Proposal writing for non-writers (part 1)

Comprehensive, thoughtful responses to government solicitations are the key to winning bids.  But with all the competition and complex requirements, some contractors never make the final cut and are inevitably left on the sidelines.

The real question is:  “How do you create a winning government proposal that not only tells your story but also makes a compelling case for final selection?”

My response: to generate a winning proposal, you must understand the government’s requirements, align your skills with their needs, articulate a compelling message, and nail the price-point; all while staying in compliance with their request.  Is it easy right? Well, since we want to start from the ground level, here are the basics for discussion:

1. Once you have obtained a copy of the request for proposals (RFP) or invitations for bids (IFB), you must read and call out the important requirements. Be sure to thoroughly review Sections L and M.

 Tip: You should highlight any sentences that contain “Shall” “Will” and “May/Must”.

2. Draft your outline – Yes like they taught us in grade school! You should always draft an outline before writing any material, and the same goes for proposal writing as well.

3.  Create your writing assignments – Your writing team should consist of someone managing the proposal coordination and a few subject matter experts who can write to specific requirements. If you are a team of one (1) make sure you still outline the requirements and carve out enough time to respond to every proposal element.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues for editing or brainstorming.  Two heads are always better than one.  Also, ensure that each proposal team member understands the deadlines are firm, as well as the page limits and the format requested.

4.  Write compelling copy – Remember a proposal is a written sales document, and it should be treated that way, even in the government. Your solutions should be compelling, convincing, and they should be benefit driven with only a few features.  Articulate WHY the customer should select you.

 Tip: Don’t regurgitate the language in the solicitation, it only turns off the evaluator.

Never leave a section blank and don’t exaggerate capabilities. Write all relevant details about your company, outline the soundness of your management expertise, technical, and business strengths.  Tie in how your solution has benefited like customers. Also, pictures are worth a thousand words. Summarize your information and make it easier for evaluators to understand your bid by using graphs, charts, matrices or tables wherever possible.  Sometimes a graphical depiction of your solution or benefit can provide a clearer message.

5.  Realistic pricing – Your pricing should mimic the solution you are offering. Get in the habit of providing a pricing narrative or pricing assumptions with every proposal to provide a baseline of where the numbers came from.  It’s also a great place to give the customer some additional language on cost savings information

6.  Proposal Reviews – Unfortunately this is the process that’s most neglected. It is critical to have a team perform your proposal review. Although some may think compliance reviews are enough, they are not. If you are a team of one (1), make sure someone else can do your ‘sanity’ check.  Ask someone who is not as close to the outcome to review it for you.   If you have a larger team, there should be a structured review within your proposal process which lays out with specific instructions for reviewers.

The 6 steps outlined are to help you in developing a basic response process.  As your business grows so should your process.

To recap, develop a response process that follows these guidelines: 

  • Thorough analysis of solicitation documents to understand what is being asked of you.
  •  Align a proposal response with the needs of your customer.
  •  The ability to articulate what makes your solution better than another provider.
  •  Realistic pricing methods that compliment your solution.
  •  Review, review, review

Preparing proposal responses can be simple to complex.  No matter the request, a consistent response process will win out every time.

When you are preparing a proposal response, what are your must do’s?  Leave me a comment and let’s discuss it.

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  • Doris


    I think you’ve knocked it out of the park. I had to click on each one because they are topics that interest a small business owner like me, who does work for the government! Kudos!