Qocreate’s CEO, Mike Huckleberry, founded the company in early 2016 after working in technical writing and proposal management for more than a decade. He lives in Mendocino County, California.
How did you find your way to owning a proposal agency?
I started working proposals as a pricing analyst back in 2006, working on large telecom bids. This required an extreme level of detail and a complete understanding of how the work gets done. We were pricing well, but losing bids on technical evaluations. So, I decided to switch to writing the technical solutions. Since then, I've worked on and won many proposals because of the technical merits of the solutions.
But many companies struggle to consistently turn out high-quality content in a short time. This is where Qocreate's system comes in. We use single-source content, updated on a quarterly basis, to feed management, past performance, resume, and technical input for proposals. So, when a proposal drops, we're 70% of the way there on day one. Starting my own company allowed me to put this solution in place and share it with others. And it seems to be working!
There are lots of proposal shops of all sizes. What’s Qocreate’s niche?
We're a perfect fit for small to mid-size businesses ($2M - $25M) who need dedicated and top-tier proposal support. These companies tend to over-spend on high-priced consultants and systems, and end up with unnecessary overhead and underperforming proposals. We provide as-needed proposal management, writing, and graphics support. Our near $300M in revenue supporting clients in this range proves that our work has been and continues to be successful.
The company tagline is “Story. System. Style.” Can you explain a bit how that describes Qocreate’s work in the proposal industry?
Of course! This is really the differentiating element of our service. You might be able to write a winning proposal without a compelling story (we certainly have!), but the core story of an organization drives much more than the narrative of a proposal. It gives people in the organization something to work toward, and leadership a byline to operate from in carrying out day-to-day business. It also gives salespeople a good talking piece for client meetings and serendipitous acquaintances.
When we start working with a client, the first thing we do is try to understand and articulate the story and unique selling proposition of that organization. We also help build the media and material to communicate that story (e.g., websites, video, marketing collateral).
The system is how we create, maintain, and use data and information to complete proposals as quickly as possible. When you have a compelling story and a means of quickly accessing up-to-date information, writing a proposal becomes much, much easier. By developing a series of single-source documents (i.e., for past performance, management vol., technical solutions, etc.), we give clients exactly what they need to write winning proposals.
As for style, we like to look good. We have designers, photographers, videographers, and marketers on staff to help make sure a client's look matches their story. And that it's something that will attract people in their industry. Helping with style is often the most fun part of the job!
All of these things together - Story, System, Style - give a structured, beautifully simple way to manage proposal work. Because of this approach, we're especially efficient in our work, which gives us time to continue learning and getting better. Because, let's face it: proposals can be burdensome and really stressful. Anything we can do to help lighten the load and give some time back to people working hard on these things is a win-win for everyone.
You also handle branding and marketing for client small businesses, which is unusual if not unique in the industry. Why do you think those concepts are important for businesses that primarily deal with government clients?
Government contractors have a tendency to think that marketing doesn't matter. In fact, the heart of marketing is the story and the unique selling proposition. This provides the foundation for everything a company does - from the work they seek, to the employees they hire, to choosing the systems and platforms on which their organizations run.
This is different than a mission or vision. It's the narrative a company wants to live. A fundamental element of proposals is answering the question "why us?" If a company hasn't thought that through enough to generate compelling sales and marketing content, they are going to stumble through every proposal asking the same question and coming up with various answers. This is a substantially and completely underrated drag on time.
Know your story. Articulate it. And use it in every message that goes out the door - proposals included. It works famously in commercial business, not because the sales process is different. It works because the story is the heart of the matter.
What’s your work style?
Creative. Methodical. Serene. Always seeking the new and the better.
Speaking of work style, you live in a naturally beautiful but somewhat remote place. How do you work effectively with your clients and staff?
Our company uses Basecamp to manage all our projects, including coordination with clients. At the moment we have staff working throughout the US and Europe. The freedom of working from anywhere allows us to get the best possible people doing the work, people we enjoy. We track all our projects and tasks on Eastern Standard Time, so we always have a shared goal for delivery. Basecamp allows us to keep all our data and discussion around a given project in one place, which we can reference at any time. It's head and shoulders above the tools that used to be available.
Lastly, being in a remote place means I'm relatively free from distraction. So eight hours of work for me is truly eight hours. Not four hours with lunch breaks, meetings, and watercooler talk.
What’s the number one mistake you think most proposal agencies make?
I think it is often lack of preparation. Bids keep rolling in and companies need revenue. They churn through proposals the way they always have, wasting an enormous amount of resources (time, talent, money).
A month of preparation within a framework that delivers results can save hundreds of hours and reduce resource requirements by as much as 60%. I've seen this firsthand. Proposal shops that used to be six people only require two people to do the work for the number of opportunities they actually have in the pipeline. Or, a proposal shop of 12 people can operate with half the staff and still come out with winning bids.
But you can't gain those efficiencies without planning and putting into place a system for content and getting the best possible answers to requirements in the least amount of time.
What’s Qocreate’s value proposition for small businesses which already employ proposal teams?
Optimal resource use. You run the leanest shop you can, and working with us allows a small business to realize just how much they can do with what they have - and then to understand what more they need to generate the revenue and level of success they desire.
What’s your beverage of choice?
I love water!
Want to chat with Mike about your proposal needs? Email or set a free call with him today.