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.)

CELEBRATE!

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!

Use the BOSS System to Save Time and Reduce Frustration When Writing Your Next RFP

Writing a Request for Proposal (RFP) doesn’t have to be stressful. No really, stick with me.

Some corporations and all governmental agencies issue RFPs when they are looking for a company to fill a need. For example, a city may issue an RFP when they need medical staffing companies to create and bid on emergency operation plans in case of a natural disaster. Or a corporation may issue an RFP when they need a software specialist to overhaul their current system.

RFPs are an issuer’s method of relaying their problem or project to potential vendors and asking for a solution. They then use the process to identify the right vendor based on a number of factors, including their experience, ideas, and adherence to the RFP requirements.

Why RFPs Make You Feel so Overwhelmed

The process sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But here’s where it gets complicated: RFP issuers have one goal in mind: to find the perfect vendor to fill their needs. And to come to that conclusion, they ask a lot — and I mean a lot — of questions. They want to know your background, your experience with similar projects, your plan for helping them reach their goal, along with every single detail related to it.

No wonder the process stresses you out.

Take the Stress Out of Writing with Organization

Here’s the thing: with a little thoughtful organization, the RFP process doesn’t have to be all that complicated. It’s true that you’re facing a monumental task — some RFPs can run 100 pages — but instead of looking at it as a whole, let’s talk about how to break it down into bite-sized, organized pieces. Doing this will take away some of the stress, and allow you to concentrate on creating a masterpiece that will win the bid.

The RFP BOSS System

I remember the first time I wrote an RFP response. I stared at the endless list of questions and multiple documents that held the answers and wondered how in the world I was supposed to extract all of that information and present a cohesive proposal.

And I struggled for a while. First I would read the question and then search the documents until I found the right information to compose my answer. And sometimes I would have to read through several documents to get all the information I needed.

Not a very effective method.

So, I stopped working on the RFP and regrouped. What I really needed was a system. I could continue hunting and pecking my way through the RFP, but that seemed like a monumental waste of time.

Something had to give.

And so I created the RFP BOSS system. If you’re faced with an RFP, use this system to organize your information before you begin writing your proposal, and you may come to love RFPs as much as I do.

I know, weird, huh?

B: Before You Start

The key to mastering RFPs starts the minute you receive the RFP document. If you completely understand what’s expected of you before you begin organizing your documents, it will make the process a lot easier.

That’s why you should read the RFP from front to back. Read it slowly and take in all the information the issuer is trying to convey. Don’t be tempted to skip over the parts of the document you don’t think you need, because often, there are nuggets of valuable information tucked away in them.

As you read the document, make notes of anything that’s unclear. Before you reach out to the issuer for clarification click on the link included in the first pages of most RFPs that takes you to the “answered questions.” There, you will find asked and answered questions from other people who read the RFP and probably had the same questions as you.

O: Organize the Information

Now that you understand the scope of the project, it’s time to organize the information in a way that makes it easy to use. Start by summarizing the RFP requirements into a list of its major sections. For example, you will probably have an executive summary, qualifications, technical plan, and more. To keep it simple, don’t make sections for subsections. In other words, if the executive summary includes subsections for history and experience, you should only include the executive summary in your list of sections.

After you’ve made a list of every section you will address in the RFP, highlight each one with a different color. For instance, the executive summary could be blue; the qualifications could be yellow, and so on. Don’t use red for this step because you will use it for a different purpose later on.

In the end, you will have a brightly color-coded RFP section list.

Put that aside for now.

Next, create a Word document (or whatever document system you use), and copy and paste all of the documents into it that you will pull from when putting together the RFP. For example, you might have an old RFP for reference, a company brochure, charts or graphs, and other documents that contain the notes you’ll need. Paste them all into this document.

Don’t worry about putting them in order just yet.  

Here’s where understanding the RFP is crucial. You now have a large, unwieldy document full of the information you need for your RFP. At first glance, it looks like an unorganized mess. But you’re about to change that and turn it into the key for your RFP success.

To do this, read the document and highlight each paragraph according to the correlating RFP section. You can only do this effectively if you’ve truly read and understood the RFP in its entirety.

For example, if you realize that you will use some random notes for the executive summary, highlight those notes in the color assigned to that section. If you see anything you don’t think you will use, copy and paste it into a separate document because you never know if you will need it later on. But delete that section from your main document.

Do this for the entire document. In the end, the entire thing should be color-coded. If you want, you can now organize the document according to color. In other words, put all of the yellows together, the blues together, and so on.

Now you’re ready to start writing.

S: Start Writing

Now that you have a complete understanding of the RFP and the information you will include in it, it’s time to start writing.

And trust me, it will be a lot easier now that you’ve done this preliminary work.

