Understanding The Rfp Process

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
  • Pricing
  • 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.

Know The Different Types Of Proposals

Know the Different Types of Proposals

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Steps For Writing A Business Proposal

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.

Your Guide To Request For Proposals

Your Guide to Request for Proposals

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

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

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

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

Submission Instructions
The due date and time are critical, so try and prepare your final version the day before it’s due. If they request hard copies, then give yourself a day or more to overnight the proposal documents with proof that it was delivered. Since 2020, hard copies have been 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.

The Components Of A Business Proposal

Construction of your Business Proposal

A business proposal, unlike a government solicitation response, is more flexible, allowing you to present your company, its key qualifications, benefits, and expected outcome in a manner that creates a persuasive case for selecting you over the competition.
Although there are components that are always included in creating a foundation, the key strategy will be specific to the industry, client, and services for which you are bidding.

Like every other proposal, the format of business proposals requires your initial strategy to begin by capturing the client’s information and background and gaining an understanding of the problems to be solved by the services provided. The key components that establish the foundation of your proposal will include:

Company Information: Background, qualifications, key benefits that enable your company to stand out from the competition.
Experience and knowledge of the services required: Describe your understanding of the problem being solved, what the client needs, and your solution.
Technical Approach: Description of how you will render the required services, i.e., using what resources and strategies, and who does what, when, and why.
Project Cost: If necessary, break down the costs for an understanding of the pricing components and/or include a narrative.

Cover Page
Include the basic components identifying the client (name, address, and contact person), a title for the proposal that identifies the proposed services, your company information (name, address, and contact person, email, and phone), and the date.
If applicable, include an image that captures the essence of the project and projects a professional appearance for your business.
What is not helpful, are graphics throughout the proposal that are too fancy where your document looks more like a magazine than a professional proposal, so do not overdo the graphics throughout the document unless it clarifies a component of the narrative. And, do not put your content in two columns.

Transmittal Letter/Cover Letter
Provide a brief introduction to your company (years in business, specialization, etc.). Identify the experience your company has that is directly related to the contract and why you are proposing to provide the required services to the client.
Highlight the key benefits that your company brings that set you apart from the competition and will provide confidence in your ability to successfully execute all requirements on time and within budget.
Briefly identify the information provided in the proposal itself. Offer to provide any additional information or answer questions the client may have and have it signed by a senior officer along with their contact information.

Table of Contents
Include a table of contents that mirrors the proposal content with sections or tabs and sub-sections to three levels which each link to the related page. Microsoft Word will automatically create a table of contents based on your headers and sub-headers.

Executive Summary
By providing a high-level overview of the proposal, you can set the stage for what to expect in the proposal content. You can expand on some of the briefs identified in your cover letter and go into more detail.
The goal is to provide brief summaries of each section within the proposal itself under sub-headers identifying those sections and enticing the reader with the solutions covered in each of those sections.
Often, you can create the executive summary after completing the proposal or use the executive summary as your initial outline prior to developing all of the content. This second way will allow you to create an organized strategy prior to the detailed narratives.
You are not trying to explain the details in the summary, but rather highlight the key points in each of the sections of the proposal that identify the client’s problems and your solutions. Allow your executive summary to provide a high-level overview and then leave the rest of the proposal to explain the details.

Provide your understanding of the project, its importance, and the benefits that will they will receive as a result of your services under the contract.

Description of the Project and your Technical Approach
If a specific format of the business proposal is requested, be sure to follow their format and organizational structure.
Describe in a detailed narrative how you will provide the required tasks/services, what resources you will use and who will do what, when, and how. Possibly provide a schedule of events or a Gantt chart showing over time when those tasks will be conducted.
Be specific and define clearly your aims and goals, as well as your methodology and approach. Describe the contract team containing your key personnel and their roles, responsibilities, and qualifications.

Provide profiles of past projects similar in scope and size with details that include the organization name, address, contact person, contract amount, period of performance, and a description of the services or tasks accomplished.

Pricing/Cost Proposal
Include your overall estimated cost for the project with descriptions of variables that could impact the cost or negotiated items with alternatives and how they will impact the overall contract amount.