Will BD go freelance?

Government proposal development processes and approaches have remained relatively static for the past 20 to 30 years. We have refined, streamlined, improved, and honed our tactics and processes and approaches, but we haven’t really turned the industry upside down since the introduction of computers.

The information and social networking age in which we now live has dramatically shifted the proposal development landscape and most of us haven’t even noticed.

The precarious state of the economy; the military drawdown in the Middle East; the low price technically acceptable (LPTA) federal contracting landscape; and the highly competitive marketplace in which contractors operate is driving the need for revolutionary change in the way they capture, bid, and perform work.

Is it revolution or evolution that is on the horizon for bid and proposal professional everywhere?

A significant number of companies, both large and small, are being forced to downsize – do more with less. Many companies, as a result of cost cutting measures and overhead slashing exercises, eliminate some or all of their organic business development, capture, and proposal personnel. This is evidenced by Elance-oDesk, an online job resource in which they’ve stated that based on their assessment of the full work lifecycle, from demand through payment, including the number of job posts, hours worked, and actual earnings of its members, that “freelancing” is on the rise around the world.

They cite a Freelancers Union report that says 53 million professionals are now freelancing in the U.S. alone. That’s 34 percent of the entire workforce.

Are virtual proposals and buying expertise by the drink the wave of the future for business development, capture management, and proposal professionals? If this is the way the pendulum is swinging, what can we proposal professionals do to prepare?  What will be required of companies that transition to a virtual consulting operating concept?

How to Prepare

In just one online LinkedIn search, we were able to identify more than 12,000 members with the keyword “proposal” contained in their online bios and work histories.

These members ranged from writers and editors to graphics, desktop, capture, cost/pricing, subject matter experts and proposal management professionals. This is evidence of stiff competition in a fiercely competitive market. How do these people differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack? That will be question that many of us will need to unlock to stay in the market.

Questions proposal experts need to answer when developing an online profile for LinkedIn, GOVPROP.com, or other social networking and industry targeted web sites are:

1.  What makes me different?

2. What makes me qualified?

3. What experience can I post that will maximize key word searches?

4. How can my clients/potential clients validate that I’m worthy of fulfilling the role for them?

5. Did I proofread my profile entries to make sure they make sense and are typo and grammatically error free?

6. Did I pay the same attention to developing my online profile that I put into developing my resume?

7. Finally, what can I include that will substantiate in my claims?

Putting the time, thought, creativity, and innovation into developing online profiles on these sites will pay dividends. Once that’s done though, you must maintain your profile to stay active in the system(s). Update your information periodically. Post commentary (value added). Join special interest groups. Spark conversations in those groups. Create blogs. Contribute articles. All of these activities will keep your profile(s) active and get you noticed. As important as this is becoming, don’t forget that nothing can replace your personal network. You must maintain your relationships as well.

When you land those consulting contracts you must deliver top quality work and make the client feel confident that they received the best value for the money and effort invested. The risk in this new information age is that with the click of the post button, your reputation is posted for all to view.

Contractors Get Ready - Get Disciplined

As companies lose their valuable organic business, capture and proposal development teams they must also modify current practices to meet the market shift. But what will this entail?

Federal government contractors requiring FAR-compliant procurement and bidding practices must implement mechanisms such as Basic Ordering Agreements, Master Services Agreements, or other contractual mechanisms with consultant clearing houses to “quickly” acquire resources to support time critical bid efforts.

Elance-oDesk reports “unprecedented speed and efficiency” in online hiring: their metrics show that their typical online hiring process spans 3 days, versus an average of 43 days associated with traditional corporate hiring practices. GOVPROP.com expects to reduce this timeline to 24 hours or less.

The ability to obtain the right assets in an expedited fashion will allow companies to quickly ramp up customized consulting teams to prepare proposals and respond to task order requests for proposals on very short turnaround schedules.

Coupled with the contracting mechanism, people responsible for identifying and acquiring the consulting resources must also be able to quickly develop job descriptions and work scopes/specifications with sufficient detail to result in a good online resource match so the consulting engagement will result in the desired end product.