Start by choosing one color and focusing on that section of the RFP. You can start at the beginning of the RFP or the end — it doesn’t matter. Using your highlighted information, answer each of the questions in the RFP.

If you come across a question that you don’t have an answer for, highlight it in yellow in the RFP document. This will make the last step in the process much easier.

As you use each piece of information in the large document, change the color to red. By the time you complete the first section of the RFP, all of that section’s notes should be red.  

Now, go to the next section of the RFP and do the same thing. Continue writing the proposal this way. By the time you’ve answered each of the RFP questions, all the sections in your large document should be red.

S: Supplement

As you answered the questions in the RFP, you undoubtedly realized you needed information that wasn’t in the large document. Now is the time to find that information and fill it in. For example, maybe you needed to provide a phone number for a staff member but didn’t have that information.

Because you highlighted each piece of information you needed in yellow as you went along, all you need to do now is make a list of the required information and get it. And then enter it into the proposal.  

Guess what? You’ve just completed the RFP like a BOSS.  

The Executive Summary: Your Proposal in Two Pages or Less

You have completed all of the requirements for your RFP, and are almost ready to submit it. But, you’re wondering if you need to include an executive summary.

While not all RFPs call for an executive summary, some do —and some will even provide you a template for the summary. However, if the RFP does not specify any guidelines or requirements, you may still decide that including an executive summary could enhance your prospects.  The question is, though, what should your executive summary include?

Here are a few tips to help you craft the most effective RFP executive summary possible.

What is an executive summary?

Let’s start with what an executive summary is not. It is not a string of bullet points or a cut and paste job, however tempting. While it should be the last thing you  write, it should not be a mere afterthought. Like your cover letter, the executive summary should be a positive reflection of your organization.

A good executive summary is a condensed version of your proposal.

It provides an overview of the proposal’s contents without repeating details verbatim. The executive summary may well be the first thing a reviewer reads but it is not an introduction. This article from pediaa.com explains the difference between an executive summary and an introduction.

A good executive summary has a compelling, even pithy, lead.

It should capture the reader’s attention but strike a tone appropriate for your audience. The first sentence or two should convince the reader that the summary, and what follows, is worth their while. For example, a service provider responding to an RFP might lead with something like, “Quick. Reliable. Secure. That’s our promise to you.”  Then, what follows would describe how the proposed deliverables demonstrate these qualities. 

A good executive summary is concise, with short paragraphs.

The shorter the better. One page should suffice. More than two pages is too much and risks losing the reader. Short paragraphs provide white space, allowing the reader to move quickly through the text. Consider the following examples from incontextdesign.com. Like Goldilocks, you’ll want your spacing to be ‘just right.’

A good executive summary stands on its own.

Most persons reading the summary will no doubt be reviewers required to read the entire proposal. However, should anyone read only the summary, they should finish it with an understanding of all the proposal’s key elements.

In sum, the executive summary deserves your time and effort, should you need, or choose, to do one. Consider writing a draft and letting it rest overnight. (You know, like you did with that long, angry email.)  Fresh eyes provide a whole different perspective, highlighting points you may have overlooked and focusing your mind on what’s most important. 

An here’s one final tip: Consider letting someone else write a first draft. Like the proofreader who has never seen a draft can spot things the writer or editor missed, someone who has never seen your draft can provide an even fresher pair of eyes. Would someone else tease out the same key points as you?

Good luck!

The Proposal Cover Letter – Your Chance to Brag a Bit

The proposal is done. You’ve addressed all the requirements of the RFP, filled in the forms, and attached appendices. Now the only thing left to do is the cover letter. Yes, it’s best to leave it to last, allowing time to reflect back on your proposal and why you are responding to the RFP.

Unlike for the RFP itself, there may be no instructions for what to include in the cover letter. This final task may seem a little intimidating – especially if it’s your first proposal. But you can consider this your opportunity to show your enthusiasm for your organization and the bid you hope to win.

Here are a few tips for writing a cover letter that stands out.

First, the heading and other mandatory stuff.

  • Use company letterhead stationery.
  • Include your phone number, email, and mailing address if they are not part of the letterhead.
  • Include a reference line with the RFP title and number.
  • Make sure you address the letter to the contact person identified in the RFP.
  • Have the head of the organization sign the letter over their title.
  • Keep it to one page.

Now, on to the creative part. Think of the letter in three sections.

The Introduction

First, write a few sentences that express your appreciation for the opportunity to submit a proposal. Let the reader know you understand the RFP and have complied with the requirements.

The Heart

Use the second paragraph to brag about your organization. What’s your story? Are you the third generation of a family business or a start up with a few stellar projects under your belt? Are you an organization with an ongoing mission or one newly formed to address a critical need? What makes you stand out among your competitors?

