Round 'Em Up

The Essentials

Although landing your first contract will undoubtedly be a challenge, you can take steps to improve your chances of winning it. Those steps include:

1. Establish a networking system. Talk to other business owners, and spread the word that you're interested in subcontracting. Make as many contacts as you can.

2. Get the information out. Slick, informative brochures about your business are a must. Without those, contractors will move on to the next candidate.

3. Build a solid reputation. This is probably your most important task--without it, you'll surely be on the road to nowhere. Pay your bills on time, treat your employees well, complete all your projects by their deadlines, and institute quality-control procedures.

4. Be financially sound. Although small companies have a lot of fiscal constraints, establishing a strong financial foundation--in operating profits, net income, cash flow, history and future projections--will help you considerably in landing contracts.

5. Communicate with contractors before projects become available. Target the companies you want to work for, and convey your interest and qualifications. Because of this previous contact, when a project becomes available, they'll think of you.

6. Remember that performance is linked to getting new work. The benefits are twofold: If you do an outstanding job, larger firms or prime contractors will seek out your business based on your reputation. And if past clients include the federal government, they'll recommend your company to prime contractors on the hunt for small-business suppliers.

7. Keep your prices flexible and competitive. This is important because landing contracts is becoming more and more of a challenge--and the recent rise in global competition only makes things trickier. To set your business apart, establish attractive pricing, even if it means you won't make as much money in the end. "[Small businesses] may not be able to make as much profit as they want on a particular contract, but they might get the contract more easily [with lower prices]," says Robert S. Frey, author of Successful Proposal Strategies for Small Businesses (Artech House).

8. Be selective about the contracts you pursue. Don't aim for every contract that comes along. Winning a contract takes real dedication and planning. According to Frey, because most small businesses neglect to tailor their efforts, out of every 10 contracts they pursue, most will win only four.

9. Establish an ongoing strategic alliance, but don't pursue relationships with just anyone. Frey says your efforts will pay off if you develop well-thought-out, well-researched relationships with a few select businesses.

10. Know your client inside and out. Identify the decision makers. Find out how they put contracts together. Understand the decision-making process, and know all the steps involved. In the contracting world, ignorance is definitely not bliss.

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Round 'Em Up.

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