How To Write a RFP? Part 1

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Last week we walked through how to write an Invitation to Bid.    Today, we are going to concentrate our discussion to the Request for Proposal (RFP).  We will however be mentioning the Request for Quote (RFQ).  An IFB your proposal consists of filling out the forms provided by the government.  However, RFP and RFQ are different.  Sooner or later you are going to want to bid on a Request For Proposal.  To find all requirements over $25,000, click here.  

What is an Request for Proposal (RFP)?

RFP is a bid document that outlines a problem or requirement and asks small businesses to propose their methods for solving the problem.  You will also need to calculate all associated costs necessary to solve the problem or fulfill the requirement.  So, how does the RFQ differ from an IFB?  With this in mind let us go over how an RFP differs from an IFB.

How Does the Request for Proposal Differ?

We know that an IFB requires the bidder to fill out forms. Does that mean that you won’t have to fill out some forms?  Unfortunately, no, there will be some forms to fill out, but most of the proposal will explain your plan for meeting the government’s need.  You will also provide your documents.  What kind of papers?  Well, you may have to provide your drawings, bio on your personnel, management plans, and any other documents pertinent to the requirement.  Next, you need to demonstrate your capabilities.  While you’re at it, you need your proposal to be as simple and straightforward as possible.  It must be concise, complete, and accurate. However, an RFP can drain your resources.  Additionally, you need to balance your current workload with your resources available to bid on projects.  For that reason it is best to be selective on which RFPs you chase.

Time Consuming

Yes, an RFP is more time consuming than an IFB.  As a result, preparing your proposals are going to cost you more money. Don’t expect your bid to take just a few hours to complete. Bids can take weeks to prepare.  Since responding to an RFP or RFQ can be time-consuming. It is best to come up with a way to evaluate the requirement before you waste a substantial amount of time on something that you don’t stand a chance of winning.

At any rate, most companies have devised a way to evaluate the solicitation.  By evaluating the solicitation they can determine if it is worth their time, and resources to submit a bid.  Even so, you maybe asking yourself how to make this determination.  We will provide questions that you can use to help you make the determination on whether to bid or not.  This is known as the Bid-No Bid.

Decision Time

How can you decide whether to bid or not on a requirement?  Well, the easiest way is to ask yourself some questions.  Maybe you will want to create a checklist of items and rate them to help you make your decision.    With this in mind, pay attention to the solicitation.  Is the solicitation a request for information (RFI) or a request for Proposal (RFP)?  With this purpose in mind let’s go on.

Is the Requirement a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Information (RFI)?

If the requirement is an RFI, then the government is looking for market information.  RFI is not a bid.  Sometimes an RFI will become a requirement in the future.  Am I saying not to respond to the RFI at all?  No, not at all.  It is always best to provide information to the government.  But don’t give away too much information.  Make sure you mark all the information considered private as “proprietary.”  This statement will help protect your proprietary information.  If you fail to do the government can use that information as they see fit.  Given that information it is best to protect your company as much as possible.  In addition, you may want to contact your attorney for his recommendation of wordings to use.

Does the Requirement match the products or services that you provide?

You don’t want to be one of those companies that try to respond to every RFP that comes their way.  These companies are hoping that they will win sooner or later.  Kind of like the lottery!  Responding to every bid is a great practice, but it is not reasonable to do so.  Remember that most companies only win one contract out of every ten that they bid on that matches their capabilities.  If you write a proposal for every solicitation, your win-loss ratio is going to be much higher.  Add to this all the time and resources you and your team put into bidding on these requirements.  What’s more, you could go broke doing things this way!  As I have said earlier, you need to come up with a system to help you determine whether to bid on a solicitation or not.

Do You Have the Technical Capabilities to Perform the Contract?

Any requirement that you bid on needs to matches your capabilities.  If it does, then you need to look a the technical specifications.  Does your business have the technical background to be able to bid on the project?  If you cannot provide or you do not have the technical background to perform the requirement, then pass on this one.  There will be other solicitations for you to submit a proposal on. 

On the other hand, don’t fail to respond to an RFP that is a good match for your capabilities just because the solicitation appears written to a specific company or specific technology.  From time to time the government may use parts of past solicitation for something they want that is similar.  At this time, if you can demonstrate that you make, or your service is the same thing, or perhaps even better you have a possibility of winning.

Proposal Tip

You may come across a requirement that looks like it is specifically for a particular company. Don’t assume that the government wrote the requirement for that business.   The government may have used that company’s brochure as the basis for the scope of work in the RFP.  Also, the government may have used a company’s brochure because it happened to describe the best what the agency wanted.  If you can meet or exceed the requirements contained in the solicitation and scope of work, bid the project!!!  Are there any market considerations to be aware of?  That is what we will cover next.

Any Marketing Considerations?

If the request something considered a new product to you?  And, if so, can you leverage this into more business by selling to other customers?  Above all, look at whether winning will cost you an existing account or be at the expenses of your different product lines and services.   For this reason you want to make sure that you can fulfill all your current and future client needs.  If you can’t then maybe it is time to review the products or services that you provide to eliminate the least profitable ones from your business.

Equally important,  ask yourself if this customer meets your criteria of an ideal customer.  

