Managing the proposal writing calendar is one way to ensure that you have enough time to prepare a conforming, attractive proposal. There are certain things you can’t control. For example, you can’t control how long the issuer gives to return a response. Some issuers want responses immediately, so they don’t leave a lot of time for responding. Often, this is the result of their own failure to manage their side of the procurement calendar.
Issuers may assume that a respondent has a “stock proposal,” making it “easy” to generate a quick quote. Issuers may need to meet an internal deadline – e.g., the next board meeting, or their existing contract may be expiring. Unfortunately, they may also have a preferred supplier in mind, and a short deadline will put challengers at a disadvantage.
It’s also very possible that you came to the party late. In this case, you’ll need to decide the merit of the heroics needed to submit a response on time. If that’s the case, here’s a quick checklist to help you decide whether and how to respond.
Proposal writing: evaluating your response plan
Read the RFP.
Step one must be reading the RFP in its entirety. Determine whether the RFP is open to any and all bidders, or an “invitation to bid” (ITB), for pre-selected bidders. If the RFP is open, you’re still in the running. Grab a highlighter and highlight each requirement as you find them.
Note all of the proposal requirements.
This is where the highlighter comes in. Does the issuer require you to submit an insurance certificate for coverage you don’t currently have? Will the issuer require a performance bond if you receive the award? Some issuers require respondents to file an Intent To Respond (ITR) with them by a certain date. If you have already missed this deadline, the issuer may exclude your proposal from consideration. Other requirements may include submission deadlines, number of copies of the response, and whether you must mail your response. Do not assume that you can submit an electronic response. If the proposal requires a mailed response, you need to build “courier time” into your response calendar.
Find the RFP addenda and question responses.
Issuers often make corrections or additions to a proposal once they’ve issued it. Determine whether there are any additions to the proposal. This is important because you normally need to acknowledge all additions in your response. Your proposal may be considered “incomplete” if you do not acknowledge all additions. Locating the questions and responses is also important. These may help clarify things as you are putting your proposal together.
Take stock of what you’ve learned.
After reading the proposal, the addenda and Q & A, you may find that you don’t meet all the requirements. You may find that you don’t have enough time to get required insurance, documentation or mail your response.
Write down a proposal calendar
Make your proposal calendar.
Start with the response deadline and work backwards. You may need to build in delivery time for your response. It’s usually not enough to postmark your response by a certain date. Normally, the issuer wants your response in hand by the response deadline. Check courier options available to you, including overnight delivery and guaranteed delivery by a certain time. If you can submit responses electronically, leave enough time on deadline day to package your digitized response and submit it.
Working backwards, add assembly time for your completed proposal package. This includes printing and binding/covering your responses, collating the documentation and packaging it for mailing, if you’re mailing the response. If you’re submitting electronically, use this opportunity to digitize any required hard-copy documentation.
Still working backwards from the deadline, build in review time for the completed proposal. Leave enough time to make minor corrections if the review turns up mistakes, errors or omissions.
Determine your remaining response time. This includes writing the proposal, collecting required documentation and assembling the response for review. If you’re working with a proposal team, you may need to leave time for status meetings and draft reviews. Likewise, if you have competing responsibilities, determine whether you can devote the required time to putting together your response.
Finally, add some planning time at the beginning of your response calendar, especially if you need assistance from other people in your workgroup. This is also essential if you’re partnering with another company or person on the proposal. Everyone needs to understand their roles, and the amount of time they have to work with.
Evaluate the calendar.
Once you’ve got the proposal calendar, evaluate it. If you can only devote hours (instead of days) to critical functions, you may want to rethink your response plan. I’ve evaluated dozens of proposals, and I can say that haste shows up in the finished product. The issuer will evaluate your proposal on its merits, but it will also compare your proposal to other submissions. If your timeline doesn’t allow you to submit the kind of response you want to offer, think carefully before responding.
Having said this, everyone encounters short deadlines, and you can occasionally pull a rabbit out of your hat. Last minute proposals should be the exception, not the rule! If you find yourself creating last minute responses regularly, consider working with a proposal writer, who can devote time exclusively to creating a professional proposal response. If you’d like more information about proposal writing, or you’re looking for a proposal writer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (734) 961-0408. I’ll be happy to consult with you on your proposal opportunity.
Photo Credit: Colin, via Flickr