WOSB Sole Source – It’s About Time

Businesswomen Celebrate Success on the Laptop in the Kitchen.

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This is a guest post by Tonya Saunders of Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc.

On September 14, 2015, the SBA published the final rule to establish the procedures whereby Federal agencies may award sole source contracts to WOSBs and EDWOSBs.

Under the rule, a contracting officer may award a sole source contract to a WOSB or EDWOSB where:

(1) the firm is a responsible contractor and the contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation that two or more EDWOSBs or WOSBs (as the case may be) will submit offers;

(2) the anticipated award price of the contract (including options) will not exceed $6.5 million for manufacturing or $4 million for any other contract; and

(3) in the estimation of the contracting officer, award can be made at a fair and reasonable price.

This rule will become effective on October 14, 2015, 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

The final rule represents the next step in creating parity among the set-aside programs. WOSBs and EDWOSBs are now on equal footing with HUBZone and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses eligible for sole source contracts.

In addition to putting the WOSB Program on a level playing field with other SBA government contracting programs with sole source authority, it provides an additional, needed tool for agencies to meet the statutorily mandated 5% prime contracting goal for WOSBs.

Legislative history

Congress, through the 2015 NDAA, made several changes/updates to the WOSB/EDWOSB majority-women-owned small business set-aside program. These changes included:

(1) Ending the self-certification option (self-certification has brought about a high level of ineligible firms receiving contracts intended for WOSB/EDWOSB firms) and requiring that firms be certified as a WOSB or EDWOSB by a federal agency, a state government, SBA, or a national certifying entity approved by the SBA.

(2) Adding sole source authority to the program (for contracts that do not exceed $4M/$6.5M for manufacturing contracts).

(3) Completing a study by January 2, 2016 to update eligible industries for the program.

Self-certification not addressed…yet

As explained in the proposed rule, SBA recognized that the new certification requirement for WOSBs would require a more prolonged rulemaking.

Because SBA did not want to delay the implementation of the WOSB sole source authority by combining it with the new certification requirement, SBA did not propose any changes to implement the certification requirement but rather indicated that it would do so through a separate future rulemaking.

Who will benefit?

SBA searched the Dynamic Small Business Search (DSBS) database and determined that there were approximately 34,000 firms listed as either WOSBs or EDWOSBs under the WOSB Program.

In addition, according to the fiscal year 2013 small business goal report, there were a little over 250,000 actions concerning women-owned small businesses and the total dollar value of those actions was approximately $15 billion.

An analysis of the Federal Procurement Data System from April 1, 2011 (the implementation date of the WOSB Program) through January 1, 2013, revealed that there were approximately 26,712 women-owned small business concerns, including 131 EDWOSBs and 388 WOSBs eligible under the WOSB program, that received Federal contract awards, task or delivery orders, and modifications to existing contracts.

SBA officials believe the WOSB Program will expand opportunities for women-owned firms in the industries determined by SBA to be substantially underrepresented by WOSB concerns.

Now that federal agencies have sole source authority, women-owned firms will have greater access to Federal contracting opportunities. It’s about time for the WOSB sole source.

About the author: For more than two decades, Tonya Saunders has worked on Capitol Hill, lobbied for client interests, and started her own businesses. As founder and director of Mid-Tier Advocacy, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit national coalition of small, emerging, and medium-sized businesses (primarily federal contractors), Tonya was instrumental in passing legislation that helped these engines of our economy grow and create jobs.

The Only Way to Deal With Government Insourcing

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© DOC RABE Media – Fotolia.com

A couple of months ago I wrote about how small business federal contractors could use the results of the SBA’s 2014 Small Business Scorecard to target federal agencies looking to increase their set-aside numbers.

“I wish it were that easy,” was the response from one of my readers. They went on to describe what is unfortunately a common contracting experience. Their federal government agency customer had decided to insource some of the work the contractor’s company had been providing.