Is the Requirement with Your Ideal Customer?

In other words, do you already have a relationship with the buyer?  Is it good, or is it strained?  Also, as you are working with a government agency’s, you will find that some agencies are easier to work with than others.  You may decide that it is not worth the hassle to deal with specific customers.  I have numerous clients that will not work with specific agencies because they can be difficult.  Also, consider letting customer go that are not worth the hassle that they give you.  Life is just to short to but up with problem customers.  I totally believe in the Pareto principle, otherwise known as the 80 20 rule.  Basically it means that 80% of the effects come from 20% causes.    In other words, 20% of your customers cause you 80% of your time.  Well, at least for me that is.

Has the Project Been Funded?

This is an excellent point to keep in mind.  If there are not any funds for the requirement, the government cannot issue the contract.  You do not want to spend a ton of time and resources on a proposal if the government has not funded the project. If you are told that there are reserved funds, the government could redirect the funds elsewhere, and the project you are bidding on will go unfunded.

So what happens if you elect not to respond to an RFP, but you have had contact or discussions with the government before the RFP being released?  Well, you should, out of courtesy, let the contracting officer know, in writing, that you are not bidding and the reasons why.  Next, we will talk about the steps you need to do before writing your proposal.

What to Do BEFORE You Start Writing?

You have decided to bid on the RFP.  Now what?  Everyone that will be involved in writing the proposal should do the following before you start writing.

  1.  Reread the RFP.
  2.  Outline the RFP by section and decide who is responsible for responding to each section.
  3.  Create a proposal calendar with timelines, milestones, and due dates spelled out.
  4.  Review the evaluation criteria that the buying office will use to measure each proposal. Ask the buyer or contracting officer if there is anything  else that you need to know and to clarify any criteria that you don’t understand.  Make sure that you know all points so that you can address every aspect in your proposal.  Do this before you begin to write.
  5.  Think like the Evaluators

Next, we will look at the criteria the government will use to judge all proposals.

Evaluation Criteria

Below are just some of the standard criteria that evaluators that maybe use when evaluating a proposal:

·  Have you formatted the bid according to the instructions?
·  Is the project solution presented in the bid plausible?
·  Have you organized the proposal, and is it responsive to the basic requirement?
·  Did you follow the basic requirements in the RFP?
·  Is the company’s delivery schedule acceptable?
·  Does the company demonstrate the capability to perform?
·  Do you and the company have related experience?
·  Has the company had past performance history?
·  Is the company financially stable?
·  Are the costs reasonable
·  Is the costing method creditable?
·  Are the company’s personnel resources adequate?
·  Has a bill of materials been created?
.  Have you read the evaluation factors?

Next, we will look at preparation to write your proposal.

Preparation is Key

Remember that preparation is the key.  Any checklist or systems that you can put into place to assist you now will pay dividends on future proposals.  You can use some of the information from previous projects on current proposals Just remember to use the same formatting that the government is requesting on anything that you cut and paste.  For instance, your organizational charts and business history, resumes of key personnel are going to be the same no matter which solicitation you are bidding on.

-Proposal Tip-

Don’t make the mistake of concentrating on the Statement of Work (SOW) Section of their proposal.   Make sure to spend the same amount of time on the evaluation section and write to this as well.  While the Statement of Work may state the requirement, the Evaluation Section will contain the requirement might have to be delivered within a specific time frame.  For that reason, you need to address both factors.  You need to be as familiar with the evaluation factors, as you are with the Statement of Work.

Analyze Your Competition

Gather together and review any information about your competition. It is easier to communicate the superiority of your products/services if you are very familiar with the features and benefits that your competitors offer.  Include information on any subcontractors you will need to use.

Your Proposal Needs an Outline

Create an outline for your proposal. We have enclosed some sample categories that you may want to consider for your outline.  They will provide you with a general idea of the areas that need to be covered and how to organize them.  Note:  The outline applies to contracts valued over $100,000 but can be used for smaller proposals as well.

Proposal Outline

A.  Executive Summary
B.  Introduction
C.  Benefits of Proposed Solutions
D. Your Organization & Experience
E.  Company’s Project Management
F. Technical Methods
a. Explanation of Proposed project
1. Project Overview
2. Proposed Project Configuration
b. Project Requirement
1.  Standard Products/Services
2.  Maintenance
3.  Project Characteristics
4.  Bill of Materials
c.  Future Enhancements
1.  Project Growth
G.  Proposal Cost
a.  Cost Basis
1.  Project Procurement costs
2.  Operating Costs
3.  Maintenance Costs
H.  Delivery & Acceptance
I.  Qualification
J.  Pre-Award Considerations
K.  Organization
L.  Financial Status

Use these headings as a template for your proposal.  But what if your proposal contains sensitive or proprietary information?  Next week we will discuss how to handle sensitive or proprietary information.

In summary, checklists are necessary in government contracting as well as the commercial world.  The better defined your checklists are the better your proposal.  That is as long as you use the checklists.  There is a ton of things to consider while writing your proposal.  We obviously could not cover every item but tried to highlight those that we felt were most important.

As a result of today’s topic, we hope you are better prepared for writing your next proposal. Remember to subscribe so that you are notified when we release new content.  In case you wish to read more from our author, please see our blog.