Looking Ahead

Finish with a few forward looking sentences that communicate how much you are looking forward to working with the potential client. Include the name, phone number, and email of the contact person for the proposal, if it is not the person who is signing the letter.

Now that you have a feel what to include, here’s a sample letter and an article from Bizfluent that covers some of these same suggestions as well as some additional pointers that may be more appropriate for your proposal.

[BEGIN LETTER]

Date

Your Organization

Address

Email

Phone Number

Requestor

Address

RE: [Name and Number of RFP]

[Addressee]

[Your organization] is pleased to present our proposal for [Name of RFP]. Thank you for the opportunity to do business with [Requestor]. Our staff has the training and experience to [mention one, two, or three requirements].

[Who?] established [your organization] in [when?] to [your mission/goal/objective?]. Since then, we have grown to [specific activities]. We are proudest of our latest [product/achievement/recognition]. Our reputation as a [your distinction] sets us apart from our competition in

[your field]

.

We are excited about the potential to work with [Requestor] on this and future projects. Our contact for this proposal is

[name, title, email, phone number]

.

Sincerely,

[Title of Head of Your Organization]

[END LETTER]

Good luck!

RFP Software: Breaking Down the Options

Several of our RFP clients have asked us if there’s any good proposal software out there. Software that can help them make the proposal writing process a bit easier. Software that can help them keep track of deadlines, rules, forms, and updates. Software that makes it easier to manage feedback from multiple reviewers and balance several time-sensitive moving parts.

That’s a tall order. But we thought it was a great idea for a blog.

We haven’t used a lot of proposal-specific software, so we decided to embark on a little research to learn more about the proposal management software available today.

We reached out to several RFP software companies that were all kind enough to provide us with details of their programs and walk us through their best features.

1. Expedience Software

Expedience Software’s RFP response package functions as an add-on to Microsoft Office. It allows users to access features directly through Word, via an additional set of menus that appear within the word-processing program itself.

This approach has clear advantages.

It takes advantage of Word’s status as the most widely used word-processing software in the world, thereby allowing users who are already familiar with the platform to remain in a comfortable environment.

Additionally, it piggybacks on Word’s ability to co-operate with other programs in the Office suite, particularly Excel.

In short, it requires users to learn a limited set of new menu options and commands rather than an entirely new program, with a different location on the home screen, a different interface, and different internal logic.

As Jason Anderson, vice president for sales at Expedience Software, explained: “Being in Word brings us lots of advantages, mainly that it’s known.” Sticking to this familiar platform helps users save time, reduce the learning curve and make fewer mistakes along the way, he said.

Expedience Software adds new tabs to the Word menu at the top of the screen – namely, Style Palette and Content Portfolio.

The latter is likely to be the first destination when generating a new response to RFP, as it allows users to open proposals and access relevant company information and data through the selection of a content portfolio (i.e., a library of stored content from completed proposals and related documents). It lets them search the content portfolio and use the results of the search to add boilerplate text to documents.

Additionally, it gives users the ability to add metadata tags to items within the portfolio to facilitate future searches.

Style Palette allows users to format proposal documents, using familiar Word features such as style settings, tables and text boxes. It can apply previously used formatting and styles, so that new documents don’t have to be built from scratch.

The newest version of Expedience Software’s package also features an Excel Connect tab (not shown in the images above).

This tab allows users to move easily back and forth between Word and Excel, a handy feature when responding to RFPs that require bidders to submit their responses in spreadsheet format.

One drawback of the tie-in with MS Office is that Expedience Software does not have built-in scheduling or calendar capabilities, so it doesn’t give users the ability to set target dates and arrange for automatic reminders of upcoming deadlines. And, since it focuses primarily on document creation and editing, Expedience Software doesn’t offer as many project management as other software.

But Expedience Software does feature an intriguing approach to security and user access. Most of the providers we spoke with used a full licensing system that required each user within a company to have an individual license to access the program.

But Anderson explained that Expedience Software issues licenses only to users who need to access every part of the content portfolio. License holders can then grant outside experts and consultants limited access to basic viewing and editing functions without the need to acquire additional licenses, he explained. “Most other software won’t let you control access to content in this way, but we do,” he said.

Anderson also stressed that license holders had the ability to prevent unlicensed users from accessing every part of the company’s library. “You can restrict authorship,” he said, explaining that this option preserved the security of company records while ensuring that lower-level employees and outside consultants could still view and edit proposal documents as necessary.

He further noted that these security provisions allowed managers to protect confidential information without setting up additional storage infrastructure. License holders can restrict authorship to documents on existing company servers or any other storage solution, he said. “If there’s a firewall, it can be behind that. It can be on a network drive [or] in the cloud,” he said.

