3 Ways to Expand Your Network and Land New Contracts

Last Updated Jan 24, 2011 3:57 PM EST

Many business owners complain that it's hard to find women and minority contractors, especially in traditionally male industries like construction. Recently, I described Turner Construction's grow-your-own-subcontractors program, which has graduated 32,000 women and minority business owners and project managers.
Here's how one woman business owner, Tamery J. McCrabb, used her experience in Turner's school to develop a network that would expand her business.

One of the smartest elements of the Turner School of Construction Management is that the company matches compatible participants so they can jointly apply for contracts. That was a golden opportunity for McCrabb, whose family-owned specialty metal fabricating company, Cowelco Steel Contractors, was searching for new ways to grow.

"It was a great way to get to know other women in construction," says McCrabb. Because certification is a program requirement, McCrabb says she didn't have to worry that the other women business owners had sufficient qualifications, and she found it easy to find others in sync with her own goals and mindset. McCrabb also picked up important nuances about what made for a successful relationship with Turner or any major construction company -- from the class instructors but also from conversations with other participants. She learned, for instance, details about the company's decision-making process and the best ways to follow up with purchasing managers.

Here are three ways to turn your relationships with other woman-owned businesses into contracts for all of you.

1. Ask big companies to create subcontractor networks. Michelle Ballard, Turner's community coordinator, keeps track of construction school alums with the aim of introducing them as potential project partners. (Small suppliers often submit joint, or "bundled" bids for jobs that none could have handled on their own. While many construction companies accept bundled bids, Turner's approach is to facilitate the supplier relationships that are prerequisite for suppliers to coordinate on a bid.) Ballard also arranges occasional reunions where alums can meet each other...and the latest crop of Turner purchasing agents and project managers.

2.Market yourself as a survivor. The recession has been especially brutal for small companies. If you're still in business, and you can prove your fiscal viability to potential clients, you've neutralized one of their biggest fears: That you'll shut down halfway through the job. That McCrabb's company has survived underscores its ability to manage its finances. Technical capabilities are key, of course, but big contractors also want reassurance that your firm manages its cash flow responsibly, which means you'll be able to get your materials and people to the job on time.

3. Be the solution to the purchasing agent's problem. Some companies have integrated diverse suppliers into their overall purchasing process. For others, finding, vetting and hiring diverse suppliers is an exception to the typical process. Find out which process is typical for each big supplier you want to work with so you can get your firm embedded in the process as a reliable go-to that solves the purchasing agent's headache. Ballard has positioned alums of Turner's school as a pool of pre-qualified contractors who make life easier for the company's purchasing agents and project managers. Instead of scratching around for qualified women and minority contractors, they need only tap into the alumni network.

What tactics have you used to expand your network and land new contracts? Let us know -- especially if you're adopting new approaches to bundled contracts.

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor mconners.