Proposal Writing Mistakes Most Companies Make

Proposal Writing Mistakes Most Companies Make

Even the most qualified bidder in the proposal process can lose because of various mistakes made when presenting their information. Often, extremely competent contractors are technically adept and expert at what they do, but when it comes to marketing their services, they struggle. It can be very frustrating when your proposal does not win the bid, especially when you have spent a great deal of time and effort writing it.

One major error that companies make is acquiring a proposal template sample and then cutting and pasting their information into it. This is most often a serious cause of failure and there are many reasons why. The major reason is that every RFP is different, and the minutia provided in the requirements can easily be overlooked. The truthy is that each proposal needs a customized response targeting the specific goals, objectives, and requirements of the solicitation.

COMMON CONTEXTUAL MISTAKES

These common mistakes should be avoided when preparing your proposals:

Focusing on what you want to say rather than on the government agency’s goals and objectives

You want to focus on what your client wants to know and how you are going to provide a solution to their needs. It must be clear how you will solve their problems or service their needs in order to achieve their vision for a solution. Demonstrate exactly how you will achieve their requirements and prove that you have the experience and project team to do it successfully.

Failure to demonstrate to the client that they will receive a significant return on investment

Describe how your client will receive a return on their investment. Based on facts of the project, you will stand out from your competition. This does not have to be monetary, but rather a series of benefits and tie together with their goals and objectives for the project.

Lack of the use of images and graphics

Use graphic, figures, and tables to support and/or present some of the critical information you want to communicate. These methods make it easier to read and visualize the information that you are trying to articulate.

Failing to differentiate your business from the competition

What strategies or technical approaches/methodologies will you bring to the project that are unique in the industry or proprietary to your business that sets you apart from you competitors. Emphasize methods you use or additional value that you bring that other companies do not. Compare the typical approach to yours, why the other approach is weak and why yours is superior. Be positive by stating that while you used to use those methods, over the years you found a more effective approach.

Being too wordy and over describing your approach

Keep your content to what is requested and be sure to make your responses clear and concisely written. Use more graphics. Use bulleted lists. Use tables and charts.

Not responding to every detail requested in the RFP

Provide some kind of response even when you don’t have a good answer or don’t want to address the item. You can always state that upon contract award you’ll implement this or that program.

Copy and Paste, Typos, and Grammar Issues

Be sure you have the appropriate people to prepare the copy with the correct grammar and punctuation. Do not just copy and paste information from previous proposals or use a proposal template sample. Customize that information specific to the proposal at hand. Often, previous client names get left in pasted content causing an unprofessional response to say the least.

Not demonstrating how your company will add value to the client

By understanding your client’s needs and requirements you will be able to demonstrate how your service will create real value for your client. This is typically something new, adds more value, or results in a better end product. This will be specific to each client.

TYPICAL TECHNICAL MISTAKES

Not being compliant and following the specific instructions

Just because you know that you can provide the services requested better than any other company, the client usually does not have a clue. You need to explain that to them and prove it. And a key component of this is responding to each and every detail they request in the RFP regardless of if they ask for the same or similar information multiple times. They have a checklist, and you want to get checked off for responding to every item.

Be sure you can meet all of the minimum requirements. You can have the best proposal overall, but if you cannot meet all of the minimum requirements, you are not going to be win the bid…Don’t bid on that one.

Not focusing on the client

Throughout the proposal, focus on the client’s goals, objectives, needs, and wants, not those of your company. This is a common mistake.

Not using a third party to review the final proposal before submission

Often, when writing and reviewing the proposal content, the key person putting together the proposal inputs words and punctuation that are not there, as they understand perfectly what they are communicating and do not see the errors. Have a third-party good at grammar and punctuation review the final content to ensure that it is understandable and written correctly.

Not requesting a debrief

When you do not win a competitive bid, find out where you were weak in order to improve your responses for future success. You can also request a copy of the winning proposal and compare it with your submission.

Even when you do win, find out what it is that made the difference between your proposal and the others. This way you can continually improve your proposals going forward.

Introduction to Government RFPs

Introduction to Government RFPs

A government Request for Proposal (RFP) is a document used that provides prospective contractors the instructions for bidding on government projects. After an RFP is issued, companies interested in bidding can submit a proposal and, if selected are awarded the contract.

The Government RFP must be followed to the letter as any deviation from the requirements will usually result in the proposal being thrown out as non-compliant even when it is a minor technicality like not having the right size borders on the pages. Since these are public documents, these measures are intended to ensure that everyone bidding is on equal footing.

These types of solicitations are usually quite lengthy and can be somewhat confusing to those new to the process. There are many sections that provide details as to what is expected when working under a federal contract. The intent is to create a formal bidding process where any qualified firm can submit a response to the government RFP that describes how they are the best qualified bidder to perform the requested services. So, submitting an effective proposal that meets or exceeds the requirements is crucial to winning the bid.

For federal contract opportunities, check out the governments System for Award Management website at SAM.gov.

Components of a Government RFP

There are usually 13 main sections of a federal government RFP. Each one is guided by the Federal Acquisition Regulations or FAR. When an agency is putting together a solicitation, they are supposed to follow these FAR regulations. This is also why some RFPs will contain information that doesn’t apply to the particular services being requested. The writer of the RFP needs to customize their descriptions within these FAR sections to the project at hand. When they don’t, there can be confusion and conflicting information.

Unless you have a photographic memory, when going through these sections, make notes to ensure that you are both in compliance with every request or direction and create an outline of the actual information that is require in every section of your proposal.

