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6 Ways to Break the Rules
Investments in things like training, process development, and software or the use of consultants are much more difficult to get approved in an economic downturn, no matter how important they might be to growing your business.  But you don't have to go without if you're willing to break the "rules" and think outside of the box.  Doing things the way they have always been done is not a good survival strategy for an economic downturn. 

If you try to do things the same way they've always been done, all you can do is trim around the edges or go without.  However, many things follow the 80/20 rule. If you are willing to settle for 80% of the potential value then you may be able to get it at 20% of the normal cost. 

Training is a good example.  You can get most of the value of training in the form of manuals and written materials.  Yeah, you give up a lot, but you get it at a tiny fraction of what instructor-led training costs.  But mix in a portion of online training with written materials, and suddenly you getting most of the value and still way under cut the normal cost.  Add in some webinars for remote interaction and questions, and you've got nearly all of the value and are still way under the normal cost.

Here are some other alternative approaches that are affordable:

  1. Do things online instead of in-person.  Don't be trapped into thinking that online is just not the same as in-person.  It isn't the same, but it doesn't have to be.  It just has to be good enough.  And in some ways it may be better.  There are so many options these days for doing things online.  Here are some you may not have considered:
    • Use software that lets you share your desktop and simultaneously edit or write a document with multiple people in real-time. 
    • Hook up webcams and have a poor man's video conference. 
    • Use webinars to hold online meetings with presentations and file sharing in addition to the audio conference. 
    • Record messages, video, and presentations for online distribution and time-shifting.
  2. Use Facilitation instead of outsourcing. Don't think that using a consultant necessarily means handing off the project to them or committing to a large number of hours. If you need outside expertise or additional resources, instead of asking them to do the proposal, ask them to review your work or be available to guide you through the process.  An hour or two a day can help prevent you from getting stuck and help you achieve the quality you desire without engaging a consultant full-time.
  3. Think Coaches instead of managers.  Don't assume that the most senior person should be in charge of all the details. I've worked with a couple of companies where I functioned as a coach instead of the manager.  They used their own staff to do the business and proposal development.  I made sure their staff knew what to do and how to do it.  They were able to use junior level staff to do senior level work.  And overtime, their junior level staff grew their skills until they could stand on their own.  I'd generally start with a couple of days per week, and then over a year or two, wean them down to a couple of days per month.  When you consider what it would cost to hire a senior manager and more experienced staff, they really made out well.  
  4. Use process like an assembly line.  Instead of thinking of your process as sophisticated, complex, and comprehensive, try designing it to simplify. The term "cookie-cutter" proposals is synonymous with "bad proposals." Instead of trying to turn your proposal content into re-useable parts, try turning your process into re-useable parts.  We have found with our process documentation that many of the considerations and decision criteria can be standardized, enabling:
    • Activities to be guided so that people don't have to wait until they are told what to do
    • Criteria for making decisions to be mapped ahead of time and simply followed instead of deliberated
    • Baseline quality standards, review scopes, and validation criteria to be set ahead of time and simply implemented instead of being planned
    The result is that people can work much, much faster because they don't have to discuss all the details about what to do and how to do it (or even whether to do it). 
  5. Do more of the work yourself.  Just because you don't know how or aren't experienced at something, doesn't mean you can't do most of it. If you have a written process you can identify the parts of it that you can do yourself and only outsource the parts that you really must.  It will also make the handoffs and expectation management go much more smoothly.
  6. Approach training differently.  Your company does not need training --- it needs to discover solutions to problems and enhance the skills of its staff. Traditional approaches to training are expensive and separate from the work that you need to get done.  In our program we identified a dozen different ways that training could be used as a solution.  Instead of implementing a comprehensive and expensive training program, a highly focused unit on where you feel the most pain may meet your needs.  Another alternative is to look at training as an enterprise and not as individual students.  We treat enterprise training as a fixed price offering, so that the more who participate, the more the cost per student goes down.  We also break apart the sessions so that you don't have to take key staff away from their projects for days at a time. 

You need to invest in order to grow, but instead you have to cut back.  In the current economic environment you can't keep going the way you have been.  We find that when you are clear and extremely focused on what you actually need, you can often find approaches that involve some sacrifice but still fulfill your most critical needs. 

We discovered a lot of the techniques above by reengineering the business development and proposal process. You are welcome to use our process or you can find ways to implement them on your own.  We've also developed a set of out-of-the-box enterprise solutions that are available to you or you may emulate our approaches to create your own solutions.

By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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