THE REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS (RFP)
- Read it once, then read it again. And again. Experienced bidders know that several readings of an RFP are necessary for a complete understanding of what is required.
- Learn what the lettered sections of an RFP are (e.g., Section B refers to your pricing, Section C is the scope-of-work, Section K contains Representations and Certifications, Section L provides instructions to the bidders, Section M specifies the bid evaluation criteria, etc.). The titles of the lettered sections are generally the same in every RFP.
- Be aware that information critical to your bid may be scattered among many different sections of an RFP.
- Put the RFP in a 3-ring binder for easy use as a reference document. You might also want to insert dividers in front of each important section for quick reference.
- Use small "Post-It" notes at the edge of a page to mark important pages or paragraphs. That way, you can find them quickly.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE RFP
- If you don't understand some of the information in the RFP, you can submit written questions to the Contracting Officer.
- Some RFPs specify a date by which questions are due. Make sure you send in your questions before the due date or they may not be considered.
- Be aware that the Government's response to all submitted questions are distributed to all bidders, usually through a written amendment to the RFP. Although you and your firm will not be identified as the "asker" of specific questions, the way in which you word your questions could provide important information to your competitors. Word your questions carefully to ensure that you don't give away information on your strategy or pricing.
- If you call the Contracting Officer to obtain or clarify information in an RFP, be aware that verbal information given to you by the Government is not binding.
THE PROPOSAL OUTLINE
- If you have downloaded an RFP from the Internet, you can use that file to begin constructing your proposal outline.
- If you do not have the RFP on disk, use a scanner to scan in important sections for use in preparing your outline.
- Some people prepare an annotated outline as well as a basic outline. An annotated outline can contain important points from the RFP, as well as your own information on what you are planning to say in each section.
- If you prepare an annotated outline, copy your file, save it under a different name, and delete the annotations. The result will be a basic outline which you can use for easier viewing and tracking of proposal sections and subsections.
- For each section and/or subsection of your outline, indicate the estimated number of pages that will be written, the person responsible for doing the writing, and the evaluation points.
- Put important instructions on the first page or at the top of your outline, so you don't have to rummage through the RFP to find them. These instructions might include: proposal due date and time, number of copies, page limits, font size, page margins, packaging and delivery instructions.
THE PROPOSAL SCHEDULE
- Make one and stick to it!
- Work backwards from the proposal due date.
- You might want to make a separate schedule for preparation of the cost/business proposal.
- Make sure you leave plenty of time for printing, binding, and delivering the proposal. Remember, the printer knows that an important document is being printed out, so it will break, jam or smudge. Have a back-up plan that includes having extra paper and toner on hand and sending the proposal out to be printed.
- Distribute the schedule to all members of your proposal team.
- Make sure you are familiar with the instructions in Section L of the RFP.
- Study the proposal evaluation criteria and the points allocated to each section/subsection of the technical proposal, as well as the points that are allocated to cost. This information will tell you what to emphasize and where to put your efforts with regard to proposal preparation.
- Hold an intial and regular follow-up meetings with your proposal team to discuss strategies, progress and problems.
- To the extent possible, your Technical Approach and strategy should provide answers to the following questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why.
- Depending upon the instructions in the RFP, your Management Section might contain a discussion on how you will manage the overall project, a discussion on how you will manage and oversee the work of your staff and subcontractors (if any), an organization chart of the project, and position descriptions of project staff.
- In your Personnel Section, you may be required to include narrative information on the experience and skills of the staff members you are proposing for the project and/or their resumes.
- In your Related Experience or Capabilities Section, you may need to demonstrate that you have performed similar or related work for this or other clients.
- Your proposal may have other sections such as an Executive Summary, a discussion of your Understanding of the Problem, Appendices, or other required information as specified in the RFP.
- Don't assume that the Government knows your organization's capabilities, staff or the projects you have carried out. The Government is supposed to evaluate only the specific information contained in your proposal. That means it must be written down in accordance with RFP instructions.
- Use tables, charts and graphics to summarize information ("a picture says a thousand words") or to break up your narrative.
- Check the entire proposal for the following: technical consistency; spelling; page numbering; section/subsection numbering or letting; consistency of appearance of headings, subheadings, font types and font sizes.
- Make sure you have filled in and signed all the forms in the RFP that you must return with your bid.
- Before and after copying your technical and cost proposals, check to see that each copy contains all pages and that they are in the proper order.
- You have a technical strategy -- you should also have a costing strategy!
- Don't wait until the last minute to begin gathering cost information that you will need to prepare your budget.
- Be aware of and understand the type of contract you are bidding: fixed-fee, cost-plus, cost-reimbursement, time and materials, etc. This will likely affect the way you price your proposal.
- Prepare a spreadsheet template or checklist of items to include in your budget.
- Make sure your budget is consistent with what you are proposing to do or provide.
- You may need to develop some specific assumptions for budgeting purposes. If appropriate, you can include these assumptions in your cost/business proposal on a separate page or as footnotes to your budget. In any event, always document your assumptions so that you can refer to them later and make changes if needed.
- Check and re-check your numbers and formulas. Review the hard copy of your budget to help in spotting errors.
- Make sure that your budget can be easily read. Don't use a font that is too small.
IF YOU WIN
- Uh oh -- you now have to actually manage and implement your project.
IF YOU LOSE
- You can call the Contracting Officer to arrange an in-person or telephone debriefing to find out the reasons for your loss.
- Try not to get too discouraged -- no one can win all the time.
- Learn from your experience and apply that learning to your next bid.
PROPOSAL PITFALLS - Don't Let These Happen to You!
- Failure to follow the RFP instructions regarding organization of the proposal, inclusion of required information, page limits, volumes, etc.
- Failure to take evaluation criteria and allocated points into consideration when preparing your response.
- Failure to understand and to demonstrate an understanding of the problem (i.e., the reason why the agency is issuing the RFP).
- Failure to submit your proposal on the required date and time.
- Failure to include all of the information requested by the Agency.
- Failure to tailor your response to the specific RFP.
- Costs/budgets are unreasonable (too high or too low) or incomplete.
- Costs/budgets do not provide any detail or breakdown information (if required) for line and sub-line items.
- Failure to include specifics of your proposed approach to the project.
- Proposal is unprofessional in appearance (e.g., typos, blank pages, unnumbered pages, smudges, no whitespace, sloppy-looking, etc.). This reflects poorly upon your company.
- Proposal is poorly written (e.g., information is not presented/organized in a logical manner, proposal is difficult to follow, poor grammar, etc.).
- Proposal merely repeats or paraphrases the RFP.
- Proposal does not explain how or by whom the project will be managed.
- Proposal does not contain RELEVANT information about your firm, its capabilities, and/or its management and staff.
- Proposal does not demonstrate that your firm/organization and personnel have the experience and capability to carry out the project.
Use these tips in conjunction with my Free Proposal Checklist and Bid / No-Bid Evaluation Guide and Form
Other pages you might find useful include:
- Proposal Development Resources
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Government Contracting and Procurement Links
- Legal, Contractual and Financial Information Related to Government Contracting
- Grantwriting Resources
- Business Plans and Proposals
- Government Business Grants
- Programs and services for Small, Minority, and/or Woman-Owned Businesses
- Proposal writing Blog