How to approach an RFP
Government solicitations can appear intimidating to many small businesses.
One of the most common questions small business owners ask is how to approach a Request for Proposal. An RFP typically has numerous categories such as an introduction to the project, information about deadlines, a detailed scope of work, legal and insurance requirements, proposal instructions and a sample contract. Do not fear long RFP documents. Do not hesitate to submit a response. There is a strategy to breaking down an RFP and writing an effective proposal.
In fact you can be the winning proposer! Let's get started.
First and foremost, make an informed decision about whether to respond to an RFP or not. Make sure you read the scope of work first and decide if the project is a good fit for you. Can you meet the timelines and do you have the capacity to do the work? Do you need to partner with another business? Read the sample contract and decide if you want to do business with the public agency.
Once you have decided you want to go for it, break down the RFP into sections that you can work on strategically. Use highlighters and sticky notes to identify critical components, such as proposal instructions, the scope of work, schedules, deadlines and evaluation criteria. Organize your calendar and block out time to write the proposal. Mark important dates, such as attending the pre-proposal meeting and submitting the proposal.
The proposal instructions provide detailed information about the process and agency expectations. However, if you need more clarity about the RFP, don't hesitate to submit questions and attend the pre-proposal meeting to learn more about the project. Public sector employees are prepared to provide answers as they are trained and required to do so. After the question period has closed, it will be time to work on your proposal
Often an agency will ask for a transmittal letter which is the first look at your company. Promote yourself and think about what you want to highlight. Maybe there is something unique about the services or product your firm can offer. Indicate who will be the contact person for the contract and who will be assigned to the work.
In writing your proposal one of the most important steps you should take is to demonstrate that you can meet the agency project needs. Look at your approach results-oriented. Put together your team of qualified personnel and describe what their roles are. Point out special qualifications and skills. Maybe you are a sole proprietor. Explain how your experience and skill will benefit the project.
One of the most common pitfalls of writing a proposal is to not follow the chronological order of an RFP.
Make sure you organize your proposal in the same manner as the outlined sections of the RFP, which might be qualifications, experience, sample work, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and cost. Public agencies often segregate the proposal evaluation in order to provide fairness in the process.
One team might evaluate the qualifications and experience while additional teams evaluate other sections. Put yourself in the position of an evaluator and consider what section they might read. For example, make sure you write about your approach to sustainability in the sustainability section and not in the experience category.
Many businesses focus on their qualifications, experience and cost. The diversity and sustainability sections are sometimes overlooked but are opportunities to gain a substantial number of points. Public agency procurement staff's experience shows that these are the categories where small businesses have a lot to offer.
Think about what approaches and activities you already have in place. You might be working with other diverse firms and supporting small businesses yourself, or you might already use sustainable office products.
And finally, do not miss the deadline. Mark your calendar two days before the proposal deadline to ensure timely submittal of your winning propoal. Good luck!