April 24, 1997
How to build a proposal package for your company
By GERALD BARON
Construction managers and executives are exceptionally practical by nature. They go right to the core: What does it take to get the job done right with the least effort, fuss, cost and nonsense?
This is especially true of the construction executive's approach to marketing and business development. How can we get the work we need without spending any more money, time or effort than is absolutely essential?
Stripped of all the fancy words and concepts, business development for construction comes down to two essential items: building relationships and establishing credibility.
The proposal package
The proposal package is where your credibility comes into focus. It is used when you are being considered along with a number of other potential contractors. The fact that it is needed at all is an indication that your prospective customer (owner, owner's rep, engineer, etc.) doesn't know you very well or needs the information to buttress their support of you to other decision makers. The primary purpose of the proposal package is for you to establish credibility.
In other words, you want the viewer of your package to come away with the strong impression that you are very qualified to perform the work and to do it in a way that meets all their expectations (quality work, on-time, on-budget, fair change orders, etc.).
Your customer wants a construction project completed. If they are to consider you for the job, they want to know that you have done work similar to this project and they want to know how you have performed in similar projects. If someone is building a toilet paper plant, he would prefer to work with someone who has built toilet paper plants.
Your first task in the proposal package is to meet their need for assurance that you have the requisite experience in doing the type of work they need done. If you haven't done toilet paper plants, you have two options: say what you have done that most closely matches their need and/or say that you have people as part of your team that have the knowledge and experience to build the kind of plant they want.
Your track record is found primarily in the projects you have done, but it can also be found in the experiences of your key staff. Let's say your company has never built a toilet paper plant, but you have a project manager on staff who used to work for the biggest builder on such plants and ran several high-profile projects. Of course, you would include in considerable detail in your presentation the vast experience of this individual in building the owner's plant. You would specify that this person would be the lead project manager on this project.
Track record is critically important. It says what you have done. It doesn't necessarily say how well you have done it. For that you need references and preferably references that your prospective owner holds in high regard. Say some company wants to build a high tech software development campus and you've got Bill Gates on your reference list. Well respected architects, engineers, bankers, or real estate agents may very well qualify as strategic relationships when it comes to borrowed credibility. The high regard with which they are held is reflected on you if they too have a high regard for you. You are, in effect, "borrowing" their credibility to build your own.
One of the keys to building a successful business in the long term is to understand this concept. When you understand your ability to get future jobs is based to a considerable degree on the good opinion of others particularly influence leaders a major part of your marketing strategy should be to identify and build relationships with those kind of influences.
No fluffy language
Many construction companies seem to think that marketing is a matter of putting a bunch of nice words together that don't mean a lot. The people you are selling to want the facts, just the facts, and they want them quickly. That means you don't need long corporate histories, you don't need meaningless statements about quality and performance, and you don't need fluffy language about building the future of America or anything like that.
They are only interested in one thing: WIIFM. What's in it for me. And what is in it for them is the experience and capabilities that you can deliver based on your track record, your staff and your references. Focus on these things and your proposal package will be well read and well regarded.
Now that you know what to put in your package, we need to talk about what it looks like. I've said you don't need a lot of fluffy, meaningless words. But a proposal package will hurt you if it looks like it was thrown together at the last minute, is full of misspellings and errors, is unprofessional in design and presentation, or makes the reader stumble around to get the information they want.
Building a proposal package
Think of your proposal package as a finished construction project. First you need to think of the materials that will be used to build it. Here's a list:
One of the main problems with proposal packages is that they are best when they can be tailored to a particular audience. For example, one day you may be presenting to someone looking for a supermarket and the next day to someone looking for major site work (assuming you are capable of doing both). If you make your proposal package so general to cover every type of construction project, then it will lost impact when you consider your reader is only interested in their particular need. On the other hand, if you make it very specific, you may be limiting its usefulness to only those types of projects it specifically addresses. The solution? Design your proposal package with flexibility in mind and make use of appropriate technologies.
The computer hasn't just revolutionized engineering, design and construction. It has also revolutionized how companies present themselves. Every item on our proposal package list can be and should be put into digital form all the resumes, all the photos, all the project data, all the company information. Once it is in digital form it can be presented in a variety of formats. From digitally scanned photos you can produce high quality color laser prints, slides, overheads, website images, video, and more.
Because of the consistent high quality of digital images and the great flexibility with which you can use them, we highly recommend that your proposal package be built around an organized collection of digital job photos. The ideal makes of accomplishing this is by shooting 35 mm slides and having them scanned and recorded on CD-ROM. In one convenient disk you can have hundreds of job photos that can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from archiving to preparing quick presentation sheets for a specifically tailored proposal package.
Your written information should also be in digital form. This information should be neatly and professionally designed on individual pages so they can be easily changed and updated and you can print them quickly on demand.
With the goals of professionalism, flexibility and low cost in mind, here's what we believe every professionally minded company involved in construction needs to have:
Most proposal packages will be put together under tight deadlines and during a time when you have a million other important things to do. By getting all the pieces in place in advance, you'll be able to prepare a handsome, professional, comprehensive proposal package that will appear as if you spent weeks putting it together.
By taking a modular approach you can assemble a tailored package with the minimum of stress and still put out a package that is a very positive reflection on your company and its capabilities.
This is a question construction companies are facing more and more. Many already have websites and some construction companies are experimenting with innovative ways to use this powerful new communication tool. We believe that the web will evolve into a very important way of doing business. There are very significant cost advantages of putting your project information on your website and having interested parties have a look at your capabilities this way.
Using the web to present your credibility makes sense because it is easy to keep updated and you can include a much deeper level of information without the printing and production costs associated with our normal means of communicating.
The main problem now is that not everyone is using it and it will be a considerable time (if ever) before it replaces brochures, printed proposal packages, and mailed information. So we are at time in its development when you really need to have both.
Marketing is much, much more than putting out a professional package. Marketing is being helping the right few people place a high value on what you do. It all comes down to building solid, long term relationships with the right people.
Even if you depend primarily on public projects, your long term success depends on building a solid reputation based on performance and services. While already critically important in building a clientele in private work, relationships are becoming increasingly important in public work as well.
Owners and government agencies are embracing GCCM, Design/Build and Job Order Contracting to avoid the more negative and potentially expensive problems with straight low bid contracting and its natural companion the change order game.
These factors, combined with the highly competitive nature of contracting, means that smart construction company leaders are paying closer attention to their credibility and their efforts at building long term, loyal business relationships.
Gerald Baron is president of Baron & Company, a Bellingham public relations and graphic design firm.
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