What’s new for 2010?

The excitement and challenges of 2009 – new clients, new focus, many networking and collaboration opportunities – was only marred by an increasing struggle with an on-going health issue, which over several years had left me drained, anaemic and underweight. In December new treatment began and the results were immediate. Nevertheless, a solid break to recover fully was advised and – given there’s generally a lull in my line of work over Christmas and the New Year – I took that advice wisely and spent most of the festive period irritating friends and colleagues via Twitter, from the comfort of my sofa. Now, it’s half past January and I’m gradually returning to my daily routine, while determined not to push myself into ‘full steam ahead’ mode too soon.

One resolution this year is to be a little more strict with myself over the amount of time I give to unpaid or ‘pro bono’ type work. Sometimes, those relationships really do turn into solid gold opportunities for both me and my client, whether it’s in terms of actual cash coming in for them (and enabling me to be paid from then on) or by developing a relationship that sparks ideas and brings further opportunities. However, as much as I would like to give the best of my brain to those brand new and struggling organisations that need it the most, there are only so many hours in a day and days in a week that I can afford to give away. Additionally, having a bit of time off has allowed some long cherished dreams and hobbies to re-awaken and now that I’ve found that renewed interest, I aim to keep them up.

An off-the-cuff discussion – at an event late last year, where I voiced my burgeoning guilt at not being able to give unfunded organisations the support they need at the time they need it most – led to a suggestion to put in for funding for my own business to enable me to carry on helping where help is needed, without suffering financially myself. I hadn’t considered the issue from that angle before, so I’m pondering it now to see if it’s got legs.

Happily, my new website is coming along nicely and I plan to have a comprehensive and useful section containing template versions of the bespoke tracking spread sheets I create for clients, to help them (and me) keep on top of upcoming bid deadlines and the information-gathering that’s needed to meet them.

General advice, top tips and the like will be posted as usual, as and when I write it!

A links section will allow me to point clients in the direction of more help and advice, along with some kind of aggregation of the upcoming bids and/or funds I trawl the ‘net for on a daily basis. I’m currently figuring out the best way to do this to get each type of client where they need to go with minimum fuss.

I also want to make more use of the Fusions network, which was set up by We Share Stuff last year and could be – I think – a really useful place for organisations to find and share opportunities.

A couple of days over at OCN in Wolverhampton – where I was getting up to speed with IV procedures for We Share Stuff’s expanding prospectus – allowed me to meet a lot of good people involved in a wide variety of projects and organisations. I see many collaboration opportunities here and will be contacting those that shared their info with me to see what magic we can all make together in the future.

So that’s my little round up for now. Happy new year and let’s hope 2010 is even more exciting!

Digital Britain – Listen LIVE to Lord Carter on RhubarbRadio.com

Exciting news of great interest!

Please circulate this far and wide… it’s a great chance to get the low-down on the plans for ‘Digital Britain’ as they’re announced and more importantly, it’s a rare opportunity to contribute to and influence this important national debate…

Listen Live to Lord Carter on Rhubarb Radio as he launches his ‘Digital Britain’ report at the ICC in Birmingham this Wednesday the 17th of June…

Lord Carter’s ‘Digital Britain’ report is expected to set out the government’s policies on a range of media, technology and telecoms issues including universal broadband, internet piracy, the future of Channel 4 and UK public service broadcasting, and possible assistance for struggling local and regional newspaper publishers.

Exclusive interviews and highlights will be broadcast live throughout the day on www.rhubarbradio.com . Mp3 podcasts will also be available to download from the site.

Lord Carter is due to speak at 11 a.m. and his keynote talk will be followed at around 12.15, by Iain Gray, Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Strategy Board, who will outline how the detail of the report will be delivered.

Roundtable debate and workshops that explore the report’s key themes will continue throughout the afternoon and listeners will have the opportunity to participate in the live-debate by posting their comments on the station’s blog.

http://www.rhubarbradio.com/

Z


Let’s be friends (I’ve found someone else)

Our love affair is ailing
My passion’s fading fast
Did we just grow apart
Or am I living in the past?

