Monthly workshop offers insight on landing contracts with HISD

Twenty-five small business professionals learned insider secrets to landing a HISD contract at a workshop Wednesday with the district’s supplier diversity team.

The monthly workshop provided small business owners, including minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs), keys to success on doing business with HISD, insight on the district’s procurement process and the importance of knowing what services and products are necessary to effectively and efficiently operate the district.

The procurement services department is committed to increasing the participation of M/WBEs for general supplies and services, classroom supplies, technology equipment, warehouse operations, food services, and cafeteria equipment.

“We’re trying to find the right products for the right price at the right time,” said Bernard Willingham, HISD Team Lead for Supplier Diversity. “You might have great products and services, but we have certain processes you have to follow to get that contract.”

During the workshop, he encouraged attendees to know their customer, demonstrate an understanding of customer needs and problems and find a way to provide data driven solutions for the customer’s challenges. Knowing who the company’s gatekeepers are and building relationships with them is also beneficial.

“You have to be able to prove you belong on the other side of the gate,” said attendee John Tates of Tates Contracting, LLC. “This is why it’s so critical to know your market and what you’re selling.”

Willingham advised attendees to make a business case that offers relevant information on their business and what they’ve done to be successful by highlighting statistics, return on investment, relevancy, quantified value and what makes the business unique. He recommended attending HISD pre-bid and pre-proposal meetings that provide details on district project specifics which help individuals become more familiar with the HISD procurement process.

Businesses can also see firsthand what HISD is buying by accessing an online project calendar list of HISD’s existing business contracts, which contains information on the companies HISD is currently doing business with and when those contracts expire.

“How often do you get an opportunity to see what your competition is doing?” Willingham asked. “This is going to help you identify what you can offer us in a better way. … The majority of our bids are awarded on best value compared to best price because it’s important to make sure the businesses we work with can meet our expectations.”

Within the district’s 2012 bond program, which will build and renovate 40 schools, awarded prime contractors are asked to meet specific M/WBE spend goals in the project scope of work. The higher their M/WBE spend, the better their evaluation will be from HISD, Willingham said. The district’s current M/WBE commitment is 51 percent for professional services for the 2012 bond program.

“I’ve never had a HISD contract, so I want to see if there are opportunities for my company,” said Duni Hebron of the Emerald Group, Inc., a business consulting firm. “This (workshop) was helpful in learning the basics of the procurement process and why we need to get to know the buyers and the decision makers better.”