Demystifying the Proposal Process // Part 2: Formal Proposals

In July, we highlighted a few words every business owner has heard before: “Send me a proposal.” We help business owners every day answer those requests—informal sales proposals—which require you to highlight your products/services, and make a worthy sales pitch in the process. We addressed informal sales proposals in Part 1 of this series in October. However, there’s another kind of request—one we specialize in at Theme Strategic Proposals—centered around the formal request for proposal (RFP).

The RFP has other variations such as “request for quote” (RFQ) or “request for information” (RFI) but for now, we’ll focus on the standard RFP and what it requires from you and your business. We’ve highlighted the RFP basics in previous posts, but let’s look at who normally issues formal RFPs, how you can find RFP opportunities, and how Theme has served others in the RFP process.

As always, we would love to answer any questions if you have them after reading. Reach out to Liz here!

Who’s Issuing Formal RFPs?

If a government or corporate entity is issuing a formal RFP document, then you need to treat it as a formal RFP document. You cannot mess around when it comes to full compliance according to their requirements and specifications. We have seen formal RFPs issued for many different kinds of services and products—everything from personal protection equipment (PPE) to orthotics for army soldiers to IT services for the U.S. Senate to catering and concession services.

No matter your industry, there is a good chance some form of government or business needs what you have to offer.

As it relates to the government, they are required to issue an RFP if the product or service surpasses a certain dollar amount. The dollar amount varies depending on which federal, state, or municipal entity is requesting the services. For some light Sunday reading, check out the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which governs all federal acquisitions. This 1,000+ page document contains the dollar thresholds for different services you might offer. If you’re trying to sell something to the government, consider researching if they’d make you go through the RFP process first.

Three Key Steps

There are three main differences between the informal proposal and the formal RFP process. If you take on a formal RFP, keep the following three components at the front of your mind at all times. This is how we come alongside many of our clients to ensure full compliance for any given RFP.

  1. Schedule. The schedule/timeline for an RFP is immovable.You can make a request for extension, but if they don’t grant you a timeline extension before the deadline approaches, and you don’t have your RFP ready to deliver to their office or send to their inbox, then you will be disqualified. The whole point of the formal RFP process is that every business that responds to the request is on the same playing field. A set-in-stone timeline is one way that’s accomplished. Note: We don’t recommend sending your final RFP response until two days before it’s due IF a hardcopy is required. Sometimes there are addendums to the RFP issued up until the last week. If it’s due electronically, send it in on the due date or the afternoon before.
  2. Response Requirements. With an information proposal it’s up to you and the prospective client—in other words, YOU get to determine what the prospect receives. With a formal RFP, the response requirements are clear and outlined throughout the whole document. If you don’t follow the RFP’s response requirements, in the order they’re laid out, it will likely count against you in the evaluation process.
  3. Forms or Registrations. Most government RFPs contain forms for bidders to complete and include in their proposals. We’ve heard horror stories about businesses that forgot to sign a simple submittal form on the front page which disqualified the rest of their RFP entirely. Registrations are tricky in that sometimes they take multiple weeks to process, so it’s important you fill out and submit registrations as soon as possible to ensure you’re able to register according to the given schedule.

Where Can I Find RFPs?

If you’re wondering where or how businesses find new RFPs, we have a few great resources you can check regularly.

But real quick, we can’t recommend RFP 360 enough. They’re a company local to Kansas City that helps businesses formulate documents—they have a vast bank of resources and tips when it comes to issuing and responding to RFPs. Now, here are four websites we recommend if you’re looking for more work.

  • Beta.Sam.Gov. An interesting website name, but wildly important when it comes to government opportunities. In short, all government entities are required to upload their issued RFPs to this website. Access to those RFPs are open to the public to view. On the front page, next to the search box, select “Contract Opportunities” and type in the keywords related to your offering.
  • Local PTAC Center. This link will help you find your local procurement technical assistance center (PTAC). You should form a relationship with your local PTAC because they can get you set up, in their system, to receive local RFP opportunities that are funneled through their database.
  • Periscope. What we love about Periscope is that they comb every municipal opportunity in the country, and help you filter opportunities geared toward the specific regions or industries you want to work in. If you don’t have a resource like Periscope, you need to do all the research yourself for potential RFPs—this RFP aggregator takes care of a lot of leg work, and sends you pertinent opportunities.
  • Public Purchase. We know many municipalities post their opportunities on Public Purchase, which is public for businesses like yours to scope out local opportunities. It’s a little limited because not every municipality uses it or is required to use it, but it’s another resource worth knowing.

The Bottom Line

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: 100% compliance is key when it comes to formal proposals. We hope the descriptions and resources we’ve shared today give you a better idea of what’s expected in the formal RFP process.

In early 2021, we are going to share some Theme Strategic Proposal case studies on why these components are so important, and how we’ve helped many wade through the formal RFP process. In the meantime, we would love to answer any lingering questions you have. What about formatting? Design? Asking questions?

There are many items that “get in the weeds” of the RFPs themselves, and that’s ultimately why we exist: To help businesses like yours land opportunities, curate compliant RFPs, and win new business and money-making opportunities for your people. When those three things happen, we promise all the work that goes into a formal proposal is well worth your time.