The question I often get asked is: “How do you find significant contracts that offer real return on investment?”. Although I hate to admit it, in my case it has been being in the right place at the right time. This should be the focus of every company’s business development effort.
I speak to many companies, both small and large, every week. Most are focused on what I call the “feeding frenzy”. These are the popular bids that appear in the press and are well documented by the research organizations. Examples of such projects are DHS EAGLE, VA T4, Army ITES, HHS CIOSP, and so on. Each of these is well covered by the press and there is no shortage of information and hype. Bidders feel they must be on one of these contracts. What is worse is that they have no chance of winning, but feel they must pursue the lead. All too often, companies spend their precious resources going after the same contracts that everyone else is pursuing while less popular contracts come and go – ones that can be won with less effort and that are awarded quicker. Contracts such as DHS PACTS, USA Contact, GSA Connections, NIH PICS, and many others fall off the radar for contractors, even though they offer better rewards and are competed and awarded in mush shorter timeframes. I contend that the second group holds more promise since the competition is small and the clients generally have more time to perform a better review. The question is: “How does a company find these hidden gems?”
Despite “conventional wisdom”, FedBizOpps is still the number one place to find out about these contracts. Look for industry days, RFIs, Sources Sought, and even solicitation notices. My second (and probably most valuable source) is the network of individuals and partners that I have built over the years. We share information openly. I help them and, in return, they help me. No one individual or company can track all the opportunities that abound in the Federal Government. Further, you cannot rely on Federal employees, no matter how well-intentioned, to provide you the heads up you need. Nurture a broad base of contacts, including your potential competitors.
I wish I could provide some magic formula to finding opportunities. In my case, I have not found that constant meetings with clients or “walking the halls” has generated much business. If you own a GWAC or IDIQ contract, this might work to generate task orders, but I would not count on it. The key is working like the Intelligence community. Lay down the feelers, share information, and use as many channels as you can. Do not discount the value of FedBizOpps, eBuy, BetterBuy, INPUT, FedSources, and other similar resources. You just never know when that hidden gem will come to the surface.
My advice is the following:
- Track everything, even if it is not in your primary target area. You need to be aware of what is going on in other areas. The Federal Government tends to “copy” ideas from other agencies and to reuse material within their agency. By keeping an eye open the entire field, you will have an idea what is happening. You will also know where your competition is spending their time and can identify the less popular opportunities.
- Avoid bids that are “feeding frenzies”. These generate lots of bids and lots of losers. When the client receives 400 bids, it is hard to rise to the top, even with an excellent proposal. And they take a long time to evaluate and award. Think hard before going after one of these.
- Do not believe that you can influence the customer on large bids. They just have too much to do and cannot be responsive to a multitude of requests. Yes, there are some large bids out there that have been influenced. However, the likelihood of making any major impact that would skew the award in your favor is slim.
- Build your network. This means talking to lots of companies as potential primes or subs and going to events just to learn. Don’t focus on a specific opportunity, but listen to the overall conversation. I have been guided to many good opportunities by partners who keep their eyes open and pass on information.
- Monitor as many sources as you can on a regular basis. Don’t expect keyword searches to be enough. You need to spend the time browsing to see what new terms come up. Many gems are hidden within a procurement as part of a larger effort.
- Share information. There is a tendency to hoard information thinking that you have some great kernel of knowledge that gives you an advantage. This is seldom the case. The reality is that sharing information with others allows them to provide feedback, and to know what opportunities might be of interest to you. And they will share information in return.
- It’s never too late to bid. Large companies have bulky processes that create impediments to bidding anything on a tight schedule. Small businesses can be much more flexible on this front. Seeing the opportunity for the first time when the solicitation is issued is not a good reason to no-bid. Over the past 15 years, we have seen the procurement cycle getting shorter and shorter. The only factor you should consider is whether you can respond with the resources available to you, whether this is the type of work you want to do, and can you beat the competitive field.
It is only through putting out your feelers and interacting with the various sources of information that you can be in the right place at the right time.
I will be glad to expand on any of these points. Just leave a comment below to indicate your area(s) of interest.