According to FindRFP, the federal government signs over 11 million contracts with private-sector companies and contractors every year, worth a little over $500 billion. State and local governments award an additional 350,000 contracts each year. It's believed that the vast majority of these contracts (approximately 95%) go to small and medium-sized firms.
To solicit bids on a contract, the government issues a Request for Proposal, or RFP. A federal government RFP consists of thirteen specific sections and is typically issued 2-3 months before bidding is opened.
Any company interested in bidding on a government contract must prepare and submit a detailed proposal package in response to the RFP. This is a complex process, regulated (at the federal level) under the 1,988-page Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Potential contractors must comply with all FAR requirements and follow those instructions to the letter while submitting a competitive bid.
The entire process, from issuing the RFP to awarding the contract, can take a year or more. According to Loopio's RFP Response Trends & Benchmarks report, the average RFP win rate for bidders is 44%, although a third of the vendors surveyed had win rates of less than 30%.
How can you increase your firm's chances of winning a government RFP? It's all about getting the details right.
How to Find Government Contracts
The first step in winning a government contract is finding open contracts. If you've previously bid on and won government contracts, you may be alerted by those same agencies when new contracts are issued. If you're just starting out as a government contractor, however, you need to know where to find new RFPs. Fortunately, there are several websites designed to help you find new government contract opportunities.
These sites include:
- Forecast of Contracting Opportunities, managed by the General Services Administration (GSA). This online tool lets you view upcoming contracts so you can get a head start preparing your proposal.
- National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO). Lists contact information for each state's official contracting or procurement office.
- SAM.gov Contract Opportunities. Lets you search a database of procurement notices listed by government agencies.
- SubContracting Network (SubNet), managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Features a searchable database of subcontracting opportunities for small businesses. (Subcontractors work with prime contractors, not directly with the government, but it's a good way to get in the door.)
10 Tips for Winning a Government RFP
The procedure for bidding on government RFPs is incredibly complicated, especially if you're new to the process. The effort is worth it, however, if you can become a regular government contractor. It's all a matter of doing everything right in order to win a lucrative federal contract.
How are government contracts won? It all starts with following these ten proven tips:
- Closely review the RFP document
- Ensure you meet the RFP requirements
- Take a targeted approach
- Perform detailed market research
- Create a standardized yet flexible proposal process
- Show that you deeply understand the client
- Team up to improve your chances
- Make sure you price your bid competitively
- Review your proposal with care
- Be available after submission
We'll look at each of these tips in more detail.
1. Closely Review the RFP Document
The RFP should contain everything you need to know to create a proposal for the contract up for bid. The details in the RFP will help you better understand the contract, so it's in your best interest to go through the RFP with a fine eye. You don't want to lose a bid because you skipped over an important detail.
While all RFPs include 13 basic sections, the details of each RFP are unique. You should pay particular attention to the contents of the these four sections:
- Section B: Supplies or Services and Price/Costs. This section details both the required deliverables and the contractor's compensation. It includes a list of what the government calls Contract Line Item Numbers (CLINs) that itemize all the billable items—including labor and supplies—in the contract, along with their pricing. Your proposal should address each CLIN in detail.
- Section C: Description/Specifications/Statement of Work. This section specifies the work required from the contractor. Your proposal should go into appropriate detail on how you intend to execute the required work, with an emphasis on the quality and value you deliver.
- Section L: Instructions, Conditions, and Notices to Offerors. This section provides detailed instructions on how you should prepare your bid, including desired formatting and organization. If you don't follow these instructions your proposal may be automatically rejected.
- Section M: Evaluation Criteria. This section outlines all the factors the government will consider when evaluating your proposal, including how each part of the proposal will be scored. Pay particular attention to this section so you clearly understand what the government is looking for and why.
2. Ensure You Meet the RFP Requirements
When preparing your proposal, you need to make sure that you meet the requirements not only for this specific contract but also the general requirements to bid on government contracts.
To meet the government's requirements for contractors, follow the SBA's guidelines available online. These include:
- Make sure your business meets the SBA's employee size requirements
- Register your business with SAM.gov and obtain a 12-character Unique Entity Identifier (UEI)
- Match the products and services you offer to the appropriate North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code
- Ensure your business complies with all applicable laws and regulations
It's also essential that your proposal meets the requirements of a specific RFP. Refer to Section C in the RFP to ensure that you address every requirement for this particular contract.
3. Take a Targeted Approach
While some businesses take a scattershot approach to bidding on government contracts, that is seldom a winning approach. You'll be more successful by focusing on those RFPs that you're most likely to win. Specializing on contracts that are relevant to your business is a more efficient use of your time and resources and produces more effective results.
