this is simply an idea; sometimes, it’s a full-on client strategy. When I’m developing a strategy, I typically start by doing research on the “idea” and then use old-fashioned hard work to find a way to bring my strategy to life. The solution might be a person, a contract vehicle, or whatever.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Cybersecurity: We’re finally looking at cybersecurity through the correct lens. It’s a constant concern for both commercial and government entities.

In working with the DOD, there are so many potential intrusion points and so many motives for accessing information. It’s definitely a bigger challenge than for the financial services industry. Sure, hackers and thieves are becoming craftier day by day, but their motives and actions in attacking the financial industry are usually fairly predictable. In government work, it’s rarely so obvious.

I’m excited to see the government acknowledge intrusion points such as supervisory control and data acquisition networks and remote access tools, known as RATs. This has been a long time coming, and I’m seeing large-scale projects implemented to address the issue of malware at RATs. This is a huge shift in strategy for the DOD, as I believe this clandestine data theft is the wave of the future for rogue nations or groups. If they get it right just once, it opens the possibility for mass destruction.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Discipline: I’m extremely disciplined in all areas of life. It’s a great habit in business, but it can be tricky with my personal life. I’ve been called a machine more than once, sometimes in positive and sometimes in negative ways.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I didn’t know it at the time, but my worst job was waiting tables in college. As an optimistic 18-year-old, I was blissfully unaware of how poorly I was treated. As a chemistry student, I had a hard schedule and little time, so I would work 13-hour “doubles” on the weekends so I could eat.

Looking back, this was brilliant experience for somebody who is ultimately a salesperson. I learned to walk up to strangers, find common ground, start a conversation, and get them to like me enough to leave me a tip so I could buy groceries. I think that is pretty brilliant training for my current life. It taught me how to handle difficult people and difficult situations and to juggle a lot coming at me at once. It was a great life lesson — one that I think should be mandatory for everyone in college.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

In the beginning, I made plenty of mistakes, poor hiring decisions, timing issues, and flat-out uninformed decisions that were costly, both financially and emotionally. That being said, I’ve learned the most from the mistakes. Those are the pivot points that I look back on as the moments that have enabled me to take my company to the next level.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Deliver: You must deliver on your words, every time. You can’t overpromise and underdeliver for long in business.

I once took a personality test that was the opposite of a Myers-Briggs. It didn’t measure how you think about yourself but measured how others perceive you. Some results were exactly what I expected, but one thing rocked me to the core: The assessment said I was a “Don Draper” personality type. “OK,” I thought. “He’s great at what he does; he’s clever, creative, and a rock star.” The catch? The test stated, “It is difficult for people to trust the Don Draper.” It said people gravitate to what I say, and they think I’m smart enough to solve problems, but trust is an issue.

I took that to mean they don’t trust me to deliver on the great solution I’ve pitched. My solution was to erase a perception problem with a real solution: Deliver — every time, no exceptions. Now, without hesitation, I can point to my past performance of delivering on time, every time.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

It’s ridiculously simple: Go niche. Our strategy is to find the problem and solve the problem in the niche space we serve.

When a client brings me something big that’s beyond my niche, it’s incredibly tough to say “no,” but I’ve become a master at it. Sticking to your strategy is incredibly important for business growth.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Moving into a new market was really tough. In Infrastructure Resources’ early days, the business didn’t do government contracting. We put a lot of time, money, and energy into getting the business up and running, only to have the market collapse in 2008.

That led me to look at who was spending money during the biggest banking failure since Black Tuesday, which signaled the Great Depression. I quickly learned the answer: the U.S. Department of Defense. I retooled the company and then researched programs that, frankly, were above my pay grade, and I went to Huntsville to knock on doors.

One day in particular changed the game: A client called to cancel a meeting in Huntsville, Ala., just a two-hour drive from Birmingham. I was only 20 minutes outside Birmingham, but I drove to Huntsville, anyway, and pretended I hadn’t received the email. The reluctant client who met with me because he felt bad led us to our first large DOD contract. It was a huge win for our company, and it was a huge win for me personally: It was how we survived an epic failure.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’m working on a way to harness the energy that tween fingers produce while texting to power a house. My preteen would be able to keep my entire city aglow.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

Few people know I’m a widow. I’m also a master cake decorator; I once created a full-size replica of a hot pink Fender guitar, with wood grain made out of fondant, a working whammy bar, and playable guitar strings. It took about 30 hours. Man, what you will do for your kids.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

1. Evernote: I jot down ideas, strategy proposals, and meeting debriefs. All of my notes are searchable and shareable, so I use this tool a lot.

2. Asana: I am often traveling, and my company has 40 employees working across the country. Asana allows us to connect in real time and gives an accurate picture of where we are on our projects. It has integrated email functionality, so it makes our team efficient and accountable. There is zero wiggle room on a “Where are we with X, Y, and Z?” question.

3. Smartsheet: It’s the smart spreadsheet, and it’s what Excel should be.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I recommend “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan because it’s real and actionable. You can read this book easily and implement its concepts immediately.


Leigh Ann on Twitter: @leighannhope