As I build this company I’m finding it difficult to get government contracts because of the requirements. All the requests for qualifications (RFQs) I’ve seen place a heavy emphasis on what they call “Past Performance” (PP). The past performance is like a list of references for your company and often it’s more important than price. I actually lost a proposal to a company that had a much higher price than me because I lacked in the PP area (Wow - that sounds really bad).
Past Performance doesn’t refer to your personal work history either. It only refers to your “Corporate Past Performance”. That means the work your company has performed. Here you can see the dilemma. How can a new company have PP and get new contracts to build PP if they don’t have the PP to begin with to win the contract!? It’s a frustrating and confusing cycle that is tough to break.
Most of the government RFQs have a provision for not having past performance. Since the PP should be relevant to the project you are trying to win and be current (usually the past three years) sometimes you have to claim “Neutral Past Performance”. This doesn’t really help you all that much. Sure, you’re proposal won’t be thrown in the trash for not meeting the requirements of the RFQ, but, you won’t get a very high score on the PP side of things either.
As far as I can tell there are two ways to add past performance to your proposals. The first is to buy another company and use their past performance. Not really an option for me right now.
The second is to team with other companies that do have past performance and combine your efforts. This is what I’m trying to do right now. A few months ago I was contacted by a GIS firm in San Diego. They do all sorts of environmental things but they don’t have archaeologists on staff. After finding me on LinkedIn we decided to pursue contracts with an archaeology component together. Since they have over 25 years of experience I’m able to piggy back on that a bit. Unfortunately, they don’t have any direct archaeology experience so we are still forced to submit “neutral past performance” (NPP) proposals.
After the declaration of NPP, however, we have a section called “Relevant Past Performance”. It’s here that the other company, hereafter referred to as the “primary” puts down similar government contracts they’ve one and where I put down projects that I’ve managed for other companies that are similar. It’s not the best solution but it’s better than nothing.
Recently, we’ve added a third company to our team. This is actually an archaeology CRM firm and they’ve been in business for the past 33+ years. They have seen and done it all. Most of the experience is in California, which doesn’t help too much for Nevada, but, they have some great projects that we can put down in the PP section. I’d love to partner with a firm here in the Great Basin but the ones I’ve talked to aren’t interested. Everyone is just interested in making the most money possible and don’t see how a teaming arrangement can actually be better for both companies in some cases. For example, I can do fieldwork at half the cost of some of the larger firms. I can also digitize site forms at half the cost.
So how does a contract work when you have three companies? Well, it depends on their capabilities. Since the San Diego firm is the primary that means they are dealing with the contract. They except payment from the government and they submit all reports and other deliverables. When they get paid, we get paid. That’s the only real downside. It could take months to get paid for fieldwork or any phase of the project.
For most of the projects we’re teaming on I’ll be responsible for all of the fieldwork and most of the report writing. Since the primary is a GIS firm they will handle all of the site sketch and location maps and any other maps required by the project. That saves me from either doing it myself or sub-contracting the work out.
The third Arch firm, since they are based in central CA, will handle some report writing and mostly quality assurance. I’m relying on their experience to make sure the report is top notch and as good as it can be. My goal is zero comments on the draft report and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
These arrangements might change from time to time based on the needs of the project but this is the general layout. For example, some field employees might be employed by the GIS firm and the third arch firm might do some of the fieldwork.
So, this is my strategy. If I want to win good-sized government contracts this is the only way I can really do it right now. I think teaming is a good way to do it in the future too. We all need to share the wealth and learn to work together. When firms try to do EVERYTHING they end up with expensive employees sucking up profits during slow times. I don’t want a full-time GIS person if I don’t have full-time work for them. I’d rather they stayed busy by working with a number of firms and only work with me when I need it.
Also, I wouldn’t mind doing fieldwork for a firm that has too many field projects going on and can’t handle one more but won the contract anyway. They can write the report if they want, but, I’ll do the fieldwork. Like I said, we all need to work together to survive.
I’ll let you know how this teaming thing goes and what works and what doesn’t.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field.