I know change can be good
We all must learn and grow
But you seem so very different
From the one I used to know

I’m trying to get acquainted
With your new identity
And I’m glad you’re making progress
But you’re really losing me

Ah, once we were so close
My whole life was yours to share
But the new you seems so cold
As if you just no longer care

Now there’s too much information
Familiarity breeds contempt
You’ve forgotten I’m a person
And not a sales event
 
I still don’t want to lose you
And I will still keep in touch
But from now on I’m with Twitter
So you won’t see me that much

I’m just a simple girl
I only need one glance, one look
I can do that in 140
I don’t need the whole Facebook

;-)

Z

Responding to tender invitations: top tips

Tenders. Does the very word make your brain feel ‘tender’?

They can seem daunting and sometimes incomprehensible. Never fear: These top tips – gathered from my own experience on both sides of the tender minefield – will help you make sense of the jargon, understand the lengthy list of ‘rules’ and help you feel more confident when that next opportunity presents itself.

First of all though, what is a tender?

Businesses, particularly those who are publicly funded in some way, put out opportunities in the form of a tender invitation in order to ensure a level playing field, transparency and to avoid ‘insider dealings’. To achieve this, tenders come in a variety of forms from low value opportunities where you may be able to bid for one or more ‘lots’ (elements of a service) to framework agreements where you may ‘win’ a place on their preferred supplier list (with no guarantee of actual work). They may be for a fixed period of time or they may be extendable. All have their place and each is decided depending upon the nature of the required good or service. (A further post will go into more detail about the different types of tender and what they mean)

As a supplier, you may respond on your own or you may choose to embark on a joint venture (JV) with other relevant companies to make up a comprehensive service offering. Either way, the bare necessities do need to be covered in your response (and preferably more, although additional information may not be allowed in stricter processes). Here are the basics, feel free to contact me for more in depth or specific information should you need it.