The bottom line: Expedience Software provides advanced document-management options in a setting that is both familiar and easy to access.

Main pros:

  • Based on familiar Word platform and has a low learning curve
  • Ties directly into Excel

Main cons:

  • No scheduling or calendar features
  • Few project management features

2. Qwilr

Qwilr is quite different from Expedience Software. This is not just because it is a stand-alone program with no explicit link to existing platforms, but also because it aims to turn out a different type of product.

Responses to RFPs typically follow one of two formats:

  • Word-type documents that describe a given company’s ability to provide goods and/or services, as well as its compliance with requirements
  • Spreadsheets that contain the same type of data and information in a pre-formatted, Excel-type format

By contrast, Qwilr allows users to generate a dynamic response that bears more resemblance to a web page than to a stack of paper.

Finished Qwilr products are web-based and have website-like elements such as hyperlinks, video content and online quote acceptance. Additionally, they can be built, edited and viewed on smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.

The software appears to be easy to navigate, with a straightforward, point-and-click interface. “In terms of ease of use, we’re up there. The software is even pleasant to use,” said Jomar Gomez, a sales and customer success representative for Qwilr. Moreover, he said, the end product is easy to navigate, “as it’s more like a web page with design elements.”

Qwilr’s main focus is on this type of dynamic presentation. But users can also generate RFP responses in several formats, including text, and can save files as PDFs.

Additionally, Qwilr makes plenty of design and graphic elements available to users seeking to craft dynamic responses. It includes multiple pre-set templates, each with a different look and feel, and also lets users access a library of stock photos.

The software also offers a built-in quote acceptance tool that allows for a rapid response from contracting organizations. This easy-to-use tool features sliders that can be activated with the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger.

Another handy tool is the Analytics feature, which helps users keep track of the progress of a project, from the creation of the initial document to responses from contracting organizations.

Despite its forward-looking features, Qwilr does not lose sight of the fact that users need more than attractive graphics and design. It gives users the ability to create and access a library of boilerplate texts, and its Clone feature streamlines the process of using previous documents as a model for new responses.

Qwilr uses a standard licensing model, with each individual user required to obtain a license. It also includes security features such as Block, which restricts access to and editing capabilities, making it a good fit for companies that bring in outside consultants or experts when drafting proposals.

There are some downsides to this software, however: Qwilr does not tie directly into Excel, so it offers no advantages to users responding to RFPs in spreadsheet format. It does not appear to have a calendar function, though it does have an audit trail that lays out the timeline for each project.

The bottom line: Qwilr allows users to craft proposals that will stand out from the crowd.

Main pros: delivers visually striking content, includes useful tools

Main cons: doesn’t help with spreadsheet RFPs, no scheduling or calendar features, more suited to smaller companies that can present proposals in person

3. Loopio and RFPio

Both Loopio and RFPio allow companies to compile and draw on examples of past work, thereby simplifying tasks such as retrieving standard boilerplate text or duplicating existing formats. But they each offer unique takes on RFP response software. 

Loopio and RFPio do not piggyback on MS Office like Expedience Software; and they don’t emphasize web-style, graphics-focused content like Qwilr. Instead, these stand-alone packages bear a strong resemblance to project management systems, as both have dashboards and group projects into folders. Their folders and menus help companies to build on previous proposals and to compile boilerplate text, as both employ templates and metadata tags, as well as document and answer libraries.

Additionally, both are cloud-based platforms that use a standard licensing model. Both can be used on mobile devices as well as PCs.

There are differences between the two, though. The most noticeable of these is that RFPio appears to have a wider range of capabilities than Loopio.

For example, RFPio does not require users to work from templates, although it does offer them that option. It allows users to fill out a form with the relevant information (or with a command to retrieve specific information from the content library) and then generates a proposal on its own.

RFPio also offers a predictive text function based on artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. This reduces the time needed to search for and retrieve relevant information, said Chris Pulley, an account executive at RFPio. “There’s not even a need to cut and paste. That’s a huge component of the software,” he said. “RFPio automatically saves answers to questions. It will also suggest answers for you using key words, without any prompting. [This feature] is a key way to save time.”

Additionally, the program allows users to import questionnaires and MS Office files with only one click of the mouse. As such, it facilitates replies to spreadsheet-based RFPs while also streamlining the process of drawing on document files in Word or Excel format.

Both types of software allow companies to customize access levels for multiple users in order to guard confidentiality. However, Loopio only grants access to license holders, which means that companies using outside experts or consultants must obtain an additional license, explained Allison Russell, a sales development representative for the company. “The software is designed to serve a group of people collaborating and working on the same response toward a common goal, but it keeps confidential information secure,” she said. “We have different settings for that, and they’re up to the discretion of the user. The settings can be made different for each license user.”

