Streamline your proposal creation process with the Ultimate Proposal Template Mega Bundle, a comprehensive collection of 60 meticulously designed …The Ultimate Proposal Template Mega Bundle – 70+ Winning Business Proposal Templates
Steps for Writing a Business Proposal
One of the most important aspects of writing a winning proposal is first understanding 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 identify 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 proof 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 a 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 which peaks their interest to investigate the more detailed content in the technical approach itself. This is effectively done by clearly outlining the problem and emphasizing the need and urgency 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 work 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.
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.
Read all sections of the RFP
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. The slightest deviation from the proposed 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 a 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 adapted 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 to be made public.
One key subsection that I always recommend clients review before deciding 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.
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 your 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.
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 the 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 your 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 don’t want to lose money unless you feel like you are investing in a potentially long 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. Submit questions that will help to clarify the tasks and resources required.
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 proof of similar projects 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 you 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.
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.
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.
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, to 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 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.
Create a customized template
When you lay everything out upfront, 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 upfront, 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 upfront 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.
Adapting previous content
If including previously prepared content when writing a response to a Government RFP, do not just cut and paste it 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, a brief background of the company, and client testimonials, but for most information adapt it to the current client and scope of work.
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 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 is included at no additional cost.
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.
It is critical to present your vision for the project upfront, 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 for 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 broadly 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.
Your Guide to Request for Proposals
An RFP is a solicitation from an organization to attract qualified contractors who have the experience and skills to complete a project under contract in order to compare competitive bids. Government agencies and companies use an RFP to provide details of the scope and goals of the services being sought, identify all of the requirements, identify how the proposal response will be evaluated, provide the contract terms, and inform as to the bidding process. The goal is to receive unbiased competitive bids.
The RFP usually identifies a specific format and exactly what information will be required. Often, government agencies use an RFP template for soliciting proposals that have been used with previous projects which tends to end up with contradictions or incomplete information. This is why there is almost always a question period during which bidders can ask for clarification that will help them provide the correct information and price their bid accordingly.
If you are new to reviewing RFPs, you quickly find out that they can appear to be quite complicated and confusing. Even so, there are usually some basic components that are critical for understanding the proposal requirements. These include the Scope of Work/Services, Instructions to Bidders, Evaluation Criteria, Submission Instructions, and Cost/Pricing. It is extremely important that the person writing the RFP is experienced at navigating these requirements and the type of responses desired.
Typically, vendors assign junior employees to put together the RFP, which is then reviewed by a senior executive before finalizing. Often these employees are not too familiar with the technical aspects of the scope of services being requested which can create some confusing content that later needs clarification.
Major Sections of an RFP
This will give you an overview of what the organization is looking for and its expectations for a solution.
Typically, this will, at a minimum, provide some background as to how they came to require the services sought. It often describes the goals and objectives of the organization and the project and the problems that they are looking to solve. When knowledgeable, they will also provide some insight as to their expectations for the solution sought.
Scope of Work/Services
The Scope of Work or Services identifies their expectations and what they are looking for once the project is completed.
Milestones & Schedules
Sometimes a timetable is provided and the methods for measuring the results. This gives you a good idea as to when project tasks are expected to be completed during the project period.
Cost/Price Proposal or Budget
This usually provides the exact price information required, but sometimes only requests an overall project total. Hourly rates are usually fully loaded rates where details are required: hourly pay rates, G&A, Benefits, Profit, etc. to achieve fully loaded rates.
Price is often just a part of the evaluation while other times they specifically state that the lowest price proposal will be reviewed first and if technically acceptable, then it becomes the winning bid. Payment details may also be provided as well as any discounts for early payments.
Be sure when providing details of past contracts to include everything that they are asking for. This usually includes a contact person and their phone number and email. If they require you to submit a Past Performance Questionnaire to your past clients, do this early in the process so that they are received prior to the due date.
The due date and time are critical, so try and prepare your final version the day before it’s due. If they request hard copies, then give yourself a day or more to overnight the proposal documents with proof that it was delivered. Since 2020, hard copies have been on the decline and most proposals are either emailed or uploaded to a website. Be careful when reviewing an RFP Proposal Template-looking solicitation as there may be different delivery instructions presented in the document. It is also common to have to submit hard copies and an electronic version on a flash drive or emailed.
