“SMALLTOFEDS” By Ken Larson
“This article is template to apply to your marketing operations for accommodating federal government contract proposal preparation. Proposals are special, sometimes exhausting projects, but a necessary part of doing business with government agencies.
Like many other aspects of business, the more proposals you prepare, the more you learn and the more can borrow from past practice for the next one. “
Your marketing efforts have resulted in locating a solicitation for supplies and services that is exactly suited to your business. The solicitation by the government may be a result of your self-marketing efforts or you may have located it at FEDBIZOPS, the gateway for all federal government business in excess of $25K. The fact that the government has now converted a project requirement into a formal solicitation means that the funding is available for a contract and the authorities within the government agency have authorized a source selection process.
BID/NO BID DECISION
Government contract proposal preparation is time consuming and can be costly. Meeting the agency Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements with a responsive proposal can be well worth the effort if a winning strategy can be formulated. When considering submitting a proposal to a given government solicitation, conduct a bid/no bid exercise. By going through that process you will begin formulating your win strategy or you will discover that you should not bid this job for lack of such a strategy. The elements of the process are discussed below in the form of questions to ask yourself against topics for key consideration. Affirmative or non-affirmative answers to the topical questions and ability to fill in the blanks below will drive your decision to bid or not bid a solicitation.
Do you know this customer? Yes __ No ___
Does this customer know you? Yes___No ___
Do you have any idea of the available funding for which the customer has obtained authorization? Yes___No ____
Specify the marketing contacts which have been made with the customer thus far:
B. Supplies and Services:
Specify the supplies and services to be delivered in the prospective contract:
Line Item (s):
Are the supplies and services in the RFP Statement of work a good match for what the company sells? Yes ___No ___
Is the RFP Statement of Work specific enough to identify risks? Yes____No ____
Is the RFP schedule specific enough to determine the delivery requirements? Yes____No____
Can the delivery schedule in the RFP be met? Yes ___No _____
Specify the delivery schedule for the prospective contract:
C. Contract Type/Value/Start/End Date:
Does the proposed contract type (FFP, CP, T&M, etc) suit the nature of the work? Yes___ No ___
Specify the contract type for this program: _______________.
Are there any unusual terms and conditions specified in the government RFP? Yes ____No___
Specify any unusual terms and conditions: ___________________________________________
What is the Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) value of the prospective contract? $___________.
What is the anticipated start date of the contract? ________.
What is the anticipated end date of the contract? ________.
D. Company Strengths:
Is this prospective contract for effort in which the company has strong skills? Yes____No ____
Specify the strengths the company will utilize in meeting the product specificaton or statement of work:
E. Company Weaknesses:
Are there any company weaknesses in meeting the product specification or statement of work? Yes ___No ___
Specify any weaknesses for which the company must compensate and manage associated risks:
F. Teaming Arrangements (If any):
Does your company plan to team with other companies in the performance of the prospective contract? Yes ___No ___
Identify the other team member companies:
Will your company be a prime or a subcontractor? Prime___Subcontractor ____
Have NDA’s and Teaming Agreements been executed? Yes____No ______
Is this a sole source set-aside procurement to your company? Yes____No____
If this is a competitive procurement, identify the prospective competition and their associated strengths/weaknesses:
H. Win Strategy:
Identify the proposal features and themes which will be utilized in the proposal as descriminators to win this program:
I. Proposal Budget:
Estimate the man hours and dollars for proposal labor, any travel expenses, shipping, packaging, samples and other expenses associated with preparing the proposal. The government does not reimburse the contractor for proposal preparation under the subsequent contract. Proposal expenses must be included in the cost center overhead or G&A and accounted for as marketing expense allocated across the cost center or the company.
Labor Hours __
Labor Dollars $______
Samples (if any) _______
J. Bid/No Bid Decision:
If you can answer “YES” to at least 5 of the questions under paragraphs A through D above, it is likely you should bid this procurement.
If the answers to 7 of the 10 “YES” or “NO” questions under paragraphs A through D above are “NO” it is unlikely you should bid this procurement unless the answer to G is “YES”. Even then, examine your answers and carefully review whether this business is suitable for your company. If the answer to E is “YES”, it is unlikely you will bid this procurement successfully unless the answer to G is “YES”. Even then, determine how you will overcome the weaknesses you have identified in your company associated with doing this work before you decide to bid it. Carefully compare the competitive analysis under Item G to the win statagy under H before you make your final decision.
