Proposal Writing for Novices

Your boss has just assigned you the job of writing federal proposals. The company is new to the federal market, has lost several proposals, and no one wants the job. You like to write but are a bit apprehensive about entering this strange new world. Your boss sends you a federal Request for Proposal (RFP) and says: “This one is made for us. Let’s go with it.” You try to read the RFP, and your mild apprehension increases to a level of fear. You read the RFP again, and the fear elevates to panic. Where do I start? Maybe Google can help.

You luckily found this White Paper in the sea of proposal writing advice, books, and assist products.

An inexperienced proposal writer’s greatest fears should be:

  1. Missing a one-sentence requirement buried in the RFP and being rejected for missing the requirement.
  2. Being blamed for a loss resulting from your company’s lack of experience, personnel, or technical capability; all of which have nothing to do with your work in developing the proposal.

Federal proposal writing is inherently messy and fraught with difficulties. Proposal preparation instructions in Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are not standardized. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) define the basic content of RFPs, but broad section definitions are not enough. To compound the problem, a significant percentage of RFPs do not even follow the section standards specified in FAR. And even worse, proposal instructions can be scattered throughout an RFP, and if you miss a one-sentence requirement, your proposal can be rejected.

All proposals should start with a compliance matrix to make proposal evaluation easier for the writer and, more importantly, for the federal evaluator. The content and structure of the compliance matrix should dictate the proposal organization structure. The matrix forces you to write exactly what evaluators want to score and gives them a roadmap to where they can find what they asked for in the RFP. Evaluators can’t score extra information beyond what is requested in the RFP so the “world class puffery” and extra content designed to make your company look big and powerful can actually reduce your evaluation score.

Fedmarket’s Recipe for Writing a Compliant Federal Proposal is different than any other available proposal writing products. The Recipe teaches inexperienced writers how to write a compliant federal proposal using a “clean” RFP. Inexperienced proposal writers should repeat the clean RFP procedure as many times as necessary to understand the basics of filtering an RFP to produce a compliance matrix.

Part 2 of the Recipe provides writers with detailed procedures for filtering messy RFPs (the norm) and using the resulting compliance matrix to produce a draft proposal ready for technical input.

Procedurally, the Recipe:

  1. Untangles an RFP into a compliance matrix and then uses the matrix to set up the proposal volumes to meet the government requirements.
  2. Supplies pre-written materials and guides writers on how to provide compliant technical materials to complete the proposal.
  3. Sets the organization for the technical response (if there is a technical response requirement in the RFP) and provides instructions on where and how to insert the technical content in the draft proposal.

In summary, the dream product that writes technical content for you doesn’t exist. The Recipe gets as close to a complete draft proposal as possible in the unpredictable and messy world of federal contracting. Applying the Recipe to writing a federal proposal may, at first, seem difficult for inexperienced writers, but the Recipe is a training tool which will reduce your RFP learning curve. And, most importantly, the Recipe makes it possible for an inexperienced writer to write a compliant proposal.







Trying to Become an Insider by Cold Calling is Expensive

They don’t really want new contractors and there is too much competition.

They want to know who they are doing business with and have confidence that they will perform and know how to play the paperwork game.

So how do they accomplish this without taking sales calls?

  • By getting referrals to buyers from other federal buyers.
  • Asking their colleagues who they are contracting with.
  • Taking calls from prime contractors (the ultimate insiders) and favoring them in many ways.

None of these things happen without having contracts or relationships with buyers.

Contracts beget more contracts.

It’s Not As Bad As It Appears

Knowing who has the cards and playing the contracting game the way the government wants it played can more than offset the government’s inherent power.
You can offset the government’s edge by:

  • Understanding that they are under a spotlight by the public, the press, and even the Congress who gave them all the power. They do not like using their power publicly.
  • Yet if you make the waves on paper they will slap you down in a number of ways, i.e., putting an informal line thru your name, denying a protest, taking you to court, etc.
  • If you embarrass them by cheating they will put you in jail
  • Understanding that intense scrutiny causes buyers to be exceptionally risk averse. Heads do roll when contracts mess up publicly. (e.g., Obamacare web site)

Insiders (companies with contracts):

  • Play by the rules and help buyers justify contract awards and performance ratings on paper.
  • Stay out of trouble by performing at a B level or better.

It’s a paper game with the paper showing that (1) awards were made in the best interest of the taxpayer and (2) contract performance was adequate. (What the paper says may not reflect reality.)

Don’t cross them by protesting or making waves.

They want you to play the game by their rules and if you don’t watch out.

In short, by playing their game and being a stellar business partner, i.e., these people know what I need and help me in any way they can.

Unfortunately, you can’t learn to play the game without a contract.

The Government Has All of the Cards

The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) is the bible of federal contracting. FAR is written to give the government all of the cards.

Federal agencies and Congress pitch “come on in, it’s an open market, we are spending the taxpayers’ dollars”.

