Things are going pretty well: Your business is steady, maybe even growing. You are using a healthy mix of traditional and social media for your marketing. Your salespeople are making noticeable headway in their markets. But you can’t help thinking there must be other ways to break into new markets and diversify your customer base. One day, a request for proposal (RFP) pops up in your inbox or lands on your desk, and you are intrigued. RFPs and invitations to bid sound tantalizing, but how do you know if you are ready to compete?
For the uninitiated, an RFP comes from a company or a government entity that needs your services. Some RFPs are by invitation only, but many are open to the public.
Completing an RFP is hard, time-consuming work, and as one of our clients says, is more of an art than a science. They are sometimes difficult to read or can be poorly written, and often require obscure and irrelevant details. Moreover, very frequently, it’s hard to get a true sense of what the company actually wants due to contradictory or incomplete information. If you decide to complete an RFP, you are committing to a large expenditure of time and labor with no guarantee of success. But if you do win the RFP, you will bring in a whole new revenue stream and be able to attract similar business in the future. Large RFPs are often worth $1M or more over the life of the contract. At The LMC Group, we have completed hundreds of RFPs for our clients and for ourselves. We’ve learned the essentials in choosing and in competing for RFPs.
"RFPs and invitations to bid sound tantalizing, but how do you know if you are ready to compete?"Finding RFPs
While every once in a blue moon, someone may pass an RFP on to you, if you’re interested in securing one, generally you are really going to need to put forth an effort. Here are some options for the hunt.
1. Sign up as a vendor on local and state procurement sites. You can choose which types of RFPs you would like to be notified about.
2. Consider certification if you are a woman or minority-owned operation. Certified businesses are often exclusively alerted to special RFP opportunities.
3. Choose one or two large RFP aggregator sites and subscribe (fbo.gov, findrfp.com, bidnet.com, governmentbids.com, etc.). If you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can usually buy individual RFPs until it makes more sense to subscribe. You can also search for your state’s department of transportation for more opportunities.
4. Finding RFPs from private institutions is trickier. If you are close to any universities or large corporation, find out what you need to do to register as a vendor or search their procurement pages regularly for RFPs. You can also create an account on online business network Ariba.
Once you find a promising RFP, do your due diligence before starting work on your proposal. First, try to determine the answers to these big-picture questions:
1. Does the contract fit into your company’s strategic plan?
2. Do you have the personnel and materials to fulfill the requirements, or could you secure them if awarded the contract?
3. Who is your competition for the RFP?
4. Is the company issuing the RFP respected and trustworthy?
5. Will the contract be profitable?
6. Do you have enough time to complete the RFP?
Completing the RFP
If you decide to proceed, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Print out the RFP, grab a highlighter, and read the whole thing. Here’s what you should be looking for:
1. Record the deadline to submit questions and the cut-off date to submit your proposal.
2. Find the scope of service or scope of work you’ll perform if you win. Can you meet all of the requirements, including managing the contract and providing reports once you’ve won it?
3. Does the RFP allow subcontractors (i.e., affiliates)? If so, do you have reliable operators you can work with to fully service what’s needed?
4. Review the forms you will have to complete. Do any disqualify you? Do you have time to get them notarized, if required?
5. Consider your possible references. The RFP will tell you how many you will need to submit. Contact the references before you list them. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have exactly the type of reference they want. You may not have provided transportation for hotel employees, but you may have provided it for another industry.
6. Find the submission requirements. You may need to deliver it in person or mail multiple copies, or you may be asked to submit it electronically. Be sure you have someone on your team who can be counted on to submit the proposal correctly and on time.
7. Pricing is the most challenging component of the RFP. Some issuers will explicitly say they will choose the lowest priced bid that meets the requirements. If you are able, price competitively to give yourself a good shot. Once you have won a few RFPs and have strong references, you can price them more in your favor.
Tipping the Scales in Your Favor
You never know which factors will help you stand out.
At the very least, your proposal should be neat, readable, and free from errors. Have someone in your company with a keen eye for grammar give it a thorough read to ensure that there are no typos or glaring errors. If you can, make it look nice with your branding, that’s all the better.
2. Letters of recommendation
All RFPs will require references, but how much more impressive are glowing letters of recommendation from happy clients?
3. Personalize the cover letter
Explain why your company has the experience and expertise to fulfill the contract. Emphasize what makes you unique—chauffeur training, late-model vehicles, commitment to service. The people reading your RFP want to know they can trust you.
If you qualify, get all the certifications you can. As mentioned above, disadvantaged business enterprises; businesses owned by women, minorities, and veterans; and small businesses can earn extra points on some RFPs.
5. On-time delivery
If possible, deliver your proposal in person for peace of mind. If not, figure out if you need to send your proposal via an overnight carrier or whether USPS Priority Mail is an option.
If you decide to compete for RFPs, expect to play the long game. The good news is that once you complete a few, you’ll have most of your content already compiled for the next ones. And once you win a few and service them successfully, your track record will help you win even more. [CD1018]
Stephanie Carnes is the client solutions provider for The LMC Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.