Bidding on contracts outside your field of expertise not only spreads thin your staff, it also could land you contracts that you're less equipped to fulfill. Instead of bidding on a dozen contracts at once, pick a smaller handful that play to your strengths and put all your effort into them. You'll not only stand a better chance of winning those RFPs, you'll do a better job executing those contracts.
4. Perform Detailed Market Research
Don't assume you know everything there is to know about a given area when preparing your proposal. The government contracting market is no doubt new to you and you'll need some help understanding exactly how to navigate the waters. Conduct the research necessary to understand not only what it is on which you're bidding but also how the RFP/bidding process works. You may also want to bring in an experienced consultant to help guide you through your first few attempts at the process.
5. Create a Standardized Yet Flexible Proposal Process
You don't want to have to reinvent the wheel with every new RFP but you also need to understand just how much the process can change not only from project to project but also from the start of a given project to its conclusion. This requires developing a standardized process for responding to RFPs but also being flexible in how you employ that process.
First, focus on developing a bidding process that you can replicate on future projects. When you a new government RFP comes you way, refer to what you've done in the past so you can get a good start on the new proposal.
However, you need to build flexibility into your proposal process. Every contract is unique, which requires being able to adapt to project specifics. After all, a proposal for a simple two-week project is going to be considerably different than for one that lasts several months and requires dozens of staff and subcontractors.
You also need to be able to navigate the twists and turns that can arise in process that might last several months to a year—enough time for the government to revise its requirements. If requirements change, be able to change with them.
6. Show That You Deeply Understand the Client
Winning a contract is often less about what your company and what you bring to the table than it is about the client's problems and how you can solve them. Get to know the agency or even the individual behind the RFP and what issues they're facing. You need to structure your proposal so they see how you're the best company to meet their needs and solve their problems.
7. Team Up to Improve Your Chances
Some contracts, especially for larger projects, might be better tackled with a partner. This is particularly true if you're new to the contracting business and can partner with a firm with more government experience.Even more experienced contractors often find that they don't have all the skills or resources called for in a given project. They supplement their efforts by teaming with a partner with complementary skills, or by subcontracting parts of the project to more focused firms. Teaming not only provides a wider variety of resources for the project, it also spreads the risk between your firm and other companies.
8. Make Sure You Price Your Bid Competitively
At the end of the day, the winning bid is often the lowest bid, all other factors being the same. You need to thoroughly research the project and honestly evaluate your costs to determine the right bid for a given contract
Bid too low and you could end up losing money on the project—or find your company defaulting because you don't have the necessary resources necessary to fulfill your deliverables. Bid too high and you leave room for a competitor to swoop in and win the contract with a lower bid. (Bid unrealistically high and the government might dismiss your bid out of hand.)
When calculating your bid, consider all the necessary resources, including how to staff for a government contract. You may need to increase staffing specifically for this contract, either with permanent or short-term workers. Make sure those costs are factored into your bid—and you have a plan for how to staff for a government contract. That may include engaging a staffing firm, such as Quadrant, that specializes in staffing for federal contractors.
It all comes down to pricing your bid in an appropriate range for the government and also acceptable to your company in terms of profit. Your bid needs to be both competitive and profitable, while delivering acceptable quality and value to the government.
9. Review Your Proposal with Care
Your bid is binding, so make sure it doesn't contain any mistakes that could hinder your ability to profitably deliver. Review the proposal in detail, then review it again, then have a third party review it, too. Even the most seemingly insignificant error could cost you the contract or affect the profitability of the deal.
10. Be Available After Submission
The RFP process doesn't end when you've submitted the bid. The agency that issued the RFP may have questions for you and you may need to supply more information. Make sure you have a key contact available to the agency in question and staff on hand to do any additional work. You should expect an official response from the government, good or bad, within 30 to 120 days.
How to Win More Government Contracts
Successful government contractors turn the art of proposal writing into a science, realizing that while every RFP is different, the same general process can apply to all. That process revolves around a few key activities, including:
- Focusing only on those RFPs that are a good match to your business
- Understanding the needs of the issuing agency and the requirements of the RFP in extreme detail
- Thoroughly evaluating your company's abilities verses the needs of the RFP and supplementing your abilities with partners or subcontractors as necessary
- Pricing your bid both competitively and profitably
- Making sure that all the details are covered—and the proposal meticulously reviewed
If you put in the proper effort and do everything right, you'll stand a significantly better chance of being awarded the contract.
Let Quadrant Help You Staff for Your Next Government Contract
Need some help staffing for a government contract? Turn to the staffing experts at Quadrant. Our Federal division offers a variety of innovative long- and short-term staffing solutions for government contractors, especially in the technology and healthcare sectors. Consider Quadrant when you're preparing your next RFP response—and make sure you're appropriately staffed for the contracts you win.
Contact Quadrant today for your federal staffing needs.