Tapping into big projects takes planning, teamwork
Tapping into big projects takes planning, teamwork
Small-business operators in northern B.C. go to 'boot camp' to learn how to get contracts with multinational corporationshttp://www.vancouversun.com/business/Tapping+into+projects+takes+planning+teamwork/8882852/story.html
Like many small business owners, Shirley Moon believed the expansion in industrial projects in northern B.C. presented growth opportunities for the plumbing and heating company she owns with her husband.
What Moon found frustrating was the closed door she often faced when trying to gain the attention to the large companies involved in the projects. A seminar she attended in Prince George last winter, sponsored by the Northern Development Initiative Trust, supplied her with some of the resources and tools needed to open the door to those businesses.
In the past, Moon tried to be an expert in every part of the business, from marketing to sales and customer service. The seminar convinced her she didn't have to do everything herself.
"That kind of twigged me on a few things," said Moon, who operates J C's Water Works Ltd. in Vanderhoof. "There comes a point in small companies where they have to let somebody else with more expertise do things. It just kind of opened my eyes because we had been so busy with our nose to the grindstone, it made me start thinking there are things out there that can help us through some of these things that we may not be able to do as good a job as we should, because we are so busy juggling everything."
With help from Northern Development, the firm built a webpage, updated the company profile and made their logo "a little more jazzy." Moon also arranged to get the business bonded to make it more attractive for prospective clients. The company employs a dozen people.
"It made me think my husband and I don't have to be experts on everything," Moon said. "There are people out there. As long as I'm willing to pay the bill, they will help us through some of that stuff."
An estimated $70 billion in industrial growth is scheduled for northern B.C. with projects including mining, power, transportation and potential liquefied natural gas.
Renata King of Northern Development said local small businesses are undergoing a philosophical shift as they learn how to gain a share of the development.
"The challenge for these guys is, historically, they've been able to do business eyeball to eyeball on a handshake," said King, Northern Development's director of business development. "They are dealing with their neighbours, they are dealing with people they can see.
"Now, the reality is they are dealing with multinationals that have different ways of doing business and different ways of procuring supplies and services."
Over the past 18 months, King has conducted about 15 "supplier contractor boot camps." The goal is to help local northern businesses become a link in the supply chain for big projects.
"They need to deal with multinationals that have procurement managers sitting in Calgary," said King. "What the procurement manager wants to know is do they have the capabilities and what their online presence is, and do they have the capacity of doing the job.
"A lot of these businesses haven't used web-based marketing very well. We are trying to help them understand you have to have a good web presence."
Moon said updating the company's website immediately produced results.
"Since we've launched our little website we've had more calls from other mining outfits looking at us," she said.
Tyler Latimer, manager of the Prince Rupert operations for Bear Creek Contracting Ltd., said simply bidding on a contract can be daunting. "You have to have all your I's dotted and your T's crossed," said Latimer. "It's very competitive.
"You are battling out-of-town companies. You have to enrich your partnerships with local First Nations and you also have to appear hireable and professional to the client. It's a challenge for sure."
Barb van Halderen of All-West Crane and Rigging Ltd. in Quesnel said local companies must adapt to different ways of doing business.
"What we are finding is it's real hard to get work in one of those larger companies," she said. "They have processes that you have to go through in order to become an approved vendor."
A service offered by Northern Development is a competitiveness consulting program to help businesses with the cost of hiring consultants. The consultants can help companies become more efficient and find ways to become suppliers.
Northern Development must pre-approve any consultant. They will cover up to 50 per cent of the cost, up to $30,000.
Bear Creek Contracting is a diversified company that offers general contracting and trucking plus operates Lakelse Air Ltd., which has 14 helicopters that supply mine support and charter services.
The company used the consulting program to hire a Smithers' company to upgrade their website.
"It just allowed for more capital to put some bells and whistles on the site," said Latimer. "It's more in tune with the actual company and the image we are trying to promote and the brand." Northern Development also encourages local businesses to work together when bidding on contracts.
"If you collaborate with your neighbours - you do welding and the other guy does framing - the two of you together could bid on a project and get that work, opposed to somebody coming out of Alberta," said King. "It's just the mindset of dealing with bigger projects."
That's a tactic being used by All-West Crane. The company, which owns seven cranes and employs 10 people, has joined with a steel erecting company to bid on a project.
"They will still do the bidding, but we will work with them on our end of the bidding process," said van Halderen, who owns All-West with her husband.
This fall, Northern Development plans to launch a database called the supply chain connector. It will contain every industrial-related business in northern B.C., making it easier for procurement managers to find the service they need.
Northern Development was created in 2005 by the B.C. government with $185 million in initial funding. It's a regionally operated, economic development funding corporation for central and northern British Columbia that functions independently from government. It provides the funding and helps to identify and pursue new opportunities with the aim of stimulating economic growth and job creation.