GETTING AN INVITE
I get invited to put a proposal in! Well, this is nice. Then the overthinking starts...
Has someone said nice things about me? Are my erratic attempts at marketing actually working? Did I just appear in a Google search when they were stuck for someone to make up the numbers?
Am I wasting my time?
Am I the right fit? Do I have what they’re after? Can I fit it in? Things like timescales, budget and the scale of what they need are whirring around in my head. (More on these later)
What are my chances?
I have no idea. Am I one of a specially selected few? Am I making up the numbers for their 3-quote rule? Has it been sent to a cast of thousands?
(I was once directly invited to submit a proposal for a piece of work. They forgot to use Bcc and it turned out so had at least 20 other independents and agencies. I gave it a miss.)
GOING FOR IT
I decide on this occasion maybe I have a chance…
How do I get in?
I go in. Well, I try. The first step is navigating ‘the portal’. But I’m up to the challenge. That must be part of the test. Then I download the 17 attachments and work out which one is the brief. I try to get my head around the form. ‘If yes, please provide details in questions 1.1(a) (i), (a) (ii) and to 2.1(b) (i), (b) (ii), 3.3, Section 4 and 5.’ Ok.
What does that mean?
I work my way through the brief and get to know some fairly serious strategies, working groups and funding programmes. I’m all over the acronyms. It’s a good job I studied local government as a second language.
That’s a bit personal?
Legal structures. Self-cleaning status*. How much money my business is making. Shoe size of each sub-contractor. It takes a bit of researching, but I’m on it.
*Nothing to do with washing, it turns out.
I need £10m public liability insurance to run an online survey?
It’s their blanket insurance policy, apparently. No budging, it’s out of their hands. I assure them my surveys aren’t that bad. But then I start doubting myself. Maybe they are? Is £10 million enough?
Are those timescales right?
This might be because I’m only little, but that looks like a lot of work in not a lot of time. But if that’s what they need, I won’t let them down. I’ll bring in some freelance friends to help me. I’ll work like mad for a few weeks. Evenings in front of Masterchef can wait.
How long is a piece of string?
It’s one of those briefs that focuses on outcomes – ‘this is what we want to achieve, we’ll leave the methodology up to you’. Sounds good. I have a few ideas. I’ll work out the scale needed from the budge....Ah, it’s one of those ‘we want best value so we’re not telling you the budget’ ones too. That’s not a lot to go on. I ask a few questions which gives me a better idea of how long the string needs to be. I’ve narrowed it down to somewhere between a shoestring and a yarn.
I explain to my confused insurer why I need to up my levels. I spend some time researching acronyms. I have a best guess at how long the string needs to be. And then I send something off. Fingers crossed…
Have they forgotten about me?
I’ve not heard anything yet, but it’s only been a few days. Relax. Give them time. Another few days go by. Should I chase? But I don’t want to annoy them. They’ll be in touch soon. I wait. Still nothing. This isn’t looking good, is it?
Is it me?
I get ‘the email’. The one that starts with “Unfortunately, on this occasion…”. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last. I’m fine.
It always hurts a bit. I try to take the positives. Tell myself I didn’t want it anyway. At least I won’t miss Gregg Wallace and his desserts. Who am I kidding?
Part of me wants to sulk and give up. But I need to know why. What did I do wrong? I ask for feedback. After some polite chasing, I get some. Areas I can improve. Things I missed. What the successful bidder has that I don’t. They don’t hold back but I take it all in.
Is it just me?
Sometimes it feels like it. But probably not.
Adam Pearson runs Pearson Insight, a freelance research agency for the public, cultural and not-for-profit sectors. He is a Certified Member of the Market Research Society (CMRS) and in 2019 he was named the UK’s New Freelancer of the Year by IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed). This article first appeared on Adam’s personal blog page on July 28th, 2020: https://pearsoninsight.co.uk/blog/behind-the-scenes-of-a-research-proposal