How to Write an Effective RFP
Your main goal is to mitigate the risk of the agency choosing your firm over other competitors. Three key areas are paramount: 1) Proof that your company has successfully performed similar services in the past; 2) you have the key personnel/project team with the required experience and expertise working on similar projects; and 3) that you have the financial capacity to manage the contract, pay your people, and purchase supplies/services without running out of finances before receiving payment for providing those services. When presenting this information, provide proof throughout to gain confidence that what you are saying is true and reliable. Also, when reviewing the RFP, be sure to get a grasp of the agency’s key criteria, i.e., what is important to them, and address those issues.
Be sure to be clear and concise in your copy. Include all of the information requested, but don’t provide a lot of additional content or documents that are not asked for. Be right to the point and use the same language or keywords used in the RFP so that you are speaking the same language. Your headers and sub-headers should reflect the RFP keywords for those related sections. Use bullets whenever you can to enable easy readability.
Be sure you provide the following basic information:
Title – Take this from the RFP.
Understanding of the Requirements – This is a summary to explain the project and the solution that the agency is looking for.
Company Background – Explain what your company does from the perspective of the RFP requirements and provide a brief history.
Contact Information – Include details for your company’s point-of-contact who is in charge of the proposal.
Other important issues to keep in mind when writing your proposal response: Answer the question, why should I choose your company, and what unique qualities do you bring that others don’t?
If you can mitigate the risk of choosing your company over the competition, your proposal will rise to the top of the list. If you can differentiate your company from the competition by identifying benefits that the agency will receive that only you can provide, you’ll gain extra points. If you can prove that you have successfully provided similar services to other agencies, you’ll gain their confidence and mitigate the risk of choosing your company in a competitive bidding process. And, if your pricing is not too high or too low, but in a competitive range, it will be obvious that you know what it will take to successfully take on the project.
Introduction to Government RFPs
A government Request for Proposal (RFP) is a document used that provides prospective contractors the instructions for bidding on government projects. After an RFP is issued, companies interested in bidding can submit a proposal and, if selected are awarded the contract.
The Government RFP must be followed to the letter as any deviation from the requirements will usually result in the proposal being thrown out as non-compliant even when it is a minor technicality like not having the right size borders on the pages. Since these are public documents, these measures are intended to ensure that everyone bidding is on equal footing.
These types of solicitations are usually quite lengthy and can be somewhat confusing to those new to the process. There are many sections that provide details as to what is expected when working under a federal contract. The intent is to create a formal bidding process where any qualified firm can submit a response to the government RFP that describes how they are the best-qualified bidder to perform the requested services. So, submitting an effective proposal that meets or exceeds the requirements is crucial to winning the bid.
For federal contract opportunities, check out the government’s System for Award Management website at SAM.gov.
Components of a Government RFP
There are usually 13 main sections of a federal government RFP. Each one is guided by the Federal Acquisition Regulations or FAR. When an agency is putting together a solicitation, they are supposed to follow these FAR regulations. This is also why some RFPs will contain information that doesn’t apply to the particular services being requested. The writer of the RFP needs to customize their descriptions within these FAR sections to the project at hand. When they don’t, there can be confusion and conflicting information.
Unless you have a photographic memory, when going through these sections, make notes to ensure that you are both in compliance with every request or direction and create an outline of the actual information that is required in every section of your proposal.
I recommend that you don’t just read through these sections A – M, but rather get a good grasp of the project and the proposal requirements by first going over Section A and then Sections L & M which tell you what you are going to have to put together in the content of your proposal. Then go back and read Section C so that you have a good understanding of the services required to be performed and are confident that you can provide evidence of your ability to perform all services. Finally, go through the contract requirements, which can have hidden instructions requesting additional information be included in the proposal that wasn’t in Section L.
Section A: Information to Offerors
This section is usually quite short and provides the due date, project title, solicitation number, RFP point-of-contact for submitting questions, and specifics on various issues like acknowledging amendments, which must be followed. When solicitations are specifically sent to a select group of companies, they often ask for a “No Response” reply if you are not interested in bidding.