So what can you do when the government threatens to – or does – insource your best people?

Well, here’s what we did at TAPE back in the day, because it happened to us when we won our first big contract. We showed up at the kick-off meeting and the government contracting officer’s representative (COR) said they were going to insource 25% of the contract before we’d even start.

We did what we could – talked to the agency’s small business person, the SBA, and the contracting officer. However, the reality is that there really was no recourse.

What you have to do in this type of situation is plan for success. Anticipate the possibility that your employees are potentially going to become government employees someday.

If you’ve treated your employees well, then these folks are likely to be friends. Figure out how you’re going to take advantage of that friendship, in terms of new contacts, access to “nearest neighbors” (related departments or agencies that could potentially hire you), and increased awareness of your business’s good reputation.

In our case, while our agency customer was talking about 10 or more positions, they wound up insourcing five. What saved those five positions? The agency hadn’t considered the overhead it would cost to move all those positions in house. As well, it had crossed over into another budget year they didn’t get their required budget.

So five employees stayed our employees. And because we had treated them so well, each of the five who became government employees proved to be a valuable resource for us in the future.

So that’s my advice. Instead of fighting government insourcing, work with it. There’s really nothing much more that you can really do. Believe me, your customer will recognize the difference between resistance and supportive activity, and they will remember that the next time a job comes up.

A Day in the Life of TAPE’s Cybersecurity Team

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As a follow-up to our recent post about targeting cybersecurity work in your contracting business, I sat down with TAPE’s cybersecurity program manager Stewart Wharton to give you a glimpse behind the scenes.

Stu, what does a typical day look like for the TAPE cybersecurity team? Is there any such thing?

It’s a very high visibility, fast-paced environment, working for one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The team is involved with all aspects of analyzing threats and vulnerabilities.  

We do a daily assessment of risk to the systems; we do a lot of reporting using a variety of dashboards. We can suggest fixes, and make sure those fixes are acceptable. We also follow up to ensure that the systems people have implemented them.

It’s a lot of analysis work – analyzing data to see if it’s a threat, a vulnerability, or a mitigation, and also determining the likelihood of the impact of the vulnerability to a system, and the overall risk to the system.

We just wrote in this blog about how government contractors can find cybersecurity work by approaching their existing customers. How has TAPE used this strategy?

Our customer base has grown twice in the year and a half that we’ve been here. And we continue to look at other entities within the agency that could use our BPA (blanket purchase agreement) – an existing contracting vehicle that any federal customer can funnel money to, as long as the scope of the BPA is within cybersecurity.

What is the most common misconception you hear about cybersecurity?

That cybersecurity is all about tools and technology, when really a lot of breaches are socially engineered and simple, such as a user opening an email or attachment they shouldn’t have. Yes, breaches in security can be highly technical, but it can also be amazingly simple.

What do you wish everyone knew about cybersecurity in the workplace?

No matter what job you’re doing, whether you’re at work or at home, everyone should be more aware of how simple it is to give away the keys to the kingdom, just by doing the wrong thing with your email.  

  • Don’t open an email if you don’t recognize who it’s from or it’s not from an official account in your workplace.
  • Don’t open attachments if you don’t recognize who it’s from. Attachments are the easiest way to get a bug or virus into your system.
  • Don’t share your password or write it on a sticky note and keep it on your laptop. When working remotely in an airport, you’d be amazed how easy it is for someone to look over your shoulder. They can find out a lot about you, and then pretend to be you.

What do you see going on in the cybersecurity industry right now?

There is a huge demand signal for people doing this kind of work, but at the same time, the quality of people able to do this work is increasing. A lot of graduates are hitting the streets with certifications or degrees that used to take somebody five or ten years of experience to get.

These young workers have all the right credentials but not a whole lot of experience. While this means the cybersecurity market has been flooded with talented individuals, what used to be a high value work area has been somewhat watered down.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your work in cybersecurity?