RFPio, by contrast, gives users the option of granting outside consultants and experts access to content portfolios without additional licenses.

It also lets users set custom security levels to ensure that these contributors can access the information they need and no more. “There are different levels of access – administrator, member, and guest,” Pulley said. “The guest feature lets any employee be set up as a member of the team working on the response.”

RFPio and Loopio also differ significantly with respect to scheduling oversight. On this front, RFPio clearly comes out ahead, as it includes a calendar function that allows users to set specific deadlines and arrange for automatic reminders. And as Pulley emphasized, these notices and reminders are not just for major projects involving an entire team, but also for sub-tasks, assignments and questions directed to individuals, smaller groups and outside contributors.

Loopio, by contrast, follows Expedience Software and Qwilr in offering few options for scheduling. Russell did note, though, that the package included useful features for users seeking to comply with deadlines. “Project managers can have control over notifications,” she said. “They can send prompts and reminders to team members, using Loopio to send out emails with their message.”

The bottom line: RFPio and Loopio provide users the ability to generate and manage proposals in a project-management setting.

RFPio pros: calendar feature, tracks project progress in a manner similar to Qwilr’s Analytics tool, easy integration with MS Office files

RFPio cons: smaller companies may not need or use all features

Loopio pros: offers consistent branding through easy formatting options, builds strong library of boilerplate text and answers to previous questions

Loopio cons: no scheduling or calendar features, does not have same level of integration with MS Office files

Making the decision

Of the two cloud-based software packages reviewed here, RFPio appears to be a better option than Loopio. While the two systems are similar in visual presentation and basic functionality, the former gives users more options for managing content and access.

Among the other two, there is no obvious winner.

Expedience Software offers the lowest learning curve and the best integration with MS Office, but it is not an ideal platform for project management or scheduling. One online review also indicates that it works best for users who are already familiar with Word’s most advanced options.

For its part, Qwilr delivers the most attractive responses for companies seeking to stand out from their text-focused competitors, but its finished products will not satisfy all potential customers – especially large contracting organizations that require proposals to be submitted in the form of a spreadsheet. Instead, its web-based proposals probably pack the biggest visual punch in small, face-to-face settings.

The choice of RFP response package would seem to hinge, then, on the individual needs of potential buyers. Companies seeking to simplify and improve the RFP response process should, therefore, strive for a match between their resources and the software’s capabilities.


Even more options…

In our research for this blog, we chose to focus primarily on four software packages — but
there are, of course, many more options out there, each with its own unique pros, cons, and
capabilities. While we didn’t have time to do a deep dive into every piece of software, we can
offer a few high-level takeaways as a starting point.  

NiftyQuoter. This software boasts user-friendly features like drag-and-drop editing, a
customizable text block library, auto-reminders, and a visually appealing dashboard.
NiftyQuoter integrates with a variety of systems, including PayPal, Xero, FreshBooks,
Pipedrive, and more. Check out NiftyQuoter’s library of templates and view a sample proposal.

Nusii. This tool makes it simple to store, access, combine and customize frequently
used blocks of copy — which can be a huge time-saver if you write a lot of proposals.
The website also offers helpful downloadables such as a proposal checklist and an
eBook on client interviews.

Octiv. A productivity-focused option, Octiv is a document storage, sharing, and management
system that allows easy collaboration, editing, It is also designed to work with nearly any
device and integrate with commonly used systems like Box, Salesforce, Oracle, DocuSign,
and more.

PandaDoc. This cloud-based document management software offers free, downloadable
templates for a variety of documents, from proposals and quotes to HR documentation and
contracts. PandaDoc also allows real-time collaboration and keeps track of document views. 

Proposal Software. This appropriately named option helps companies prepare, organize,
and optimize RFP and RFI responses. One of the most appealing features of Proposal Software is its
PMAPS Content Manager tool, which gives users the ability to store, update, search, and access
commonly used information.

Proposify. This coffee-themed option offers a range of templates and a robust editing function that
allows you to change fonts, add videos and images, and modify page layout. It also offers
helpful extras like the ability to set permissions, track changes, and receive notifications every
time your proposal is opened or reviewed.



Auditory, Visual or Kinesthetic? Why You Should Tell Your Writer Your Learning Style

When starting a project with a writer – be it a book brochure, website or whitepaper – it’s common to focus on the end goal.  How will it read when it’s done?

Less focused on, but equally important, are the mechanics of creating the document.

That is, a smooth journey from blank page to finished manuscript, can not only directly impact the quality of the final product, it can mean the difference between a fun and positive experience and a tortuous and inefficient disaster.

