A few months ago, we received a call from a publisher. He was looking to have a comprehensive management audit conducted on his operations. My firm and several others were being invited to submit proposals. He offered to provide a lot of background documents to help in preparing the proposal. His request for proposal specified that the a detailed description of the methodology that would be used in conducting the audit must be included along with pricing information.
We're always pleased to give free ballpark estimates based on a clients description of a project. However, this publisher was looking for something we honestly couldn't do.
Giving a detailed description of how we'd carry out an analysis of this client's business would require that we first acquire a detailed understanding of the business itself. No two publishing operations are the same. There are different people and personalities, different sizes of operations, different resources and facilities. And they all impact how we would conduct an audit and make recommendations. It's just not possible to get sufficient insight only from documents provided by the client.
That's why we have a long-standing policy of declining invitations to bid on large, amorphous projects like this one. (We can, however, prepare such proposals on a retainer basis.)
We offered this client an alternative: We would conduct a preliminary analysis of his operations for a modest price. This would involve starting with the client's self-identification of problem areas, making our own assessment, taking stock of strengths and weaknesses and of the organization's readiness for change, and finally of its resources for supporting and effectuating change. The result would be a detailed assessment report including recommendations.
This made a lot of sense to the client, and we went ahead with the project. Our feedback shed light on key issues that needed to be addressed, and suggesed approaches for a remedial course of action. The client was both pleased and surprised. What surprised him most was that this preliminary analysis actually accomplished all he was looking for from the "comprehensive management audit" that he was seeking bids on. And we were able to provide it to him for a fraction of the cost he originally envisioned.