Writing a Winning Proposal

Freida Curryby: Freida Curry, Director of the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC)

Successful proposal writing is one of the important keys to winning contracts, whether it is in the private or public sector.  When responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) there are several important factors to keep in mind.

  1. Make a bid/no bid decision.  Before spending time, money, effort and resources to prepare a proposal, you want to determine if this is the right opportunity for you.  Review the scope of work thoroughly.   Are you capable of satisfactorily fulfilling all that would be required of you according to what is asked in the RFP?  Do you have the financial ability to deliver quality products/service on time?  Do you have time to prepare a dynamic proposal?
  2. Attend pre- proposal meetings (if applicable).  If a meeting is offered you definitely want to attend!  At these meetings you have an opportunity to meet the buyers and ask questions.  In addition, prime contractors, contracting officers, buyers, supplier diversity specialists and other small business owners are likely to be present.  This provides a unique opportunity for networking for the purposes of subcontracting, teaming and relationship-building.
  3. Research. You want to do research to insure that you have identified all of the information that can assist you in writing a strong proposal.  This can be about your competitors, the incumbent contract holder, the contracting agency’s or corporation’s buying trends, or industry trends, etc.   For government proposals, you can check agency procurement sites, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), or public research sites like Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS).
  4. Break down the work.  Create an outline to make your efforts in responding to the RFP more manageable. If you are working with a team, assign duties to specify who will address each section of the proposal.  Also, make sure the headlines you use in your proposal match the headlines for each section within the RFP.  Set a timeline that allows several days to proofread and make necessary changes. Give yourself ample time to submit your proposal – being even a minute late can result in your proposal being deemed ‘non responsive’.
  5. Write your proposal so that it about the buyer – and not about you.  This is one of the most important steps for writing a winning proposal!  Your proposal must make it clear to the buyer that you understand their problems and that you can provide the solutions to solve them.
  6. Get a debrief. The last and often overlooked step is to request a debriefing – most government agencies are required by law to give one and many corporations offer them as well.  A debriefing is an opportunity to find out more information on how your proposal was evaluated and why you were not awarded (or awarded) the contract.   Debriefings will be valuable for understanding how buyers perceive your strengths or weaknesses; this knowledge will be invaluable for future proposals

All in all, responding to a Request for Proposal can be manageable process, if you seek guidance (when needed), do your research and allow yourself ample time to complete each step of the process. Remember — write your proposal with the client in mind making it clear and readable.  And remember — always answer the question the buyer is asking —  ‘What’s In It For Me?’

Schedule an appointment with the WBDC for more tips and pointers.  Also, a site with a wealth of information is www.CapturePlanning.com.


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Filed under Business, Procurement, Women in Business

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