So how does one ensure this smooth journey?

Turns out, when working with a writer, there is no “one size fits all”.

Some writing teams use outlines and project management systems.  Others rely on meetings, or texts, or campaign briefs, or process maps.

But do these tools work for you?

It’s not unreasonable to ask your writer or writing team to adjust their process to fit your style of working.

But before you start giving them pointers on their writing process, you may want to walk through this quick exercise to determine…
 

What type of learner are you?

Turns out, understanding your individual learning style can go a long way towards picking the right tools for getting your writing job successfully to the finish line.

Mariaemma Willis is an expert on learning styles. Based in California at Reflective Educational Perspectives, Mariaemma is often called upon to help companies, students, and juries learn how to exchange information.

Mariemma advises, “Each person will bring their own style of writing and writing management to a project – but using your learning style to set expectations as the project manager – you can set best practices that work specifically for you. Use those traits to find the best way to communicate what you need to have a successful end product.”

Preparing the team

Besides the obvious (disseminating relative project information), take the time to discuss process during your initial kick-off meeting.

Mariaemma suggests reviewing past projects for guidance. Ask the contract team for similar project briefs, examples of prior work, and outlines/roadmaps. Asking for this information will help shed light on the way projects were executed in the past.

Take this as an opportunity to set YOUR expectations and tweak the process to fit your communication style.

Be proactive about telling your writers how you work best:

  • How much time do you have to allocate to communicating about the project?
  • Will you be available on a weekly basis?
  • What means of communication do you prefer? Written or verbal?
  • If you like written communication, do you want longer emails with tons of detail or shorter more concise updates?
  • If you prefer verbal, do you like to talk organically about goals? Or, do you have a short, concise list to guide you?
  • When providing feedback on the project, how do you want to communicate draft changes and comments? Email? Phone?

You may also want to mention specific communication tools that work well for you.

Not sure what to suggest?  Knowing if you are an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner can give you a clue.

Three Types of Learners

Auditory

Let’s start with Auditory.

Auditory Learners have a preference for transferring information via listening. Either to the spoken word itself, conversations, sound or noises.

An Auditory Learner uses phrases such as “tell me” and “let’s talk it over.”

These are people who can remember all the words to songs that they hear. They’ll also be able to perform a task after listening to an expert.

This group pays attention to detail and likes to be in the thick of things.

If you’re reading this and thinking this sounds familiar, then the following information might help.

  • Encourage lots of verbal Q&A. You learn best by talking things out. Rather than asking questions in an email or providing feedback on a Word document, get on the phone with your writing team and talk through any questions, concerns, or corrections you’d like to make to your draft.
  • Talk through project scope and timeline. Detailed project calendars, timelines, and flowcharts can seem overwhelming if you’re more of a “let’s talk” type. Make sure that you discuss all of the goals, objectives, and steps of the project with your writing team. You learn by hearing and speaking, so all of those dates and deadlines will seem more “real” once you’ve talked them over.
  • Steer clear of outlines for written content. If you’re like most auditory learners, you’d rather run a mile through Death Valley than sit down and read a bullet-pointed outline of your next whitepaper, web page, or annual report.  To you, planning and organizing happens best during a face-to-face meeting, phone call, or Skype session. Set up calls with your writing team. Verbally confirm that you’re on the same page, about what you’ve seen so far, and give them the green light to start writing a draft.

  • Set up a standing weekly call. Regular communication is a must for any large project — but you have zero interest in wading through “update” emails from your writing team. Here’s an auditory-learner alternative: Pick a time that works for everyone and schedule a 30-minute standing weekly “check-in” call.  This is a win-win for everyone: You don’t have to sift through a massive amount of emails, your team has a guaranteed time to ask questions, keep you updated, and bring up potential roadblocks. Everyone will hear the information and stay on the same page.

Visual Learners

Visual Learners tend to be the opposite of Auditory.

Visual Learners have a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flip-chart, etc.

They use phrases such as “show me,” and “let’s have a look at that.”

These are people who will work well with either reading instructions or watching someone else perform the exercise first.

At the same time, Visual Learners don’t want to be bogged down with lengthy wordy emails where the main point is hard to decipher.

They’re also not fans of long meetings where the goal or point is lost.

If this resonates with you, then you might find these tips helpful.

  • Ask for examples. Visual Learners as stated like to be “shown” ideas. Ask your writer for an example of previous written pieces to use as a catalyst for conversation. Take a look at the way the draft was written. If you see something that doesn’t work or might be a method that you don’t like – point it out on the initial calls.
  • Carve out time for a longer kick-off meeting. When you have your kick-off meeting with the contract team, carve out a minimum of an hour or more for an initial in-depth discussion. The preference would be a face-to-face meeting in this category, but when this is not possible, an extended phone meeting might do the trick. If the phone doesn’t work for you, and you need to have a more visual experience, try Skype or an online meeting site (think GoToMeeting) to make up for the lack of a visual connection.