The market is far from open. The Federal Acquisition Regulations:

  • Limit competition because open competition is impractical.
  • Allows subjective best value decisions in making awards so that buyers get what products and services they want (low bid does not have to win).
  • Allows contracting officers to make decisions that seem contrary to regulations on the basis that is in the best interest of the taxpayer.
  • Denies around 90% of contract protests.
  • Uses your taxpayer dollars and a small army of lawyers (paid for by you) to beat you in court of you disagree cross them.

And Congress writes the laws that give the executive agencies all of the cards in buying products and services.

GSA Schedules: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Newcomers to the federal market usually have no idea of the advantages and disadvantages of holding a GSA Schedule contract. For newcomers schedules are essential to success in federal contracting.

The Good

  • Schedules are always open for a company to submit a proposal, unlike other multiple award contracts.
  • Schedules are available for almost all commercial products and services.
  • Schedules reduce competition to almost nothing if used correctly with a federal sales program.
  • Schedules can be used by any federal agency to place orders.

The Bad

  • You have to invest dollars in submitting a proposal.
  • You have to invest dollars in a federal sales program and use schedules to close a deal.
  • You have to comply with a number of red tape requirements to keep your schedule in compliance with the contract.

The Ugly

  • Preparing a proposal for a schedule is nearly impossible without schedule experience.
  • GSA requires a rats nest of red tape and pricing information (100 pages or more) to prove to federal auditors and the public that you are worthy of a schedule award.
  • GSA is becoming pickier by the day about who they award to because they already have many thousands of companies holding schedule.

The most affordable and best way to be assured a GSA schedule award to use Fedmarket’s GSA at Your Office service.

Richard White, author of The Shortest Path to Federal Dollars:GSA Schedules, has 18 years of GSA experience. Mr. White will visit your office for a full day after he assists you by telephone and email in developing the documents necessary for the proposal.

Call (888) 661 – 4094, Ext. 2 for more information.

Multiple Award Contract (MAC)

The federal market is rapidly moving to the use of Multiple Award Contracts (MACs) because the bureaucracy has to cut down further on competition to operate under tight purchasing budgets. You must have a MAC to win contracts unless you sell products priced under $3,000.

What are MACs?
MACs are contracts with a number of “qualified” companies (“the chosen”) to deliver a particular type of product or service at pre-negotiated government prices. The key is the proposal to the government about your qualifications and your “special government pricing.”

The contract periods for MACs range from 3 to 10 years, and some have additional periods of performance than can be exercised at the option of the government.

A transaction (revenue receipt) takes place only when an order is placed with one of the chosen few.

Buyers save purchasing dollars because they only have to compete the purchase among the chosen few.

Some MACs can be used by any federal buyer worldwide while most MACs are for the use of a specific agency.

Agency Specific MACs
The number of currently active “agency specific” MACS probably exceeds 4,000. The government does not have an accurate count. Does that surprise you?

The number of companies holding an agency specific MAC will range for 3 to 50 or so.

One might think that agency specific MACs might involve less revenue than government-wide, but that is not necessarily true. Some agency specific MACs can have budgets in the billions or in some cases tens of billions. Agency specific MACs for information technology products and service can exceed $50 billion over their term.

Government-wide MACs
Government-wide MACs require White House approval. The number of currently active government-wide MACS is around 10 – 12. The number of companies holding a government-wide MAC will range from 3 to 50 or so and in the case of GSA schedules over 20,000.

Annual revenue through government-wide MACs and agency specific MACs is greater than $200 billion and is rising year-by-year as a percent of total contract dollars.

Proposal Writing Tips

Federal proposal writing is misunderstood, frustrating, expensive, and demoralizing. You must have an experienced federal proposal writer (commercial experience doesn’t count), hire someone with experience, or use an outside service.

Most federal insiders consider proposal writing the Achilles heel of the business but know how to play the game and keep their proposal costs within reason.

Secret 1 for newcomers: Don’t write proposals for customers to whom you haven’t sold, or at a minimum, who at least know who you are. Bidding opportunities galore may appear wide-open to all, but invariably they have already been pre-sold by one or more companies well before the opportunity becomes publicly announced.

Secret 2: Some federal contracting officials may imply to newcomers that pre-selling is “naughty” when in fact it is encouraged by federal regulation. How could they buy things without knowing what they are buying? Do you buy software without knowing what you are buying and its value way before you spend the money?

Secret 3: Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are made purposely complex to justify contract awards to aggrieved losers, federal auditors, or the public and press, if they ask.

Do you have what it takes to win government business?

Going after government contracting dollars is not for the faint of heart. Download my new eBook “The Hidden Secrets of Federal Contracts: A seven-page eBook for CEOs with money to invest in the federal market” and get the facts before you take the plunge.

Don’t kid yourself; selling to the government is a daunting process. It takes dedication, time and money. Before you spend another minute on the effort download my complimentary eBook, “The Hidden Secret of Winning Federal Contracts.” My latest eBook focuses on cold, hard facts, and the reality that selling to the government is not for everybody. If you can’t meet the criteria set-forth in his eBook, you best take a pass and focus your business efforts elsewhere.

