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Jobs that I could bid for, but I don’t

November 23, 2016

2008-10-27I recently wrote a blog post stating that one of the hardest learning points of self employment has been when to do NOTHING.  A few people in real life have chatted with me further about this, so I thought I’d tell you a bit more about how it works for me.

Basically I am looking to undertake primary research projects for public or third sector organisations, I would be absolutely delighted to take on virtually any projects that meet this description, and I am well qualified to provide a high quality service for any project with this remit.  But!  This does not mean that I will get picked to do so.  There’s lots of consultants out there, and I can be one of twenty submitting a tender for a single job.  At the start of my self-employed career I bid for anything and everything, but over time I have worked out what sort of projects I never win and I have stopped bothering tendering for them.  I identify several opportunities every week that I could potentially apply for, and it can take a working day to write a proposal, so not bothering to bid for work that I probably won’t win saves me a lot of time.

So what don’t I bother with?

  • Geography: I do not bid for work unless the client is based in either Scotland (where I live) or England (where I’m from).
  • Scale: I do not bid for work where the value of the contract is more than £5k higher than the largest contract I’ve won before as a sole trader.
  • Structure: I do not bid for work if I get the impression that a sole trader would not win the contract.
  • Evaluation: I do not bid for work if the tender lists specific requirements that bids will be scored against, and I cannot provide evidence of my experience in one or more of these areas.
  • Experience: I do not bid for work if the tender lists specific past experience as a requirement, and I cannot provide evidence of my experience in one or more of these areas.
  • Expenses: I do not bid for work if I expect my expenses to take up a large chunk of the budget.
  • Resources: I do not bid for work if I know a larger organisation could undercut me because they have access to internal resources that I don’t.
  • Timescale: I do not bid for work if I am not as certain as I can be that I can complete the work on time.
  • Ethos: I do not bid for work if I can’t personally get on board with the subject matter or working style described in the tendering documents.
  • Value: I do not bid for work if I don’t think I would provide good value for money.
  • Ethics: I do not bid for work if the wording of the tender indicates the client has questionable ethics.
  • Gut instinct: I do not bid for work if I read the tendering documents and get a gut feeling that the client is not looking for a consultant like me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to work on much of the work that I discard and I know I could do the work well, I just know that I won’t get picked in a competitive situation.

Yes, sometimes I meet most of the requirements and am tempted to bid anyway.  Yes, sometimes I think the client has made a mistake in asking for certain specifics.  Yes, I could write persuasive marketing text addressing these issues and making a case for myself.  But from trial and error I’ve found that not bothering to bid is the most efficient and indeed effective solution in the majority of cases.

A lot of this is about instinct, about reading between the lines of the tender document and guessing what the client is and isn’t looking for based on my extensive past experience.  If they are not looking for me, fine I won’t waste either of our time bidding.

It might seem a little bit negative or short sighted to think in these terms and to discard potential sources of income for seemingly arbitrary reasons – and yes, it is a gamble – but I have found that this works for me.  I am spending less time on new business development and I am generating the same or more income which makes my time more productive.

There are some circumstances that might over-ride the above parameters and persuade me to tender when I wouldn’t usually do so.  These are if:

  • I am super-keen on the doing the job for personal interest reasons.
  • I know or suspect I have been shortlisted into a closed tender list.
  • A contact has asked me personally to bid.
  • The client is based in Edinburgh, where I live.

Additionally, all of this negativity doesn’t actually close the door on certain work.  What is off limits for me now will not always be so.  I get a lot of work through repeat business and recommendations, which often leads me to undertake work in ‘new’ areas, giving me demonstrable experience with a particular client group or subject matter or locality or funder that I didn’t have before.  Having case studies in these ‘new’ areas then opens up a whole new strand of possibilities for future competitive tendering and I can cast my net a little wider next time.

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