NO Bid _______
You have decided to bid a prospective project. You have downloaded the RFP from the government agency and the clock has started on the proposal due date.
Visit the federal government on line certifications and representations web site and complete the standard information there, which can be utilized for all federal agency proposals. Certifications and representations are required for virtually every proposal submission. That web site is at:
The following information addresses the proposal process. It is from an independent consultant named Deborah L. Kluge, who is a specialist in proposal writing and consulting. The below is an extract from Deborah’s Web site.
If you are preparing a FAR Part 12 Commercial Proposal, certain elements of this material may not apply, but you are encouraged to utilize the information and the checklist to insure you have covered all the bases.
Read it once, then read it again. And again. Experienced bidders know that several readings of an RFP are necessary for a complete understanding of what is required.
Learn what the lettered sections of an RFP are (e.g., Section B refers to your pricing, Section C is the scope-of-work, Section K contains Representations and Certifications, Section L provides instructions to the bidders, Section M specifies the bid evaluation criteria, etc.). The titles of the lettered sections are generally the same in every RFP.
Be aware that information critical to your bid may be scattered among many different sections of an RFP.
Put the RFP in a 3-ring binder for easy use as a reference document. You might also want to insert dividers in front of each important section for quick reference.
Use small “Post-It”™ notes at the edge of a page to mark important pages or paragraphs. That way, you can find them quickly.
If you don’t understand some of the information in the RFP, you can submit written questions to the Contracting Officer.
Some RFPs specify a date by which questions are due. Make sure you send in your questions before the due date or they may not be considered.
Be aware that the Government’s response to all submitted questions are distributed to all bidders, usually through a written amendment to the RFP. Although you and your firm will not be identified as the “asker” of specific questions, the way in which you word your questions could provide important information to your competitors. Word your questions carefully to ensure that you don’t give away information on your strategy or pricing.
If you call the Contracting Officer to obtain or clarify information in an RFP, be aware that verbal information given to you by the Government is not binding.
THE PROPOSAL OUTLINE
If you have downloaded an RFP from the Internet, you can use that file to begin constructing your proposal outline.
If you do not have the RFP on disk, use a scanner to scan in important sections for use in preparing your outline.
Some people prepare an annotated outline as well as a basic outline. An annotated outline can contain important points from the RFP, as well as your own information on what you are planning to say in each section.
If you prepare an annotated outline, copy your file, save it under a different name, and delete the annotations. The result will be a basic outline which you can use for easier viewing and tracking of proposal sections and subsections.
For each section and/or subsection of your outline, indicate the estimated number of pages that will be written, the person responsible for doing the writing, and the evaluation points.
Put important instructions on the first page or at the top of your outline, so you don’t have to rummage through the RFP to find them. These instructions might include: proposal due date and time, number of copies, page limits, font size, page margins, packaging and delivery instructions.
THE PROPOSAL SCHEDULE
Make one and stick to it!
Work backwards from the proposal due date.
You might want to make a separate schedule for preparation of the cost/business proposal.
Make sure you leave plenty of time for copying, binding, and delivering the proposal. Remember, the copier knows that an important document is being copied, so it will break, jam or smudge. Have a back-up plan that includes having extra paper and toner on hand and sending the proposal out to be copied.
Distribute the schedule to all members of your proposal team.
Make sure you are familiar with the instructions in Section L of the RFP.
Study the proposal evaluation criteria and the points allocated to each section/subsection of the technical proposal, as well as the points that are allocated to cost. This information will tell you what to emphasize and where to put your efforts with regard to proposal preparation.
Hold an intial and regular follow-up meetings with your proposal team to discuss strategies, progress and problems.
To the extent possible, your Technical Approach and strategy should provide answers to the following questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why.
Depending upon the instructions in the RFP, your Management Section might contain a discussion on how you will manage the overall project, a discussion on how you will manage and oversee the work of your staff and subcontractors (if any), an organization chart of the project, and position descriptions of project staff.
In your Personnel Section, you may be required to include narrative information on the experience and skills of the staff members you are proposing for the project and/or their resumes.
