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
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. 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, 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
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
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
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
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.
As you answered the questions in the RFP, you undoubtedly came across information you needed 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.