With decreased federal budgets, there’s more competition for contractors than ever before. Whether you’re trying to get an edge on a “must win” opportunity, increase your capacity to respond to proposals, or just keep your staff from burning out, you may turn to proposal consultants.
Finding the right consultant can be a challenge. You need someone who’s effective and who’s a good fit for your mission-critical objective. How do you find the right one?
What to look for
Any consultant you consider should have basic qualifications, such as the following:
- Reputation: Known for quality support with a legacy of winning and added value.
- Experience: Adequate years of specific, current proposal experience (at least 15–20 years for senior-level support).
- Leadership: Proven leadership within our industry or professional organizations.
- Autonomy: Self-sufficiency; a proven ability to work independently.
- Expertise: Specialization with a multi-faceted skill set; familiar with the business development lifecycle.
- Knowledge: Ability to implement best practices and enhance existing process, while maintaining flexibility with existing processes.
- Familiarity: Relevant domain experience, specific to industry, agency, and/or subject matter.
- Skilled: Relevant training and certifications.
- Equipped: Solid experience using industry-standard tools (Microsoft Office, SharePoint, WinCenter, Privia, etc.).
Reputation is one of the most important, but often overlooked, qualifications. Proven ability to provide quality service and added value is a better predictor of success than any other qualification. Don’t invest thousands of dollars on an unknown entity. As you distinguish between possibilities, consider whether the resource will simply help with your immediate needs or if the consultant will provide added value by helping you improve your processes and mentor current staff members.
What to avoid
Avoid the lowest price options. Quality consulting that yields winning bids costs a premium price. Federal contractors know this and are willing to spend money to make money. If you come across a consultant with low prices, carefully investigate why that person isn’t able to charge the “going rate.”
Where to find consultants
Once you’re equipped with vetting criteria and you know what to look for, there are three primary resources for finding consultants: job sites listing independent consultants, resume shops, and consulting firms.
Independent consultants. Recent downsizing in the federal market flooded the beltway with independent consultants. Some are outstanding and some are not. It’s often hard to tell the difference until you see their work products. With careful vetting, you can find an expert, but if you’re dissatisfied there’s no quality guarantee backing you up.
Resume shop. Resume shops maintain a database of resumes and present options based on how much you’re willing to pay and how many years of experience you’re looking for. This process will save you a tremendous amount of time compared to finding independent consultants on your own, but there’s still limited accountability for performance.
Consulting firm. A consulting firm is the best place to locate a proposal consultant because their consultants are pre-vetted, and you’re dealing with a company invested in protecting their reputation by providing you with outstanding support.
A quality consulting firm will provide you with consultants across the country who are already vetted, insured, cleared, and who have signed an ethics policy. Does the firm you’re talking with employ industry experts to vet their consultants?
In addition to finding talented experts, a consulting firm manages their consultant’s performance for optimum customer satisfaction. Does the firm you’re talking with conduct regular customer satisfaction surveys?
You’re likely to get the best fit if you locate a consultant through a consulting firm. The firm can match you with the right consultant because they know their consultants’ personalities, abilities, and track records. Common processes and perspectives in the firm mean continuity of support over time with different consultants on different projects.
Making a selection
As you look for a consultant to support your needs, ask yourself how much time you’re willing to invest in finding and vetting a resource yourself. Are you comfortable assuming the risk and responsibility of procuring someone from an online job board or a resume shop? You’ll save time and get better results by trusting a proven consulting firm to match you with an expert consultant that meets your needs.
Julia Quigley has worked on a variety of Federal Health IT task orders and large federal proposals. With a Master’s in Rhetoric and Composition, she has created proposal writing strategies and conducted training to help technical subject matter experts (SMEs) understand how to respond clearly and compellingly to solicitation requirements. Prior to joining Lohfeld Consulting Group, Julia managed proposals for small and mid-sized federal contractors and taught introductory writing and persuasive writing classes at Texas State University. She applies the lessons she taught as well as lessons learned to all her writing and training projects.