I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jody Grunden and Jamie Nau on the Virtual CPA Success Show and talk about the requests for proposal (RFP) process. As a creative agency, it’s important to have a strategic way to approach these proposals. One way to scale your business as an agency owner is to go after RFPs, which are opportunities to complete a specific project for the organization that issued the request. The landscape for RFP bids is evolving as more companies and individuals are chasing RFPs than we’ve seen before. Also, incumbent companies are being dropped more often by their respective clients, opening the door for other agencies to bid on that work. This reality means that RFPs are becoming more competitive and, therefore, more difficult to win and retain.
But don’t be discouraged. As the leader of a digital agency that services the healthcare industry, I’ve drafted many proposals and witnessed firsthand how smaller agencies can scale by going after these opportunities. The RFP process demands quick turnarounds and is costly. However, if you develop an effective strategy, pursue the right opportunities, and deliver a strong proposal in a timely fashion, you could succeed in growing your business. Detailed below are some tips to help you secure your next big contract.
Take a strategic approach to your RFP identification, development, and submission processes.
As I mentioned above, submitting RFPs is an expensive process. Your team has to take time away from their billable work to search for opportunities, determine whether they’re worth pursuing, then develop a solid proposal to submit to the organization that issued the RFP. To streamline the process, I recommend devising a go/no-go sheet or process containing set criteria and questions indicating whether your team will respond to an RFP. The criteria you develop will help you determine whether your company can meet the issuer of the RFP’s requests. If you do meet those requests, the RFP may be worth pursuing. If you don’t, you may consider responding by including language in your proposal that addresses any skill gaps or forgoing the opportunity entirely. The main question you should consider having in your go/no-go process is whether or not the opportunity is profitable for your agency.
I also recommend including specific team members in the RFP development process. As you draft your response, involving your account directors, account managers, and project managers will help keep your business development team honest about what your agency can accomplish if given the chance. Looping in these team members early on will also facilitate a smoother handoff with the business development team if you land the contract.
Identify the challenge(s) the prospective client wants you to solve and what value you would bring to the project.
RFPs detail general information about a project, focusing on what goals they would like the chosen service provider to accomplish. However, the language included in an RFP only tells part of the story. Your job as the bidder is to translate what the prospective client is asking for in the RFP into what challenge (or challenges) they’re trying to address by reading between the lines, then detailing how you would handle that challenge in your proposal. For example, a healthcare facility may issue an RFP stating they’re looking for an organization that can build their team a website. After reading through the RFP to see which challenge they’re looking to address by building that website, you can then state how you would address that challenge in the proposal. The challenge may be that they’re looking to boost their patient acquisition, in this case, the proposal would contain language and perhaps even concrete solutions that speak to that challenge.
Do your research.
It’s helpful to research the entity issuing the RFP to support the development of a strong proposal. Instead of reading between the lines to see what the primary issue is for the organization, you can take a more direct approach by calling the contact person listed on the RFP and asking them more explicitly what their company needs. In my experience, the people in these positions are more forthcoming when engaged in conversation.
If that isn’t an option, you can also take an indirect approach by trying to identify who will review your proposal, then conducting desktop research on them. Identifying the reviewer (or reviewers) can help you tailor the language in your bid to speak to their professional goals more directly. For example, if you conduct a LinkedIn search on the person listed as a contact on an RFP and see that the person just joined the company, you could leverage that information in your proposal by mentioning how your approach will allow them to shine in their new role.
Finally, you want to make sure that you also research your competition. If another company currently holds the contract you’re bidding on, gather information on who they are, what services they provide, and how they work. Then, use this information to determine what differentiates your company from your competitor, ultimately including language in your proposal that notes your differences and underscores the value your team will add if selected.
Ask for feedback.
Whether you win or lose a bid, always ask the entity that issued the RFP for feedback. If you win the bid, the feedback you receive can help guide your work moving forward. For example, suppose your company is selected because your team has a specific skill. In that case, you might look into how you can best leverage that skill. If you lose the bid, the feedback you receive from the client could instruct you on how you can strengthen your proposals or even which RFPs your company should pursue moving forward.
Either way, it’s essential to remember that your assumptions about why an entity did or did not choose to move forward with your proposal may not be true. Rather than guessing, getting information directly from that entity will help you make strategic moves that will support the growth of your business. It’s also imperative that you document all the feedback you receive so that you can share it with your current and future team members to ensure that you continue to leverage those insights while developing proposals.
The suggestions detailed above will help you develop an RFP process that allows you to go after and secure new opportunities that will help grow your business. However, it’s imperative that you keep in mind the following: once you secure a contract, it becomes just as hard to hold onto it, and it’s much cheaper to hold onto a client than respond to an RFP. With that said, my last suggestion is to remember that after you land a contract, you must ensure you deliver on what you promised and continue showing your value to the client during the performance period. Doing so will help you keep that client, bringing you closer to successfully scaling your business and achieving your financial goals.