Vendor/Agency Bidding Meetings for Successful Entrepreneurs
One key component of being a successful entrepreneur is attracting good, steady business. For this you need to produce a strong product or service that is needed by some segment of society, have a visible presence in the arena where your particular customers can find you, and know how to recognize a prospective customer and attract them to buy.
When a government entity or affiliate is your prospect, knowing how to bid on a project is essential. Being willing to attend any meetings they require related to the bid process is also essential. The types of meetings government or quasi-government agencies frequently call are:
When they have specific bidding/proposal requirements they want to convey in person.
When a project is complicated and could require more than one company to carry it out.
Or when they are making key changes to their bidding system.
Changing the Bidding Process
The City of Los Angeles' utility company, the Department of Water and Power (LADWP), recently called a meeting to inform vendors of a new bidding system they were launching. They wanted to make sure that vendors understood the new system, so its launch would go smoothly.
The new software, custom designed, revises the way the department bids, selects, and manages projects, putting everything online and decreasing paperwork by more than 80%.
Over 100 people attended the meeting, most of them small businesses, most selling products, but some (like me) providing services. The woman presenting the new system was the vendor who was hired to design the software. She started by talking about how lengthy and complicated the bidding process had been, and how much easier and more systematized this new method would be. Then she and a few representatives from LADWP walked everyone through the new system, using a large screen in front of the auditorium.
How the New Bid System Works
The new system basically automates the entire bid process, allowing for the bidder to access a request for a proposal (RFP) of their choice, write their proposal online (using a standard format), upload attachments, and submit the bid. The evaluation of bids is carried out by LADWP purchasing agents and the department that asked for the goods or services, the end user. When a company is selected, the system announces the winner to the bidders and the contract is sent to the winner to sign. Once the contract begins, the systems tracks its progress until all contract requirements have been fulfilled.
Essentially, the new system takes the whole contract process from its original opening of a bid to the completion of the contract. This is a big change to the way LADWP has handed its contracts before, hence the meeting to show the department's vendors what the new system will entail.
Questioning at the End
The meeting ended with a fairly long session of questions and answers. Vendors asked for details about how the system works, specific to their situations, about whether other LADWP requirements are changing too, about how the evaluation process works, and about what types of licenses are required and how those would be uploaded.
All three presenters were actively engaged in answering questions, and questions came from all parts of the room. We were eventually chased out to make room for another meeting that had been scheduled for 1/2 hour after this was supposed to end. I made my way to the cafeteria to eat and ponder what I had learned.
Benefits to Attending an Agency/Vendor Meeting
All such meetings are not always worth attending. If a meeting is mandated in order to qualify to bid on a contract, then of course that meeting will be worth attending. If a meeting will allow you to possibly find a sub-contractor or prime contractor, if you're not sure you can handle all aspects of the contract yourself, then it is generally worth attending. This meeting, I felt, was well worth the time.
Here are some benefits I left the meeting with:
An appreciation for how hard the department worked to create a system that would accommodate both their needs and the vendors' needs to simplify the bidding process.
A good understanding of how the new process works and an eagerness to try it out as soon as I get the chance.
Relief that it will be so much easier to enter repetitive components of a proposal with each new one I write.
A little wariness about whether or not the department will use sub-contractor information to have them bid directly, instead of working together with my company on more complicated projects. They will have to register with the system too, in order to qualify as a sub-contractor.
The system counts down to the deadline and submitting bids will be a lot easier. If I need to leave the proposal to think a bit or look up additional information, I can do that and come back to complete it later, knowing exactly how much time I have left.
Once the deadline is reached, all bidders will be posted, along with the total amounts they bid. This will give me an unprecedented chance to compare my bid with others. If mine is much higher or lower than most of the others, I will know I'm doing something wrong and can re-evaluate for future bids.
If I win I can use the same system to carry out the contract, which will make setup of contract files and keeping records a lot easier.
Since more and more companies are automating their bidding processes, it behooves an entrepreneur to keep an eye out for meetings such as this, so they can make sure they understand the new systems and know how to benefit from them.
The first thing to do when returning from any meeting about a bid or contract is to write down what you remember and especially any action you'll need to take or information you will want to pass on. It's the subsequent actions, sharing of information, and the inclusion of meeting results in future planning, that ultimately make a meeting like this worthwhile.
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