  • Use call agendas. Talk with your colleagues and put together a list of questions you’d like to have answered by the contract team when going into the kickoff meeting. You have certain things you’d like accomplished during the meeting and would prefer to keep it high-level. The drafted questions will serve as a guide, and be a visual cue to what needs to be accomplished with the scheduled time.
  • Ask for process maps and at-a-glance schedules. During the meeting, ask for a roadmap or a chart of the project plan. Take into consideration the way you review written information, and create a timeline that includes highlighted keywords or color-coded cues for essential items.
  • Pick the progress report that works best for you. Progress reports on a weekly basis work better for you when they are typed out. Seeing is believing, and processing information in this manner allows you to take in what’s said. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for these notes to be to the point and short. An example would be asking for a report that highlights three items for the week – and have the contractor recap any of the three accomplishments, roadblocks, or action items that are the most important to the project. A short, brief, note will provide a quicker review and revision cycle with your contract team.
  • Suppress the urge to write commentary. Do you feel like your writer missed the mark? It’s ok to write up your comments, but keep in mind  that you’re prone not to provide a lot of detail in written feedback. This can be confusing to your writer if you are trying to convey a lot of complicated concepts at once.  Pick up the phone and give your writer a call. It’s not your preference to chat for long stints of time. But, carve out 15 minutes to go over initial drafts and give feedback. The chat will prove valuable to your writer, and get them back on the right track.

Tactile/Kinesthetic

And finally, there is the Tactile/Kinesthetic Learner.

Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners  are DOERS, and have been known to have a lot of energy.

Hands on experience and real-life activities help these learners remember.

A Kinesthetic Learner will use phrases like, “let me try” or “how do you feel?” and will be able to perform a task by just trying it out.

Think about someone who likes to experiment with a recipe before reading the book. No measurements or suggestions for them. They love for learning to be as experiential as possible.

Is this you? Here’s some tips that might help:

  • Pick the best project management tool. The Kinesthetic/Tactile group is another group where an in-person meeting would probably be preferred, but when meeting in-person, you might lose interest. You prefer to see what you’re doing and jump in to correct things. Try Google Docs to connect if possible, and to manage the project. Google Docs is a living, breathing, version of the document and will allow you to make edits real time. You’ll be able to be apart of the process and as hands-on as needed.

  • Express your vision. Visualization is another strong asset for Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners. Though visualization is normally an internal exercise for you as a person, you can share your vision by drafting a list of what you’d like to see in the document or what you hope to accomplish. Share this with your team, and explain the thought process behind it.
  • Come with examples. Another exercise to “visualize” the project is to show examples or writing samples of projects you like. Don’t just rely on your writer for examples: come armed with your own. You’ve got ideas about what you’d like to see written, and without psychic abilities, your team won’t be sure how to retrieve them. So show examples of what you’d like to see, explain the steps involved, and why it worked for you in the past.
  • Take action, and keep up with progress. Recaps or progress reports for the Kinesthetic/Tactile learner work best when you can take action. Think physically acting things out. You might prefer setting a 15-minute time each week to go down the list with the group, and physically cross items off. Or, you can combine an activity with your review and recap sessions of written pieces. Kinesthetic learners like being physical – studies have shown that combining a physical activity such as jogging on a treadmill or jumping on the elliptical fulfill the need to act out while reviewing. It might help you dig deeper and concentrate to really focus on what’s been accomplished and what still needs to be done.

Not everyone will fit into a neat category when it comes to using your learning style.

And, there is no simple answer on how best to tackle a writing project.

Your own personality traits will also play into a learning style and can impact your interaction with your writing team.  But, using how you learn and work as a guide to communicating the vision for your project is a significant initial step in the right direction.

No one knows YOU, better than YOU.

NAVIGATING A SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL PROCESS: PART 3 OF 3

The Proposal Team Kick-Off

Before your team meets, distribute the RFP to all members. Instruct them to read it from cover to cover and come to the meeting with questions. After all, you’re not the only one who should be preparing.

2. Choose the proposal management software

If the proposal is extensive and/or requires many different hands, you’ll want to consider software to help you manage the process.

Your company may already use a certain project management program.

But be aware that there are software applications designed specifically for answering RFPs.

Capterra, a website with the byline “The Smart Way to Find Business Software” has compiled a list called Top Proposal Management Software Products. It includes the names, reviews (when available), and links to the websites for 95 web-based and installed applications.

