When you are a small business or a brand new department in a larger company, you might start as one person who is responsible for winning government contracts. This is not a problem—you can join the ranks of many who have started at one point or another and are still the only one writing proposals, even as their company has grown to a nice size and they have the capital to afford professionals. We once met the CEO of a 1,200-person business who still was the company’s best proposal writer—he had a 99 percent win rate. (He’d lock himself in a hotel room for a week at a time with a few six packs.) It was possible because the company was focused on a single set of offerings and wrote for the same set of customers.
Many companies reach a point at which they have to start maturing and growing their business development, capture, and proposal capability. It usually happens when they have a constant volume of bids and they are looking for a more efficient way to develop proposals and win consistently. They want to scale up, grow aggressively, and create a true business development engine.
If you are a small company or a small department within a large company, the next phase of the business development team, beyond just you, could consist of one or two people, with technical personnel roped in as needed for subject matter expertise. This formula works when this team has to go after a handful of bids a year, but as you start growing aggressively and you need to crank out four, five, or ten proposals a month, you have to figure out how to scale intelligently.
Your goal is to add the right staff at the right time – be they internal resources or external.
Internal-resources hiring has to be timed to make business sense. First, you have to determine your current and desired proposal volume per month, and staff your organization at 75 percent of the expected throughput. If your proposal volume is lower than one proposal per month, it’s smarter to use consultants for larger bids, and write smaller bids in-house, burning the midnight oil.
When you go after proposals that you must win, hire real consulting professionals. The temptation is to go cheaper on the hourly rate, but if you are just starting to build your capability, you need experts—even if you bring them in just to outline your proposal, and review it mid-process. If you are obsessed with the hourly rate, you may save money on the wages, but may lose even more money and time if you don’t win, or have to rewrite what they have done. Proposal consultants will run you on average $150/hour—some will charge more and some a little less.
After you bring in your internal Business Development manager to find opportunities, and hire a Capture Manager, you may need to bring in an internal proposal manager.
Your next set of hires will likely include a writer and an all-in-one desktop publisher/technical editor/graphic artist. Your technical writer will write and edit proposal sections, while working closely with the SMEs. Your jack-of-all-trades person will serve three roles at once:
- Professional graphic artist to transform your graphic concepts into professional-looking, attractive graphics
- Editor to ensure your proposals are error-free and polished
- Desktop publisher to format your documents for professional appearance
You will need to involve your SMEs in the proposal process as much as possible after you train them in proposal writing. They can all take our persuasive proposal writing course to become decent, and most importantly, willing writers. This way, you will be able to cut down on the amount of work you have to do personally as the designated business developer – and reduce your resource costs.
As you grow larger, you may bring in a Price Strategist; a Pricer; a professional Contracts Manager to help you navigate the intricacies of the FAR and other customer requirements and lead your customer negotiations; a Procurement Manager to help you negotiate and manage teaming arrangements and subcontracting agreements; and even a PTW expert to make your bids more competitive from the price standpoint.
Successful companies are careful in adding all these overhead positions, and they don’t try to do everything in-house. They perform careful financial analysis taking all costs into consideration, and use a mix of internal staff and consultants. They bring in external resources for:
- Special expertise
- New ideas
- Staff mentoring
You will need to carefully track your staff’s performance and efficiency. You will need to decide how efficient and effective they are in their win rates and throughput, and either develop or replace them. Develop a relationship with a trusted consulting firm such as OST, and have the resources on tap when and where you need them.