In your Related Experience or Capabilities Section, you may need to demonstrate that you have performed similar or related work for this or other clients.
Your proposal may have other sections such as an Executive Summary, a discussion of your Understanding of the Problem, Appendices, or other required information as specified in the RFP.
Don’t assume that the Government knows your organization’s capabilities, staff or the projects you have carried out. The Government is supposed to evaluate only the specific information contained in your proposal. That means it must be written down in accordance with RFP instructions.
Use tables, charts and graphics to summarize information (“a picture says a thousand words”) or to break up your narrative.
Check the entire proposal for the following: technical consistency; spelling; page numbering; section/subsection numbering or letting; consistency of appearance of headings, subheadings, font types and font sizes.
Make sure you have filled in and signed all the forms in the RFP that you must return with your bid.
Before and after copying your technical and cost proposals, check to see that each copy contains all pages and that they are in the proper order.
You have a technical strategy — you should also have a costing strategy!
Don’t wait until the last minute to begin gathering cost information that you will need to prepare your cost estimate.
Be aware of and understand the type of contract you are bidding: fixed-fee, cost-plus, cost-reimbursement, time and materials, etc. This will likely affect the way you price your proposal.
Prepare a spreadsheet template or checklist of items to include in your cost estimate.
Make sure your cost estimate is consistent with what you are proposing to do or provide.
You may need to develop some specific assumptions for pricing purposes. If appropriate, you can include these assumptions in your cost/business proposal on a separate page or as footnotes to your estimate. In any event, always document your assumptions so that you can refer to them later and make changes if needed.
Check and re-check your numbers and formulas. Review the hard copy of your estimate to help in spotting errors.
Make sure that your cost estimate can be easily read. Don’t use a font that is too small.
IF YOU WIN
Uh oh — you now have to actually manage and implement your project.
IF YOU LOSE
You can call the Contracting Officer to arrange an in-person or telephone debriefing to find out the reasons for your loss.
Try not to get too discouraged — no one can win all the time.
Learn from your experience and apply that learning to your next bid.
PROPOSAL PITFALLS – Don’t Let These Happen to You!
Failure to follow the RFP instructions regarding organization of the proposal, inclusion of required information, page limits, volumes, etc.
Failure to take evaluation criteria and allocated points into consideration when preparing your response.
Failure to understand and to demonstrate an understanding of the problem (i.e., the reason why the agency is issuing the RFP).
Failure to submit your proposal on the required date and time.
Failure to include all of the information requested by the Agency.
Failure to tailor your response to the specific RFP.
Costs/Prices are unreasonable (too high or too low) or incomplete.
Costs/prices do not provide any detail or breakdown information (if required) for line and sub-line items.
Failure to include specifics of your proposed approach to the project.
Proposal is unprofessional in appearance (e.g., typos, blank pages, unnumbered pages, smudges, no whitespace, sloppy-looking, etc.). This reflects poorly upon your company.
Proposal is poorly written (e.g., information is not presented/organized in a logical manner, proposal is difficult to follow, poor grammar, etc.).
Proposal merely repeats or paraphrases the RFP.
Proposal does not explain how or by whom the project will be managed.
Proposal does not contain RELEVANT information about your firm, its capabilities, and/or its management and staff.
Proposal does not demonstrate that your firm/organization and personnel have the experience and capability to carry out the project.
Obtain complete copy of RFP
Distribute RFP to appropriate staff.
Review RFP for missing pages/sections.
Prepare questions for submission to Contracting Officer.
Receive and review responses to questions.
Collect, distribute and review pertinent background documents.
Identify partners to participate in bid.
Determine type of partnership arrangement.
Prepare teaming or other type of appropriate agreements.
Receive signed agreements from partners.
Determine each partner’s level of effort for project.
Number and type of long-term staff.
Number and type of consultants.
3. TECHNICAL STRATEGY
Hold strategy meetings.
Identify the partnership’s strengths and weaknesses.
Identify competition and their strengths and weakness.
Identify ways to differentiate partnership from competition.
Develop strategic themes.
Develop strategy for each component and overall.
4. TECHNICAL PROPOSAL
Prepare draft outline/revise as needed.
Identify & select writers for each section.
Determine page numbers for each section.
