Expert Perspectives - To Bid, or Not to Bid

Lauren Raouf
August 16, 2016
The number and variety of projects available on Catalant can make it difficult to decide when and how to pitch for projects. When I started freelancing over a year ago, I developed an approach to bidding that has helped me focus on projects that are a good fit for me.

Step One: Consider where you want to play before you browse projects.

Having a clear game plan prior to exploring projects will help you stay focused on the right opportunities.
  • Review your previous experience. What industries (e.g., consumer, retail, health care) and what functions (e.g., pricing, marketing, IT, HR) have you focused on during your career and how long did you spend doing each? What have you done most recently? Clearly defining your areas of expertise will help you identify the opportunities for which you are best positioned.
  • Develop a future direction and vision. Past work you’ve completed on Catalant is an important driver for winning future projects, so look for postings that will build out your personal portfolio of experience. For example, retail and consumer goods are two areas that often pair well together. If you have experience in one, you may want to work on developing your expertise in the other to give yourself more flexibility over time. If availability of retail work slows, there may be a consumer project you can pick up instead.
  • Decide your non-negotiables. Decide how much you want to work, if you’ll travel and, if so, how much – and how flexible you’re willing to be about your preferences.
  • Be financially prepared. Make sure you’re ready to go freelance from a financial perspective – especially since you likely won’t win work on day 1. Know your budget and cash flow situation to make sure you can get pricing that works for you. Having alternative revenue sources and/or cash are critical to weathering the early periods of your freelance career and allow you to bid strategically on projects that are a great fit for you.

Step Two: Create an elevator pitch on your core focus areas.

Having a concise message will allow you to respond quickly to projects you find interesting without needing to create new materials and talking points each time.
  • Develop your pitch. Create a short summary of your expertise and "proof points" – how have you stood out in relevant previous projects and experiences that will be relevant to a client who's looking for help on those topics?
  • Don’t overthink it. There’s no need to overanalyze this elevator pitch process as it will continue to evolve as you develop your expertise, see what projects are commonly available on the platform, and receive feedback from prospective clients. Getting started with a high level vision today will enable you to take a more refined approach for future projects.

Step Three: Be strategic about the projects you pursue.

Review project listings – daily when you’re first getting started, a bit less frequently when your schedule is fully booked – to see which ones you’re interested in. Then, filter them down to the subset you may actually want to pursue. I ask myself the following questions when I’m considering whether or not to bid:
  • Am I confident that I can bring the necessary expertise and approach to address the client’s core business objectives? It’s impossible to be 100% certain about this unless you are the world’s foremost expert on a topic (congratulations if you are!), but I can usually narrow my focus to opportunities where I can make a strong case for my capabilities, past experience, and thought leadership.
  • Does the project fit with my functional and industry expertise, and/or is it a strategic area I want to develop further expertise in? While I try to do a mix of both kinds of projects, I am always clear with the client about the aspects of the project I have existing strengths in and where I am still developing expertise. This means I sometimes have a lower win rate than someone who’s focused on “sure bets,” but I always learn something from pitching projects that are a bit of a stretch for me. I’ve found that stepping outside of my comfort zone has better positioned me for future bids in that area.
  • Can I fit the client into my schedule? It is much better to be upfront about your availability than to try to do too many things at once. Unless a project is clearly urgent with a hard deadline, there is often some willingness to negotiate timeline and hours if you can get the client excited about working with you. Setting realistic (not optimistic) expectations at the start will position you for a successful relationship with the client, so don’t overcommit!
  • Do I think the budget is attractive enough for me to be interested in the project? When I first joined the Catalant platform I worked on projects with fairly small budgets to prove myself. Over time, I began to pitch and win bigger projects and my project portfolio changed significantly. There have also been times when I've suggested budgets that were either higher or lower than the client suggested, and I’ve learned that it’s not always necessary to assume the budget is set exactly at the initial range in the project posting. If you’re going to suggest a budget outside the client’s initial range, it's important to explain why you have different assumptions than the client and provide opportunities for negotiation. Always aim to negotiate on scope rather than your rate – if someone doesn't value your time and expertise it's not going to be a good fit.
  • Does the project fit my key lifestyle requirements (hours, location, on-site vs. offsite)? If the project clearly doesn’t fit your non-negotiables, it’s usually worth waiting a bit for something that does. If nothing comes through, you may have to start relaxing these requirements.
  • Am I excited about the work and the clients I’ll be working with? Don’t underestimate the importance of chemistry with clients. I’ve turned down some solid-looking projects because I didn’t feel there was a good match with the client, instead taking on other projects that were less exciting or lucrative on the surface with people I was excited to work with. I don’t regret missing out on the first set, and the second set tended to evolve into stronger client relationships with more interesting follow-on work.
While it would be nice to win everything you bid on, the Catalant platform is very competitive so even the most experienced experts don’t have a perfect hit rate. If you’re not losing some bids over time, you’re probably not stretching yourself as much as you should, either on price or your personal development. Attempt to learn something from every client pitch you make and continue to refine your expertise and pitching capabilities. Seek out feedback from lost bids, mentors, and successful consultants to diagnose the issues you’re running into. It may take some time to get this right, but the added effort will pay off over time. Good luck and happy bidding!

About the Author

Lauren Raouf

Lauren Raouf is a consultant focused on the retail and consumer goods industries, with a particular interest in food and beverage companies. After spending five years working at the Boston Consulting Group in Washington DC and London, she’s made her way to Chicago and helps companies understand consumer behavior and the organizational requirements needed to deliver growth and change.

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