In accordance with federal acquisition regulations, each government agency issues a Request for Proposal (RFP) prior to awarding a contract. This gives the various agencies a chance to evaluate a variety of companies’ pricing and qualifications. Knowing how to write a successful proposal is an invaluable tool for your small business.
RFPs are flexible and will vary, depending on the product and service type. Before beginning a discussion on Request for Proposal, it’s important to distinguish them from an Invitation for Bid (IFB) or a Request for Quote (RFQ). The government is most particular when it comes to forms and processes. Because of this, understanding the difference between these terms is crucial to your success in gaining government contracts.
- Invitation for Bid (IFB) — Pertains to contracts over $100,000, where the government agency knows specifically what it wants and is asking for competitive bids from interested companies.
- Request for Quote (RFQ) — Not binding, this request is done by a government agency looking for current market prices on an impending contract.
- Request for Proposal (RFP) — In addition to pricing, this type of request involves how a business would handle the job and what experience they have with a certain type of work.
When government agencies know what they want and are seeking out the best price, they issue an IFB. An RFP can use price as a criterion for awarding contracts, but it also examines a company’s skills and experience in a given field. Because of this, a RFP requires a lot more paperwork than an IFB. To file a RFP is to paint your company in the best light possible and to sell yourself as being the best choice for the job.
Writing proposals is an ongoing process. You improve at the process the more you do it. Because the government is a public entity, everything is public record, including proposals that are awarded contracts. This means that you can go to government databases and access successful proposals. This will give you insight into what a particular government agency wants in terms of proposals.
Within the government each agency has different needs and requirements that they want addressed in the proposals submitted to them. As a company pursuing a contract, you need to learn as much about the agency awarding the contract as possible. What type of proposal are they looking for in terms of detail and references? Look at past proposals that were awarded contracts for more clues on the agency’s expectations. For more on this subject, be sure to read Working with a Government Agency.
The basic steps in the Request for Proposal process are as follows:
- The government agency issues a RFP, specifying what is needed for the job it wants to contract. Companies submit their RFP with all the necessary information before the closing date, which is usually 30 to 45 days from the issuing date. Any proposal received after the closing date is NOT accepted.
- The agency then reviews each company’s RFP, selecting the ones that best fit the criteria for the job. After that, the government negotiates and often requests revised proposals.
- The selecting process involves a final review of the proposals, selecting the one that best fits its needs. Before the government awards a contract, it makes sure the company is responsible. Companies deemed not responsible are referred to the SBA for further review.
The most crucial thing to remember when doing a RFP is to pay close attention to detail. Read through the Request for Proposal, going over every section word by word to discern what is being requested. Every section in the RFP must be addressed with the required information. Also keep in mind that your company can hire a professional proposal writer if necessary. With each RFP you prepare, your skills develop and you will most likely achieve better results, meaning more government contracts, and more money for you and your company.