Determine document format (font, major/minor headings, etc.).
Provide writers with written formatting guidelines/instructions.
Prepare/distribute list of nomenclature, abbreviations, acronyms.
Identify and provide writers with relevant sections from past proposals.
Prepare schedule/identify due dates for draft sections.
Determine review, feedback and editing process for written sections.
Ensure compatibility of software packages and versions.
Ensure compatibility of document transmission via e-mail.
Ensure sufficient quantities of appendix materials are available.
Prepare packet of materials for long-term candidates.
Prepare personnel checklists/tracking list for candidate documents.
Prepare commitment letter(s) for signature by candidates.
Recruit long-term staff and consultants.
Sort Resumes by category/areas of expertise.
Identify best candidates and alternates.
Confirm candidates’ interest/availability.
Obtain additional info from candidates for Resumes, if necessary.
Obtain signed letters of commitment from candidates.
Review personnel checklists for missing items.
Determine format for re-written Resumes.
Prepare skills matrices.
6. PAST PERFORMANCE REFERENCES
Use RFP format if required.
Update and/or prepare past performance information as needed.
Review for accuracy and completeness.
Select cover design (map, picture, graphic, etc.).
Identify info for cover (RFP #, date, submitted to/by, etc.).
Determine how proposal will be packaged.
Purchase binder rings and covers, if needed.
Purchase notebooks if needed.
Purchase dividers/tabs if needed.
Ensure sufficient quantities of all packaging items are available.
8. FINISHING TOUCHES
Spell check all sections.
Gather appendix materials.
Prepare Table of Contents.
Prepare Transmittal Letter.
Prepare Inside Cover Sheet for Technical Proposal.
Prepare Section Tabs/Dividers for Technical Proposal.
Determine where and by whom proposal will be reproduced.
Insert special pages, charts, etc., if required .
Insert appendix materials.
Check pages in each copy for legibility.
Check each copy to ensure no pages are missing.
10. PROPOSAL DELIVERY/LOGISTICS
Preparations for Delivery
Obtain packaging materials (boxes, wrapping paper, tape).
Purchase box handle (if needed for hand carrying).
Prepare label for technical proposal.
Prepare outside address label.
Mark “original” on 1 copy of proposal.
Prepare receipt (for hand carrying).
Check courier service schedules (# days required for delivery).
Wrap technical proposal and affix proposal label.
Affix outside address label.
Identify person to carry proposal.
Make airline and hotel reservations.
Wrap technical proposal and affix “technical proposal” label.
Affix outside address label.
Affix handle, if required.
Provide receipt to person who will hand-carry proposal. “
This article has offered guidance as a template to apply to your marketing operations for accommodating federal government contract proposal preparation. Proposals are special, sometimes exhausting projects, but a necessary part of doing business with government agencies. Like many other aspects of business, the more proposals you prepare, the more you learn and the more can borrow from past practice for the next one.
As a final note please read the following carefully. Your proposal data may contain rate information, proprietary data or strategic technical solutions which you would not want to fall into the hands of a competitor. The government does not sign Proprietary Data Agreements (PDA’s). The government’s obligation to protect your information is covered in the following FAR clause and requires protective markings by you on the title page of your proposal and on each subsequent page.
FAR 15.509 Limited use of data.
(a) A proposal may include data that the offeror does not want disclosed for any purpose other than evaluation. If the offeror wishes to restrict the proposal, the title page must be marked with the following legend:
“The data in this proposal shall not be disclosed outside the Government and shall not be duplicated, used, or disclosed in whole or in part for any purpose other than to evaluate the proposal; provided, that if a contract is awarded to this offeror as a result of or in connection with the submission of these data, the Government shall have the right to duplicate, use, or disclose the data to the extent provided in the contract. This restriction does not limit the Government’s right to use information contained in the data if it is obtainable from another source without restriction.”
(b) The offeror shall also mark each restricted sheet with the following legend: “Use or disclosure of proposal data is subject to the restriction on the title page of this Proposal.”
(c) The coordinating office shall return to the offeror any unsolicited proposal marked with a legend different from that provided in 15.509(a). The return letter will state that the proposal cannot be considered because it is impracticable for the Government to comply with the legend and that the agency will consider the proposal if it is resubmitted with the proper legend. “