5 Tips for Writing a Proposal

Pencil sculpture

(Photo illustration by Cynthia Price)

A few years ago I didn’t even know what an RFP (request for proposal) was. Now I found myself reviewing them and sometimes writing them.

A request for proposal is a document that an organization posts to elicit bids from potential vendors for a product or service. The quality of an RFP is important to successful project management because it defines the deliverable and identifies risks and benefits at the beginning of a project.

I’ve learned a few things along the way. And whether you are on the receiving end or are writing one, good RFPs have a few things in common, including:

  1. The RPF should clearly spell out objectives and benchmarks. If I can’t articulate what I would like the company to deliver, how will the company succeed in delivering it? I also include benchmarks so we all know what we want to achieve.
  2. Set a realistic timeline. All too often we want everything yesterday. But we have to account for travel schedules, other meetings and projects and yes, even vacations. If the timeline is not reasonable the project will quickly get off track or extra money will have to be allotted to remain on schedule.
  3. Vet the RFP with others. If there are multiple stakeholders in the project, ask them to review the RFP before sending it out. This way you can be sure you have captured everyone’s needs and expectations.
  4. Limit the number of RFPs you request. Are you really going to read 10? Probably not so don’t ask companies to do the work. Determine in advance one or two companies you believe you would most like to work with on the project. Then identify a few others that you might not have considered. You may be pleasantly surprises. Or you may have your original thoughts affirmed. Either way, you get what you need and you have not wasted the time of multiple companies.
  5. Share business documents. By providing background information and research, the company will be able to provide a more informed proposal. They also will know that you are serious about the work.
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