Section B: Supplies or Services and Price/Costs
Based on CLINs (Contract Line Item Number), this section includes how they want the pricing presented. It typically describes the type of contract and how items or tasks will be billed, the period of performance (base period and option periods), and instructions on preparing your price proposal.
Section C: Statement of Work (SOW)
The SOW includes the scope of work and describes exactly what the contractor is expected to perform during the contract period. This section provides the background for your technical approach, management and staffing plans, and the basis for your pricing.
Section D: Packages and Marking
Here they describe the deliverables that are required during the contract period (reporting, and packaging and shipping, if applicable).
Section E: Inspection and Acceptance
Information is presented that covers the government’s process for accepting the deliverables and any damages if not met. Complex procedures can also affect your price proposal.
Section F: Deliveries or Performance
This section describes how the government’s CO/COR will monitor the work performed and how the contractor is to deliver services or perform tasks.
Section G: Contract Administration Data
This section is focused on how the government’s Contracting Officer or COR will interact and provide details to amend, modify or deviate from the contract terms, conditions, requirements, specifications, details and/or delivery schedules; issue task orders against the contract; make decisions regarding payments; and other contract issues.
Section H: Special Contract Requirements
These are conditions that are more contract related as opposed to proposal related, but also speaks to government-furnished equipment (GFE) and government-furnished property (GFP).
Section I: Contract Clauses/General Provisions
Again, these are procedures for managing changes to the original contract, GFE requirements, and GFP requirements.
Section J: Attachments & Exhibits
Descriptions of the additional requirements to the SOW, i.e., attachments, add-ons, and appendices.
Section K: Representations/Certifications and Statements of Offerors
Contractors should be sure that they are registered and current in the government’s System for Award Management (SAM) at SAM.gov. SAM registration will demonstrate certification of much of the required information and just requires acknowledgment while other information requires responses to be included in your proposal. This includes any small business certifications, unique entity identifiers, and other company-related information.
Section L: Instructions to Offerors and Other Notices
One of the most important sections for preparing the proposal content. It provides details on the exact content required, the organization of information, if multiple documents are required, formatting requirements, and how the proposal is to be submitted as well as other important instructions. Critical here is to follow the format instructions very closely (font type and size, margin depth, file format, and size, page limits, etc.).
Section M: Evaluation Factors for Award
This section is also critical in understanding the components of the proposal that are most critical to the government when evaluating your response. It defines the factor, subfactors, and other information that will be scored/graded during the evaluation. Often, other information is also identified that isn’t made clear in Section L, which can help you provide a comprehensive response. They will usually identify which sections of your proposal are more important than other sections and assign a percentage of the points available to each section. This way, you’ll have a good idea of where to put the majority of your energy. For example, if pricing is only 20% and your technical section is 50%, provide reasonable pricing, but kick ass with your technical approach.
One last thing when responding to a Government Request for Proposal, often different sections of the RFP are written by different people, and the boilerplate text is often inserted without an overall review, creating contradictions and ambiguities. This is why there is a question period during which you can submit questions to get clarification to resolve those issues.
Proposal Writing Mistakes Most Companies Make
Even the most qualified bidder in the proposal process can lose because of various mistakes made when presenting their information. Often, extremely competent contractors are technically adept and expert at what they do, but when it comes to marketing their services, they struggle. It can be very frustrating when your proposal does not win the bid, especially when you have spent a great deal of time and effort writing it.
One major error that companies make is acquiring a proposal template sample and then cutting and pasting their information into it. This is most often a serious cause of failure and there are many reasons why. The major reason is that every RFP is different, and the minutia provided in the requirements can easily be overlooked. The truth is that each proposal needs a customized response targeting the specific goals, objectives, and requirements of the solicitation.
COMMON CONTEXTUAL MISTAKES
These common mistakes should be avoided when preparing your proposals:
Focusing on what you want to say rather than on the government agency’s goals and objectives
You want to focus on what your client wants to know and how you are going to provide a solution to their needs. It must be clear how you will solve their problems or service their needs in order to achieve their vision for a solution. Demonstrate exactly how you will achieve their requirements and prove that you have the experience and project team to do it successfully.