I recommend that you don’t just read through these sections A – M, but rather get a good grasp of the project and the proposal requirements by first going over Section A and then Sections L & M which tell you what you are going to have to put together in the content of your proposal. Then go back and read Section C so that you have a good understanding of the services required to be performed and are confident that you can provide evidence of your ability to perform all services. Finally, go through the contract requirements, which can have hidden instructions requesting additional information be included in the proposal that wasn’t in Section L.

Section A: Information to Offerors

This section is usually quite short and provides the due date, project title, the solicitation number, RFP point-of-contact for submitting questions, and specifics on various issues like acknowledging amendments, which must be followed. When solicitations are specifically sent to a select group of companies, they often ask for a “No Response” reply if you are not interested in bidding.

Section B: Supplies or Services and Price/Costs

Based on CLINs (Contract Line Item Number), this section includes how they want the pricing presented. It typically describes the type of contract and how items or tasks will be billed, the period of performance (base period and option periods), and instructions on preparing your price proposal.

Section C: Statement of Work (SOW)

The SOW includes the scope of work and describes exactly what the contractor is expected to perform during the contract period. This section provides the background for your technical approach, management and staffing plans, and the basis for your pricing.

Section D: Packages and Marking

Here they describe the deliverables that are required during the contract period (reporting, and packaging and shipping, if applicable).

Section E: Inspection and Acceptance

Information is presented that covers the government’s process for accepting the deliverables and any damages if not met. Complex procedures can also affect your price proposal.

Section F: Deliveries or Performance

This section describes how the government’s CO/COR will monitor the work performed and how the contractor is to deliver services or perform tasks.

Section G: Contract Administration Data

This section is focused on how the government’s Contracting Officer or COR will interact and provide details to amend, modify or deviate from the contract terms, conditions, requirements, specifications, details and/or delivery schedules; issue task orders against the contract; make decisions regarding payments; and other contract issues.

Section H: Special Contract Requirements

These are conditions that are more contract related as opposed to proposal related, but also speaks to government-furnished equipment (GFE) and government-furnished property (GFP).

Section I: Contract Clauses/General Provisions

Again, these are procedures for managing changes to the original contract, GFE requirements, and GFP requirements.

Section J: Attachments & Exhibits

Descriptions of the additional requirements to the SOW, i.e., attachments, add-ons, and appendices.

Section K: Representations/Certifications and Statements of Offerors

Contractors should be sure that they are registered and current in the government’s System for Award Management (SAM) at SAM.gov. SAM registration will demonstrate certification of much of the required information and just requires acknowledgement while other information requires responses be included in your proposal. This includes any small business certifications, unique entity identifier, and other company-related information.

Section L: Instructions to Offerors and Other Notices

One of the most important sections for preparing the proposal content. It provides details on the exact content required, the organization of information, if multiple documents are required, formatting requirements, and how the proposal is to be submitted as well as other important instructions. Critical here is to follow the format instructions very closely (font type and size, margin depth, file format and size, page limits, etc.).

Section M: Evaluation Factors for Award

This section is also critical in understanding the components of the proposal that are most critical to the government when evaluating your response. It defines the factor, subfactors, and other information that will be scored/graded during the evaluation. Often, other information is also identified that isn’t made clear in Section L, which can help you provide a comprehensive response. They will usually identify which sections of your proposal are the more important than other sections and assign a percentage of the points available to each section. This way, you’ll have a good idea where to put the majority of your energy. For example, if pricing is only 20% and your technical section is 50%, provide reasonable pricing, but kick ass with your technical approach.

One last thing when responding to a Government Request for Proposal, often different sections of the RFP are written by different people, and the boilerplate text is often inserted without an overall review, creating contradictions and ambiguities. This is why there is a question period during which you can submit questions to get clarification to resolve those issues.

Your Guide to Request for Proposals

Your Guide to Request for Proposals

An RFP is a solicitation from an organization to attract qualified contractors who have the experience and skills to complete a project under contract in order to compare competitive bids. Government agencies and companies use an RFP to provide details of the scope and goals of the services being sought, identify all of the requirements, identify how the proposal response will be evaluated, provide the contract terms, and inform as to the bidding process. The goal is to receive unbiased competitive bids.

The RFP usually identifies a specific format and exactly what information will be required. Often, government agencies use an RFP template for soliciting proposals that have been used with previous projects which tends to end up with contradictions or incomplete information. This is why there is almost always a question period during which bidders can ask for clarification that will help them provide the correct information and price their bid accordingly.

If you are new to reviewing RFPs, you quickly find out that they can appear to be quite complicated and confusing. Even so, there are usually some basic components that are critical for understanding the proposal requirements. These include the Scope of Work/Services, Instructions to Bidders, Evaluation Criteria, Submission Instructions, and Cost/Pricing. It is extremely important that the person writing the RFP is experience at navigating these requirements and the type of responses desired.

Typically, vendors assign junior employees to put together the RFP, which is then reviewed by a senior executive before finalizing. Often these employees are not too familiar with the technical aspects of the scope of services being requested which can create some confusing content that later needs clarification.

Major Sections of an RFP

Introduction

This will give you an overview of what the organization is looking for and their expectations for a solution.

Purpose

Typically, this will, at a minimum, provide some background as to how they came to require the services sought. It often describes the goals and objectives of the organization and the project, and the problems that they are looking to solve. When knowledgeable, they will also provide some insight as to their expectations for the solution sought.

Scope of Work/Services

The Scope of Work or Services identifies their expectations and what they are looking for once the project is completed.

Milestones & Schedules

Sometimes a timetable is provided and the methods for measuring the results. This gives you a good idea as to when project tasks are expected to be completed during the project period.

Cost/Price Proposal or Budget

This usually provides the exact price information required, but sometimes only requests an overall project total. Hourly rates are usually fully loaded rates where details are required: hourly pay rates, G&A, Benefits, Profit, etc. to achieve fully loaded rates.