The list offers the capability filter your choices and select and compare products.

You will likely not have the time to weigh all these choices before your kickoff, but keep in mind that there are many tools available to help you.

It would be well worth your time to research these options before an RFP crosses your desk if your company is considering bidding on any proposals in the future

3. Decide how the various sections and related documents will be reviewed

Will you simply email drafts and versions to your team?

If the proposal is small enough, this might be sufficient.

But for complex projects, consider document management software such as SharePoint® or a repository such as Google Docs where contributors can add and review content.

Of the 95 proposal management software products listed on Capterra, 42 include a content repository and document management.

4. Go through the RFP again

Make a list of every project deliverable.

Outline the terms used in the RFP that may need clarification with your team.

The RFP may have a glossary of terms, but there may be other jargon in the RFP that is unique to its issuer.

5. Create a spreadsheet that lists every deliverable in the RFP

Even if you have RFP project management software, the experts we consulted still recommend a good old-fashioned master spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet offers an at-a-glance overview of what you’ll need to produce and shows team members the status of each action item.

Plus, even the most tech-averse on your team will usually be comfortable with spreadsheets.

“Include columns where a name or names will be placed beside every deliverable,” says Carey Miller, a professional writer who has project managed dozens of RFPs. “Add column heads for project milestones, due dates, and reviewers for the initial drafts as well as reviewers for the final package.”

Please feel free to use our spreadsheet template to get you started.

Conducting the Kick-Off Meeting

Your team members must be absolutely clear about their roles, deliverables, and deadlines when they leave the first meeting.

It’s also critical that you cover certain rules of the game, so they’ll understand the company’s RFP process and some best practices in proposal writing.

Cover the topics that follow for a successful meeting.

1. Address the team members' questions about the RFP

When you circulated the RFP, you asked that team members come prepared with their questions about the RFP.

Address those questions up front so that they’re not interfering with people’s concentration during the other meeting topics.

2. Assign team members their roles

As each team member is assigned a role, clarify the responsibilities associated with that role.

3. Place a name or names in the column besides each deliverable

Go over the spreadsheet, one deliverable at a time. Determine whether the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will write it or if someone else will write the section using information provided by the SME.

Miller notes that the writer should be clear about the point person for information: “With an unusually complex proposal, there may be several point persons for various sections.”

4. Establish the reviewer for each section

The reviewer’s name may appear in multiple rows, depending on how many deliverables are in a section and how many sections that reviewer is qualified to review.

Hewitt stresses, “Designate reviewer(s) for the various sections and the reviewers for the packaged proposal.

The drafts can be reviewed by multiple SMEs; the finished package should be reviewed by only a small set of key players.”

5. Establish a timeline

In Winning Library Grants, A Game Plan, Herbert B. Landau writes, “To ensure that the deadline will be met, I start with the proposal delivery date and work backwards to the present.” \

Build in a pad in case something unexpected results in a project slowdown.

Landau also suggests, “To allow for all contingencies, set the date to have the complete proposal, including all forms, the narrative, the budget, and all attachments, at least four days before the day the proposal must be submitted.”

Include each of the following milestones in your timeline:

  • The completion date for the initial draft of each section or part thereof (according to the list of deliverables)
  • The completion date for the initial review by one or more SMEs
  • The completion date for incorporating the requested changes into the initial draft
  • The completion dates for any additional review cycles
  • The required submission date for the budget numbers and any attachments
  • The completion date of the draft of the packaged proposal
  • The completion date of the package review
  • The completion date for incorporating review revisions
  • The completion date of the final proofreading (ideally set at four or more days before proposal delivery)

Tip: Build in as much time as possible for the proposal writer to organize and format the information, write the executive summary and conclusion, ensure that everything in the RFP has been addressed, incorporate the required dollar amounts, and ensure that the proposal reads as though one person wrote it. If there is a particularly tight deadline for proposal submission, consider insisting on very tight deadlines for reviews.

6. Distribute and discuss your list of terms in the RFP and their definitions as they apply to the contract

This will ensure that, in echoing the lingo of the RFP, the terms will be accurately and consistently applied by your team.

7. Explain how documents will be reviewed and progress tracked

As the leader of this meeting you should have a clear idea from your pre-meeting planning as to how these processes will flow.

8. Discuss lessons learned

Consider including a brief review of lessons learned by previous proposal teams.

You may have conducted lessons-learned reviews following other proposals, but, depending on how long it’s been or whether there are members who didn’t participate on those teams, it may be helpful to review a few of them now.

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have successfully put the proposal process in motion.

You have scrutinized and absorbed the RFP, captured the requirements, consulted various key players, anticipated and worked through potential roadblocks, made critical project management decisions, initiated a team, and put the team in motion.