That at the end of the day, our team and I have helped national security across the United States. Cybersecurity is officially recognized as a domain where the enemy can wage war against you, so we need to be prepared on that same kind of footing.

Targeting Cybersecurity

hand pushing security button with global networking concept

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In a previous post, I wrote about how to get started in cybersecurity. You can talk to your current customers, the ones with whom you already have relationships, and see if anybody needs help in this area. This could be even one or two people, or re-scoping or retitling somebody’s duties to include a cybersecurity component. You just need a place to start.

In the wake of the OPM breach where the personal information of millions of current, former, and prospective Federal employees and contractors was compromised, interest in cybersecurity is reaching even newer heights.

So what does this mean, and how can cybersecurity contractors take advantage of the current environment?

  • We know that more money is going to come in.
  • We know that cybersecurity jobs are going to come up.
  • We know that agencies are looking to score high on their small business scorecard.
  • While at the big business level cybersecurity work is often done at a data center or a security operations center, a lot of the day-to-day core work is done by small businesses.

So the critical factor is to follow through with your relationships. We talked in the last post about steering your current clients towards new cybersecurity work. Let’s talk now about another set of relationships.

Most small businesses have favorite prime contractors that they’re working with. Let’s say you’re in the IT support field, or another area that would allow a natural migration into cybersecurity.

Ask if your prime contractor has any job openings on existing cybersecurity contracts that their current subcontractors may not be able to fill, or any upcoming procurements they’re targeting.

They may be willing to consider people who have customer knowledge and a good name in an agency, even if they’re not necessarily functionally competent. They know the relationship carries weight in the evaluation of the proposal.

Your prime contractor is going to do most of the legwork in procuring these cybersecurity jobs, so in these cases you need to work on your relationship with that prime. This is a good opening for us to talk about how almost all large businesses have what they call a diversity person.

This person serves a similar role as the OSDBU, acting as a small business liaison to help small companies find and win opportunities within the company. Just like the government ODSBUs, these corporate representatives don’t necessarily have any work for you, but they can help you get on teams.

Also make sure to update your entry in that company’s supplier database, and include keywords related to cybersecurity. That will put you in front of the people who are already actively looking for help.

Targeting cybersecurity in your contracting business? Work your relationships. It all starts from there.

Preparing for the Fiscal Year End

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© dragonstock – Fotolia.com

In a series of three blog posts, Judy Bradt of Summit Insight put together a list of things government contractors can do to prepare for the fiscal year end. Here is a snapshot of her points, along with my own thoughts that build on her recommendations.

Federal 2015 Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 1

  1. Revisit your forecasting
  2. Ask for referrals from your best customers
  3. Stay top-of-mind

Bill says: These points go back to what Judy and I have always been preaching – success in federal contracting is about building long-term relationships.  

Revisit your forecasting – that’s the FOCUS – see who you can really touch and make a part of your business. Referrals are what I’ve been calling “nearest neighbors” – friends of your customers’ friends.

And finally, this is a continuing process, so stay with thsee folks. See them on drop-bys and wherever they are. For example, if you notice they’re speaking at event, show up – even if only to listen and say hello.

Federal 2015 Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 2

  1. Give the golden leave-behind: gratitude
  2. Plan multiple touches, tactics, channels
  3. Update and share your capability statement

Bill says: TAPE leaves behind little chocolates branded with our logo, but the key here is to make sure you express gratitude to your customers for their business. Build those relationships (see above) with the multiple touches of being where your customers are.

Maintain your currency by keeping up with your customers’ hot buttons. Does your one-pager (description of your company’s capabilities) hit those hot buttons?

Federal 2015 Fiscal Year End Ideas, Part 3

  1. Refresh and maximize your online presence
  2. Leverage customer feedback and testimonials
  3. Expand thought leadership
  4. Be ready to sell the way they want to buy

Bill says: Maintaining and keeping your website fresh is critical. People look at that and if the visual picture doesn’t align with what you’ve told them, you can lose out. Include a prominent display of your CPARs (ratings in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System) – especially the really good comments, and your kudos letters. Leverage these positive testimonials in call-out boxes on your website as well.

