Perseverance pays. As small business owners, we spend a great deal of time getting certified, searching for proposal opportunities, responding to requests for quotes only to find out that the Request for Proposal (RFP) was pulled or the project was given to an incumbent. While this may be disheartening, don’t give up. Perseverance Pays.
Keep researching, writing and responding because on average, the write to win ratio for proposals is 1:8. Yes, on average, for every eight proposals companies write, they only win one. While that is the average response rate, there are things that can be done to improve your odds of winning. In fact, there are a few companies whose write:win ratio is 1:2 or 1:3.
The Impact team has been busily attending conferences, leading seminars and gathering pointers on winning contracts. Here is some insight into what we think. Remember, perseverance pays.
Be responsive and responsible.
When reviewing proposals, there are two key factors that requestors are usually looking for: a firm’s ability to be responsive and responsible. Requestors need to know that you will be responsive for the duration of the contract. They don’t want to worry about you disappearing or not focusing on their project once the contract is awarded. Write your proposal and make it clear in your responses that the prospect’s project will remain a top priority for your firm, you will make requested changes in a timely fashion or simply put, be available when needed as needed.
In addition to being responsive, write your proposal so that requesters understand that you will be responsible for all of the tasks identified in the work statement. It is imperative that requesters feel comfortable that you will complete the work done in the time stated. Even if you subcontract to another firm, you must be responsible for completing the job. No one cares if your sub disappointed or didn’t deliver. Your track record has to be clean and complete. Make it clear in your responses that you will be responsible for completing all of the work.
While remembering to be responsive and responsible will ensure your proposal remains in the running, we want to win the race, not just run in it. Here are a few more tips for crafting a winning proposal.
- Clearly describe how you will complete the project. It’s important to read all sections of the RFP, but pay particular attention to the Scope of Work for corporate or a local government contracts, or the Schedule M if you’re applying for a federal contract. Both of these sections will describe what you need to address when creating your proposal and usually account for a large portion of the scoring criteria. Many respondents spend a lot of time and energy laying out their qualifications and forget to spend an equal amount of time describing how they are going to get the job done. Refrain from overselling yourself and sell the work.
- Scale up when necessary. Many RFPs encompass large projects that may include tasks that are outside of your firm’s immediate capabilities. This is when you need to team and partner with other firms so that your response demonstrates the scale necessary to complete the project. It’s important to have partnerships with qualified and certified agencies that can help you be responsive and responsible. For example, when responding to requests, make it clear that your partners are certified minority/woman/small-owned businesses. This lets the requestor know that your partners are diverse and helps the organization that you are responding to fulfill their diversity requirements.
- Budget. Budget. Budget. Many contracts require respondents to submit a cost proposal separate from a statement of work (SOW) proposal. Keep in mind that the scoring rubric for both responses may be separate as well. Develop a budget that can be justified and explained. Research similarly awarded contracts. Knowing the previous cost of a project can serve as a guide in setting your price. Be reasonable. Purposely “low-balling” can remove your proposal from contention, just as pricing too high can result in denial. Additionally, be prepared to account line-by-line for work hours if necessary. While you want to win the work, be careful not to underbid. Develop a budget so that you know your firm’s bottom-line when it comes time to negotiate. No one wants to win work that costs the firm money.
- Ask questions. Oftentimes there are modifications to RFPs or frequently, information included in the SOWs may be unclear. It is important to ask questions. Read the document thoroughly and send your questions in writing before the question submission deadline. If you miss this key milestone and a question you had was not asked by another firm, you have lost an opportunity to gain insight on the project. Several local and state agencies have an open-door policy and will allow you to view past winning proposals, ask questions and help you better understand the request being made. Leveraging this opportunity also increases your odds of being able to effectively respond to the request. Perseverance pays.
- Watch for modifications. Keeping your ear to the “streets” called contracts is imperative! Requestors make modifications often based on questions from other competitors. If you miss the modifications and respond to the RFP without addressing the changes, you may be automatically disqualified. Nothing is worse than replying to an RFP with outdated information. This immediately lets the requestor know that you lack follow-up skills, or, that you’re not responsive.
RESEARCH! Reviewing current and past proposals is a great way to get a contract. Reading and researching are great ways to understand what professionals in your industry are saying and they provide an inside look on what to do and what not to do. Why reinvent the wheel when you have access to the blueprint?
Perseverance pays. Spend time understanding the requestor’s vision for the scope of work, draft a compelling narrative that paints a picture of how you plan to carry out the requestor’s vision, develop a reasonable budget and be certain that you can physically meet the deliverables. Persevere and you will significantly increase your write to win ratio.