Small businesses looking to gain ground and become a prime have a significant uphill battle ahead of them.  The strong will survive, but not without a fight.  The biggest issue is how to set those wheels in motion.  I will attempt to break it down for you, but it’s going to sound way easier than it is.

  1. Who are you as a company and what do you do?  Create a very strong capabilities statement, be sure it captures what you’re REALLY good at.  Determine what your differentiators are, what makes you special and better than the next guy.
  2. Financials.  You need to understand your costs and rates, and ensure your accounting and financial status is clean, is DCAA compliant, and set a budget for growth (and then multiply that times 3).
  3. Find a mentor and/or solid business partner that has done this before.  Get them in your corner either as a joint venture or as a sub to your prime.  Choose wisely, you’re getting into bed with them and they will shape your approach.  They should be invested in this effort as well.
  4. Identify potential upcoming opportunities that sit very comfortably in your wheelhouse.  This isn’t time for venturing to the wild west or throwing spaghetti at a wall.  This is the time to be the SME, the GOAT, the company that can wax poetic on the topic at hand.  It’s better to be patient and wait for the right one(s).
  5. Evaluate the draft RFPs for cost structure and don’t try to be the hero, find a costing expert that can help you determine up front if you can legitimately be profitable in the endeavor.  Pricing is a guess in a way, but an extraordinarily informed guess supported by real cost analysis.  This can win or lose the contract without doing anything else so play it smart.
  6. Do your homework.  Who is the incumbent? What is their standing? How many empty seats are there on the contract? What will it take to fill those seats? What are your win themes and how do they differentiate you from the incumbent and the competition?  Who else is poised to compete?  Is there an opportunity to join forces?  What are your weaknesses and how can you strengthen them with the right infrastructure?
  7. Build your proposal response infrastructure.  There are some things that are fairly predictable with RFPs, You know you will have to have a solid transition plan, management plan, recruiting and retention plan, etc.  You know you can work to showcase your capabilities optimally before any draft RFP even drops, let alone an RFP.  There are experts skilled at building your infrastructure.  Budget for that, it will help.
  8. Start early.  Once you have taken all of these steps, there’s no reason why you can’t assemble your team (and it should be a team, not a one man show), to start putting together a response as soon as you can, but only in general form, the final RFP drop will have specifics that may vary, but having the team already in motion and on the same page will mean a more organized approach.
  9. Ask good questions.  There’s always an opportunity to ask questions regarding instructions or information in the RFP.  Make sure to dig deep and ask questions on anything that deserves clarification.  Sometimes the questions are designed to get them to re-think something like the cost structure, so plug your goals and needs in your questions
  10. Follow some version of the Shipley Method, set a calendar, identify leaders and SMEs, and plan for a cushion of time at the end to really clean it up and make it sparkle.
  11. Graphics are your friend, but use them wisely.  It’s not just for show, but a great visual to tell your story effectively while also showing you have a few tricks up your sleeve.  There are graphic designers with specialized proposal experience, and it’s worth the money.
  12. Plan for the unexpected.  Proposals can be a ‘hurry up and wait’ scenerio.  You can plan to work on it in October and next May the RFP finally drops.  A lot can change in that time, so just stay ready.
  13. A winning proposal answers the question being asked.  What I mean by this is you must be sure that everything you put in that proposal is designed to address the needs stated in the RFP.  This isn’t creative writing, so be sure that your response truly provides the solution.
  14. Watch your P’s and Q’s.  The rules and requirements stated in the RFP are non-negotiable.  If it says the font must be Times New Roman 12 pt size, then don’t do Times New Roman 11.5 pt size.  Someone should fine tooth comb the entire response to ensure it meets any and all requirements to a T, and any submission instructions are followed exactly.  Failing to do so can be a quick and easy way for the customer to toss it out on the first run-through.  Don’t put all that time and effort in to lose it over a font size or page count.

There’s so much more, but this lays a basic foundation.  It sounds easy but it’s harder than you think.  It also sounds hard, but may be easier than you think if you do it right.  If you win, get ready because now you’ve made a lot of promises and you have to be prepared to deliver on those…and then the real work begins.



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