The best road to thought leadership? Blogging! You can always think of something to say about your industry, and the problems you solve for your customers, even if once a month. Feature your best staffers as bloggers also – they’ll love the publicity.

Always sell what your customers want to buy – your people, your best product ideas and innovations, and keep it up. Never forget what you’re selling, and what your focus is, that’s how you’ll succeed.

Lastly, remember to keep your certifications and small business status handy – sole sources and simplified purchase opportunities can be leveraged handsomely.

Thanks to Judy Bradt of Summit Insight for pulling together these crucial points!

Staci Redmon’s 7 Rules for Leadership, Management, Business Growth and Strategy

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© treenabeena – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Staci Redmon of SAMS.

Note from Bill: When I saw Staci’s recent Redmon’s Rules post on LinkedIn, I asked if I could share her first seven rules here with you. Staci offers a wealth of knowledge and experience as the President and CEO of Strategy and Management Services, Inc (SAMS).

 SAMS is a SBA 8(a) program participant, service-disabled veteran owned (SDVOSB), woman-owned (WOSB), small disadvantaged business (SDB) that provides a broad range of strategy, management and information technology services to the DOD, other Federal Government agencies, and commercial clients.

1st Rule: Communicating Your Vision

Actualizing a vision requires employers to communicate and set expectations for the outcome. Open lines of communication are key to employees understanding their purpose, performance expectations, and execution strategies.

To further accomplish this goal and achieve a supported vision, create an inclusive collaborative work environment conducive to employees having input.

How to reach the endpoint is tactical, but achieving the vision is strategic.

Note from Bill: What’s critical to getting employees to really buy in to your vision is to LISTEN when they have input!

2nd Rule: Leading a Multigenerational Workforce and Adjusting to the Arrival of Millennials

Changing the landscape of traditional corporate culture to adjust to the arrival of millennials starts by redirecting focus to attract and retain this workforce.

Recognizing longevity in a company isn’t the priority for millennials; they value transparency and meaningful interactions. This tech-savvy generation enters the workforce wanting to innovate and propel the company’s growth.

3rd Rule: Incorporating Community Involvement

An active presence in the community directly impacts the lives of community members and the reputation of your company. Social awareness plays an integral role in sustainability and corporate responsibility.

As we strive to affect change within our infrastructure, let’s not forget our community of strong advocates, championing our success because we directly affect them by giving back and providing resources to enhance their livelihood.

Note from Bill: Back to Rule 1 – Communicate to the employees about your involvement, and be authentic. At TAPE we continue to support many Wounded Warrior programs, including one started by a former employee of our subcontractor.

4th Rule: Building a Network

There’s a direct correlation between your network and net worth; as you broaden the former, the latter increases. A rich network is built by collaborating with individuals of diverse skill sets, cultures, and occupations; creating an ability to forge relationships and develop your network.

To spur growth, limit connecting with like-minded contacts. Participate in and leverage activities with individuals of uncommon interest at first glance. This spawns opportunities to meet new people and establish unforeseen connections.

How do you network?

Note from Bill: This is very important, and we’re seeing how all of these rules build on each other. For example, does your community work have a networking aspect? If so, that can really change the value and dynamic. Again, be authentic – your peers and subordinates are all watching.

5th Rule: Addressing and Communicating Your Weaknesses

A cohesive unit is developed during the discovery phase of analyzing strengths and weaknesses of your team. This phase births awareness and potential challenges; allowing an opportunity to eliminate single points of failure.

As a leader, communicating your weakness is a strength that reveals you are cognizant of your abilities, and focused on creating value by addressing incompetency and delivering solutions with the strengths of other personnel. Invest in resources about strength and leadership, such as the StrengthsFinder 2.0.

