Expert Advice

How to Submit a Bid to a Prime

Unless you are bidding as a prime, which has its own set of criteria (specifically bonding); your role as a subcontractor has its own set of rules, protocol, and industry standard practices. Not following these practices significantly reduces the chance of your sub bid ever being considered, let alone winning a subcontract.

For purposes of discussion, this article will focus on the procedures for a subcontractor to follow when submitting a bid to a prime. The following steps should be followed:

  • Virtually every public works agency now has a website with a tab labeled; “Doing Business with _________. Drilling down on the tab will show any projects that agency currently has out to bid. Furthermore most, if not all, will show the list of plan holders who are currently looking at bidding the job. The Caltrans website shows all of that information.This is where you find the list of Primes who are planning to bid on the project; so this is your contact list. The website will also give all pertinent information about the project so you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you should even bid on the project: Date bid is due, Engineers Estimate of the cost, Scope of Work, contract time allowed to build it, etc.
  • Once you have found and reviewed a potential project that fits your capacity profile, then you must prepare a Scope Letter. This is the sub bid proposal you will be sending to the Primes bidding the job. Sending your sub bid to a prime must follow the same Bid Proposal Format that the Prime will be using to submit their bid to the owner. Some bids ask for a single lump sum price, but Caltrans almost always uses a multiple bid item list of unit prices with estimated quantities. The Bid Proposal Form is always provided by the owner and shown in the Specifications.
  • Send your unpriced Scope Letter to the bidding Prime’s at least 2 – 3 days before the bids are due. This alerts the prime you will be submitting a sub bid and what bid items you will be covering. There is a strictly defined structure and protocol that the industry follows in this prime/sub-bidding process and not following this protocol lessens your chances of getting your bid accepted.
  • On bid day, send in your Scope Letter with pricing at least two hours before bids are due. The Prime is extremely busy on bid day receiving and tracking sub bids, finalizing their own bid items performed in-house, and relaying that information to their bid runners who are delivering the bid proposal. The later you send in your bid, the less chance you have of it even being considered, let alone being accepted.

For a sample Scope Letter Format and a guide on How to Submit Your Sub Bid, enroll in our program at

Above all, remember that you must be competitive and bidding per plans & specs.


Written by Ed Duarte, Construction/ Public Works Specialist
DBE SS Northern Region Program, Norcal PTAC