RFP Responses for Small Business: Step Three

How does a small business win contracts? Follow a four-step action plan. Today, Step Three.

Step Three is keeping your eye on the ball(s). Juggling is easy by comparison: Here, there are six balls to keep track of.  

First, submit on time. In formal competitive procurements you can’t be late, not for any reason. Include some management reserve in your schedule. Manage the long-lead items carefully: designs for everything from IT systems to buildings take longer than you’d think possible. Massaging ten resumes into a consistent format with a consistent level of detail takes even longer. Watch for signs of trouble (people missing deadlines, people working late). If you see them, get more help, get more time (ask for an extension), or ease up on your standard.

Second, comply with the mandatory requirements. If you miss even one mandatory, your tender or proposal will be rejected. Identify all the documents you have to submit with your bid—contractual documents, financial statements, performance bonds, certifications, insurance letters—and assign two people to check each one. If you’re submitting as an individual, look for a proposal buddy and check each other’s bids.

Third, meet the technical requirement. If your product or solution doesn’t match the technical requirement, you might score so low that they won’t even look at your price. So read the requirement carefully. What exactly do they need delivered, where, when, and how? What performance standards do you have to meet? What reports do they want, in what format?

Fourth, follow the response instructions. Do they give you an outline of the content they want and the order in which they want it? Do they set page limits by section, or overall? Do they want the financial and technical sections to be submitted in separate envelopes? Do they specify how the outside of the boxes or envelopes should be labelled? Make it so.

Fifth, answer the questions. Answer the questions they asked, not ones they didn’t ask. If they want to know how many years you’ve been in business, don’t tell them the year you were incorporated. If they want to know what work order management system you use, don’t start by describing your approach to preventive and corrective maintenance.

Answer the question so they know you’re answering it: use the words of their question as the lead-in to your answer. Answer the question clearly: use client terminology and minimize jargon and company-specific terminology. Answer the question so it’s easy to mark: use headings, bullets, tables, and graphics to break up the text. Make your proposal the easiest one to mark. Answer the question with “how” and “why,” not just “what.” And remember to say why your solution will benefit the client.

Sixth, price as low as you can. In government contracting, this is a necessity. Public sector procurement is focused on getting the best value for the taxpayer dollars, and it’s tough to make the case for definitely paying more for a product or service that might (or might not) be better. Even in the private sector, low price is important. So focus on price at every level: from the products you choose and the service plan you make, to the buffers you put in for contingencies, to the overhead mark-ups and the profit margins you add onto your costs.

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