Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reducing the risk - when's it right to charge for a pitch?

I've pitched for four pieces of work in the last few days. They say you have to speculate to accumulate, but increasingly, I've had to make it clear that I very rarely do unpaid pitch work.

But let me qualify that. The first piece of work was a request direct to me. It meant driving up to the wilds of Shropshire and spending a couple of hours with an HR director shaping his own pitch to his EMEA president for restructuring his company's approach to internal communication. The potential for the work is huge. I know the guy and know that if he can convince his boss of the merits of the programme that it will be a significant earner for me and for a few other people under the Leapfrog umbrella.

I could have charged for my time spent with him - and probably for the travel too. But as far as I'm concerned, it was a good day's business development. If it leads to something over the next few months, fantastic. If it doesn't, then at least I've left a potential client with a good impression of me.

The next two proposals have come my way through consultancies I've worked with in the past, and are a wholly different kettle of fish. Both have sales teams who spend their lives sourcing opportunities and writing proposals, and both inevitably draw in the potential service deliverers to add substance to the proposal document. Equally inevitably, these proposals are competitive and the chances for success vary from pretty good to very slim - especially when the consultancies are pushing at the margins of their skill sets.

Now until recently, their approach has been to expect people like me - 'associates' - to contribute for free - sharing the risk in putting together the proposal with the knowledge that I'll reap part of the reward if they win the work. But then I cottoned on the fact that the in-house people get paid whether they win the work or not. So why should I be giving them free time for their business development? Frankly, I've been a bit of a mug.

Now these two pieces of work combined have taken just over a day. But I've agreed special business development rates with each of the consultancies, so my time is well spent......and it may just encourage me to invest a bit more time and energy into drafting the proposal documents.

I still do the odd freebie though. I got a frantic call from a consultancy at the end of last week to put together a one pager for a third party on methodology, measurement and cost within a communications strategy to support change triggered by some of the UK radio industry's M&A activity. I explained to my contact that I was actually with another client at the time, and what I could get over to him would be real top of head stuff as I munched my lunch time sandwich. Coralling my thoughts took maybe an hour - and the guy got his one pager. That really didn't justify me putting in a bill - but given the delivery plan is mine, I hope to be putting it into practice should that consultancy win the business.

Finally, I got a call this evening from a brand new contact - referred to me by an agency I often work with. It's nice to get the call and I'll happily get involved in the project. However, much of the work appears to be up front, putting together a proposal. This is where being a 'freelance-with-associates' really bites. This may be the most fantastic opportunity, but it's five days - and five days when I could be filling my time with other paid work. So, I've had to make it crystal clear that any time I spend on the proposal will have to be paid-for. I'm happy to charge my most basic rate, but it's one occasion where I simply can't afford to speculate.

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