Failure to demonstrate to the client that they will receive a significant return on investment
Describe how your client will receive a return on their investment. Based on the facts of the project, you will stand out from your competition. This does not have to be monetary, but rather a series of benefits tied together with their goals and objectives for the project.
Lack of the use of images and graphics
Use graphics, figures, and tables to support and/or present some of the critical information you want to communicate. These methods make it easier to read and visualize the information that you are trying to articulate.
Failing to differentiate your business from the competition
What strategies or technical approaches/methodologies will you bring to the project that are unique in the industry or proprietary to the business that sets you apart from your competitors? Emphasize methods you use or added value that you bring that other company to do not. Compare the typical approach to yours, why the other approach is weak, and why yours is superior. Be positive by stating that while you used to use those methods, over the years you found a more effective approach.
Being too wordy and over-describing your approach
Keep your content to what is requested and be sure to make your responses clear and concisely written. Use more graphics. Use bulleted lists. Use tables and charts.
Not responding to every detail requested in the RFP
Provide some kind of response even when you don’t have a good answer or don’t want to address the item. You can always state that upon contract award you’ll implement this or that program.
Copy and Paste, Typos, and Grammar Issues
Be sure you have the appropriate people to prepare the copy with the correct grammar and punctuation. Do not just copy and paste information from previous proposals or use a proposal template sample. Customize that information specific to the proposal at hand. Often, previous client names get left in pasted content causing an unprofessional response to say the least.
Not demonstrating how your company will add value to the client
By understanding your client’s needs and requirements you will be able to demonstrate how your service will create real value for your client. This is typically something new, that adds more value, or results in a better end product. This will be specific to each client.
TYPICAL TECHNICAL MISTAKES
Not being compliant and following the specific instructions
Just because you know that you can provide the services requested better than any other company, the client usually does not have a clue. You need to explain that to them and prove it. And a key component of this is responding to each and every detail they request in the RFP regardless of if they ask for the same or similar information multiple times. They have a checklist, and you want to get checked off for responding to every item.
Be sure you can meet all of the minimum requirements. You can have the best proposal overall, but if you cannot meet all of the minimum requirements, you are not going to win the bid…Don’t bid on that one.
Not focusing on the client
Throughout the proposal, focus on the client’s goals, objectives, needs, and wants, not those of your company. This is a common mistake.
Not using a third party to review the final proposal before submission
Often, when writing and reviewing the proposal content, the key person putting together the proposal inputs words and punctuation that are not there, as they understand perfectly what they are communicating and do not see the errors. Have a third-party good at grammar and punctuation review the final content to ensure that it is understandable and written correctly.
Not requesting a debrief
When you do not win a competitive bid, find out where you were weak in order to improve your responses for future success. You can also request a copy of the winning proposal and compare it with your submission.
Even when you do win, find out what it is that made the difference between your proposal and the others. This way you can continually improve your proposals going forward.
Know the Different Types of Proposals
THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PREPARING PROPOSALS FOR GOVERNMENT AGENCIES VS BUSINESSES
The biggest difference is that with government proposals, you must provide the exact information being requested in the exact format while being 100% in compliance with all major and minor details mentioned in the RFP documents. If you miss one small item, it can get thrown out as non-compliant. With most business proposals, you can provide exactly what you want to present regarding your product or service and sell them on how your firm can save them money, make them money, or whatever it is that rocks their boat. The following provides a few more details that differentiate government proposals from business proposals.
Preparing a Government Proposal
When companies are interested in gaining experience working on government contracts, the most common method is to respond to a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) that has been issued by a government agency. When entering the field for the first time, depending on the services requested, gaining experience as a subcontractor can gain you documented credible government contract experience which can be leveraged as past performance. The federal government’s process for acquiring contractors can be quite complex and often confusing. Understanding the proposal writing format is key to submitting a successful bid. You will run into all kinds of regulations that need to be complied with, various terms and conditions to acknowledge, and certain policies and procedures that must be followed precisely.
Often large companies will hire both proposal writing firms and subject matter experts, who together help to prepare a comprehensive proposal. A small business typically cannot afford the fees charged by those firms, yet does not have the time or experience to prepare the proposal themselves. Hiring a firm that specializes in developing proposals for small businesses can be a savior. The RFP Firm is one such company, working 100% with small businesses and leveraging its expertise to position those businesses as the ideal contractor.