  1. Get in there early. Tenders are often advertised in a few places. All tenders, depending on the type, must be advertised for a specific length of time before the closing date. A good starting place to look for opportunities is in the more serious newspapers, industry magazines (on or offline) and council websites (under ‘Procurement’). The earlier you find out about a tender, the more time you will have to complete the response fully. Tenders falling under EU public procurement rules are advertised on TED (Tenders Electronic Daily). Sign up for email alerts on TED and on council websites. These allow you to specify areas of interest and will send tender notices straight to your inbox. If you have a budget for developing new business, consider investing some of it in a registration fee to have more detailed information sent to you; for example Supply2.gov lists contracts of interest to smaller business looking to supply the public sector. Registration and some regional listings are free with the ability to pay to upgrade for further regions.
  2. Express your interest. Many tenderers request Expressions of Interest (EOI) to start the ball rolling. They may want to gauge how may responses they are likely to get or they may require you to specify how you intend to respond (in hard copy or via email, for example). They may ask for specific company information at this point or they may issue a Pre Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) between the EOI and the Invitation To Tender (ITT). It is wise to send your EOI as soon as possible. Alterations to the specification or deadline date may not reach you in time unless you have registered your intention to bid.
  3. Read everything carefully. Whether it is a simple email advising of some instruction or other or the full tender documentation, take the time to read it all. Even tenders for similar services advertised by the same organisation may have subtle differences. Miss something and you may find your response is disqualified for the tiniest of reasons. With fairness rules in play, don’t expect an exception to be made, even if it’s a genuine error of omission. See if they have noted any ‘weighting’. They may be expecting a lot of similar costings and may place greater value on quality or service delivery. Keep these weightings in mind when writing your response.
  4. Decide whether it’s really for you. The time you and your staff spend putting a tender together is still a cost; an overhead. Look at the expected volume of work over the length of the contract. If it’s a framework (preferred suppliers list), how many other suppliers are going to be on that list? Will you be competing with huge conglomerates with oodles of cash and staff? If you are going for a joint bid with another company, do you know if they are up to the task? Use this information and more, which you can gather from the specification, to determine whether it’s worth going for.
  5. Request clarification. If there is information missing from the specification that you need to know in order to put a workable response together, ask. Usually you can do this by email, occasionally it may have to be via snail mail. If a point or clause seems confusing or unclear, ask for it to be spelled out. Tenderers will expect requests for clarification and often have this aspect timetabled in to their process. More often than not, all requests for clarification will be answered in one go, on a specified date, with all questions and answers published to all other potential responders.
  6. Make a note of all deadlines. Then give yourself time to meet those deadlines – and a bit extra. You never know when the photocopier or printer is going to break down or the person you’re relying on for some of the content is going to be ill. Similarly, with responses submitted electronically through the tenderers e-portal (procurement website), give yourself time to upload the documents and factor in IT issues. While you can’t plan for everything, do try to give yourself some leeway so that you’re not rushing to finish at the last minute. A rushed response is a recipe for missing something crucial.
  7. Read everything again. No, really, I’m serious. How many copies of the response do they require and in what format? Are you allowed to include supporting information, such as brochures? Do you need to include CVs of all involved in the delivery of the work? COSHH and other safety certificates? Can you ‘brand’ your response or must it only be in the format they have sent you? Any of these things could get all your hard work disqualified.
  8. Answer all questions, expand if you can. The tenderer will be giving your response to an assessment panel, which may or may not include people with no knowledge of your particular industry or sector. Make sure your answers are understandable to virtually anyone. After a few tenders, you will have built up a bank of answers to certain types of question, which can then be modified as and when to suit further tenders. If you have the opportunity to do so, expand on the point using your company’s skills, internal procedures and experience to show why you would be the best supplier. The question may ask for a yes or no answer; give yourself the edge by telling them why as well. Only do this if allowed within the terms of the tender invitation.
  9. Take care with presentation. A scruffy response says a lot about the company that sent it. Regardless of specified ‘weightings’, or extremely strict limitations on answers, the overall presentation should be smart and clean. If you have the opportunity to brand your response with your corporate identity, do so (except the packaging, see point 10.). If you are allowed to, make it stand out from the rest, with relevant images (your product in use; your company in place at a previous happy customer’s premises etc.). Now that you’ve followed all the rules and restrictions and answered everything perfectly, be creative in your document presentation, show them your company’s best side.
  10. Make certain it gets there! (but not too certain). I’ll explain. The rules of fairness dictate that all responses arrive, unmarked, by a certain date and time. No responses will be opened and assessed until a pre-agreed date, usually a few days after the closing date. It is essential, then, that your response conforms to the packaging and labeling format set out in the instructions. If you have franked the envelope with your company logo, it will be disqualified and returned to you unopened. There must be no way of knowing which tender response is which until the moment they are officially opened. As for the return date and time, make sure it gets there before that deadline. If the deadline is 12:00pm on a certain date, responses arriving at 12:01pm will be disqualified, whether sent in hard copy form or electronically. If possible, either deliver it by hand or have a reputable courier take it for you. Specify the time deadline and that your company name is not to be revealed on delivery. As for checking it got there – check with your courier, not with the tenderer. If you have labeled it correctly, then the signature your courier obtained will be enough. Bear in mind that if you check with the tenderer – “We had a package delivered and signed for by a Mr Smith, can you see if it’s got to the right department” – you run the risk of revealing which package is yours, leading to instant disqualification.

At this point, I should reveal one of the horrors of tendering. Sadly, Royal Mail cannot guarantee delivery, even if you have paid for special delivery at a specified time the next day. As consequential loss won’t apply (other than to the cost of the paper and binding – no response is guaranteed to win, so you can’t claim for lost business) the best you’ll get is the postage cost back, if they fail to deliver. That’s a lot of hard work and effort to see go to waste just to save on courier costs. If the bid’s worth the business, fork out for a courier. I know this horror personally, and it ain’t fun.

So there’s a few tips. The process of responding to tenders can be quite tricky to navigate and there’s a lot more to tenders than the ten tips above can possibly describe. But if you follow those tips as a basic checklist, you’re on your way to producing quality, thought out responses, that are worth the effort and meet the deadline.

Good luck!

Z

Freelance/contract work in a recession – Top Tips

It’s that time again. Yep, the big ol’ hunt for gainful employment. As a long term freelancer/contractor I have to do this on an almost continuous basis to make sure there’s always another door opening just as the last one closes.

It’s always been a slightly arduous task – although the benefits far outweigh the pain – my mother calls me an adrenaline junkie without the cliff. Presently, times are tough. Pretty much all sectors and industries are tightening belts, cutting back and muddling through. Where does that leave us hobos of the corporate world?

Here are some top tips, in no particular order, on how to survive the next leap and how to keep yourself (relatively) sane along the way. Please do add your input and own tips with a comment!

