Whether you’re a civil engineer designing a water-treatment plant, interior designer outfitting a modern loft space, or plumber battling with exploding pipes, one thing is certain: You are in the business of being in business. And small-business success requires some hustling to find new clients and keep projects coming your way.

Much like hunters after big game, there are two kinds of business people: Those who cautiously select their project (prey) and fire off a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) like a single shot breaking the dawn, and those who fire at anything that moves, peppering the wilderness with SOQs spread far and wide like buckshot from a shotgun.

The question is, should you aim carefully and selectively pull the trigger on SOQs, or fire at every possible project with a metaphoric proposal canon? It depends on your prey.

Some project managers believe that maximizing their chances of winning bids requires careful observation and selection. Others will tell you that clients only show interest in hiring those who submit a Statement of Qualifications to every Request for Proposals (RFP). Some project managers even fear that not replying to every RFP will garner a bad reputation.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: Submitting an SOQ is more than just sending up a flag that says, “Hire me!” It is a means by which you maintain a long-term relationship with a new client or potential client, and it is the relationship that matters most.

On any safari, different prey requires different tactics. And in the world of business, different clients require different relationships. For the small-business owner with limited resources, there are a couple approaches to building relationships:

Tactic #1: Instead of wasting resources on every RFP that crosses your desk, try reallocating some of that time to visiting your clients between projects. Take key clients to lunch, send a handwritten birthday card, or bring doughnuts if you’re in the area. Time spent maintaining relationships with clients between projects can pay dividends when large projects present themselves. It’s also a great way to transform clients into friends and long-lasting partners.

Tactic #2: You may also come to understand that some clients do not want to be bothered between projects. They may not want to be your Facebook friend or LinkedIn contact. So treat these clients with the respect they request and fall back on the strategy of replying to every RFP they send out. Use that avenue to show your active interest and willingness to perform.

Whatever strategy you choose on the hunt, it begins with getting to know your prey… er, client. Want to bring home that big-trophy project? Keep these five tips in mind:

1. Be on the lookout for new clients, not just new projects.

2. Do research on clients to ensure that your services are the right fit.

3. Make contact, preferably before a project RFP is out.

4. Gauge whether a client likes a personal or more hands-off approach.

5. Respect each client’s style of communication, but stay in touch to keep your company top of mind.

Whether you are hunting a mouse or a moose of a project, there are ways to hedge bets, retain resources, and allow chance to favor the prepared. Stay tuned: Next, I’ll offer tips on how to prioritize your work once you land a project.

How do you decide on which RFPs you submit?


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