The fact is that even if your company has performed on many government contracts, each RFP has different requirements and procedures. This is true of federal, state, and local government agencies. For the federal government, the process is regulated by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Even many state governments now follow the FAR requirements for preparing their RFPs.
Once you have reviewed the contract requirements and made sure that you can meet the minimum requirements, nothing is stopping you from developing and submitting a proposal. The Scope of Services/Work will describe the contract requirements. There are often instructions to bidders that provide the details of what must be included in the proposal and the format in which it should be presented. You want to be 100% compliant, so following the instructions in detail is extremely important. Typically, there will be a period where you are allowed to submit questions for clarification followed by an amendment to answer those questions to ensure that your proposal writing format is consistent.
If done properly, bidders will more easily be able to be compared and rated as to their capability and experience to provide the required services. Pricing is of course the most tangible component for measuring proposer responses.
Types of Government Contracts
There are several different kinds of contacts. These include:
- Fixed-Price Contracts: Your pricing must be a pre-determined price as a set fee for the services provided without the option for adjustment, although sometimes they can be renegotiated if unexpected circumstances arise.
- Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) Contracts: These might have the same requirements as one of the other types of contracts, but it is intended to be ongoing on an as-needed basis.
- Cost-Plus Contracts: With a focus on the final quality of the project, potential costs are defined, along with various possible supplementary costs required as things progress.
- Cost Reimbursement Contracts: A base amount is identified for incurred costs as a cost ceiling. These types of proposals often cannot be accurately estimated upfront.
- Time and Materials Contracts (T&M): While there will be various fixed costs, often the timeline and number of materials required are difficult to estimate.
Preparing a Business Proposal
When preparing a business proposal for a private company, it is typically, wide open allowing you to prepare your proposal in a manner that emphasizes the benefits you bring, the financial rationale, and how your experience creates a situation where choosing your company is low risk. Without the formalities of government proposals, you can provide a more sales and marketing-oriented submission.
That being said, the requirements of a business proposal may not be specific enough to price it properly or may include some confusing information. Requesting clarification can be important so that you have a good understanding of exactly how they want the work to be performed or, if they are leaving that decision up to you, then you can propose how you will perform the services and why that is the best approach. This is where you can differentiate your services from the competition. You can also develop your presentation in a manner that is interesting, professional, and engaging, which is more difficult with a government proposal.
How to Write a Funding Proposal for Your Small Business
A funding or “grant” proposal will have a well-defined deliverable that can be documented. The project will need to define the exact results that are requested to be funded. A grant proposal must be well-planned and presented. In a grant proposal, the requested funds are often for projects that will benefit both the government agency (mission and goals) and the organization that requested the funds. Grantees typically are looking for projects that will result in positive change and/or have a large impact on specific principles, ideals, or philosophy.
For example, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) identifies a large number of types of federal grants that non-profits can apply for—one sample program is designed to reduce tobacco use and educate citizens about healthy eating. Even with these solicitations, companies submitting a high-quality small business proposal have an opportunity to be awarded a contract.
The keys to writing a grant proposal include:
- Defining your goals, costs, and timeline.
- Present a summary of the grant opportunity that you are proposing, and the amount of funding being requested. This could be as a cover letter or an executive summary.
- Tie in the goals and objectives of your proposed project with the organization’s mission.
- Differentiate your proposed project from those being proposed by your competitors.
- Identify how the funds will be used and your methods for implementing your program.
- Keep the content of your presentation formal as a stand-alone project where you invite the reader to participate.
This is a high-level presentation as once you have an interested grantor, then you can go into the details to describe exactly how you will accomplish every step.
In your executive summary address the following points:
- Describe what your organization does and identify your mission and history.
- Provide some details of the project using an attractive and descriptive name.
- Identify the importance of the project, the problem you are solving, and why this is important.
- Describe the results you expect to receive and how you will evaluate its success.
- Make a case as to why your organization is the best for the project.
- Identify how much funding you need and how you will finance ongoing work.
Provide a clear and concise background of your company including the founding, history, mission, client base, etc.
Provide sufficient information about your infrastructure to provide confidence that you have the resources, expertise, and financial capacity to successfully carry out the contract responsibilities.
