An RFP amendment can throw a proposal out of compliance with a couple of words. Track amendments and filter the words like they were the RFP itself. And then update the proposal outline for any requirement changes. The consequences of missed requirement changes in an amendment can be financially disastrous and demoralizing.
Organize to Win
The evaluators tell you how they want the proposal to be organized in Section L of the RFP; that’s the way they want it. Don’t dream up your own organization structure because you think it’s better. Your better organization structure can be the kiss of death.
Don’t Write to the Statement of Work
Writers new to proposal writing often think they have to write technical approaches to tell evaluators how you are going to meet all of the work requirements. This is impossible if the statement of work is 200 pages and the page limit for the Technical Approach is 20 pages.
Proposal writing projects invariably turn into a crisis. Involve top management in an effort to minimize the crisis.
Management typically assigns the project and then goes into hiding; except for the final review on the last day before submission. Management must stay involved in the proposal scheduling and review process and make a focused effort to support proposal managers.
In particular, management needs to make sure the proposal manager is getting the required support from technical writers. Most technical writers hate writing proposals will avoid proposals like the plague. Again, management must stay involved and make sure that technical people know the importance of proposals, acknowledge their efforts, and if possible provide monetary incentives for wins.
Loses are demoralizing; “I worked all weekend and we lost”. The key to minimizing demoralizing loses is to bid wisely.
Use an Executive Summary as a tool for win theme development. Write the Executive Summary first using customer insights, your experience with similar work, and contract performance and management insights. Then refine and rewrite it as the proposal progresses.
Again, start the Executive Summary on Day 1 of the proposal project. Many of Fedmarket’s customers say; “we can’t do this.” But you can; it depends on who is writing it; ideally a project person, a unit manager, someone who knows the technology required or the customer. And if you can’t then maybe take a pass on the opportunity.
Break the Executive Summary up, when you think its complete insert all of its content in scored Section L responses if an Executive Summary is not asked for in the RFP (has no evaluation points assigned to it). Move:
- Technical content into the technical approach
- Experience points into the experience volume
- Personnel points into the personnel volume
- Management points into the management volume
You may have to change the context a bit to make it fit each win theme in the right place.
Try it, it works.
Federal RFPs are supposed to show Proposal Writing Instruction in Section L and Proposal Evaluation Criteria in Section M of an RFP. Many do and some don’t. Proposal instructions and requirements can sneak into other parts of an RFP even in RFPs that follow the Federal Section L & M Standards. That’s why filtering the RFP is so critically important.
Proposal evaluators want:
- Just what they asked for in Section L. Other content that you chose to write beyond the requirements in Section L will not be evaluated
- Succinctness, clarity, easy to read text, with no frills. Write at a high school level.
- Quick ways to get through proposals; less is better, clear tables of content, compliance matrices.
- 100% compliance, any less will result in a rejection.
- Sales puffery like: ABC Co is a world class service firm with collective experience exceeding 100 person years. Tone down your CEO’s sales pitches. Limit graphics that say nothing, company logos, and fanciness in general. Do not try to impress except in the compelling content you write in response to Section L.
- Evaluators typically say: “the sales pitch and formatting beauty is clearly done to avoid telling me the low risk solution in simple terms”.
Do not develop your own proposal organization structure because you think that’s its better than the structure shown in Section L.
It can be the kiss of death.
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:
- Untangles an RFP into a compliance matrix and then uses the matrix to set up the proposal volumes to meet the government requirements.
- The Recipe then supplies pre-written materials and guides writers on how to provide compliant technical materials to complete the proposal.
- 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.
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.