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.

Guide to Understanding the RFP Process

Guide to Understanding the RFP Process

Issuing a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) is the primary method by which the government conducts business with third-party contractors. Understanding the RFP process is critical for ensuring that the time and effort you invest in this process is done correctly. Often, using the service of professional RFP writers is worth the investment. This is especially the case when you are a small business without the time, resources, and expertise to accomplish this on your own.

The RFP process is a formal one that is intended to level the playing field for those bidding so that the competition is fair, and each proposal is measured based on the same requested information and evaluation procedures. Sorting through the RFP and various attachments and forms can be a challenge and is often quite overwhelming.

The RFP itself will provide potential bidders with information about the agency, what it does, and the purpose of the proposed contract. Typically, they will include a detailed Performance Work Statement that includes a Scope of Work. This part of the document will let you know exactly what the performance requirements will be for providing the services under the contract. It may also identify what their expectations are, a timeline for delivering the required services, and the type of reporting necessary to support the project. It may also include the agency’s expectations for implementing the services and presenting the proposed pricing.

Another possible step in the RFP process is the issuance of an RFI (Request for Information) by which an Agency wants to get to know about the pool of potential contractors. Once the agency receives and reviews the RFIs, they can either incorporate feedback into a more formal RFP which is provided openly to the marketplace or send the RFP to only those whom they have identified as qualified based on the RFI feedback.

An alternative to the RFP process is an RFQ (Request for Quote) which usually would not require the expertise of a professional RFP writer. Rather than the bidder being asked to explain exactly how they will accomplish the work, the government specifies exactly how it should work. This leaves the primary response focused on a price quote along with proof that the bidders have the required experience.

While sorting through all of the detailed requirements of an RFP, there are a number of steps that are typically included. Each one of these steps will have specific requirements that must be responded to and followed to the letter. A proposal can easily get thrown out as noncompliant if even one small request is not fulfilled. Government contracts are usually quite complex because of all of the rules and regulations so it is imperative to respond to each RFP request regardless of whether it is a minor issue or has been duplicated somewhere else.

Proposal responses to RFPs are often broken up into separate volumes or sections which can include:

  • Business Information (company details, proposal forms, and documentation)
  • Company Overview
  • Past Performance
  • Technical Approach
  • Management Plan
  • Key Personnel
  • Price Proposal

Often some of these areas are combined or missing entirely. In a federal government RFP, the information is laid out in alphabetical sections with the key two sections that should be reviewed prior to beginning the bid process being Section L: Instructions to Bidders and Section M: Evaluation Criteria. These two sections identify how the proposal should be organized, formatted, and the details of what needs to be included. Even so, throughout the RFP there you’ll find statements identifying additional information that must be included, so you still should go through all of the solicitation documents to ensure that you are 100% compliance with what is being requested.

Most RFPs are quite complex and should be systematically reviewed, outlined, and clear and concise narratives created for your response. Your internal “subject matter experts” should be the ones providing the information for each section. The narratives should describe how you will provide the services, what qualifications and experience you have as a company to perform those services, the key personnel who will be involved in managing and delivering those services, the qualifications of those key personnel, what type of quality assurance protocols you’ll use to ensure you achieve the requirements at the necessary level of quality, why you use that approach and those methods, your proposed price, and your pricing rationale. In addition, high quality references and past performance examples is critical along with proof of your company’s financial capacity to carry the contract through to completion.

One last item is to mitigate the risk of choosing your company over the competition. The key method for accomplishing this is to provide proofs that support the statements you make. For example, when you describe your approach and methodology, identify why you use that approach and give examples of past clients for whom you have successfully implemented those services. If your key personnel were responsible for those successful past projects, identify what their roles will be on this new contract.

The RFP process is designed to provide the confidence necessary to select your company from among the rest of the competing vendors.

Knowing the Purpose of an RFP

Knowing the Purpose of an RFP

A government RFP (Request for Proposal) is a document issued by a government agency to solicit proposals from qualified contractors to provide either products or services. The purpose of the solicitation process is to receive proposals from multiple vendors at the same time in order to evaluate one against another to determine which company is the most qualified and provide the best value for the cost while meeting the government’s goals and objectives.

The selection process is most often a balance between the vendor’s qualifications, technical approach, past experience accomplishing similar work, and the bid price with emphasis placed on each of these factors based on which is deemed more important than another. Typically, they will use a scoring system that assigns points to each of these resulting in an overall evaluation score that enables the government to justify their vendor selection.

That being said, the RFP enables the government agency to obtain and compare offers from several qualified vendors, understand their options, and evaluate those competing bids all based on the same criteria, thereby working from a level playing field. While these RFPs can often be quite complex as a result of a breadth of government requirements, there are RFP writing services in business to help potential contractors navigate the proposal writing process.

Government agencies issue RFPs in order to provide concrete specifications of their needs so that they can measure how well a potential contractor understands their project requirements, provide transparency in the bid process, and establish measurable benchmarks by which they can evaluate progress throughout the contract period.