Introduce your key personnel, i.e., management, project manager, and supervisors. Include some background information and samples of successful implementations of similar projects. If available, support this with letters of recommendation, awards, licenses, and certifications.
Identify the Problem and the Solution that you are offering
Get heads nodding and showing that you understand the problem and how you can provide the solution. Identify any other solutions that have been tried, why they didn’t work, and why your innovative solution solves those issues and will result in meeting the organization’s goals. Where possible, use numbers and facts to state the problem.
Describe the urgency of implementing the solution now rather than at some time in the future. Using proven facts, compare the problem with issues that you have dealt with in the past and how you were able to solve those problems through the successful implementation of your solution. Also, discuss that your key personnel and project team who worked on those projects will also be working on this project. At the same time, keep the focus on their organization and the outcomes being sought.
Present your Primary Goals and Objectives for the Project
This step needs to be made very clear so that there is no question about your understanding of the problem and what your solution will achieve. Describe how you will measure the success of the program throughout the implementation and how their investment in the project will benefit the target stakeholders. The client’s objectives should be the outcomes you are proposing to achieve.
Your goals should be stated in general terms while the objectives should use SMART, i.e., Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound measures of progress.
Methodology and Strategic Approach
For a small business proposal, you must be clear in describing how you will achieve those goals. Provide specific lists of the resources you will be using/acquiring, i.e., personnel, facilities, services, and resources you will need to be able to deliver the results.
Identify the tasks and schedule you to propose to implement the project and the expected results at each stage in the process. Describe how these are cost-effective approaches to accomplishing the tasks and achieving the desired outcomes.
Make it clear what the evaluation criteria are and how the project will be evaluated as it moves along. Demonstrate that the investment made will be able to be measured to show the effectiveness of the project.
Funding Sources and Ongoing Progress
While the grant is there to get things moving forward, you will need to show how you will sustain the ongoing development of the program as it grows and evolves. This may include basic operations such as maintenance and support.
Presenting a 5-year plan can be extremely helpful. Your cost analysis should include standard numbers like inflation, ongoing training, growth, and the evolution of the program. When presenting a project budget, be sure to include all relevant costs including travel, supplies, marketing, and personnel as well as tangential items like insurance, utilities, and other overhead costs.
While incredibly important, the RFP process is often complex and time-consuming. It is a challenge for many, but with the right approach and resources, you can speed up the process. In this blog, we’ll offer you tools to enable you to feel more confident managing RFPs. We’ll start with understanding what they are, the roles in the RFP process, and the key steps in the process.
The RFP (Request for Proposal) process can be complex and quite challenging and time-consuming, especially for small businesses where the key personnel are all 100% occupied running the business. The RFP Firm can help speed up the process. During the proposal development process, there are several key steps. First, let us review some of the key issues:
- Understanding what a Request for Proposal (RFP) is
- Resources necessary during the proposal development process
- The basic steps in the proposal process
- Government agency’s evaluation process
- Understanding what is an RFP
Fundamentally, an RFP is a solicitation issued by a government agency looking to purchase a product or service from a private company/contractor/vendor. The RFP is a request from vendors to submit proposals that demonstrate their qualifications, experience, and cost for fulfilling the project’s scope of work according to a specific business proposal format defined in the instructions. The government agency then evaluates each proposal submitted and usually grades and scores each relevant component. Typically, the proposal that receives the highest overall score gets awarded the contract.
Resources necessary during the proposal development process
Often, for a small business the owner, president, CEO, or other officer has the most knowledge of the business and its experience performing similar contracts and, therefore, is the most qualified to articulate and pull together the required information. They can coordinate accessing that information from other departments within their organization and discuss the best strategy for explaining how they do what they do and the best past contracts to use as examples to prove that the company has experienced similar in scope to the RFP requirements.
