Businesses served have included everything from base maintenance to very high technology IT in 11 states scattered between New York, Florida, and California.
This experience has provided insight into the situation and experience of small business. The primary problems I have seen that stand in the way of small businesses winning more contracts are these two:
(1.) Most small businesses do not adequately plan their business development operations. They do not have in place a process to identify target programs and to start tracking them 18 to 24 months prior to RFP release date. When the bid period arrives, consequently, they are not in a position to write the winning bid. Instead, some other company that has made friends with the customer, influenced the preparation of the solicitation, and made alliances with the best subcontractors long in advance walks off with the prize.
(2.) Most small businesses do not have bid and proposal budgets adequate to achieve the desired results. Many firms will actually start their proposal preparation work late on purpose in order to limit the cost of preparing the bid. Others curtail cost by getting their bids done mostly through the after-hours work of employees or by assigning unqualified personnel to the bid team just because they are between assignments.
If there is a first step a small business can take on the road to winning more business, I think it might be this: To better ask and better answer the fundamental Peter Drucker questions, what is my business; what is not my business; what can my business become in two years; etc. Once these questions are answered in the wisest possible manner, the company can then focus on the better-planned pursuit of core business areas in which the company excels. Go after fewer targets but the right targets. Get in there to become best business friends with the program manager when the project is just taking shape. Take the load off of his overworked shoulders by showing him an effective solution to the problem while he is preparing the statement of work. Put in place a process through which the company systematically evaluates the position of the significant stakeholders in the program on the customer side.
Once this preliminary work is done effectively, the company is then in a position to write the winning proposal. Based on my experience, I believe most small businesses could make more long-term, bottom-line dollars by writing fewer proposals but investing adequately in the proposals they do write. Of course “investing adequately” means providing the hours and skills reasonably needed to produce the desired result. But even more important, it also means investing in developing a standard process that will enable the company to prepare their proposals in an orderly, repeatable manner.