In addition to a vendor’s proposal, once all proposals have been received, the government may request additional documentation or clarifications related to the proposal content. Often this occurs during an oral presentation, but can be strictly document related, for example, a request for recent financial statements.

One thing to understand when reviewing solicitations is that there are several variations that are issued prior to or instead of an official request for proposal (RFP). An RFI (Request for Information) is a document issued to prospective vendors to gather information that will help the government better understand issues from the vendor’s perspective that will impact the scope of work, which enables them to develop a more coherent RFP.

A Request for Qualifications is a document sent to prospective vendors to help limit the potential bidders, often resulting in an RFP that is sent directly to a specific pool of potential contractors rather than as a open bid.

A Request for Quote (RFQ) is a variation that is more applicable for standard products rather than services where the differences will be primarily based on price alone. In this case, the vendor most likely won’t need external RFP writing services.

When a government agency begins the development of an RFP, they set the criteria for scoring the proposals received. This typically includes a proposed price, references, past projects, technical approach, and often a management plan. This way all proposals are compared equally one against another.

In addition, the agency will identify the purpose of the solicitation and a bit of history describing how the project came to be necessary. Usually there will be a section titled Performance Work Statement which includes the Scope of Work together with information defining their expectations, materials, systems, reporting, etc. that will need to be taken into account during performance of the contract. Delivery dates and/or milestones are also often included for clarification of expectations.

A host of information is typically included about the government’s goals, mission, and scope of work for the contract. They will introduce a schedule of events which, at a minimum, will include the issue date, deadline for asking questions, the due date, and when the proposal evaluation process will take place. The evaluation can be done publicly and then followed by oral presentations for those who make the first cut.

Often, following the question period, the agency will issue an addendum to provide clarification to the questions that had been submitted and when any major adjustments are required, the proposal due date can get extended. This is especially the case if major edits to the RFP itself are made and an updated version is reissued. If this occurs after you have made significant progress in developing the proposal, be sure to make any necessary adjustments to the content based on the government’s responses to questions and/or any amendments that have been issued.

Key to ensuring your company can meet the RFP expectations is identifying any “minimum requirements.” If you cannot meet the minimum requirements, you can have the highest quality proposal, but you will not win the bid if you cannot meet those requirements and others can.

Once you understand the purpose of an RFP and have some experience reviewing the content and the organization of that content, you’ll begin to see some similarities and understand the standard format commonly used by federal government agencies. For example, after a review of the scope of work, take a look at Sections L and M of the RFP. This is where they provide the proposal instructions and how the proposals will be evaluated and scored. If you see anything that you will not be able to meet, move on to the next one rather than waste your effort, time, and money where you have little chance of being awarded the contract. Then, work to beef up those areas where you have a weakness by developing the experience they are looking for.

How Federal Government Contracts Work

How Federal Government Contracts Work

In order to support the operations, goals, and objectives of a government agency, federal contracts are provided to commercial entities to perform a wide variety of services. Being a government agency or department, they come with a large number of rules and regulations requiring numerous form, agreement, authorizations, and contingencies.

Federal government proposals are basic government contracts, grant, or agreements that enable the government to fund various projects or research and are subject to strict terms and conditions supported by specific payment terms, reporting requirements, and responsibility initiatives. Often these contracts require a performance bond as a guarantee that the contractor will deliver the services requested. If the contractor defaults on the contract, the government has recourse by cashing in on the performance bond, taking civil action, or even criminal actions if appropriate, all resulting in negative financial consequences to the contractor that doesn’t fulfill its agreed upon obligations.

The rules and regulations must be diligently followed at the federal, state, and local government levels and the consequences can be serious based on some very complex statutes. Even during the request for federal government proposals and the requirements for submitting a response, these regulatory and statutory provisions can be a bit complex. Contractors must pay attention to the government’s procedures and methodology used to solicit the contract, the process for negotiating the contract, specific reimbursable costs, and how the contractor must submit its invoices in order to get paid.

Often signed forms must be included with the proposal such as minimum wage acknowledgement, conflict of interest, subcontracting, drug-free workplace, and affirmative action. While the government agencies have tried to reduce the burden of all of their rules and regulations, prospective government contractors need to be sure that they are one hundred percent compliant with the government proposal requirements.

There are several different types of federal government contracts and preparing your proposal should take these into account. There is a standard contract although you’ll find that there are a slew of clauses that often seem to go on and on. There are master task order contracts (MATOC) where you are approved under a master contract and then receive task orders periodically over time. There is an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) where the approved services are known, but the amount of each is not necessarily know. There are also straight order contracts for specific or various supplies.

Now to the good part. There are great opportunities for various types of small businesses looking to pursue government contracts! In fact, the US Government purchases around $200 Billion in goods and services annually. Much of this is operations & maintenance, security, rehabilitation & construction of government facilities while others are purchases of various goods, equipment, and supplies needed to operate these facilities. Then, of course, there are numerous types of vehicles from autos, trucks, and military vehicles to planes, drones, and spacecraft. In addition, we have medical research and funding of new technologies.

