This article is part of the SEO for Government Series. You can find the other articles by clicking on the following links:
Government agencies are a unique kind of client. They can be a great source of reliable income for your business or the exact opposite. I know that this definition applies to anything, but I've found that it is especially true when dealing with the strange world of government projects.
In this article, I'll give some advice and insights based on my experience. Of all pieces of this series, this one is the less objective.
Of course, this is something you should expect. Politics is part of doing business with the government (to be fair, it does apply to many private sector companies). However, this is not related to the company's internal politics (you know, those like when a C-level executive is trying to get approval from the board and needs to "make things happen"), but related to external political parties, high-level connections, and such.
This factor can take different forms:
- Projects that are won by political connections and not for the value of the proposal.
- Non-tech-savvy decision-makers that cannot be convinced about a technical approach. They can have zero understanding of what it requires to create a technological solution, therefore imposing artificial limits, deadlines, or requirements.
- Wrong budgets allocation that cannot be fixed for bureaucratic circumstances. For instance, too much money for a specific item but not enough for another, with the impossibility of redistributing.
- High demand and need for completion in certain times, especially before elections.
- A sizeable difference in internal collaboration or participation.
It is crucial to understand that many government agencies have some affiliation (since part of their stuff is connected to a party) and expect their providers to be somehow friendly to that.
I understand that keeping a non-political approach is tempting ("we are a company doing business nor more, no less"), but I think we live on times we most companies need to take a standpoint, at least about some critical issues.
Most governmental websites and technology initiatives are part of the central government's good -or bad practices. That adds another layer of complexity since you can find that those directives are contradictory or do not apply to the project, but you have to comply with them anyway.
Fixed priced projects
These projects tend to be tied to a specific budget that is often over or underrated. RFPs are often too open or too narrow since the internal responsible does not have enough clarity about what is essential at the high/strategic level. They are too focused on implementing specific technical solutions instead of leveraging technology to solve issues and create value.
Fixed price projects mean that you will always face a project with little to no space to adapt to the real needs that are only discovered after the first assessment and understanding. However, at that stage, having more information does not necessarily allow changing the scope. Again, flexibility is the critical factor of success.
Some RFI/RFP asks for specific rates without providing information. You should play by ear, using assumptions that can perfectly not reflect the reality of the need (i.e. number of total users, number of concurrent users).
My recommendation is to go with an All-included service and make the bigger estimations that make sense.
This item depends on the country and the agency, but in LATAM, these entities have a reputation for paying late. It would be best to have the financial strength to wait longer than initially expected to keep the lights on. In my opinion, a small or medium-sized business working with the government as the primary client of their operation is gambling (unless having a lot of cash flow to face the winter, which for small companies is rarely the case).
It is customary for many clients to add a few hours of training (for instance, how to use the new CMS and some good practices). In government agencies, the average knowledge of technology is pretty low, so please consider allotting a lot more hours for training than you usually do.
I can even imagine an instructor saying: "well, that is why it is important to add the relevant keywords in the field TITLE," and a lovely old lady raising her hand before asking, "we don't have a machine fax anymore, can we do this in the xerox machine?"*
Thanks, but what about SEO?
So far, I haven't mentioned anything explicitly related to SEO. In my experience, it is hard to sell just SEO services because there is little incentive to do so. Unless you have the support of an internal promoter, I'd suggest offering a pack of services that the client can understand (for instance, developing a new website, social media management).
Note: Writing this article was more difficult than I expected because I found it difficult to take many personal experiences and anecdotes into an organized set of recommendations.
*I don't need to imagine that; I have been there. I was the instructor. Yeah, that created a new level of despair in my soul.**
**Right after asking me if I could look at some computer because it was super slow and I looked young, nice, and smart.***
***Yes, I did look at her computer. Not because I was nice, but because I really needed the contract.