FAQ – Proposals, RFPs, RFQs, Bids and Tenders

What is an RFP?

A Request for Proposals (RFP) is a process undertaken by an organization to determine the most qualified supplier of goods or services at the most reasonable price. For example, the Ministry of Education may have $100 million in its budget to build a new school. They will put out a document called an RFP, which outlines a set of parameters for how they want this school built and what experience and resources they want an ideal supplier to have. Many organizations will decide to bid, and each will draft a proposal document that essentially says:

  • Here’s how we think your school should be built
  • Here’s our experience building similar projects
  • This is how much it will cost

Based on those three broad categories and any other parameters the Ministry chooses, they will select a winning proposal from their ideal candidate to build their school.

What is the difference between an RFP and RFQ?

A Request for Qualification (RFQ) is an additional step that precedes the RFP process outlined in question 1. In our running example, the Ministry of Education wants to build a school, and they want to ensure only qualified candidates undertake the RFP process. They don’t have time to sort through a thousand proposals from unqualified candidates. To mitigate this problem, they issue an RFQ, which asks firms to demonstrate their qualifications, experience, and capability to handle a project of this size and complexity.

Where do you find RFP opportunities online?

There are many online platforms where organizations can post their projects (usually in the form of an RFP) looking for qualified candidates to perform work or supply goods.

The candidates who bid on these types of projects will have an account on these online platforms and find projects in one of two ways. They will either consistently monitor the sites for opportunities or get notifications when relevant projects get posted.

Public institutions and some private organizations operate these platforms. A few places to find RFP opportunities include:

How does the RFP process work?

Depending on how involved the proposal you’re bidding for is, you’ll want to have processes that encompass three main categories: strategy, writing, and design.

Each of these categories can require vastly different levels of investment of time and energy. For example, a large project (such as a 100 million dollar school), will involve an RFP process that will require dozens of hours and multiple team members.

What is the best way to manage the RFP process?

The best way to manage RFPs is by having systems and processes in place and a single project manager who will be responsible for the final product. The project manager will have to review the RFP document, and either produce all the content themselves or delegate different tasks to people best able to respond.

An experienced proposal manager will have step-by-step processes on how to write persuasive copy, create compelling designs, and address all the key issues to maximize your RFP score. They will be able to manage teams, maintain consistent narratives throughout the document, and exhibit a high degree of conscientiousness to meet deadlines.

What questions should you ask before hiring a proposal writer?

Here’s what you should know when inquiring about a proposal writer’s services:

  • What is your proposal process?
      • If they can’t answer with a concrete set of steps, it likely means they are inexperienced and will “wing it.”
  • What is your experience working with proposals of similar size and complexity?
      • Proposals vary widely in their scope and complexity. You want to ensure your proposal writer has handled similarly sized projects, or they could find themselves in over their head.
  • How should we demonstrate that we’re the best candidate for this RFP?
      • If they respond with anything without knowing your company’s unique value or the specific needs of the RFP evaluators, they’re probably not going to be writing a thoughtful response for you. They should respond with questions about you and the project.

What are the keys to writing an effective proposal cover letter or executive summary?

When writing your introductions, you should withhold generalizations about your firm’s experience and qualifications and instead speak to the requirements of the project and address the key concerns of the evaluators.

If the evaluators only read this first section, ask yourself: what do they want to know? This is not what you want them to know. Understanding the distinction between those two perspectives and being able to adopt the view of the evaluators will inform an intelligent response.

How do you write a winning proposal?

First and foremost, you must be qualified to supply the goods or services. If you are, then you’re likely one of many other qualified candidates. Therefore, you must distinguish yourself from the pack somehow. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that can inform your differentiators:

  • What is it about the firm that allows you to provide these services better than your competition?
  • What have you learned from similar projects that will equip you to hit a home run on this one?
  • What sort of challenges are likely to arise, and how will you handle them?

A good proposal writer will help you flush out these key differentiators and define your unique value proposition.

Once you know how to distinguish yourself from your competition, those points will influence how you write your answers to each question.

What is the difference between a solicited and unsolicited proposal?

A solicited proposal is when an organization puts out a request for proposals (or similar documents) where they invite bidders to supply services for a specific project.

An unsolicited proposal is a proposal that isn’t requested. For instance, if you are an excellent supplier of paper products and you want to supply a local government agency, you may decide to draft a proposal outlining your ability to handle their specific needs. You’ll then send it to their office manager unsolicited.