How to Operate as a Sub in a Multiple Award Contract

Earlier, we discussed how to decide whether to be a prime contractor or a subcontractor when you’re bidding on a multiple award IDIQ contract. Next, I offered some tips for when you’re the prime contractor.

In this third and final post of the series, I have seven tips for success when you’re the subcontractor in a multiple award contract.

1. Know your customer

In the prime contractor’s company, it is the PM (project manager) who is your gateway to current and future opportunities. Most large primes have a system for bidding on opportunities, so make sure that you’re registered in that system.

Meanwhile, cultivate your relationships with current customers. Pay attention to the contracts that are coming available. As soon an opportunity comes up where you know the customer or agency, let the PM know. You will be very valuable to them.

2. Attend calls and speak up

Show up for all meetings prepared and ready to show your value. Subs that are not seen and not heard don’t get the business.

3. Give good service on the bid team

Your work starts long before the contract is awarded. Help the prime win the bid! Your volunteer time will be appreciated. Deliver on time – if you promised it, deliver it.

4. Prepare your resume

Have resumes ready for as many opportunities as you can, so your pipeline of potential jobs is always full. Be sure to follow the requested format, and address each opportunity’s specific evaluation criteria.

Have write-ups prepared about your past performance, but remember to focus on the opportunity you’re writing for.

5. Know the business model, and exploit it

Remember the “best athlete” model that I mentioned in my earlier post about choosing between prime versus sub? You need to know whether the prime will bring you on so that you find the people to carry out the tasks, or whether your people will need to compete with people from other potential subcontractors (or the prime’s own people).

Either way, it’s crucial to play along and be an active participant in the process. That being said, if you find that the prime is constantly putting in their own folks or choosing other subcontractors, it’s time to move on. Find a new prime, or work on getting the next contract.

6. Speak up in private if you’re unhappy

Before you move on, let the PM know that you’re feeling frustrated. Just be sure this conversation is always in private and never in public. Ask for help in working with the PM to get value.

7. Stay a sub as long as possible

Some companies always function as a sub, and this can be very lucrative. It takes much less time, money and effort to maintain contracts as a sub. There is virtually no business development required on your part, though of course you’re building on your existing customer relationships.

Just remember that if you succeed to the point where you grow beyond the size standards of your industry, your usefulness will be questioned. If the prime contractor used you to fulfill their set-aside requirements for small business, they’ll no longer get credit for that if you’ve grown too big.

Hopefully you can use your relationship to keep the work, and they’ll just have to find another small business to do some other work on the contract. Or you can stay small – keep doing the same amount of steady, stable, lucrative work without growing beyond your current size. The choice is up to you.


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