What other strengths and/or leadership books would you recommend?

6th Rule: Hiring Creative and Innovative Employees – Seeing Beyond the Resume

Contrary to popular belief, a resume doesn’t reveal everything needed to make a smart hiring decision.

To get a glimpse into the creativity and competency of a candidate you’re considering, test for ingenuity by allowing your prospect to solve a real problem. The results from the trial will allow you to look beyond the resume and accurately assess the prospect’s capabilities.

How do you look beyond the resume? Here are 10 tips from SmartCEO.

7th Rule: Differentiating Your USPs

Your unique selling proposition (USP) is the gateway to acquiring market share and potential financial success. Identify competitors and their products, then leverage your key differentiators to boost your position to become the market leader in your respective industry.

Have you studied the psychology of product differentiation? What does your business do differently?

These seven rules are just the beginning! To read Staci’s latest insights and join the conversation, visit the SAMS LinkedIn group.

Targeting to Win

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© georgejmclittle – Fotolia.com

Well, the folks behind the Contracting Officer Podcast have definitely shown some real focus, by targeting the concept of targeting (bad pun is entirely mine). I introduced hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) in a previous post about the true cost of proposals.

The real issue with the topic of targeting is the law of large numbers. For example, the folks at Skyway Acquisitions target companies and that means their reachable market is all 500,000 companies registered in the SAM database (the Federal Government’s System for Award Management).

If they pare that down to target privately owned companies with over $500,000 in annual revenue, with five or more employees, who have won at least one government prime or subcontract in the last three years, that would still be 250,000 companies! As my millennial friends would say, “OMG!” that’s a lot of companies. “That’s a lot of phone calls, man,” Kevin jokes.

He says to also consider your weight class, “the right size of an opportunity that you can afford to win or lose without derailing your company.” This goes back to one of the three critical questions we talked about in the previous post: Does your company have the capabilities to win this job? What resources do you have available to solicit and deliver this potential contract?

Now for TAPE and many of you, our market is the Federal Government. I don’t know how many total buyers there are, or buyers plus KOs and contract specialists, and lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but I know there are a lot.

So how do we narrow down the targeting? It’s really quite simple. Start with who you already know. Who’s doing things in areas you already know how to do? Instead of sending out 25,000 pieces of junk mail (heaven forbid), we need to focus on where we can get in the door.

We can contact our 25 closest friends in the business, and then in our follow-up, ask, “Who in your agency might be needing our ABC services?” If they have no direct need, or their contracts don’t come up for years, or if they like their current support, then what about one of their neighbors or sister agencies?

What I particularly loved in this podcast episode was their focus on having a mindset of abundance, which Kevin explains as being able to think, “There’s more opportunity for me than I could ever chase, so therefore this one that doesn’t fit, it’s okay to walk away from it and keep going.”

It is indeed an abundant universe. You have resources like this blog and the Contracting Officer Podcast, you have friends, you have people you did good work for in a different situation, and now’s the time to test that abundance. But target the things you know and can do, and leave the rest of the abundance for me and other of my readers!

Making Your Proposal a Success

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© Syda Productions – Fotolia.com

This is a guest post by Marsha Lindquist of Granite Leadership Strategies.

When you are spending your money on developing proposals, you want to increase the odds that you will win. That spells success and business but from a financial perspective, it spells a good return on your investment (ROI). Even though you likely get reimbursement of your bid and proposal costs through your contracts, you want to make wise use of those dollars.

Proposal failure is not in your vocabulary. So what increases the odds that your proposal will be a success, translating your proposal into a win? You want to improve your chances of winning your next bid. Here are a few points to keep in mind.

What questions would you recommend a company get the answers to before the RFP is released?