Price is often just a part of the evaluation while other times they specifically state that the lowest price proposal will be reviewed first and if technically acceptable, then it becomes the winning bid. Payment details may also be provided as well as any discounts for early payments.

Past Performance

Be sure when providing details of past contracts to include everything that they are asking for. This usually includes a contact person and their phone number and email. If they require you to submit a Past Performance Questionnaire to your past clients, do this early in the process so that they are received prior to the due date.

Submission Instructions

The due date and time are critical, so try and prepare your final version the day before it’s due. If they request hard copies, then give yourself a day or more to overnight the proposal documents with proof that it was delivered. Since 2020, hard copies have been in the decline and most proposals are either emailed or uploaded to a website. Be careful when reviewing an RFP Proposal Template looking solicitation as there may be different delivery instructions presented in the document. It is also common to have to submit hard copies and an electronic version on a flash drive or emailed.

How to Write an Effective RFP

Your main goal is to mitigate the risk of the agency choosing your firm over other competitors. Three key areas are paramount: 1) Proof that your company has successfully performed similar services in the past; 2) you have the key personnel/project team with the required experience and expertise working on similar projects; and 3) that you have the financial capacity to manage the contract, pay your people, and purchase supplies/services without running out of finances before receiving payment for providing those services. When presenting this information, provide proofs throughout to gain confidence that what you are saying is true and reliable. Also, when reviewing the RFP, be sure to get a grasp of the agancy’s key criteria, i.e., what is important to them and address those issues.

Be sure to be clear and concise in your copy. Include all of the information requested, but don’t provide a lot of additional content or documents that are not asked for. Be right to the point and use the same language or keywords used in the RFP so that you are speaking the same language. Your headers and sub-headers should reflect the RFP keywords for those related sections. Use bullets whenever you can to enable easy readability.

Be sure you provide the following basic information:

  • Title – Take this from the RFP.
  • Understanding of the Requirements – This is a summary to explain the project and the solution that the agency is looking for.
  • Company Background – Explain what your company does from the perspective of the RFP requirements and provide a brief history.
  • Contact Information – Include details for your company’s point-of-contact who is in charge of the proposal.

Other important issues to keep in mind when writing your proposal response: Answer the question, why should I choose your company, and what unique qualities do you bring that others don’t?

Conclusion

If you can mitigate the risk of choosing your company over the competition, your proposal will rise to the top of the list. If you can differentiate your company from the competition by identifying benefits that the agency will receive that only you can provide, you’ll gain extra points. If you can prove that you have successfully provided similar services to other agencies, you’ll gain their confidence and mitigate the risk of choosing your company in a competitive bidding process. And, if your pricing is not too high or too low, but in a competitive range, it will be obvious that you know what it will take to successfully take on the project.

Tips for Writing a Winnable Proposal

Tips for Writing a Winnable Proposal

Communicating that you understand of the government agency’s needs for the services requested is extremely important and the first step in gaining confidence in your firm’s ability to deliver the required services. Let them know that you understand why it is important, why it is a timely venture, and why your company is specifically suited to provide the required services.

While every proposal is going to be different, there are some basic strategies and tactics that hold true for almost every proposal consulting project regardless of the subject matter. First, you must understand that your proposal will be setting the stage for the government’s expectations as to how you will execute the contract itself.

Its critical to present your vision for the project up front, along with a schedule or roadmap describing when the various phases will take place in your work plan. While the technical specifics will differ, there are key aspects that are common across most proposals.

The three most important things to think about are convincing your audience that the problem is worth working on, and that this problem deserves resources now, as opposed to other things that might be present. Attention and resources compete to convince them that you are the right one to work on the problem versus other people or groups who may have identified similar problems.

Writing a project proposal can be enjoyable. It is also a crucial part of the project planning process. Plans are not worth much if the planning process is not done correctly.

Proposals are opportunities to think broadly about an agenda and reflect on what issues you think are really important. It is also an opportunity to think long-term, often many years in advance, so think about the biggest problems you really want to solve and the best ways to solve them. Since you have a longer period of time to solve a problem, you can think of the best methods to solve it and the best people to work on it, even if you don't know or know everything about the proper approach now. Thinking about larger problems three to five years in this unconstrained way allows us as researchers to think beyond the next publication and consider how our work fits into a larger picture.

Coordination of deep structure with strategy

Writing a project proposal can seem like a chore or something that is a requirement for the actual job. But that is not the right way to look at it. Instead, I view project proposal writing as part of the project itself.

Developing a coherent proposal requires a lot of time and reflection; in many cases, I spend a lot of time thinking and planning before I put a single word on the page.

Some of the most successful and creative approaches to solving a problem require spending time to understand the deep underlying structure of a problem and to think broadly to see if there are approaches from other disciplines and resources that might be able to help. The best approaches to problems make connections between two or more disjointed domains and require a deep understanding of the structure of a problem to find the right strategies to solve it. The ability to match the deep structure of a problem with the appropriate strategy can lead to significant breakthroughs.

All of these project ideas required both a deep understanding of a problem and extensive thinking about possibilities. Strategies should adapt to the problem. This takes time and the process cannot be rushed. We must consider the process of formulating the problem to be solved and develop a strategy to solve it as one of the most important parts of the job.

Four Key Questions

Every proposal should aim to answer these questions:

  • Why is the topic important?
  • Why devote resources to this problem now?
  • Are you the right person to work on the problem and why?

The main goal is to convince the reader that there is a problem that needs to be solved and, furthermore, that the world will be a better place if they solve the problem. The ideal is to go even further, i.e., you have to convince the audience that the problem is too important to leave unsolved.