For small businesses, every agency has either specific percentages of their contracts designated to meet either specific goals or percentages of their contract investments. The primary “set-aside” RFPs resulting in federal government proposals are for Small Business Enterprise, Minority-Owned Business, Small Disadvantaged Business, Women-Owned Business, HUBZone, Veteran-Owned Business, and Disabled Veteran-Owned Business designations.

Often, when first getting into federal government contracting, a small business doesn’t have the experience (Past Performance) required or at least desired by the agency that issued the RFP. Past Performance provides the government with the confidence that your company has successfully fulfilled similar contracts. One way to begin to get this experience is to provide services as a subcontractor to a larger government contractor who is looking for small businesses to participate in the contract in order to meet the governments small business goals. Once you have provided services as a legitimate subcontractor, you can use that experience as evidence of your Past Performance on a federal contract when bidding on up and coming contracts as a Prime contractor.

As a small business, there are a few things you can begin to do to prepare for before submitting proposals in response to federal government RFPs. First, get your company certified in one or more categories of small business as mentioned above by contacting the Small Business Administration (SBA) to see in what categories you may qualify. Next, you’ll need a DUNS number (Dun & Bradstreet), now called a Unique Entity Identifier in many government solicitations. With a DUNS number, you’ll be able to register in the federal government’s System for Award Management (SAM) where you’ll document all of that information and receive a CAGE Code making life much easier when bidding on these types of contracts.

If necessary, there are attorneys and consultants who specialize in helping companies through this process, but I recommend attempting to do this yourself first as the items in the previous paragraph are not that complicated to do yourself and will save you a lot of money. Even so, there may be issued where the advice of an expert can make this process more efficient.

Basics of Writing a Good Proposal

Basics of Writing a Good Proposal

In every case when writing a proposal, your goal is to beat the competition and receive a contract award. This requires a persuasive presentation of your qualifications and experience that mitigates the risk of choosing your company and generating the confidence that you can meet or exceed the requirements identified in the request for proposal (RFP) and achieve their mission and objectives.

To achieve this goal, you must be persuasive in your response. This requires writing from a point of confidence that impacts those who are evaluating your presentation. Rather than say, “if this happens, we might do this,” you need to assume that you’ll be awarded the contract and write from an assumption that “upon contract award, we will do this or that.” So, understanding the perspective of those evaluating your proposal, know that they are primarily interested in working with a contractor who will meet their needs.

Know that they are not interested in anything except how you will accomplish their goals, so focus on providing all of the information they are requesting and leave out most other information that you feel might be interesting but is not specifically asked for. This is not an entertaining experience for those evaluating your proposal, but more of a chore, so you want to make it easy and straightforward for them to review your proposal.

Key here is to tell them what they want to hear, not what you want to tell them. It is about what they want, not about what you want. It is about their needs, not your needs. It is about the benefits you bring to the contract, not about what you will get from providing the services. So…keep it brief and to the point as much as possible and use their language, not your own.

A bit of redundancy is not necessarily a bad thing here as reinforcing the benefits you bring will only help keep their awareness of why they should award you the contract as opposed to another. Of course, you don’t want to just repeat the same thing over and over, but as the saying goes, “tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” You have opportunities to repeat this in your cover letter, executive summary, and conclusion.

When responding to a request for proposal, make it clear that you understand what it is that they are wanting to accomplish with this contract and focus all of your attention on describing how you will help them meet their goals and objectives. Again, it is about them and what they want, not you and your company. Make it about them and how they will benefit from your resources, experience, and technical approach. In other words, when describing what you will do to meet the requirements, identify why this is a good approach, why you use this methodology, why the people you’ll assign are the best for the job, and how your past experience proves that you will be successful implementing the requirements for this contract.

In each case, describe how they will benefit from everything that you are able to provide and why the methods you are advocating will benefit them. Support this with proofs and evidence that others have benefited from your methods. When you state how you will accomplish a particular task or by using certain resources, assume they will respond with a “so what” and pre-empt this by describing why do it that way, why those resources, and what the benefits they will receive by that approach.

The best way to see if you are writing from this perspective is to go back with a fresh view of your proposal and put yourself in their shoes so to speak, reading it as if you are the evaluator. Ask yourself how you feel emotionally about the company as you review the proposal response. Is everything clear and understandable. Does the proposal content give you confidence in the company’s ability to accomplish the contract goals technically, financially, with qualified personnel and resources, and with the professional results they are looking for.

When making statements, describe why you do it that way and how your clients have benefited from those solutions and procedures. Differentiate your company from the competition by identifying optional methods that are most likely being used by your competitors and reinforce that you have evolved from those methods to more effective approaches that have been proven over the years and appreciated by your clients for whom you have had similar requirements.

You are communicating with actual people, so be sure to write in manner that recognizes that there are real people reading and reviewing your response to their proposal request (RFP). Be specific and, as much as possible, avoid generalizations. Specifics make things tangible to the reader who then is better able to interact with what you are communicating. Communicate in a way that makes what you are saying real, rather than some kind of technical brief that no one wants to read. This way you are drawing the reader into the dialog. You want to get them nodding their heads as they evaluate your proposal and moving your response to the top of the list.