There is a never ending list of things you can get before an RFP is released. Following a formal capture planning process is the most effective, proven, best practice for getting as many of these answers before RFP Release. At a minimum you should know:

  1. Customer – know your customer: who they are (organization chart – identify the key decision makers and influencers), and mission and vision for theme development. And know your position with this client. Is there time to build a relationship? How well known are you?
  2. Scope – understanding the background of the requirement from a program and technical perspective is key to determining risks from a business, contractual and technical standpoint. What is the customer buying and asking you to price? Has the client endorsed your solution?
  3. Hot Buttons – what are the top three issues facing the client and how does your solution solve those problems?
  4. Competitors – does a competitor have a stronger position or inside track? Who are the top competitors and what is your strategy to counter their strategies?
  5. Discriminators – what is unique or significantly different in your approach that will influence the customer to select you?
  6. Win Strategy – what are the top five things you need to do to win this deal?
  7. Other – how can you lose? Are you challenging your assumptions? Have you done a black hat or SWOT? Do you know your vulnerabilities and issues? And if so, what is your plan of action to mitigate these? Do you have staffing challenges? What is your pricing strategy?

There are many factors involved in qualifying an opportunity that include not only asking the customer questions, but the timeline in which you work to qualify the requirement, understanding the customers preferences and biases, putting a winning team together, including identifying qualified staff to write the proposal without adversely impacting an existing contract or proposal effort.

There are tools on the market you can purchase to help quantify data as these questions are being answered. There are also tools to help calculate your probability of win, which should increase as you implement your plans. There are also services you can purchase that develop, populate and manage these tools and all the data points that feed into your capture plan which are utilized in making your bid/no bid decision. Whichever approach you decide to use, at a minimum, decide to utilize a capture planning process that organizes the inputs, and manages the outputs.

What are the most important things you must do to avoid proposal failure?

  1. Planning. Planning will help avoid inappropriate assignments, reactive behavior and decision making. Strategic planning provides a framework for decisions, is conceptual and directional (account planning and capture planning), and motivates, informs and stimulates change.
  2. Compliance. Trying to tell your own story without addressing the requirement, not following instructions and ignoring the evaluation criteria is a recipe for a losing proposal effort. Since no one personal evaluates an entire proposal, it’s incumbent upon the offeror to make it easy for the reviewers to evaluate your proposal. Excellent responses don’t mean any points if the evaluator can’t find them or you don’t address the requirement. It translates to “risk” to the customer.
  3. Limiting budgets and resources. If you are not going to take proposals seriously, very seriously, then don’t plan to spend a penny getting started. You need people who know how to plan, organize and write. Even the presentation and verbiage (proposal language) will leave an impression on the evaluators. This is your company image as well, don’t fall into the trap of thinking your technical people can write a technical report and call it a proposal. Invest in the appropriate people and resources to produce a quality, well thought out and organized, winning proposal.

There are a lot of upfront steps to complete before getting to the proposal, such as developing corporate growth strategies & planning, market assessment & positioning, opportunity identification and qualification, pipeline development and management, capture management, and finally proposal management. So you see, if you are not investing the appropriate time and resources up front, your probability of a successful proposal effort drops significantly.

Marsha Lindquist, President of Granite Leadership Strategies, Inc., has over 30 years experience as a business expert in Government contracting. She has enhanced her clients’ cost competitiveness, improved their contractual positioning, and solidified overall strategies with companies including BP Amoco, DynCorp, and Northrop Grumman. Marsha adds value by telling you what you need to hear. For more information on her, please visit http://wwwGraniteLeadershipStrategies.com.


This article was originally published on the Granite Leadership Strategies blog at http://www.graniteleadershipstrategies.com/making-your-proposal-a-success/ and was reprinted with permission.


Capture and Proposals at TAPE

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© Eugenio Marongiu – Fotolia.com

In The True Cost of Proposals, we talked about the effect of ambiguity on the capture and proposal process, and how contractors shouldn’t waste time or money writing proposals unless they can clearly answer three questions:

  1. Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
  2. Can your company solve this problem?
  3. Do you have the capabilities to win this job?