Research proposals often make the mistake of not thinking broad enough. This is partly to blame for hyper-specialized research areas that can look at important issues too narrowly, leading to incrementalism. When reviewing proposals, I first try to understand the meaning of the problem. If the problem is not worth solving, then nothing else matters.

Watch out for "troublesome excavators."

Problem excavators. Especially when writing offers, keep an eye out for excavators, especially from the industry. The proposed project does not necessarily have to have a previously known answer; In particular, it should not be able to be solved by simply hiring software developers. Rather, a good proposal presents a major problem that typically requires the application of tools and techniques from multiple disciplines, as well as thought and experimentation, on a timeline that extends beyond the next few months. The industry has the ability to hire armies of software developers to churn out code quickly. If your proposed solution to the problem is simple and the problem is worth solving, there is a high risk that the industry will solve the problem better and faster.

Convince the reader that the problem you are working on cannot be solved by industry and that spending money researching the problem is the best (or only) way to solve it.

Is Now the Right Time?

The problem you are proposing could be an old problem that is ripe for reevaluation or reexamination due to new circumstances. Or it could be a new problem that arose due to changes in time, circumstances, technology, skills, or data. It is important to know what kind of problem you are posing because your readers will want to know why now is the right time to solve it.

Most likely you are reexamining an old problem in new circumstances or tackling a new problem that hopefully has similarities to old problems. It is good to know what kind of problem you are proposing, as it will help you argue why now is the right time to work on the problem.

Why is now the right time?

Old problem, new circumstances. Most of the problems are not new. Almost every problem you think about or formulates has a prior instance. It may not look exactly like the problem you have in mind, but the chances that the problem you have in mind have no previous analogies or similar problems are infinitesimal. However, even if you propose to work on a very similar problem that has been proposed in the past, the project proposal it may still be worth it. Old problems are often worth looking at again.

And while the problems you may encounter may seem entirely new, they likely have an analogy to problems people have already explored. This is good news because you are not completely lost in the woods while trying to solve the problem. And yet, in such situations, it is even more important to think broadly about possible solutions, since a problem is never completely new, but how analogous problems have been studied or approached can help provide an important point.

Why are you the best choice?

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of proposal consulting is that you and your team get to do the work. You may have convinced the reader that you have identified a difficult problem worth solving, but if you cannot convince your audience that you can solve it, then your chance of success is slim.

You need to create credibility and convince the reader that you are ideally uniquely qualified to do the job you are proposing. Establish your "secret weapon" to solve the problem that others do not have. If possible, build on the successes of your own previous work and build bridges between your previous work and the new project you are pitching. This is where a complicated trade-off comes into play. You have to rely on your past accomplishments to lend credibility to the proposed job, but the proposed work must be visionary enough to encompass three to five years of future work. One way to do this is to include some preliminary work in the proposal to show that your vision is feasible and that you are qualified to execute it. This is not the time to be humble.

Your team and associations. No one person solves important and challenging problems alone. Therefore, it is also important to articulate what resources, in the form of other people, organizations, data, etc., you will bring to your project. Therefore, your proposal should list other people (e.g., experts, strategic partners, direct collaborators) with whom you would like to collaborate on the project, including the role these people will play in your project.

From a logistical perspective, the more comprehensive your plan is for how the different team members and puzzle pieces fit together, the further along you are in the plan. Building a successful team and partnerships behind your project takes time, but will ultimately result in a better project, even if you are ultimately the driving force and leader of the project.

Sell the Ultimate Outcome

If you want people to enjoy reading your research proposal, then the proposal must tell a good story which, of course, has to be of a certain type and written in a certain style One of my favorite recipes for telling a story is to build the context of the problem, explain why the problem is important and difficult to solve, and then draw a stark and succinct contrast between your approach and any previous approach.

When providing consulting services for proposals, tell the reader what makes your work stand out and why it is likely to succeed where others have failed or fallen short. In fact, he paints his work as so promising and so different from the approach of others that it would be foolish not to fund the proposed work because no one else will, and failure to do so could result in a missed opportunity that would lead to a breakthrough.

Writing a Response to a Government RFP

Writing a Response to a Government RFP

When writing a response to a Government RFP, your team will need to accomplish all of the items below, some simultaneously and others independent from one another.

  1. Read all sections of the RFP

In order to get a handle on the overall scope of the intent the Government has for issuing the RFP, it is good to read, not only the main RFP document, but the attachments as well. You will often find specific requirements deep in one of those documents which, if missed, could make you non-compliant. In fact, the slightest deviation from the proposal requirements could cause your proposal to get thrown out on a technicality as non-compliant.

The introduction will usually describe the purpose of the RFP along with dates, contacts, and some legal issues. There will often be a Statement of Work or Performance Work Statement describing the specific tasks required as contractor. It might also have contract clauses, terms, and conditions that will be incorporated into the final agreement if your company is selected. Additional sections include various representations and certifications, instructions to the offeror, and the evaluation criteria and process.

Keep in mind that there are often mistakes and conflicting information as often an old RFP is edited and adopted for a new contract. This is why they have a period for allowing you to ask questions and get clarifications. Since these questions and answers will be published and shared with all bidders as an amendment, be careful not to reveal anything that you do not want made public.

One key subsection that I always recommend clients to review before making a decision to move forward is to review any Mandatory/Minimum Requirements. You can have the best proposal, but if you cannot meet the minimum requirements, you are not going to win the contract.

  1. Note the Evaluation Criteria

Understanding how they will measure your responses and the hierarchy of what’s important in their evaluation helps to emphasize those areas. For example, if cost is expected to be “reasonable” and accounts for only 15% of the total score, but you past performance makes up 50% of the score, you don’t need to have the lowest price, but must make a strong case for similar contracts completed in the past.

