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3 Common Misconceptions Small Businesses Should Avoid In The Proposal Development Process

As a proposal manager who has assisted a number of small businesses to significantly increase their annual revenues through sound proposal management, I would like to pass on some words of wisdom gained through my experience, which your small business may immediately incorporate as “lessons learned”. Here are three common misconceptions to avoid in the proposal development process.

1) “We don’t have to have past performance in all areas.”

When you and your subcontractors/ teaming partners review the Request for Proposal (RFP), you should evaluate the requirements of the Statement of Work and determine which team member has the most experience in each area. You can create an Excel spreadsheet that documents this experience and use it as an introduction to your past performance narrative if space permits. If you identify any areas where no team member has experience performing a particular portion of the Statement of Work, you will need to find a subcontractor/teaming partner who can successfully fulfill these requirements. There is inherent danger in taking the approach, “Well, we are a small business and the Government can’t possibly expect us to have past performance in all areas.” Sadly, the Government does, in fact, expect the team to have relevant past performance in all areas. Don’t take the chance of being eliminated from further consideration on a proposed contract for failure to meet all requirements.

2) “We don’t know how to perform all the work”.

If you are a small business prime contractor with experience and past performance in a subset of a larger set of requirements for an upcoming contract, (let’s say 25%), and you don’t have a clue about how to at least manage the rest of the work (the other 75 %), you may be treading on dangerous ground if you are bidding as the prime contractor, and, in fact, should not be bidding. First, you will be forced to rely heavily on your large teaming partner to architect the majority of the proposal’s technical solution and advise you extensively as to how to manage 75% of the effort, which can cause your teaming partner to lose confidence in your company’s capabilities even before the proposal is submitted. Second, if your company’s past performance history as a prime contractor doesn’t support your ability to manage contracts of similar size, scope, and complexity, it will be a tough sell to win the contract. As prime contractor, your company will be responsible for managing the effort. Don’t be eliminated from further consideration because your failure to understand the work to be performed represents a performance risk to the Government.

There is inherent danger in taking the approach:

“Well, we are a small business and the Government can’t possibly expect us to have past performance in all areas.”

3) “Nobody reads the resumes.”

Often, small business prime contractors do not understand the importance of resumes to a winning  government proposal. They leave the resumes to the last minute, don’t tailor them to the requirements of the RFP, and submit personnel that are on staff and available, whether they have experience in performing the required tasks or not. Resumes of key and other personnel that clearly demonstrate your staff’s past experience and capabilities in performing work of the type required by the RFP support your company’s overall sales message that your staff is qualified. Take the time to find staff qualified for the work they are to perform. Match their resumes to requirements. Build a case for why your company should win the work, because somebody will read the resumes and evaluate the capabilities of proposed staff.

The road to winning as a small business prime can often be challenging. Give your team every opportunity to pull off a successful proposal effort by avoiding these common misconceptions. What are your tips for small businesses bidding as a prime? 

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AuthorEllen Perrine

Ellen Perrine is a Vice President at AOC Key Solutions with more than 30 years of experience in federal proposals including strategy development, proposal management, compliance management, and technical writing.


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