I asked Bo Nak, a sales engineer at TAPE, to talk about how TAPE navigates through this process.

How do you see these three questions fit into the capture and proposal process?

At TAPE, our capture process really begins after we’ve identified an opportunity – through a government proposal site, third-party analyst, word of mouth, etc. Our first step is talking to the customer, learning what kind of problem they’re trying to solve, what they’re trying to do.

This really goes back to building a relationship with that customer. No one wants to do business with people they don’t know. You can win business [with strangers], but it’s a lot more difficult. Building that relationship is probably most important thing you can do.

That leads into TAPE’s bid/no bid, gate review process. Our own self-critique of our odds of winning that opportunity. Answering those three questions is going to increase our PWin (“probability of winning”) percentage. Whatever we can do to increase that, we should. 

If you don’t have a good PWin percentage, you probably won’t or shouldn’t get to the proposal writing stage. 

To answer Bill’s second key question, “Can your company solve this problem?” take an honest look at yourself and your company. Is the potential work within your company’s capabilities and will it take you in the direction you want to be going?   

The third question follows along the same lines and asks us to take a hard look at our own company and team. Do we have the manpower? Do we have the time to put forth the proper effort into the proposal?

If you don’t have the people or the time, do you have or do you know of other companies you could bring on to form a team? Obviously you want to find strong partners for your team to build the strongest response and proposal.

Note from Bill: Also consider whether your company should act as the prime or sub.

Sometimes we have a relationship with the customer, but no bandwidth to be the prime contractor, or the size standard (NAICS code) is too small for us to be the prime. So we seek partners, also those with whom we have a long-term relationship. Knowing how they will allocate staffing afterwards is a critical issue for choosing a prime contractor.

How does TAPE manage their proposal writing costs?

It’s true what they said in the podcast, that capture and proposal writing starts long before the RFP or RFI comes out. That’s really where your costs start to accumulate. As in most companies, our CFO and company leadership form annual budgets, and its our job to match our spending to that.

Obviously that means we can’t chase after every opportunity out there, so we make sure to put our time and effort into the proposals we have the best shot at winning, ones that match our company’s capabilities and direction and that we have a realistic chance of winning.

What did you think of the podcast about how much proposals cost?

A lot of the messages in the podcast and Bill’s post were things that seem like common sense, but that some contracting officers never calculate or see. There are a lot of costs attached to what we do as part of writing proposals that aren’t necessary considered by the government.  

Ambiguity leading to mediocrity was a huge point that needs to be reiterated. And this goes back to one of the podcast hosts saying that questions aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

Industry wants to create a great proposal and put their best foot forward, that’s why we ask questions. Getting back answers in a timely manner and getting the answer sufficiently answered is highly important to us AND the government.

I can’t tell you how many times the same question was asked four, five or even six times in the Q&A section of an RFP, where the government gave a canned response, didn’t fully answer the question, or took forever to answer. This really puts a strain on our ability to write a good proposal.  

Hopefully contracting officers in the future will be able to take that part of it more seriously and make more of an effort to help industry and contractors by giving them the answers that they need. It comes around full circle – the better answers you can give us, the better response we can give the government, saving taxpayers more money in the long run. 

As they said in the podcast, putting an hour of effort in now can save many more hours on the backend. And that’s certainly something anyone would want to do.

Bo Nak is a sales engineer at Technical and Project Engineering, LLC (TAPE). A graduate from Virginia Tech with a BSE degree in industrial and systems engineering, he has worked as a sales engineer for over six years developing solutions and proposals for private, industry, and government customers. He focuses on developing credible solutions and proposals, building revenue, and driving organic growth opportunities.

The True Cost of Proposals

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© DigitalGenetics – Fotolia.com

I recently listened to an episode of the Contracting Officer Podcast, a show that talks about the government market from the contracting officer’s perspective and aims to make government contracting better, one contract at a time.

