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.