  1. Pricing is always a key component of any proposal

Even when the price is going to make up only a small portion of the evaluation criteria, believe me, it is still a critical factor in the decision process. Within range, the lower cost proposals are going to be more competitive as long as they meet the technical requirements. One caveat is based on what they call a “reasonable price” which takes into account the range of prices being proposed across all bidders. If you price is too high or too low, i.e., way outside the average range, it may not be accepted as they probably think that you don’t know what you are doing.

So, when writing a response to a Government RFP and a detailed cost breakdown is requested, they are especially going to review the amount or percentage of profit. Typically, you are now allowed to charge more than you would your commercial clients. I recommend including a modest profit, but at a rate that you’ll be satisfied with. You definitely don’t want to lose money unless you feel like you are making an investment in a potentially longer term relationship.

This is also where questions can be very useful, since if you don’t fully understand what is required to perform the entire scope of work, it will be difficult to provide an accurate fee structure. Definitely submit questions that will help to clarify the tasks and resources required.

  1. Understand the Government’s goals and objectives for the project

Highlight how your solution meets those goals and objectives and the unique benefits your firm brings to the project that they won’t find with other vendors.

Identify and support the benefits you bring with proofs of similar projects successfully completed in the past. Often, companies know their reputation, key benefits, past successes, etc. and subconsciously impute that the evaluators know this as well, but keep in mind that they do not have a clue as to who your are, what you have accomplished in the past, and the qualifications the company and your team bring to this contract. You need to tell them and prove it.

  1. Emphasize your key benefits and unique capabilities

You can use call-out boxes to highlight customer support quotes, various accomplishments, and key benefits supported by a narrative that separated your company, services, technologies, or project team from the competition, thereby providing advantages that only you can provide. Of course, tie those advantages to the Government’s objectives for this contract demonstrating why you are the best choice.

  1. Write from the perspective that you will be winning the contract

When writing a response to a Government RFP, do not write from the perspective of “if awarded the contract, we would” do this or that. Instead, write from the perspective that “upon contract award, we will” do this or that. The second method shows confidence that you expect to win the contract.

  1. Create two separate checklists

As you go through the RFP documents, identify all of the compliance requirements to ensure that you do not miss one minute point. When they say, include 1-inch margins on the pages, add that to your bullet list of compliance requirements. And, when they say “in your proposal include this…”, add that to your bullet list. Your second checklist is actually your proposal outline identifying every volume, section, subsection, form, attachment, etc. By doing this upfront, you won’t miss anything and won’t get thrown out on a technicality for being non-compliant.

  1. Create a customized template

When you lay everything out up front, you are more easily able to manage the content development process and not worry about what needs to go on the cover page, cover letter, table of contents, attachments, headers & footers, etc. Then, incorporate your content requirements outline. If you complete all of that up front, you can concentrate on preparing the narratives for each section with page limits identified where relevant. Writing the cover letter will also help you set the stage for who you are and what you are offering.

Since often, different team members are responsible for pulling together the information for different sections, it’s good to assign those sections up front so that you can track the progress being made for each. Be sure that your proposal writer/editor edits all content to reflect a consistent voice throughout the documents.

  1. Adapting previous content

If including previously prepared content when writing a response to a Government RFP, do not just cut and paste into the proposal. Always be sure to adapt it to the specifics of the current proposal by reading through the entire section adjusting wording and references as necessary as well as making any additions to create more relevancy. Old content may be outdated, have references to a different agency, include past dates, and resumes may not be up to date.

Certain information may be generic and easily added such as short project team bios, brief background of the company, and client testimonials, but for most information adapt it to the current client and scope of work.

  1. Pricing details and rationale

Don’t just submit pricing information but support it with a rationale as to how the pricing was developed, what your assumptions are, and what various options might impact that pricing. If you are open to negotiation, say so, but definitely don’t be vague in your presentation of costs. Instead, be very clear. You can emphasize the value of your proposition based on client satisfaction. Always include “Additional Value Added” services or products that can be identified as Optional Services, but that are included at no additional cost.

Steps for Writing a Business Proposal

Steps for Writing a Business Proposal

One of the most important aspects to writing a winning proposal is to first gain a good understanding of the business’s goals and objectives. This will help to define the steps for writing a business proposal that will incorporate a good understanding of the problem that they are facing and the type of solution that they are looking for.

In addition, you need to communicate what your company does, its unique capabilities, experience, and qualifications as well as identifying your company’s achievements, milestones, overall vision, and mission or future plans; and why your company is ideal for providing the solution that will solve or mitigate their primary problem.

The next key is to provide your technical approach describing exactly how your company will effectively implement your solution along with proofs that you have successfully accomplished this approach in the past with other clients. Your technical approach must also identify the resources you’ll use to implement your solution, which may include a schedule of events and breakdown of the costs associated with those resources.

Business proposals are different than government agency proposals in that they typically do not have a large number of compliance requirements or provide detailed information about exactly what to include. They may put out a formal solicitation or request for proposal (RFP). In these cases, you need to provide them with the information that they request. They may also ask informally for a proposal so that they can evaluate your company’s capabilities. To respond, you will need to do much more research into their specific issues in order to address them appropriately. Then, your may be interested in providing an unsolicited proposal, which is actually more of a marketing effort where you are primarily interested in gaining their attention and having them contact you about your services. Since you do not have specific knowledge about their pressing issues, the emphasis on your capabilities is key.

In business proposals, it is extremely important that you provide an Executive Summary to introduce your company, demonstrate your company’s achievements, and proposed solutions. Even so, keep the content clear and concise that peaks their interest to investigate the more detailed content in the technical approach itself. This is effectively done by clearly outlining the problem emphasizing the need and urgency for of the issue. The reader now will be interested in reading about your solution to their problem.

