Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Write a Request for Proposal (RFP)

If you're used to writing proposals, you already know how to create a proposal to respond to RFPs.

But when your organization is offering a grant or looking for contractors to provide services or products, you can also use those skills to create a Request for Proposal (RFP) to solicit proposals from others.

The selection process will go much smoother if you provide your potential respondents with a proposed structure and list of information to help them send you detailed, readable proposals.

If you have already responded to an RFP, you know the response process: you read the RFP requirements, and then select templates you want to use in your proposal, assemble them together and fill them in.

To create an RFP, simply assemble a list of proposal topics until you have all the information in the order you would like to receive it from the RFP respondents. One popular technique is to think as the proposal writer and select all of the topics you would include if you were responding to your own RFP. This will help you decide what important topics you want responders to tell you about their products, services and solutions.

You can use the list of chapter titles and some of the information and suggestions on those pages to create an outline for your RFP then fill in the topic pages with the information you are requesting as a series of questions.

Consider carefully all the information you need to receive from respondents so that you can efficiently pick a winner. If the project you are undertaking or the grant you are offering is a reasonably simple one, then you might be able to squeeze all the information you need on a page. But if the project you are considering is complex, you can also use a longer RFP to state the problem you are try to solve, the need you want to fulfill, or the opportunity to take advantage of; as well as the requirements and schedule for the RFP process.

So an RFP might look something like this:

Introduction page, where you introduce the grant or project and organization soliciting proposals, and provide contact information.

Problem Statement, Needs Assessment, or Opportunities page, where you describe the issues to be solved or the opportunity available.

Requirements page, where you list the requirements that must be met by the RFP respondents. These might be product or process specifications, location requirements, budgetary or timing restrictions, experience or certifications required, and so forth.

Suggested Outline for Proposal page, where you list all the topics you want to see in the proposals, along with a little information about the details each page should contain. This way you can just send an outline of topics and questions as a bullet list instead of including all of the actual topics you selected in the process above.

Schedule page, where you list the deadline for submission of proposal along with the method and address for submission, and the date that a winner will be selected along with your methodology for posting results.

The more specific and detailed you can be in your RFP, the more likely you will receive all the information you need to make a good decision. You'll also spend less time on the phone or in email answering questions from respondents about the information you want, or asking the respondents for more detail about the proposals they submitted.

Just like with a proposal, you should proofread the RFP to be sure it sounds and looks businesslike and represents you in a professional manner. After you have included all the information you need to tell the world what you're looking for and why, then package up the RFP pages in a PDF and send it out or attach it to a website for download.

You might also create a Compliance Matrix to make your own list of items that must be addressed in the RFP responses. As you evaluate each response you can check off and rank all the items as you find them in the responses. Creating a ranking system can also help you objectively evaluate complex RFPs.

It is important to note that every individual and company who is writing their proposal responses has to have their own licensed copy of whatever proposal writing product they use. This means you can't send other companies templates that are licensed only for your company to fill in and return back to you as their own submitted proposal. If you are using a kit of proposal writing materials (i.e. a proposal kit) to create your RFP you can suggest to your proposal responders to get their own kit to create their response if they do not already have a proposal writing system in place. This may increase your chances of getting responses back that are more consistent in look, layout and design as well which can make the proposal evaluation process easier.

Ian Lauder has been helping small businesses and individuals write their proposals and contracts since 1997. => For more tips and best practices when writing your business proposals and legal contracts go to

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