Do-It-Yourself Intelligence - Bidding and Winning State and Local Government Contracts; 

Unlike doing business with the federal government, state and local public municipalities all employ different mechanisms for vendors to submit their bids. Likewise, bid award information can be very difficult to locate en masse for small businesses. Without company intelligence resources or high dollar firms that find this information for a substantial fee one is seemingly left with little or no options. 

The non-structured nature of state and local procurement means that contract intelligence is often overlooked. This information is incredibly valuable to small businesses whether the bid is won or lost. Contract intelligence can provide a much more comprehensive view of your industry and your competition. This in turn makes business ventures with these government entities much more precise and profitable. 

Each loss should be a learning experience and each contract should be reviewed introspectively. The following tactics and data should help you create a much more competitive environment for government bidding, analyze your competition, and maximize revenue. 

Pre-bid techniques: Knowing all information necessary to complete a bid. 

You have identified a contract for which you would like to bid. You have 2 weeks to submit a bid. Maximizing your time is paramount to creating a winning bid. The best way to accomplish this is knowing what needs to be done exactly and precisely. 

Ask Questions! Sometimes one mistake can disqualify you. The procurement officer is your main point of contact to answer any questions about the bid. Their sole responsibility is to ensure that the government entity garners the correct bids so they can get the best bang for their buck possible. Often times, amendments and addendums are issued during the course of the open bid period. 

In addition, some agencies require any questions asked in writing to be provided to all vendors who demonstrated interest in the bid. This time is valuable in properly ascertaining all requirements and specifications related to the contract, and ensuring enough time to prepare a quality response. Furthermore, this window provides enough time to collect all intelligence necessary to prepare a competitive and profitable bid response. 

Your local PTAC office is an often overlooked resource. The PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) is designed to assist small businesses in answering general questions about government bidding. If you are new or unfamiliar to public bidding, whether at the city, county, state, or even federal level, the PTAC can answer any questions. They can be your best friend! 

If your company is interested in getting started with Federal GSA bidding, we highly recommend going through your local PTAC. More information about this organization, including contact information and your local office, can be found at http://www.aptac-us.org. 

That one resource can be the difference between successful pricing of your bid or missing the boat entirely. 

Winning a bid: Leaving money on the table. 

Winning a bid is not always what it is cracked up to be! Did you realize an acceptable profit? Did you drastically underbid your competition unnecessarily? Each winning bid will always leave some money on the table, not unlike bidding in the private sector. If your winning bid results within your predetermined profit margin then you did a good job. If your winning bid is less than your predetermined profit margins fret not for this a learning experience for next time. Always keep in mind that if you will lose money, then it would have been better to lose the bid altogether. This is a mistake many neophytes to this process fail to realize initially. 

Most agencies publish 'bid tabulations' in accordance to state and local best practices in procurement. If it is not published on their website or as a standard reply to your rejected bid, you can and should ask for it. In most cases this can be accomplished with a simple email or phone call to the procurement officer. 

In other cases, a more formal procedure should take place, known as an FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) request. We will expound on the virtues of the FOIA shortly. There are a few intrinsic data points that can and should be gleaned for future success. 

Several Keys To Look For: 

' How many vendors bid on this contract? 
' What other vendors are competing against your company? 
' What was the next highest bid? 
' Losing a bid: Lessons in competition. 

As mentioned earlier losing a bid is not always a bad thing. Perhaps the winner underbid the contract or their wholesale distributor provides products for a lesser amount. If the latter is true, finding and identifying bids this competitor may not know about is vitally important! Be sure to look for all agencies, including school districts and utility companies. Statistical data has shown that by subscribing to a service that notifies you of RFPs gives you a much greater chance of finding opportunities that fly under the radar. 

In addition, not winning a bid gives your firm the opportunity to look introspectively at cost structures that may prevent your ability to bid competitively while unwittingly giving other companies the leg up. Ultimately, the bid tabulations and bid contract award information is your key to understanding what happened, and learning from your mistakes. That is one of the most important pieces of this entire puzzle; collecting the relevant data and learning what can be done to prevent a repeat performance. 

This data can often be simply obtained. It is incredibly useful to have a FOIA Request draft prepared to submit to the agency in question in each case. In some cases you may be asked to pay a nominal administrative fee for your request. It will be miniscule and can pay long term dividends which make it worthwhile for piecing together the pieces of the puzzle. The more data that you can collect then the greater chance you have to turn these losses into victories down the road. 

Templates for this can be obtained throughout the internet at little or no cost through various legal website and contract resources. In lieu of hiring expensive consultants and government marketers this is one way to gain the same information without paying an arm and a leg. 

Having a template of your own will circumvent this need and save money. For example, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers a FOIA letter template generator free of charge. This is an extremely valuable tool while building your letter in conformity to the laws in your state, and directly related to the information which your company seeks in relation to bids and contracts. 

This generator is located at the following. http://www.rcfp.org/foialetter/index.php. 

Conclusion. 

Bid and RFP notification services like BidPrime only do part of the work, chiefly informing vendors about newly released government bids. Other services, lobbyists, and consultants can aide in the bidding intelligence process, too. But keep in mind these are often high dollar additions that will eat into your desired profit margin very quickly. 

These entities are useful for high profit yielding industries and Fortune 500 companies. The techniques mentioned above are the exact same tactics used by these high priced consultants. By following these loose guidelines it will allow you to save time and money while making the most of each new RFP opportunity. Always remember that the person armed with the most information is in the best position to make the most comprehensive submission. 

Happy hunting!

Stephen Hetzel is the Chief Operations Officer at BidPrime, an online provider of federal, state, and local government bids and contract opportunities. BidPrime assists large and small companies from various industries--construction, architectural services, software/IT/networking, building services, and other products and services--identify government contract leads across the US.