When defining the steps for writing a business proposal and presenting the problem, show a clear understanding of their pressing needs as you know them, which demonstrates that you are not just providing a generic pitch. With this approach you have the opportunity to identify problems and issues that they might not even be aware of, implying that you most likely have a solution that they will benefit from.

When presenting your proposed solution, you will identify exactly how you will relieve your prospect of their various pain points. This is often best represented in its own section, which can be referred to again and again. Provide detailed information and include a timeline of events. Of course, this only gets you so far since at this point, they have no idea that you can actually deliver what you are promising.

Following your proposed solution, support your methods and approaches with proofs by referring to past projects/clients where you have successfully implemented similar solutions. Name your past clients, who on your team led the effort, and the results and timelines that were achieved.

These proofs lead us to another key section, which includes references, client testimonials, and project profiles or case studies as well as any industry awards received. This third-party evidence builds trust and creates confidence in your company’s abilities to achieve your stated end results.

The next question will be when can you do this and over what period of time? Flow charts or Gantt charts work best showing what gets done, when, and by whom. Sometimes, graphic representations of events along a flow chart works great, especially for long-term projects.

In your pricing section, identifying any legal issues is appropriate, but the primary focus is on the fees you will charge, how you schedule receiving payment, and any special terms & conditions. It is also best to keep this a bit open by offering a couple of options. The key is to ensure that your profit over costs is acceptable to you and that your overall price is not cost prohibitive to your client.

If you are at the point where you are seeking a go, no go, you will want to include the contract terms and conditions with signature blocks for your client to sign and date. Your company’s signature block can also be filled out, signed, and dated to get things moving forward.

Some things to consider throughout the proposal is to use your company logo and other brand identity graphics and taglines that reiterate your mission, goals, and/or values as a business. Also, links to your website are good when you have quality information that will help your prospects solidify their decision to move forward.

Qualities of a Winning Project Proposal

Qualities of a Winning Project Proposal

The initial hurdle with project proposal writing is to ensure that your firm’s capabilities is a close match to the Request for Proposal (RFP) Scope of Work. This can be accomplished through your company’s own contract experience or by forming a joint venture with another firm that has the specific technical capabilities that you lack. Other methods are to establish a teaming agreement or to use qualified subcontractors. The key here is to ensure that whichever method you choose; it is identified as acceptable to the solicitation. And, since they are all different, you need to make sure that your proposed entity meets the requirements. This should be a part of your capture strategy designed to increase your chances of winning.

Often there is a pre-proposal conference where the agency’s key criteria can be identified. Once you know their hot buttons and pain points, you’ll be able to focus your message on addressing and exceeding those issues. Throughout the technical proposal, your presentation of the company’s capabilities should tell a persuasive story detailing how your qualifications are an exact fit for the requirements they are looking for. Your initial goal is to stand out from the competition in a way that mitigates the risk of choosing your firm and creates a sense of pride in aligning themselves with you as the contractor.

When the requirements and compliance issues are confusing or all over the place and not organized very well in the RFP itself, a compliance matrix can help the evaluators easily identify that you have responded to each and every proposal requirement. More often, with a well-organized RFP, a detailed Table of Contents can function in the same manner.

When responding in a very competitive environment, presenting your methodology and approach in a way that differentiates you from the competition can be crucial. Describing the benefits of your approach and how you will accomplish their goals and objectives together with proofs that you have utilized these same methods with similar organizations or projects presented in a compelling way is an ideal way to create an affinity with the evaluator and get their head nodding in your direction.

When allowed, an Executive Summary can be used to generate anticipation of your more detailed approach and make claims that exceed their expectations and interest in discovering how your company will fulfill those claims. Try and always use specifics, numbers, and facts when presenting this information. Also, throughout the proposal, maintain consistent keywords in your headers and sub-headers that match the keywords used within the RFP. This creates themes throughout that speak directly to the agency’s specific areas of need.
In addition to the Executive Summary, each main section of your technical approach should introduce what you will be presenting in that section and keep the content clear and concisely written without run-on sentences. Use bullet lists, sub headers, and graphics when appropriate to support and enhance the narrative. Be sure to use captions for image, graphics, and tables. Break up paragraphs into unique thoughts. At the same time, try not to appear to commercial; in other words, you do not want it to look like a magazine, but more like an informative professional document that addresses critical issues. This blog post is not the ideal example, as its purpose is primarily to provide content for Google’s AI to help you find The RFP Firm online, not part of a proposal designed to be reviewed by an evaluation committee.

To support your proposed approach, provide examples of similar successful implementations on other projects as proofs that your approach is effective and that your key personnel have the necessary experience they will leverage during the performance of this contract. Include references for these same projects in order to tie these past successes to this contract and thereby enhance the probability of a successful outcome on this new project. In your description of the scope of services accomplished on past projects identify various difficulties that you encountered and how you were able to successfully overcome those obstacles.

For a schedule of events, it is very important to demonstrate through a detailed plan when key milestones will be met, and which tasks will be performed at what point in that schedule. The narrative should identify how this schedule will be met and what methods will be used to ensure that each task performed will be completed on schedule and on budget. Emphasize the efficiencies of your approach, why this is relevant, and how this will bring cost savings to the agency.

Pricing is always a critical determinant in the selection criteria. If it is a Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) solicitation, the key is understanding the marketplace, your competition, and be able to justify the price you propose, especially since a winning price must be the lowest price. When pricing is a portion of the evaluation criteria, which is the most common, a reasonable price is sought. Even so, if your price is too high or too low, they may mark it as unreasonable, thinking that you don’t understand the project, and take your proposal out of consideration or give you zero points for that section. In general, with government proposals, calculate your costs and an acceptable profit. If you can’t make any money, look for another opportunity or, if allowed, offer several options.