  1. Visit your agencies. Their consultants may have changed; they may have new divisions since you last checked in with them; if it’s been a while, they may simply not remember you! A face to face visit is a great chance to make yourself memorable, talk about the ‘state of the market’ and tell them all about the fabulous new stuff you created/achieved/learned on your last project.
  2. Remain positive! There’s a good reason you chose to earn your living this way. Try and remember what that was and build on it. Give yourself so many reasons to keep going it becomes impossible for you to give up.
  3. Boost your confidence and your profile. Ask around your previous clients/employers for some testimonials. Ask your current client. If they use LinkedIn, ask for a recommendation. These are gold dust. And reading them yourself can give you that little bump of “hm, you know what, I am pretty good at that” whenever a quick shot in the ego is needed.
  4. Stay calm. Life is so much easier when you just stay calm. This is coming from a renowned neurotic, so I know that’s not always as easy as it sounds! Count to ten, breathe in, breathe out and relax. Opportunities often happen in your peripheral vision; you are far more likely to notice them if you’re not totally blinkered by stress.
  5. Update everything! Any network, group or forum you may be a member of: update your profile. Wherever your CV or resume is or your sellers page is online, update that. Sign up to newsletters and email alerts for the opportunities you are now interested in.
  6. Clean out the closet. Metaphorically. Signed up to newsletters/alerts that no longer apply? Ditch ‘em. Still getting the daily round up email from that forum you never go to? Opt out. When the only things landing in your inbox are relevant things for right now, you are much more likely to actually read them. An overflowing inbox full of irrelevant opportunities is a recipe for tedium and procrastination. (Which kind of contradicts 4. but a balance can be struck, I’m sure)
  7. Be confident. Whatever it takes to keep your confidence up, use it. Your clients/prospective employers are feeling this recession too. Any budget they have needs to be spent wisely. Be confident in your dealings with them and they will be reassured. But don’t just act confident, find ways that work for you personally to truly make you shine. (Me, I talk to myself. A lot. We’re good friends)
  8. Stay sharp. Whether you’re a suited ‘n’ booted or casual type, wear your good stuff. You’re a walking advert now. Work it! ;-)
  9. Be flexible. Promised yourself that you’d never work past 4:20pm again? You may need to put a little extra in right now. Aggravating, certainly, but a few extra hours now could mean clocking off at 3:20pm in the long term.
  10. Treat yourself. Doing all this networking, schmoozing, charming and elevator-pitching while working as well is, frankly, bloody knackering. Be nice to yourself and have some fun. Switch off sometimes and tune out. I’ll be in the garden, fancy a cuppa?

Z

Making the most of the minds you employ

Or, why buy a dog and bark yourself (especially if you are paying extra for ‘pedigree’)

Admittedly, this post has been brought on by a recent event, however it’s an issue I come across at some point during most assignments, both personally and as an observer.

In a bid to avoid a ‘why oh why oh why’ post, I will look at the issue from a more positive angle. The issue being:

Recruit experience; pay for experience: use experience

Employers spend a great deal of time defining, recruiting and reference checking for a post they have decided their company needs to fill. Undoubtedly posts are generally created after a gap of some sort is highlighted, usually a skills gap. Whether the post is full time, temporary, freelance, contract or other, time – and therefore money – will have gone into assessing the needs of the company and the level of experience required; advertising and recruiting; interviewing and reference checking; inducting and desking, among other costs.

Having sucessfully interviewed, gained proof of experience and decided which candidate is the best for the job, and even after the post-holder has been in the role for many months, many employers still insist on baby-sitting (or micro managing), explaining in great detail the expectations and aims of particular pieces of work and, frequently, the exact manner in which to go about it.

Why is this? It doesn’t make sense, financially or otherwise. Of course, for any task, there are bound to be aspects requiring additional explanation or information in order for the task to be completed well. But for the most part, if the task is one that ordinarily comes under the responsibilities of the post-holder, the chances are they already know how to do it and know – through experience – what the most effective process for doing it is.

I think the issue is about control as well as trust. Certainly, I do find it hard to hand over the reigns to someone else, sure in my mind that because I defined the task, I must know better than anyone how to accomplish it. Nevertheless, it is important that I do hand them over, however worrisome that may be, because to not do so implies that I (believe I) am infalible and that my staff’s experience is of little value.

Alternatively, it could suggest that I don’t trust my own judgement – if I am secure in my belief that I employed the right person, why would I then question their abilities? 

