Depending on the type of organization you work in, as the project manager or consulting PM you may be helping to negotiate the project with the client and proposing services to these individuals. Or you just may be doing that on your own as an independent consultant or project manager. What I'm concerned about here is how you can utilize different options and negotiation angles to help win those projects that you really want to win. Going for those customers and projects that are a great fit and seem likely to produce additional revenue and engagements are critical ones to go after...and often you can tell this by the organization you're dealing with and their enthusiasm to come to you with the work.
Bidding the work
One of the most difficult parts of the consulting project management engagement – for me anyway – is bidding the job. Not that it’s really that hard. If you’re busy and can take it or leave it with this potential new client’s business, then you listen to them, shoot them a fair estimate – but making it worthwhile and very profitable for you – and see if they want to move forward. And if they don’t, that’s ok because you have lots of work going on.
But if your business is a little slow at the moment or for some reason you really want this engagement maybe because it takes you into new territory or technology that you wanted some exposure to (but not at any cost, of course), then there can be several ingredients that go into your bid and it sometimes involves listening for cues from your potential client before you start preparing the bid in the first place.
I’m not implying that you cheapen your consulting practice or your expertise by slashing your rate. Never. I’d be more inclined to give away some free work before slashing my rate. What I am saying though, is that you may need to look for tips from your potential client to know how to bid and what their concerns might be with your proposal before you even put it together.
Here are the three main issues that usually arise for consultants facing new clients:
Do you or your organization have the right expertise for the project? The potential client may have concern over your expertise. Especially if the proposed engagement covers technology or process that you have similar experience with – but not specific experience with. Ease their mind by gathering as much info about their need as you possibly can, ask for any supporting documents so you can review them aside from a face to face meeting, and ask good, driving questions to let them know you understand the process and their need. Give them a little extra time – unbilled time – up front in the ‘discovery’ phase to get as much information as possible about the need and use that to plan out a good proposal that details your understanding and puts any expertise concerns they might have to rest. Most consulting expertise translates well across various engagements – the processes are similar even if the technology changes. A thorough and detailed proposal from you will convince them of that.
Will your workload allow you to be available? The potential client has seen your website and client list and they’ve probably looked over your resume. They assume you have a pretty full plate and they may be right. They are concerned that they won’t be able to get you when they might need you the most. For me, I usually work around that concern by guaranteeing them that they will have ‘x’ number of hours access to me at a minimum every week. If possible – and I’ll get to this again down in point number three below – I try to go with an assumed number of hours – or range of hours – that they will get every week for a fixed retainer amount. That way they feel like they are entitled to that much access for certain and they then feel more comfortable that they’ll have you when they need you.
Can you keep costs contained? This is a huge one – especially in this down economy. The minute you walk through their door to discuss a potential engagement, they’re already thinking about how to keep your expenses from going out of control because they know they need you but they don’t have an endless budget. You can show them in a very detailed fashion the actual tasks you’ll be working on using a draft schedule for the proposed project. If it’s obvious that cost containment is going to be a concern, then I try to give them a fixed weekly or bi-weekly rate based on an assumed number of hours. Of course, if the hours start to get out of hand, then the agreement calls for additional billing to cover your extra work. However, what I usually find is they are happy to pay the fixed amount and usually end up utilizing less of your time than was originally planned. Win – win.