If you’ve ever had to prepare a proposal response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) you know it can be a challenge. RFPs come in all shapes and sizes and no two are alike. Some can be over 100 pages while others can be less than 1,000 words. Either way your response is what is judged to award the project to your company and bring in revenue.

When reviewing RFPs it’s important to look at the document in several ways. After initial team reviews of the RFP questions tend to arise. You should always check to see if the organization issuing the RFP allows you to submit questions about the RFP and what the deadline is for submitting those questions. Also check to see if all questions submitted will be publicized so that you can review other firms’ questions as well as yours.

When you first review the RFP get a highlighter and outline both questions and requirements. Use different color highlighters for each so that you can easily identify on future reviews. I typically print the RFP on 3-hole punch paper and put it in a binder so that I can attach post-it notes for callouts and tag specific sections if necessary.

Along with the deadline to submit questions, there is a deadline for when proposals are to be received. Look at this date and plan to have your response arrive at least 3-5 days earlier. Work backward from that date to allow time to prepare the necessary materials for submission. You will most likely have a few reviews so plan time for the team to review the proposal as it develops and send your schedule to the entire team so they can allow time for their contributions.

Next carefully review and analyze how points are awarded for different parts of the proposal. Points are taken away for various reasons including how many pages your proposal is and your proposal can even be disqualified if you do not adhere to the restrictions defined. Also weighting of points for various parts can affect how much time you spend on that subject matter. If the points awarded for team bios are only 10% of the total don’t put too much effort into rewrites and headshots.

Packaging is also crucial to how your proposal is received and viewed. Your document layout should be clean and legible with an appropriate amount of white space so that it’s not too crowded. Using styles will help you greatly. Many RFPs have a numbering system that you will need to refer to so if you can use auto numbering to match your responses to questions in the RFP that’s great. If it’s too cumbersome then manually enter the corresponding numbers and data. Don’t try and make your word processing application jump through too many hoops.

Once you have the document written and reviewed your done right? Wrong! Now you have to package the document, both hard copy and sometimes digital copies on CD-ROM or other media. Carefully review how many copies and if they need to be sealed. Many times the cost proposal may be submitted in a separate sealed envelope that needs to be marked accordingly. I’ve found that using laser printed labels can both identify the different versions of the proposal as well as seal the envelope. If allowed put the RFP number the label. Save your templates and you can use them for future RFPs.

Hopefully if your product or service meets the RFP requirements and your proposal is well written and easy to read, you should be a top contender to win the contract!

Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald started Square Jaw Media to document strategies and techniques he had used over his experience working in marketing and communications since 1990. During this time Brian wrote about many of the exciting Raleigh social media events where great knowledge was being shared and tries to share some of the tips and tricks. . Read Brian's full bio.