MANAGING THE RFP PROCESS — BEST PRACTICES FOR WRITING PROPOSALS
MANAGING THE RFP PROCESS — BEST PRACTICES FOR WRITING PROPOSALS
Congratulations! The RFP seems like a perfect fit. Your company has decided to submit a proposal, and you’re the project lead. Whether you’re managing the process in-house or working with a team of professionals like The Writers for Hire, here are some tips to help you maneuver the process successfully.
FIRST, DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Read the RFP from top to bottom, end to end. It may be a chore to plow through what seems to be mind-numbing boilerplate, but every word is important. Hidden within plain sight may be critical requirements, restrictions, or prohibitions, as well as provisions that may be especially favorable to your organization’s mission or line of business.
RFP’s can be complex but most require the following in some fashion:
- Company profile
- Organizational chart
- Description/documentation of past performance
- Scope of work/project plan and approach
- Management/staffing plan
- Bios/resumes of proposed staff
- Implementation/transition plan/phase-in and phase-out timeline
- Pricing information/pricing tables
- Proof of licenses and certifications
Be sure to follow all the links in the RFP as well, including links to questions about the RFP and the bidding process.
Of course, make note of all deadlines — for questions not addressed in the RFP, information sessions for potential bidders, and, most important, the date and requirements for submitting proposals.
Finally, check out the RFP issuer’s website and their social media for additional insights into their business practices and needs.
THEN, MAP OUT YOUR TIMELINE . . .
Work backward from the RFP’s submission date, and build in a 48-hour (if possible) margin for breathing room, printing, and submission by email or physical delivery. The timeline should be aggressive — to keep up the momentum, yet realistic — to avoid undue stress.
If you are using a professional writer, allow time for the initial consultation, your review of their draft, and any final editing, proofing and formatting they might have to do.
. . . AND ASSEMBLE YOUR TEAM
Your review of the RFP will help you identify persons who should be part of your team. Even if all or most of the responsibility for the proposal rests with you, you will need to gather information from others in your organization. Consider them part of your team. Folks who’ve been around since the earliest days of your organization may be valuable sources of information.
The size of your team is likely to depend on the size of your company and the complexity of the RFP and your proposal. In addition to you, the proposal manager, your team may also include:
- A sales team representative
- A contract manager
- Subject matter experts
- An estimator
- A writer
- A graphic artist
- An editor
You can find descriptions of your role and of other team members in this The Writers for Hire blog. A few of your team members may wear more than one hat, but you should ensure that you have enough people on the team to meet the deadline.
Even though you may be working with your best industry experts, don’t assume they are expert RFP preparers. Expect to devote some time upfront to clarifying everyone’s expectations, roles, and responsibilities. Be prepared to walk through the RFP’s requirements and explain your vision and approach for the proposal. The following questions might help guide your initial, kick-off meeting with the team:
- Do we know why the RFP is being issued?
- What are our strongest selling points and/or competitive strengths?
- What are our largest challenges in winning this RFP?
- Are there any qualifications or requirements we cannot meet? If so, how do we want to address these?
- What would make the RFP issuer most likely NOT to hire us?
- Do we know of any competitors who are bidding (or likely bidding) on this project? Why would they/ could they win instead of us?
- If we were the issuer, why would we choose our organization to win this RFP, over and above all others who may be responding?
- Did we bid on this opportunity in the past and not get it? Do we know why? Did the RFP issuer provide any sort of evaluation or scorecard?
- Do we have any other proposals we could use as a point of reference?
If the RFP is large enough, you may need to assign mini teams — writer, SME consults, editors, and proofers — to each section. Most importantly, however, each section needs a point person to assume responsibility for getting that piece done on time. This point person could be the same person for all sections of the RFP, or each section of the RFP could have its own owner. All will feed their sections to you, the project lead.
CHOOSE YOUR TOOLS
You will need to choose a document system and agree ahead of time on the procedures for edits and comments within the draft document. Word and Google Docs work well for documenting group collaboration. Google Docs’ color-coded highlighting, for example, is a good way to indicate whether the text is a draft copy, reviewed/edited, final, or still needs information/clarification/editing.
You might also want to consider using a project management program or RFP software to help keep track of deadlines, rules, forms, and updates. There are many to choose from, depending on your specific needs for managing feedback from multiple reviewers and balancing several time-sensitive moving parts. Check out this detailed review of four software options in this The Writers for Hire blog.
At a minimum, you will want to create some kind of spreadsheet with column heads for project milestones, due dates, and reviewers for the initial drafts as well as reviewers for the final package.
SET THE RIGHT TONE FOR COLLABORATION
Communication within the team will be critical throughout the proposal writing process. Schedule regular times for progress reports; don’t hesitate to issue gentle reminders and updates on the timeline; and encourage folks to give you early warning if they are encountering problems.
CREATE YOUR MASTERPIECE!
Proposals are not works of art, but they can be well crafted. If, now that you are organized and ready to write, the process still seems daunting, consider using The Writers for Hire BOSS system.
BOSS guides you through creating the major sections of your proposal; organizing information you have on hand (brochures and previous proposals); determining what you need to create from scratch (charts and tables); and, finally, putting it all together with the required pricing data and supplemental information.
COMPOSE A COVER LETTER AND AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
These should be written last, when you have the perspective of the entire proposal. The RFP may not require an executive summary, but consider adding one anyway. Check out The Writers for Hire Blog for tips on writing an engaging cover letter and an effective executive summary.
EDIT, PROOF, AND FORMAT
Enlist a non-team member to edit the entire proposal for clarity and continuity and recruit yet another outsider to proof the draft for grammar and spelling. You, as project lead, should review the entire RFP one last time to make sure you have addressed all the requirements.
Finally, consider getting someone with design chops to format the final proposal — an additional touch that might make your bid stand out. (Make sure this person is aware of any formatting requirements in the RFP.)
You’ve done it. Congratulate your team and bask in your own accomplishment after you hit that send button, make that mail drop, or execute that hand delivery!
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