So I did!
I sat up at the Nursery filling in the form on my lap, and as I went through it my market researcher alarm kicked in.
The form asked me to select my son’s ethnicity. Fair enough, of course it did. I have written extensively on the subject of ethnicity questions and why they are so long and complicated.
But this wasn’t a straightforward question. There were two options that could apply, and it was clearly stated that I should select one only.
Paralysed with indecision, I was.
I have my ways of finding out what competitive tenders are out there, and when I first worked for myself I bid for anything and everything. I’m well qualified and well able to do a wide range of research consultancy projects but through trial and error I found that I was winning certain work and not winning other work. Over time I worked out where I was most likely to succeed – the methodologies, subject matters, scale and fee, and even the area of the country. I worked out my niche, and I decided to only bid for work that fell into my niche.
And it works. I still win as much work, if not more.
And I’m spending less time writing proposals.
That’s the hard part.
Last Autumn I was called up to do jury duty for the first time. In many ways I was quite excited. I had taken some law courses at University (‘Criminology’ and ‘Punishment and Society’) so I had a bit of an academic interest, plus I am a nosy person so I like to know more about things and the world. I would have loved to sit on a Jury and would have taken the whole thing very seriously, and I’m told the lawyers and the people on trial appreciate having a jury there and in particular jurors that take it seriously. This is about real people’s lives after all and that should not be downplayed. I also understand that there needs to be a selection process so that a fair and representative jury is chosen for each trial. I would have felt that I had done my bit if I’d turned up but my name had not been called.
Essentially what I did in any of those four jobs is exactly the same as what I do now. But when you are acting ‘as’ an organisation you are never really ‘I’. The client doesn’t engage you, they engage the organisation you work for. You are the organisation you work for. You represent them, for good or for bad. The organisation gets the credit for your success and would take the hit on any failures. You are disposable. If you are sick or you quit or you mess up they might take you off a project and seamlessly replace you with someone else. Your work is never really your own. You won’t see your own name on any report that you write. It is never about you.
Back in the day I managed the research department of a charity, and I was always seeing interesting tendering opportunities in the third sector coming and going because we could not afford to bid for them. What I mean is, our day rates were sufficiently high that we couldn’t do anything within the specified budgets. But I squirrelled that information away and when I came to leave the charity I thought I might see if I could get myself a piece of the ‘lower budget’ research contract market.
Fast forward, and I proved it was possible to make a living working in that space simply by doing it, and later on during my business degree I tracked all of the relevant opportunities that came up over the course of the year and estimated the potential market as being into the £millions each year.
I like it.
I like working with relatively small research budgets.
Following the success and great deal of interest in my original e-book The Ruthless Research guide to commissioning and managing research projects I have been prompted to write a wee follow-up!
So please do check out…
This e-book is designed to help charities and other not-for-profit organisations to understand interviewing as part of the procurement process when commissioning external research and evaluation projects.