Hosts Kevin Jans (Skyway Acquisition Solutions) and Paul Schauer (CACI’s National and Cyber Solutions) discussed how much it actually costs to write a proposal for a government RFP. An important and much misunderstood topic!

The first key point they make about proposal writing is that even though it seems like a no-brainer that proposal writing would be part of what they call Zone 3 – The RFP Zone, it’s not (their “zones” are explained in earlier podcasts, but you should kind of get the picture from my emphasis in this post on qualification and capture).

“Proposal writing starts long before the RFP is released, before the draft RFP is released,” Paul explains. The process goes back to the Zone 2 (Market Research for their audience of contract folks, or what we industry folks would call capture – shaping the potential RFP), so that’s where the costs start as well.

This is an extremely important point that often the government does not appreciate. From the moment of market research, and sometimes even before when the true customer begins to think of the requirement, cost is beginning for industry. There is where you as the contractor begin answering the question, “Can we solve this customer’s problem?”

By the time a Request for Information (RFI) comes out, “the writing’s already started,” Kevin says, “And that’s why it’s so important that the investment in brain power, in resources, in time, and of course, in labor” has already started as well. Here again, while we’re talking about brain power, resources, time and labor, what’s really going on is relationships – a company building a picture of what the customer is looking for, based on how the customer describes it. This is the early stages, even before the RFI or market survey comes out. Remember that often the RFI is about set-aside issues, not about solution issues.

It’s important for both sides – government and industry – to understand the true cost of proposals. This gives the buyer and seller a level playing field as they communicate through the proposal process. Kevin says this is one of his favorite sayings: “Ambiguity in here is going to lead to mediocrity.”

This is perfect, yes indeed, ambiguity leads to mediocrity, but if ambiguity remains, it’s the industry’s fault for not asking all the questions for fear something will be revealed to competitors, and the government’s fault if they don’t answer by bringing new clarity to the question. Questions are good, not a forced delay and to be resented. Over-explaining can be costly as well, Kevin points out.

Paul says to compare this to hiring a contractor to put a new roof on your house. You might use any combination of marketing messages, past performance, and talking to friends, and then get quotes from several companies. They pretty much all do the same thing, so the quotes will be pretty simple.

“Think about it,” he says, “if you went out to all these companies and you said, ‘I need a 12-page proposal with double-spaced, 12 Times New Roman font on the whole thing, graphics have to be no smaller than 8 font, and you can’t use anything, but the primary colours,’ …. You wouldn’t get a single bid ‘cause nobody’s going to put in that time and energy.”

Contracting officers should remember that “the amount of proposal documentation that you have to submit could drive decision making on whether or not a company actually bids on your acquisition.”

Paul explains that the government team writing the RFP has to realize that they’re driving more cost to the taxpayers with their complex RFPs that take longer to respond to and evaluate. And this is a critical point – bad evaluation processes and lack of clarity drive up costs. So do all the regulations, and these lead to higher costs to the government.

Now LPTA has adjusted that, but the competitive pressure means less well-constructed proposals, and lower quality of responses, or lower quality of people you can afford for the prices bid. We can never forget the trade-off between price and quality.

In government contracting some inefficiency in the process is a given, with so many regulations in the FAR. But it’s those rules that give everyone an equal opportunity to bid, says Paul. Unfortunately, most of the inefficiency is actually self-inflicted – by the government as they write RFPs, and by contractors because they don’t do a good enough job evaluating their decision whether to bid on a contract.

“If you’re really having to force that language [while you’re writing an RFP], that should tell you something.” We’ve talked a lot on this blog about focusing your federal contracting efforts, and being able to answer these three key questions about your prospective customers:

  1. Does this customer have money allocated to solve this problem?
  2. Can your company solve this problem?
  3. Do you have the capabilities to win this job?

If you can’t answer yes to all three of those questions, don’t waste your time writing a proposal. Contractors should never forget that business development and proposal writing cost money, and there will be a single winner and many losers. Every loser needs clarity as to why they lost.