If you’re a self-employed coach, consultant, trainer, or speaker (I, myself, am all four), you know the frustrations of making a bid on a job. (By “job,” I mean any business opportunity that pays: a coaching relationship, a workshop, a keynote address, a consulting arrangement.)
Making a bid may be as simple as telling an interested party what you’ll do and how much you’ll charge for doing it. (It’s not that simple, of course, and ideally a lot of give and take went into it beforehand.) Or making a bid may entail submitting a lengthy and detailed written proposal after you’ve already engaged in exploratory conversations, email exchanges, and interviews.
So submitting a bid may take very little effort and time, or it may be an energy-intensive and time-consuming process. Either way, you owe it to yourself first to decide whether it even makes sense — business sense — to try. Is it worth your time and effort to prepare and submit a proposal?
As a consultant and coach, I help companies in construction, government contracting, project management, engineering and the like make proposals on large (very, very, very large) contracts. Creating those proposals is a costly endeavor that can consume several months of several people’s time. Before those companies undertake such a large effort, knowing that so much is at stake, they typically conduct a bid/no bid decision process or assessment. (Successful companies always do so.) The process can itself be quite elaborate, involving assessment tools and meetings. (See Inside the Critical Bid/No Bid Decision as an example.)
I’m not suggesting that those of us who are self-employed use the same approach as big companies when it comes to deciding whether to bid on a job. But I do recommend using a stripped-down, simplified version. Doing so will save you a lot of grief.
The Three Questions to Ask When Deciding to Bid or Not to Bid on a Job
1. How much do you want the job?
When you’re just starting out or when you’ve hit hard times — and who hasn’t hit hard times in the past three or four years? — you get desperate. If someone dangles an opportunity in front of you, you’ll leap at it even if, say, you know they’re just trolling for the lowest bid. But desperation isn’t a pretty thing, and it almost always leads nowhere.
So whether you’re lean and hungry or plump with opportunities, calculate in the coolest, most objective way you can how much you really want the job. How will it benefit you? Cash is, of course, a worthy benefit, but it’s not the only one. So ask yourself:
- How much money is at play?
- Will the job lead to follow-on work within the organization or will it open up doors with other companies?
- Will it promote your visibility and credibility?
- Will it challenge you and help you develop new skills?
- Will it contribute to your pride of accomplishment and satisfaction?
- Will it provide a showcase for your talents?
Rate how much you want the job on a 1 (low) to 10 (high) scale.
2. What are your chances of winning the proposal?
Again, if you’re desperate, you’ll tend to skip this question. You’ll reason that you only win jobs you bid on, so you may as well go ahead and submit a proposal. What have you got to lose? Well, a lot actually. Pursuing any and all opportunities, even ones that you have no chance of winning, wastes your time and energy, it puts a dent in your self-respect, and it keeps you from going after jobs that you can actually win.
Winning a proposal depends on three issues:
- Your Relationship with the Prospect
The more you know the prospect and the more they know you, the better your chances. The briefer and the shallower the connection, the worse your chances.
- Your Capabilities
Do you have the knowledge, experience, skills, resources, processes, tools, etc. to do the job and to do it well?
- The Price
Do you have any idea of how to price your offer? Do you know what your competitors will propose? Are you in the same ball park? The lowest price doesn’t always win the contract (sometimes it hurts), but most people these days are very, very concerned about price.
Again, rate your chances on a 1 (low) to 10 (high) scale.
3. How much bother is involved?
In my experience, the larger the organization, the more the hassle. With some corporations — I’ve worked with several of them — you can spend more time and energy complying with their administrative requirements than you will actually doing the job. I kid you not. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something you should take into consideration.
Rate the hassle factor on a scale of 1 to 3.
I haven’t worked it out precisely, but I think you could make a bid/no bid assessment based on a formula. Add your ranking of the first two issues (how much you want the job and your chances of winning it). The highest score you can get at this point is 20. Divide that number by the hassle factor. The maximum possible score, for those who don’t have their spread sheets open, is 20. A high score means “bid.” An abysmally low score means “no bid.”
I know it’s not that easy. But please consider doing some form of bid-no-bid assessment before making your next proposal. And good luck.
What do you think? Have I overlooked something?