The Hidden Secrets of Winning Federal Contracts explains the “real” rules of contracting, not the federal government’s public version of the rules. The government purposely makes it difficult for a vendor to succeed, this eBook will explain why, and how you can work through the obstacles. The eBook details all topics integral to pursuing federal sales, topics include:

Federal vs Commercial Market
Various types of federal contracts available
Proposal Writing
When to bid, when to pass
Different types of sales programs

I am available to readers for questions and consultations; my contact data is included in the eBook.

The federal market presents unlimited opportunities as long as your management team has a complete understanding of the market. Based on my many years of personal experience in this business, I provide detailed information and perspective on the marketplace.

Starting Out the New Year with Government Contracts

Like many companies, you would undoubtedly like to add federal government
revenues to your 2014 commercial sales. It is the time of year for the
proverbial resolutions; we would therefore suggest the following if you are new
to the federal market.

In the first week of January, arrive at a decision as to whether your company
really wants to tackle this market. By making the decision early in the year,
you and your sales staff will not be distracted by this issue throughout the
year. The negatives involved are that it can take significant sales dollars and
a year or more to crack the market. If you are inclined to take a stab at
entering the market, you must recognize the patience and dollars needed to
network the federal buyers. The possible rewards associated with federal sales
are worth the investment your company makes. The two keys to being successful in
this market are persistence and perseverance. Don’t consider entering the
marketplace if you aren’t willing to accept both of these ideals.

If the decision is a go and your company is one that sells services, focus
your efforts initially on just one agency. If you sell products, limit your
focus to only a couple of agencies. In doing so, you will have increased your
likelihood for success. Bore deep into the agency – the buyers are there. Avoid
the inclination to take a cursory look at the agency only to decide that there
are no opportunities there for your company.

Once you have identified an opportunity, you must make the sales call. If you
are fortunate enough to have a networking connection, have that person make an
introduction for you. If you do not, you must make the proverbial cold calls. As
we all know, a vast majority of us do not like cold calling. If you are like
most, we recommend setting a rigid schedule and making the cold calls early in
the business day. Sales calls left to later in the business day have a way of
getting moved to the next day.

Most agencies do not have their 2014 fiscal year budget approved yet.
Therefore, January is a critical time to start your federal sales initiative as
contract expenditures will be pushed to the end of the year (September 30th).
Decide now if your company intends to pursue the market and start the sales
calls now.

Fedmarket’s goal is to make federal contracting as simple–and as profitable–as possible through our one-stop source for information and expertise. Fedmarket’s free content, training seminars, procurement data products, and hands-on consulting services enable organizations to achieve their federal sales goals. We work with:

Customers new to the federal marketplace who are hungry for a realistic assessment of the challenges that will confront them, and ways to address them
Customers successfully selling in the federal marketplace who are looking for tactical solutions to overcome specific circumstances that stand between them and increased federal sales

Customers who have entered the marketplace and want to develop a strategic marketing and sales program based on the fundamentals that drive federal sales success

Customers established in the marketplace that are looking to expand their market share faster or with additional, expert support.
Fedmarket’s offering covers four areas:

  • Professional services – our subject matter experts specialize in GSA Schedules, federal sales, proposal writing, procurement procedures, and preference programs.
  • Seminars and workshops – the courses presented cover a range of topics relevant to both current and aspiring federal contractors and are delivered through various media: hands-on workshops, seminars and webinars.
  • Tools and applications – these include everything from quick start guides to software applications that address and support compliance requirements, proposal writing, GSA Schedule contract management, and other functions central to the success of a federal contractor.
  • Data and research products – resources span from search engines focused on identifying procurement opportunities and databases that provide contact information for federal buyers, to in depth analysis of procurement trends.

At its core, Fedmarket blends a strong dose of reality, deep expertise, and a can-do attitude to propel those customers that work with it to the next level in federal sales.

Call 888 661 4094, Ext.2 for complimentary consulting.

Provide a Solution, Not a Sales Pitch

The process of arranging meetings with federal procurement officials (end users) is not an easy one. End users are busy and vendors from countries all around the world are trying to sell the end users their wares. On the other hand, end users are expected to be open to meeting with all vendors and are not supposed to show favoritism. Getting through the door of an end user’s office requires people and sales skills.

The most important thing to remember is that end users are people trying to do their job. They are naturally more eager to meet with those who appear to understand their problems and offer solutions. They will figure out a way to avoid meeting with vendors who appear to be on a fishing expedition.

An obvious question is, “How can I know an end user’s problems without meeting with them first?” Identifying problems is not easy but it can be done. Use the Internet and phone calls to conduct research on the targeted agency’s programs, the structure of the organization, and each individual’s job responsibilities. Talk to other vendors, use your networking contacts, and deduce what their problems may be.