Winning an RFP through ACN

12/14/2016 1:00 AM | Ed Graziano (Administrator)

By: Debbie McCann, W4Sight LLC
One of the benefits of ACN membership is receiving notifications of Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Through ACN’s process of distributing RFPs, W4Sight has both successfully secured new business and gained some insight about the RFP process. We’ve written two posts about the process from a consultant’s viewpoint – this post focuses on our fellow consultants. Next week we’ll follow up with a post geared toward nonprofit organizations.

Every time we receive an email from ACN announcing an RFP, I take a quick look. If the project description that appears in the ACN “cover email” piques my interest, I take the time to read the entire document as soon as possible. The first thing I look for is whether the services needed are in our area of expertise. Many are not, but it’s important to read carefully. Here are a few tips we’ve learned:

Be mindful of timing: RFPs coming through the ACN pipeline may have been released a week or two earlier, leaving a tight deadline to respond. If you are receive the RFP only a few days or a week before the deadline, some organizations are willing to grant you an extension if you are a qualified respondent. However, you do need to contact them immediately to explain the circumstances and let them know when you can submit a proposal.

Timing is also important because organizations with larger projects also sometimes hold a bidders’ conference, and the date and time are listed in the RFP. It’s important to check right away so that you don’t miss the opportunity to attend. Some bidders’ conferences are mandatory if you plan to respond to the RFP, while others are optional. If you plan to respond to an RFP and there is a bidders’ conference, it’s a good idea to attend. The organization walks through the project expectations in some detail, and explains the response format required along with any other special requirements. If you think you may need to partner with another consultant to provide the whole range of services needed, leverage ACN’s network to find collaborators.

Decide if it’s worth responding: Many consultants avoid RFPs because of the time commitment and/or the inherent risk involved. Consultants often believe that they have a much better chance at securing a contract when they have had a chance to cultivate a potential client and get to know their organization.

However, unless you have reason to believe that the open bidding process is just a sham, it may be worth your time if the project is a good fit for your skills. A few factors to consider before deciding to pursue an RFP:

  • Are the services requested comfortably within your area of expertise? If it’s a stretch, be careful about spending time writing a proposal for a project you’re not really a good fit for.
  • Does the RFP provide enough detail to put together a solid proposal?
    – If it’s vague (a good bet if it’s only 2 or 3 pages), reach out to the primary contact to ask some key questions.
    – If the RFP clearly says “no emails/calls”, then don’t harass them. However, make sure that the assumptions you make about your approach that impact your budget and timeline are clearly documented. Make sure you indicate that changes to these assumptions may require an adjustment to the budget/timeline.
  • Does the project have strategic value?
    One of the benefits of responding to an RFP is that it gets you in front of an organization that you might otherwise not have encountered or had a reason to contact. Ask yourself if the organization or project could add strategic value to your practice – either because of the potential network it presents, or because the project would provide you with a key type of reference you don’t already have in your portfolio.

Develop a Solid Proposal: Of course, no RFP is perfect, so consultants need to find creative ways to create useful proposals. For example, we won one project from a client, despite the fact that the organization was unresponsive when we attempted to ask questions prior to the deadline. Because the project was substantial, and an excellent fit with our expertise, we went ahead with the proposal – though with many documented assumptions. Even though some of our assumptions turned out to be incorrect, the clearly documented work plan was enough to convince them that they should meet with us. We were able to collaborate on the revised scope and come up with a more appropriate statement of work after meeting with the organization. In the end, it was a successful project, and an important credential that we could reference later.

If the RFP contains detailed instructions about the response format they want, then follow what they’ve asked for. However, if they don’t, here’s a suggested outline:
Project Understanding – summarize what you think you understand from the proposal, in your own words.

  • Approach – provide a detailed project plan in narrative form. For each step or phase of the project, clearly indicate what the major tasks are, what resources the client is expected to provide (type of staff and approximate time commitment), and expected deliverables.
  • Assumptions – as you are writing up the approach, pay close attention to how you are formulating your work plan. For instance, if the project is to help the client develop a stronger board, and one of your tasks is to identify candidates, make sure you are clear about how many screening calls you are prepared to have, how many interviews you are prepared to do etc. The actual numbers can be updated later, but it’s important for the client to know what your pricing is based on. Another example might be the responsibility for generating materials for a training. You might want to indicate that you will prepare the materials and provide them to the client in electronic form, but making paper copies is their responsibility.
  • Pricing – provide a summarized version of your pricing that follows your work plan. If your project approach is in three phases, explain what each phase will cost. Be clear if you are providing a fixed price for the whole scope (assumptions are critical for these projects), or if your pricing is on a time and materials basis at an hourly rate.
  • Qualifications – describe your previous experience that’s relevant to the project. Detailed resumes may not be necessary, but the client should definitely get a clear understanding of why they should choose you over others.

Best of Luck!
Debbie McCann

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