Finally, your proposal should be easy to read and visually appealing on the page by using numerous headers and sub-headers, short paragraphs, bullet lists, call-outs, diagrams and images that support the narrative, as well as clear and concise copy with all acronyms defined.

RFPs When Do You Need Them

RFPs: When do you need them?

The Government’s basic premise for issuing RFPs (Request for Proposal) is to provide a platform for fair and equal evaluation of contractor bids where each bidder is measured by how they respond to the same requirements. To be successful during this process, you will need to provide a persuasive response customized to the solicitation requirements without using an RFP proposal template.

Of course, when evaluating the RFP, it can be quite confusing and frustrating, especially when there are conflicting requirements and requests for information. This is actually quite common which is why there is a period for submitting questions and allowing the government to respond by issuing amendments to the original RFP. Keeping up to date with any amendments is critical to complying one hundred percent and not getting thrown out on a technicality just because you forgot to number the pages properly or some other minor issue.

While there are basic components that are usually a part of a typical Government RFP, i.e., Technical Proposal, Past Performance, and Price, additional sections are quite common along with many legal forms, certifications, licenses, and acknowledgements. This can be put together in a way that is complicated, very time consuming, and confusing to the beginner. Of course, the question is, whose got the time to sort through all of the RFP documents and legalese? This is especially true for small businesses whose key management are typically 100% busy operating the business

Once you’ve been through the process of pulling together the required information and ensuring that it is customized to the specific requirements of a particular RFP, you’ll begin to understand why and when the Government uses the RFP process and what they are looking for in your proposal. You’ll also get a good idea of the differences between responding to a government RFP and preparing a commercial proposal that most likely have an official request for proposal to guide your response or the numerous legal forms and requirements. Since Government agencies have expanding their use of RFPs rather than using traditional channels for acquiring contractors, it is definitely important to access the resources available for helping to prepare a professional proposal and avoid an RFP proposal template.

Many Government agencies require a very complex combination of procedures, certifications, and regulations in their RFP process which can help them evaluate potential bidders. Through this process they are also able to make a case as to how they were objective in their choice of one particular contractor over another. This more objective approach avoids someone’s “feelings” from being the criteria after seeing a vendor’s presentation and instead establishes a more valid rationale for their decision. When they are asked why they chose a specific contractor, they will more easily be able to make a valid case for their decision.

By responding in a way that is 100% compliant with all of the RFP minutia and preparing a response that mitigates the risk of selecting your company, you can stand apart from the competition. Combined with a strong technical approach and experience that is clearly similar in scope and magnitude to the scope of work requirements, a reasonable offer price will get you in the running.

But to win, you need to be able to differentiate your approach and methodology in a way that enables you to stand out from the other competitors. This is where a professional proposal writer can be invaluable. Even with this support, often, as a finalist, you will be invited to make an in-person presentation. This is where you have the opportunity to live up to the information you have presented in your proposal. If you yourself have not provided the input and core content for your proposal describing how you do what you do, you’ll have a difficult time answering questions in a live interview, so it is a mistake to hire a proposal writer that is just going to make up the narrative rather than work with your methods and approaches so that what is communicated in the proposal content is a reflection of your company’s actual expertise.

Successful responses will lead to additional questions which will help you to identify the critical aspects from the government’s point of view and enable you to elaborate to support why you do what you do and provide examples of successful implementations of your approach and methodology. This is why using an RFP proposal template is not effective.

When seeking out relevant RFPs to bid on, often there will be a pre-proposal conference requiring each participant to register, which allows you to identify who else is bidding on that particular contract. This can help you determine whether you want to bid on it or not. Other types of RFPs are more closed ended and are sent out to specific companies and not posted publicly. These are often invitation-only RFPs. This group of vendors can be selected by searching the industry or from issuing an RFI (Request for Information) or RFQ (Request for Qualifications) as a preliminary step for determining what might be the options within the services being requested.

What is a Government Request for Proposal

What is a Government Request for Proposal?

When the government looks to purchase supplies or services, it seeks them from qualified commercial vendors who respond to RFPs (Request for Proposal) by proposal writing in an effort to win those government contracts. This is the case at all levels of government in the United States, i.e., U.S. Federal, state, and local government agencies. In each case, these agencies follow specific procedures to develop their RFPs and vendors must respond in kind to the exact requirements laid out in those solicitations.

When the federal government prepares an RFP, their solicitations must conform to the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) requirements when making purchases. These regulations are intended to standardize the process used by these agencies when issuing RFPs. The FAR requirements define procedures for every step of the process. Even so, within FAR there are many variables that allow for the accommodation of numerous methods, for example there are different contracting methods including negotiated contracts, consolidated purchasing vehicles, sealed bids, and simplified acquisition procedures.

Government contractors find that contracting with the government brings them several advantages. One is that for small businesses, there are often specific set-asides that require the vendor to be certified as a small business enterprise (SBE) or one of several other classifications (Minority-owned business, Women-owned business, Veteran-owned business, Disabled veteran-owned business, HUBZone, etc.). Even when the solicitation is not a 100% set-aside for one of these categories, each contract has goals for subcontracting a portion of the contract to one or more of these categories.

Other benefits include getting paid at regular intervals without risk. Contracts typically last for one to five years thereby providing a steady cash flow during that period. The experience gained by working on these contracts can raise the credibility of the company when pursuing other types of contracts whether for a state, city, or county government or even commercial enterprise. In addition, over time you can continuously expand your business and build on larger and larger contract opportunities over time.