These factors will force capture and proposal leaders to act quickly to identify the necessary proposal resources. Additionally, the designated representative(s) from the contracting organization will have to fully engage in the process to monitor work product, assess consistency with the capture/win strategy, and ensure that the materials being developed are consistent with the corporate policies, vision, and quality standards.

This aspect is not so dramatically different from what should be in practice today; however, it will force the need for commitment and engagement where it has been voluntary and somewhat inconsistent within many organizations in the past.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As a community, we must work together to redefine the rules of engagement for successful bid and proposal teams. This will require an overhaul of the virtual hiring and proposal processes, key performance measurements, and methods of coordination, compilation production. For the government marketplace, GOVPROP.com has been designed bottom-up to incorporate all the key elements of this new hiring paradigm as well as the proposal development from definition through delivery process.

As this growing freelance government proposal market matures, the most successful proposal experts will explore innovative ways to collaborate with other consultants that have synergistic skills and experience to offer a more comprehensive solution to government contractors.

In addition, proposal experts with full-time positions as contractor employees will be well advised to keep a close watch on their company’s near term organizational plans. This means being open to and prepared for entering the new government freelance market.

The moral of the story is, “If you can’t beat ‘em. Join ‘em.”

About the Authors

Melanie Baker (Melanie.Baker@govprop.com) is a Government Proposal Solutions Inc. [Govprop.com] co-founder and a seasoned proposal management consultant.

Mike Lisagor (Mike.Lisagor@govprop.com) is a GOVPROP.com co-founder and chief knowledge officer.

Reader Comments

Wed, Jun 10, 2015

Just saw the last November comment. Part of the GOVPROP.com consulting engagement process is an online electronic signature NDA and COI agreement capability as another method of trying to protect company sensitive data.

Wed, Nov 19, 2014 Earlier commenter

Sure, Mr. Lisagor, droves of BD "experts" will want to sign up. As always, the question is wha can they deliver. Your "three levels" of vetting will help, to be sure, but, as in any consulting relationship, the engagement only succeeds if the client is prepared--and facilitated--to use the content delivered. Federal BD is certainly suitable to an industrial or factory approach. There's little secret sauce--nothing original. And someone has to think through objectives and strategy (including whether the bid is worthwhile in the first place). If you are just helping w the rental of proposal staff, that's not enough. Standing being their credentials is worth something, though, esp. since many are poseurs. You did not mention anything about COI other than a software barrier. Fine, but remember, it isn't just what some miscreant can copy for the next client. It is also what people carry in their heads that can be the most useful or pivotal. Good luck in any case.

Wed, Nov 19, 2014 Mike Lisagor United States

Excellent points. We tried to stay away from discussing GOVPROP.com features in this article. However, we have specific solutions for both of these issues including a highly secure collaboration area for our company members to work with experts. The experts are not able to copy any information from this area. We have three levels of background verification checks provided by an outside firm. Recommend going to govprop.com for further information. I believe we have been very thorough in trying to develop an effective, useful marketplace for government contractors to find verified experts and expert companies. We are currenly in pre-testing mode with 15 contractors with launch early 2015. Hundreds of experts have already signed up.

Thu, Nov 13, 2014

It would appear that the authors have a strong self interest in their proposed way of addressing BD. That's fine. We all have self interest. But in their checklist of freelance qualifications, they need to include several items on conflicts of interest--of any sort. Lately, some firms have been troubled by freelancers apparently cross-pollinating ideas (at a minimum) from one firm to another. There are many other potential problems in propagating freelancing and making it the engine of BD. In an overwhelmingly commodity business that is always a key risk. The authors should be asked to explain their solution for conflicts of interest. In addition, since the BD field has more than its fair share of ne'er-do-wells and charlatans, what is the authors' approach to confirming that the freelancers are competent? What about a drug-free record (I am not kidding--even my HVAC company guarantees that its techs are not users....)

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