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.

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.