When considered a business, the U.S. Government is the largest in the world. For example, around $1 Billion of service sector opportunities become available to bid on each day by commercial enterprises (small and medium sized businesses). And the variety of products and services covers just about everything from janitorial services and maintaining buildings to new technologies and space flight systems.

State, City, and County governments are also great opportunities for small businesses who offer products and services to the commercial sector. While many small businesses don’t understand how to get these types of opportunities others are taking advantage by gaining an understanding of the state and local government procurement process. This is where proposal writing for government contracts can be of great help in getting into this field. Those who know how to develop successful bids can turn these opportunities into profitable revenue streams for their business. Of course, many of these local contracts are for smaller amounts, but still profitable, these smaller contracts often don’t require the complexity of the larger dollar bids. For example, under a blanket purchase agreement, once approved, you are eligible to bid on small task orders on an ongoing basis without submitting a proposal for each purchase.

There are many different types of firms that support small businesses in their efforts to get into this field. Some are subscription-based services that go out and identify government contract opportunities at all levels and for all services and then send you notices when new RFPs are issued for the services you provide based on specific key words that you have provided. You still have to sort through these announcements, but since there are thousands of website locations to look at, when you take into account the various federal government locations, all of the different state, city, and county website, this can save a huge amount of time.

Once you have identified a specific RFP that you want to respond to, that’s when companies like The RFP Firm can help you put together a 100% compliant, persuasive, and high-quality proposal.

Another prerequisite to have in place before jumping right into proposal writing for government contracts is to get registered with those government entities that require pre-vetting through their registration process before they will do business with your firm as a potential vendor. Since each agency tends to do this their own way, be sure to understand those requirements and start the registration process prior to searching for RFPs to respond to.

One place to help you get started is the U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Government Contracting and Business Development. They have a workbook that can help provide guidance when preparing proposals in response to RFPs. They will discuss how to acquire several certifications including as an 8(a) business, HUBZone, Woman-Owned Small Business, Economically Disadvantages Small Business, Veteran-Owned Small Business, etc.

Other basic requirements include identifying your North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) definitions for your business. You’ll also need a Dun & Bradstreet (DUNS) Number, and a Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code. The government’s contract database, System for Award Management (SAM) is where contractors can search federal procurement opportunities and where government agencies can learn about prospective vendors. Prior to proposal writing government contracts, registration in SAM is a requirement for becoming a federal government contractor.

Benefits of Hiring Professional Proposal Writing Services

Benefits of Hiring Professional Proposal Writing Services

There are many reasons for hiring a proposal writing consultant, the first is to ensure that your response to the RFP is prepared in a manner that meets the requirements and expectations of the organization that issued the solicitation and is one hundred percent compliant. Professional proposal writers have this experience. The second is to get outside of your organization’s “company speak,” so that your proposal is written in a clear and concise manner that communicates well with an objective reader rather than a company insider.

While you may have technical writers within your organization, most will have specialized skills that fulfill the needs for technical manuals, how to guides, operating procedures, etc. Proposal writing services can provide the additional benefit of providing a hybrid that combines the detailed approach of technical copy with the ability to present it in an easily understandable manner that is persuasive and provides confidence in your ability to deliver the requested services while mitigating the risk of selecting your company over the competition.

Additional benefits of hiring professional proposal writing services include:

  • The presentation of your company’s qualifications and experience in a way that provides a high level of professionalism and competency.
  • Helping to clarify and translate technical jargon or concepts unique to your business in an easy-to-understand manner that sets you apart from the competition.
  • Connection with the target audience. The narrative to present the information in a manner that speaks to the reader’s goals and objectives, i.e., the communication should be what your reader wants to hear, not what you want to tell them.
  • Often, especially with small businesses, all of the key personnel have full-time positions that don’t allow for devoting the time necessary to review all of the RFP documents and prepare a high-quality and often lengthy proposal in response to those requirements. This saves you both time and money.
  • Typically, in-house technical writers or management personnel need to provide elaborate levels of detail in their company documents. Proposal writing must be clear and concise while focusing on the core facts that enables the evaluator to easily identify that you have addressed the issues that they are looking for in your proposal.
  • The result of using professional proposal writing services is a proposal that is not only well written but provides a professional look and presentation of the information through proper font sizes, headers, sub-headers, graphics, logos, and other features that establish a visual presence for your organization.
  • One other key benefit is the ability to use contract writers on an as-needed basis, so that you can ramp up when needed and cut back when required, thereby saving costs and the overhead of full-time internal employees allowing your key personnel to focus on your core business.

More benefits of hiring professional proposal writing services:

  • Rather than a distraction from an employee’s primary responsibility, a contract proposal writer will be focused on the goal and objective of the proposal at hand without those other distractions.
  • Your in-house technical staff who will be providing content during the proposal development process will not have to worry about making everything sound perfect or ensuring that their punctuation and grammar are perfect. The proposal writer will take care of those issues and polish up the content and give it a professional appeal.
  • A professional proposal writer will ensure that for each section and sub-section in the proposal, you have addressed all of the key points and requirements necessary to provide a comprehensive but concise response as well as make recommendations for additional content or graphics.
  • Often, insiders use a lot of “tech speak” and other jargon when communicating ideas in their field. This is where a proposal writing specialist will be able to present your information in a way that is recognizable by the reader/evaluator.
  • Professional proposal writers will streamline the process which significantly reduces time and costs by ensuring that expert content is included without the need for a large team of people to provide input who for the most part only have expertise in their specific areas of the business.
  • Often, in-house proposals have various sections written by different people, which creates a mix-match of terms used, ways of referencing the company and tactics, and voice throughout the narrative.
    Proposal writers ensure that the proposal speaks from one voice and is consistent in its presentation of the information and the company brand.