I use this simple approach to help small businesses write RFP and RFQ responses…for winning gov’t + military contracts
Writing a response to a government or military RFP (request for proposal) or RFQ (request for quotation) can be pretty intimidating. Don’t let the massive volume of information in the original RFP or RFQ scare you off.
Many small (and big!) companies have hired my team to write, edit, and proofread their RFP and RFQ responses over the years, and have won — even if they don’t have a lot of experience in government services.
Here are the top hacks my team and I have learned from 20+ years of writing many winning (and a few losing!) RFP responses.
Step #1 — Analyze sections L and M first.
This is where I see successful proposal writers spending most of their time — before they ever write a single word.
I read, re-read, and re-read these 2 sections again. If possible, I’ll ask 2–3 other people to read these same sections also.
Then I make my own checklist (often in Excel) of EVERYTHING the government wants to see in this written proposal response.
Before I submit the final version, I go back to my personal checklist and check off every single requirement listed in sections L and M. Whatever I’ve missed…I go back and add.
Step #2 — “Sell” the company.
So many small business fail because they forget to “sell” their company. They write their RFP response like an encyclopedia article about their services or products.
I always brainstorm a list of 5–10 key services and benefits before I start writing. Then I make sure to repeat these benefits wherever possible in the RFP response — in content, headers, graphs, charts, sidebars, etc.
I do a new list for every RFP response I’m writing for the same company (although some overlap). I try to think about: why do customers LOVE working with this company?
Remember, this may be the ONLY sales brochure for this customer with this government agency. Many procurement agents are pretty strict about limiting sales contact with prospective vendors!
Step #3 — Make an assignments list.
In reality, an RFP response is hardly ever written by just one person on the team. Usually, at least 3–5 different people contribute content (incl. sometimes the CEO at a small company).
First, I decide who will provide each piece of content. Maybe it’s a subject matter expert (SME) from the team, or maybe the content is from an older company document.
I track the assignments list in an Excel document (with deadlines) so I know when I’ve received each content chunk from each person for the final RFP response assembly — and also, which pieces are still missing. (BONUS: this makes an easy progress report for the boss!)
Step #4 — Design a 3 p. doc template.
I show the boss my ideas for what I want the document to look like…before I start any serious writing, using any formatting requirements from sections L and M. That helps me get the boss’s buy-in.
I simply create a 3 p. “sample” response template in MS Word, then give it to the boss for review/approval. And I make any corrections they suggest. (It’s much easier to make changes now…than when the document is 20 p. long!) I always include:
- Cover page
- Table of contents
- 1–2 p. of content (incl. my choices for fonts, headers, footers, white space, maybe a sample image)
Step #5 — Create a “skeleton doc.”
Once I have the formatting down, I use the requirements list I created to write out all of the subheaders in the document. But I leave the rest of the content blank (below the subheaders) for now.
This lets me see the table of contents, which I can compare to my list of requirements from sections L and M — and see if I’m missing any major topics.
Now all I have to do is…
Step #6 — Plug my content chunks into the “skeleton doc.”
While I’m creating my 3 p. sample doc and “skeleton doc,” I’m giving the other folks on my team time to send me their content pieces. Now, I’m ready to collect all their content chunks and assemble them into the document.
As I plug each content chunk into the document, I check it off my list in Excel.
This is MUCH EASIER than trying to write an RFP response from beginning to end! Instead, it’s more like assembling a puzzle.
Step #7 — Get revisions.
Once I have a complete draft, I’ll do a quick proofread and edit. Then I ask the boss (and all the other SME’s) to do a line-by-line review of the document.
I ask them to send me their suggested corrections using MS Word track changes. I add their changes to the master document one at a time, then go back and ask questions if there are any conflicting revisions.
Step #8 — Final edit + proofread.
Over the years, I have created a master “cheat sheet” with 30+ items that I check in the final review and proofread, including:
- Paragraph length (2–3 sentences max.)
- Font type/size — consistent
- Word/number preferences
- Capitalized word preferences (usually dictated by the boss)
- Updating the table of contents
- Checking all page spacing
- Checking all line spacing
- Bullets — consistent
- Headers — consistent font, color
- Page footers — consistent numbering, style, colors, etc.
Step #9 — Final check of sections L and M.
Now, I go back to the original RFP or RFQ to see if the government has posted any changes or updates (they often change deadlines or add new requests for experience/topics as questions come up during the bidding process). I research and plug in any new/missing pieces.
I go back through my original checklist for sections L and M, and compare it to our final doc. Did we answer every requirement in the government’s RFP or RFQ?
Finally, I do a double-check to make sure all the formatting requirements and topic requirements have been met. It’s now ready to submit!
Want more writing hacks like these?
Check out my latest book — or sign up for my FREE writing tips email (usually 1x/year) at www.peterswriting.com.
This article was originally published by the author at www.medium.com.