Proposal Writer/Consultant: The proposal consultant/writer has the responsibilities for reviewing all of the RFP documents and identifying all of the compliance requirements to ensure 100% compliance with the legalities to guarantee the proposal does not get thrown out on a technicality, outlining the content requirements for every section and subsections for each of the required proposal documents, and developing the proposal template used for capturing the content. This includes an appropriate cover page, transmittal letter, table of contents, and often a list of acronyms and compliance matrix when requested. Then incorporating and editing the required content, ensuring clear and concise copy, perfect grammar and punctuation, adding headers and sub-headers, formatting the content so that it is easy to read and looks good on the page, ensuring that statements are supported by proofs, and creating tables, charts, and callouts where necessary.
Before submitting content for any section to the proposal writer, the client team should review their content and sign off internally, thereby not having to redo the effort again and again. As the content for each section is incorporated, a draft is returned to the client to review and ensure that nothing has been misstated and any missing information is identified and requested. Then, any additional content is incorporated. Before submitting content for any section to the proposal writer, the client team should review their content and sign off internally, thereby not having to redo the effort again and again. As the content for each section is incorporated, a draft is returned to the client to review and ensure that nothing has been misstated and any missing information is identified and requested. Then, any additional content is incorporated.
The pricing portion of a proposal is always critical to ensure that you are in a competitive range. This is important as pricing that is too far outside of the median range of bidders, i.e., too high or too low, is often given a low score in the evaluation. Some RFPs are LPTA (Lowest Price Technically Acceptable) and will first rank the proposals based on price, review the lowest priced offer first, and if technically acceptable, not consider any of the others. In this case, you must provide your lowest possible pricing. The pricing portion of a proposal is always critical to ensure that you are in a competitive range. This is important as pricing that is too far outside of the median range of bidders, i.e., too high or too low, is often given a low score in the evaluation. Some RFPs are LPTA (Lowest Price Technically Acceptable) and will first rank the proposals based on price, review the lowest priced offer first, and if technically acceptable, not consider any of the others. In this case, you must provide your lowest possible pricing.
Of course, for all proposals, your pricing should be what they call “reasonable” with a modest profit. Always be sure that you will be satisfied with your pricing as there is no reason to bid on a project at too low a price where you will not be satisfied. Sometimes, you’ll need to provide a lot of details showing hourly rates, markups, overhead/G&A, profit, etc. At other times, they just ask for a flat fee.
Basic Steps in the Proposal Process
To achieve the goal of the government’s RFP, your proposal needs to provide all of the requested information in the required format with nothing left out or disregarded. One huge mistake businesses make is to just state that they will do the work, but not how they will do it, with what resources, who will do what, and what qualifications and experience your company and the proposed team have to accomplish the required tasks. Provide proof of what you say to earn the confidence of the evaluation team that you can accomplish the tasks described in the scope of work.
And, wherever possible, it is critical to differentiate your business and technical approach from the competition so that you stand out from the other vendors with a unique approach or experience, or technology.
The basic steps include:
- Reviewing all of the RFP documents.
- Identifying all compliance requirements (formatting, forms, attachments, etc.).
- Identifying any key pain points or important issues gleaned from the RFP.
- Outlining the required content for each volume.
- Developing the narratives for each section and subsections for every volume explaining how you will address each requirement.
- Editing the content to ensure clear and concise copy, and correct punctuation and grammar.
- Formatting the content on every page to ensure easy readability and professional presentation.
- Giving each proposal document a final polish, saving it in the required format, and identifying the required file names.
- Then submitted according to the submittal instructions.
It is crucial within the narrative to emphasize how you will help the agency to overcome any crucial issues or problems that they are seeking to solve or improve. In addition, identify any additional benefits that they will receive from you as the vendor that is provided at no additional cost. Often, these are methods, technologies, or other assets that are a normal part of your operations. Describe the positive experience they will have with your company as the vendor of choice and the benefits they will receive as a result.
The information requested in an RFP can vary widely, but typically includes:
- Technical approach
- Management plan and key personnel qualifications/experience
- Experience with the scope of work
- Past performance references
- Financial capacity
- Government agency’s evaluation process
- Evaluate each proposal section for compliance with the RFP requirements
- Score each main proposal section
- Compare vendor responses
- Calculate pricing compared with the mean
During this process, they will often create a short list of potential vendors and even request onsite presentations and/or demos where they can ask questions which also allows you to provide more detailed explanations.
It is always best to accept the government’s contract terms without exception early in your proposal as this can often disqualify you from being awarded a contract.