Government contracts offer great possibilities to consultants who want to diversify beyond the often-weaker private IT market. However, the bidding process for these contracts can be intense. Once you find the perfect contract, you must understand the process of responding to a request for proposal (RFP). You also need to have a plan of action ready for the second half of the bidding process: the government's response to your submittal.
Here are some tips for knowing what to look for in a complex government RFP and what to do when you hear back so that you can win the contract.
What is an RFP?
A formal RFP typically has four main components:
- Introduction: This details when proposals are due, where to submit them, and who to contact with questions.
- Directions: This section explains what to include in the proposal and how it will be evaluated. It may detail required formats or provide forms.
- Standard text: This gives information about the requestor, such as its purchasing policies, invoicing terms, and other administrative details.
- Statement of work: This is the meat of the RFP: It describes the problem the client wants the contractor to solve. It may describe concrete objectives, vague symptoms, or both.
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Crafting a response
After you find and study an appropriate RFP, you're ready to craft a proposal that outlines your qualifications, your understanding of the client's needs, and how you intend to meet them. As you do this, take care with what you include and how you sell your services with your proposed solution.
Here are the necessary components for a response to an RFP:
Introduction: Extend the second part of the introduction here with the goal of demonstrating your comprehension of the issues. Analyze the requirements established in the RFP and briefly discuss the possible approaches to solving the problem. Finally, explain the approach you propose and why it is the best solution.
Proposed project: Detail exactly how you intend to deliver the solution. Provide the specifics of the implementation and discuss the technology involved.
Experience: Go further into your qualifications, providing your resume, a description of your resources, and a summary of past projects relevant to the proposed solution.
Appendices: If necessary, attach as appendices any material that isn't directly relevant but that supports the proposal. Use flowcharts and graphics where appropriate and include letters of recommendation.
Remember that a typical response will be between 25 and 50 pages. RFPs are often vague and you may want to pitch ideas or plans that go beyond what the RFP asked for. Therefore, identify the most critical needs and make sure you address those. If you find yourself at a loss to explain your solution, it's likely that you need to tweak the solution, not the proposal.
After the proposal
Once this proposal has been submitted, the struggle isn't over. There is still a long road ahead to getting what you want.
One possible situation that may arise before the contract is awarded is that the client may ask for a "best and final offer." This means that the client has probably narrowed the field to a few consultants and is looking for the absolute best deal.
In response to this, the most effective strategy is to pore over the RFP and identify the bells and whistles that the client would like to have but doesn't consider necessities. Then, submit a new cost analysis, along with a revised work plan in the form of a line-item list, showing the client how much you're cutting from the price right next to the services or deliverables he or she will give up. Usually, the client opts for the bells-and-whistles package after all.
Above all else, remember that if you do adjust your price, you need to make sure the client understands why. Never adjust pricing or service details without providing a complete explanation.