10 steps to winning a government contract - Step 7
Writing your proposal
Once you're ready to write your proposal, you must know all about the three basic types of solicitations and how to write your proposal based on what type of solicitation you're working with.
Let's review what this series has covered. You should follow 10 basic steps when doing business with the federal government:
- Think like the government.
- Identify your customers.
- Get registered.
- Find bid leads.
- Get the bid package.
- Review the bid.
- Get the technical data.
- Price it out.
- Write your proposal.
- Submit your bid.
Several steps are combined because you can do them simultaneously. And, actually, the last step is to review what you learned and apply it in the future.
Let's break down each step:
- Think like the government. Don't think of what you do, think of what you can make. If your company is a machine/job shop, the government won't buy drilling, tapping, boring, and fabrication services from you; it will buy nuts, bolts, and screws (that is, what you make). That's what you need to look for when you visit Web sites and search the bid board or are on an automated
- Identify your customers. Once you're on the bid boards or on a bid service, find out which agencies buy your products or services. If you're new to government contracting, target them and see what they buy. Targeting them first will help you understand the market and respond effectively.
- Get registered. You must register with the Central Contractor Registration (CCR). If yours is a small, minority, woman-owned, or veteran-owned business, don't forget to register with the CCR's dynamic search.
- Find bid leads. If you want to find bid leads on your own, the federal government has several Web sites to help. The main one, www.fedbiz opps.gov, lists all contracts over $25,000 and lets you enter a search term to find the bids you're looking for. Another option is to register with a commercial bid-finding source on the Internet that can find bids for you. Also, if you're
really concerned about costs, you can contact your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). PTACs typically have a bid service that creates your company's profile, scans all government bids, and sends them to you automatically.
- Get the bid package. Once you find the bid, order the bid package. Some people like to skip this step, but you must order the bid. If it's on www.fedbizopps.gov, you need to read the synopsis carefully (see Figure 1).
- Review the bid. As you review the bid package, you'll see a lot of useful information: what the government is looking for, how it wants to receive items, how many it wants, and what specifications it thinks bidders should know.
Remember, you're bidding to a customer, and the customer is always right. Look for evaluation factors in the bid and read them carefully; they will tell you what the government feels is important. It might not be price—it might be how fast you can deliver or your experience. Don't assume that the government will know that your company is wonderful; it doesn't know you, so you must sell yourself. However, use the evaluation factors to show them what they need to know about your company.
- Get the technical data. The technical data package is where you'll find all the blueprints, specifications, and standards that the government wants you to use. The government is phasing out military specifications and using commercial specifications and standards whenever possible.
This is a sample bid opportunity, with important information in bold face.
Usually you can get a list of government specifications from your local PTAC; typically, they're free. But commercial specifications aren't free; how much they cost depends on where you buy them. Read the specifications carefully. If you have a question, call or write the buyer and ask.
Also, check to see if radio frequency identification (RFID) is required and know what RFID is—if you plan to work with the government, RFID is important.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) RFID Policy was issued July 30, 2004, and was executed in two phases. The first phase, effective Jan. 1, 2005, required all DOD suppliers who supply the following goods to start using passive, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags on cases and palletized unit loads:
- Class I Subclass: Packaged operational rations
- Class II: Clothing, individual equipment, and tools
- Class VI: Personal demand items
- Class IX: Weapon systems repair parts and components
These first-phase suppliers are expected to ship supplies to the Defense Distribution Depot in Susquehanna (New Cumberland), Pa. (DDSP), and the Defense Distribution Depot in San Joaquin, Calif. (DDJC). Symbol multiprotocol AR400 readers currently are the only readers being used at the depots for RFID tag reading.
The second phase required the use of passive RFID tags by Jan. 1, 2006. This affects DOD suppliers for the previously mandated and following classes:
- Class I: Subsistence and comfort items
- Class III: Packaged petroleum, lubricants, oils, preservatives, chemicals, and additives
- Class IV: Construction and barrier equipment
- Class V: Ammunition of all types
- Class VII: Major end items
- Class VIII: Pharmaceuticals and medical materials
The DOD will accept Class 0 (read-only) and Class 1 tags for approximately two years from the first mandate. The DOD will migrate to the EPC™ UHF Generation 2 (Gen2) tag specification as the specification is ratified and finalized.
Your local PTAC can provide assistance and clarification of this mandate.
8. Price it out. This is your job, but some general guidelines apply. First, forget the toilet seat and hammer stories; they are 30 years old and didn't apply anyway. Second, bidding with the government is very competitive. You aren't going to make double-digit-percentage profits. Third, don't try to pad the price; consider all your costs and all the manufacturing costs.
9. Write your proposal. For the most part, if you're bidding on a regular invitation for bid (IFB), you won't write a proposal. If you find something that requires a written Request for Proposal, read it carefully and follow all the previously mentioned suggestions. Then read it again and see what you missed. Have another person go over it without you there and see what he finds.
10. Submit your bid. Use a final bid checklist before you mail in your bid (see "10 steps to winning a government contract: Step 9: Getting paid," May 2006). With many bids you won't talk to a person — everything is done over the Internet. That good ol' boy evaluating your bid is a PC server with lots of special software.
Although submitting your bid technically is the last step, the real final step in the process is not to give up if you don't win the first time. Companies may bid unsuccessfully once or twice and just give up. Remember that doing business with the federal government is no different than working with any other customer. You have to bid a lot to be successful. It's a learning process, and as you learn, your success ratio will improve. You'll know the ropes, how to bid, what to bid on, and when not to bid.
As always, use your local PTAC as a resource when doing business with the federal government.
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