Proposal Writing for Small Businesses

Learn about the proposal game, the importance of proposal writing experience, and how to write winners by reading Fedmarket’s 10-part installment series on federal proposal writing.

Writing Compliant Proposals: The Way for Small Businesses to Grow in the Federal Market

A majority of small service companies seeking federal contracts lack proposal writing capability.  Proposal writing capability is a necessity for small service contractors because RFPs and RFQs (1) require relatively complex proposals and (2) are usually poorly written and hide the compliance requirements. Small businesses usually do not have the experienced proposal writing personnel to write clear, concise, and compliant proposals.

Fedmarket is offering a complimentary 10-installment primer on Proposal Writing for Small Businesses. The series is comprised of the following installments, watch your email weekly to read the latest installment.

As the titles suggest, the 10-installments in the series tell readers why proposal writing is so crucial to growing a small business.

  1. Non-compliance Is the Way Proposal Evaluators Survive
  2. Overview of an Effective Proposal System
  3. Winning Proposals Are Based on L & M and Are Easy to Red
  4. The Difference between a Compliant Proposal and a Winning Proposal
  5. Proposal Writing Strategies and Mistakes
  6. Win Theme Development
  7. What Evaluators Want in Your Proposal
  8. Proposal Management Considerations
  9. Conducting Proposal Reviews
  10. Conclusion: Compelling and Compliant Wins

1. Non-compliance Is the Way Proposal Evaluators Survive

A typical RFP/RFQ in the federal market will receive 5 – 50 responses; sometimes even more. Evaluators have full-time day jobs and have difficulty wading through the responses; typically, after their child’s soccer game. The first pass through the pile of responses is usually “whoops you missed the page count, we asked for a single key person resume and I don’t see one., etc.; that’s it for you.” Seven more to go and its already midnight. My evaluation scores are due tomorrow; there has to be a better way.

The federal contracting press delights in the stories of a $50 million-dollar contract lost because the proposal exceed the page count requirement in the RFP. Guarding against non-compliance requires an experienced proposal writer supported by an effective proposal system. Non-compliance is the biggest reason why proposals are rejected.

The three critical elements of an effective proposal system from a compliance perspective are:

  1. Carefully filter the RFP for proposal requirements.
  2. Complete a Compliance Matrix based on the results of the filtering process.
  3. Use the Compliance Matrix to develop a draft proposal.

Fedmarket can write proposals for you and assist you in improving your in-house proposal writing capabilities for the 2017 season.  We will provide you with a fixed price quote to write a proposal for you. Send RFP link or the RFP document to sgluck@thefederalmarketplace.com.

We write proposals on a fixed price basis for:

  • Companies with limited proposal writing capabilities
  • Proposal organizations that are overloaded with RFP responses
  • Companies responding to GWACs and IDIQs; using a model proposal coupled with services for building the model into a compliant proposal.

We use the proposal systems and procedures described in this series of installment to write proposals for companies. Many of our customers have us write the first proposal and then use the results to write subsequent proposals.

Fedmarket can also provide you with proposal tools and templates to ease the pain and complexities of completing a compliant federal proposal:

Questions? Call us at 888 661 4094, Ext. 2.

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Form Your Joint Venture Now for Alliant 2 GWAC

Form Your Joint Venture Now for Alliant 2 GWAC; the Largest Federal IT Contract of the Next 10 Years

The Final RFP for GSA’s Alliant 2 GWAC will be released in the next several months.

The Alliant 2 contract is projected to be a huge federal IT services contracts; the Large Business RFP has a $50 billion ceiling while Small Business has a $15 billion ceiling, both over 10 years.

In the draft RFP GSA is telling companies that pricing is an important consideration only at the task order level. Experience will be the primary factor is winning.

The 60 large companies with the highest scores will be selected for Alliant 2 Large Business. The top 80 small business scorers will be selected for Alliant 2 Small Business. Companies can expect billions of dollars of task orders from all agencies. Winning an Alliant 2 award is crucial to a small business success in the IT market.

The $1 million-dollar project experience size requirements for small businesses will force many small businesses to form Joint Ventures. Joint Ventures are complicated legally so start now if you can’t meet the project experience size requirements.

Get a head start on your proposal for a complicated RFP and save days of proposal writing time by using Fedmarket’s Alliant 2 Model Proposals and Full Proposal Writing Services.  Call 888 661 4094, Ext. 2 for more information.

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The Dream Proposal Product Does Not Exist

Federal proposal writing cannot be automated for one simple reason: the proposal preparation instructions in Requests for Proposal (RFPs) are not standardized. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) defines 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 and more efficient. The content and structure of the compliance matrix should dictate the proposal organization structure. Accordingly, a standard RFP template with a standard compliance matrix would clean up the scattered RFP mess and make proposal writing easier and much cheaper for bidders. It would also make proposal evaluation easier and less costly for the government.

Don’t lie awake waiting for a standard RFP template. The irrationality of the federal bureaucracy is legendary. Even the Department of Defense doesn’t follow standards for posting a bidding opportunity at FBO.gov.

Commercial proposal products currently available are all over the map including:

  • Database products assisting in organizing and accessing proposal content
  • Proposal scheduling and management products
  • Products featuring proposal writer collaboration
  • Products telling you how to write win themes and selling points
  • Products that tell you how to organize a proposal
  • Products that claim to automate the proposal writing process (dream products).

All of these products provide some value but are not the answer to the “make it easy” dream. Proposal writing is not easy and never will be. A winning proposal has to be written by experienced proposal writers.
Fedmarket’s “Recipe for Writing a Compliant Federal Proposal” is different than any other available products. The Recipe teaches inexperienced writers how to write a compliant federal proposal using a “clean” RFP. Then 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. The Recipe then supplies pre-written materials and guides writers on how to provide compliant technical materials to complete the proposal.
  3. The Recipe does not provide required technical content in response to a Statement of Work but 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 technical content in the draft proposal.

In summary, the Recipe is the closest an application can come to automating federal proposal writing. Applying the Recipe to writing a federal proposal is difficult for inexperienced writers, but the Recipe provides a training tool that reduces the learning curve. And, most importantly, the Recipe makes it possible for an inexperienced writer to write a compliant proposal if time is spent using the training tool.
Unfortunately, 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.

Read about Fedmarket’s Recipe for Writing a Compliant Federal Proposal at http://www.fedmarket.com/l/proposals/proposal_tools/recipe_for_writing_a_compliant_federal_proposal_/

Questions about proposal writing? Call Richard White at (301) 960 – 5813.

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.