Better results can be gained when experienced people work on the elements of a task best suited to that experience. Beyond ensuring that the delegatee understands the aims and is competent, my role as delegator should include monitoring progress and answering requests for help and/or information. It should not include repeatedly re-explaining the task, concerted effort to make sure it is done ‘my way’ or monitoring so intensively that the monitoring takes up more time than the task itself.

I’m not averse to learning on the job and I value very highly the experience of those I work with, at any level. But I do question the business sense of hiring someone explicitly for their experience and insight and then choosing not to use it. Would you hire a professional decorator at top rates and then keep them sitting there while you explained in minute detail precisely how you wanted the paint brushed on? Would you take your car to an experienced mechanic and then explain just how they should be checking the brake system?

I know, this is a common whinge, especially for freelancers and contractors such as myself. But it’s as  important (if not more, arguably) to me as it is to you that you get the best value for your money – I live by my reputation.

De-skilling those on whom you have spent time and resources is a folly, which businesses cannot afford in these uncertain times. Micro managing every aspect of every project is an unaffordable level of control and is in no way guaranteed to produce the best results, unless you are *exceptionally* multi-talented yourself. Moreover, you, the delegator, will be rushing around, piling stress upon stress, while your delegatees sit and watch, bemused and demotivated, as the project’s quality deteriorates.

Ultimately, those on the receiving end of micro management will come to understand that it is still their reputation held up against an over controlled and unsucessful task, even if their lack of input is not their decision. Sooner or later, they – and their skills and experience – will be enticed elsewhere.

To sum up: Trust yourself. Reliquish control to those whom you have established have the skills to do the job (and are paying to do so).

Project manage, by all means and so you should, but be just as aware that a project done well reflects as much on the project manager as one done badly.

Lead from the front, support and equip your army and glory will be yours ;-)

Z

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updating Facebook Pages

This weekend I am determined to get at least one thing off my ‘to do’ list for my online profile.

I thought, “meh, it’s Saturday morning, ease into it with something simple. I know, Facebook Page

Since then I have been wondering if I’d have been better off doing something less taxing, like fixing the LHC or something.

Trying to put certain information into certain – I feel, more intuitive – places is proving to be difficult. Leaving aside the issues with Twitter streams only posting to your personal profile and not your page, there are several other annoyances that make me wonder if the ‘new & improved’ style is going to lead me to drop the page altogether sooner or later.

As with the previous personal profiles update last autumn, Facebook Pages now splits all your information into different tabs with the option of allowing new or existing page fans to land on one of two – equally bereft of useful information – tabs.

Clickity click click click, scroll, scroll, click….

There’s no one tab where all your contact and communication info and tools can sit, set into a workable layout. A tab containing your basic info, status update (or Twitter stream), Messenger button and latest post headlines, organised in such a way so that all are easily seen/found on landing would seem to be the most sensible option. Instead, you can have your Messenger button either halfway down the left hand column, under your list of fans and other information (you can move it up and down but there are restrictions to what you can have at the top of that column); or you can put it within your Boxes tab, off your main Wall page.

The Information section is still severely limited for content. I would like to have had more specific choices and more areas for customisable wording.

Having installed and then instantly removed the Twitter stream due to it’s inability to differentiate, I find I am also unable to manually update the status on the page too. Click in the box to update and it does nothing.

There are other frustrations too, but I need some breakfast so will leave these for another rant post.

Throw me a frickin’ bone, here

All in all, what used to be a pretty limited but still effective ‘brochure style’ tool has now become a hybrid. Unfortunately, this evolution seems to have missed the point somewhat. It’s now more difficult to find information fast – surely the whole concept of Pages is to disseminate information and allow for better communication between page owners and fans? Making it more time consuming can only be a negative, in my opinion.

Perhaps these are just teething problems. Facebook has surprised a lot of people recently by listening to their users (such surprise giving an indication of just how cynical we have all become in recent years) – perhaps they’ll listen again this time and give us a few tweaks.

When the going gets tough, the tough get…irritated, frankly.

Times are hard enough right now for small businesses and independents: buggering up what should be a really useful, easy to use, tool for interest generation is not going to make life any easier.

Grump over, I’m off for a bacon butty and a shot of spring sunshine.

:-D

080309 – edited for typos and also to go “uhuh, hmmm” to this post not porting over to my Facebook page…

Z

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.