How to Write a Contract Proposal

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Writing a contract proposal requires that you compose a compelling narrative that explains why your company is best-suited for the work a public-sector agency is seeking or the consulting project requested by a private-sector company. Because public sector proposals are the most challenging to write, and often the most time-consuming to construct, if you know how to write a winning contract proposal for the government, writing one for private-sector work is a piece of cake.

How to Write a Contract Proposal

Reviewing help-wanted listings for proposal writers on any online job board shows that the skill set you use to craft a winning proposal is an extremely valuable one. But being able to write winning contract proposals takes more than just good writing skills and command of the English language. Superbly written contract proposals require a team effort and a clear understanding of the company's services or products, the contract and acquisitions processes and pricing. Pulling together a contract proposal can take weeks and even months of planning, strategy and research. Contract proposal writing isn't a one-person job. Many organizations have "capture teams" in place as an extension of the business development section of the company.

When Businesses Use a Contract Proposal

Many companies that provide services or products to government agencies use contract proposals as a means to obtain business in the public sector. There are uses for contract proposals in the private sector, but the proposals for private-sector work often are less complex and structured than proposals written for government contracting and acquisition officers. If you're going to be writing contract proposals for your organization, it's a good idea to learn more about government-focused proposals because of the unique structure of government solicitations, and the requirements of doing business with public-sector agencies. If you know how to write a winning contract proposal for the federal government, for example, writing one that will win your organization business in the private sector will be easy in comparison.

The Acquisition Process

The U.S. General Services Administration publishes the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). The FAR is a 2,000-plus page book that contains everything you ever wanted to know about federal government acquisition processes and rules. Amazon carries the book and Cliffs-Notes-esque versions as well, but you can download it from the government site and know that you're getting all the updated revisions and amendments. Become familiar with the FAR and it will answer a lot of questions you have about writing a contract proposal. At a minimum, you'll have a better understanding of how and why the government requires such detailed responses to its requests for products and services.

The government acquisition process often begins with a solicitation. A solicitation is a document available to the public that contains information about the agency requiring the services or products. The solicitation contains details about the type of service or product and how the government wants the service or product delivered. It also sets out the terms and conditions of the management of the vendor-agency relationship. In a government solicitation, you are referred to as the "Contractor" or "Vendor." In some cases, the government issues a Request for Information (RFI) that precedes publication of the solicitation. The purpose of an RFI is to identify the types of companies that are capable of providing the service or product the government wants. Responding to an RFI takes some work, but not nearly the effort required to respond to a government solicitation.

There are a few different types of solicitations: Request for Proposal (RFP), Request for Quotation (RFQ) and Invitation to Bid (ITB). The nuances among these solicitation types determine how you structure your contract proposal. An RFP typically requires that you present your company's ideas and approach in a very detailed and convincing manner that showcases your ability to resolve the issue the government has described in the RFP.

For example, when an agency releases an RFP that states the need for executive coaching and leadership development services for government leaders, your contract proposal should describe your company's executive coaching services; your coaches' and consultants' expertise and qualifications; theories upon which your coaches rely in their coaching sessions and the process you use for ensuring that government executives get the most out of the coaching engagement. Also, you should provide details about your company's quality assurance steps, as well as how you propose managing the coaching engagement through regular reporting, record keeping and allocation of resources.

Who Writes a Contract Proposal at a Business?

Assemble your capture team before you put pen to paper or sit down at your computer. Generally speaking, there isn't just one person who writes the contract proposal, proposal writing is a team effort. It's a collaborative venture that involves the talent and expertise of a number of people on the capture team. Each person on the capture team has a role in the proposal writing. Using the example from above, if your company is already in the business of providing executive coaching services, the people who are likely to add value to the capture team are executive coaching project manager, contracts administrator, proposal writers, an accountant or business officer and the company president. The president will oversee the process and sign off on the contract proposal when it is submitted to the government. The company president or her designee is involved in the proposal writing and submission stage because they have the authority to issue binding documents.

Throughout the proposal-writing process, your capture team should have regular meetings. During these meetings, you discuss strategy, approach, new intel and progress. The capture team leader may be a business development expert who is responsible for the logistics in assembling the contract proposal. Alternatively, the leader may be someone who the company president appoints as the leader or a more experienced person who simply assumes responsibility for leading the team. Having regular meetings with your capture team will ensure that your contract proposal is on track and that you meet the deadline for submitting your final proposal. There will be numerous reviews, redlining and discussions about the proposal – it's a tremendous effort, even for small contracts.

How to Win a Contract Proposal

Your goal is to win a contract award – not win a contract proposal. But what matters are the contents and compelling nature of the proposal contents, not semantics. The first step in writing a winning contract proposal is to research the agency that issued the solicitation. Some companies provide intel about government agencies; however, every member of your capture team should contribute whatever information they have about the agency. For example, if your project manager has information about the strategic direction of the agency from previous executive coaching work, that could be useful in describing the outcomes of a coaching engagement with that agency. Or, if your business officer has reviewed congressional appropriations to the requesting agency, that's useful in determining the pricing that accompanies your contract proposal.

Writing a winning contract proposal requires a methodical and systematic approach to responding to a government solicitation. First, do your research. If you aren't familiar with the agency, study its website to understand the mission, vision and core principles. Incorporate those things into your proposal and, if they are congruent with your company's mission, vision and core principles, all the better. Draw those parallels, so the government's proposal review team sees alignment with your company. That's a key strategic approach to establishing a like-mind sort of connection with the agency.

Study the solicitation to ensure you understand what the agency wants and reconcile the time and effort necessary to respond to the solicitation. If you are submitting a proposal for a large-scale project where you have absolutely no past performance or experience in the field, you will either need to pass on this solicitation or write an exceptionally compelling proposal that fully describes your capabilities in the service area that the government agency requires. Do your research on the competition, too. Federal government agencies are required to publish their solicitations on the Federal Business Opportunities website – FedBizOpps, for short (fbo.gov). Under the "Interested Vendors" tab on the solicitation posting, you will find a list of potential contractors and vendors. All the companies listed under that tab may not submit contract proposals; however, it's a good start to understanding who is your competition.

Contract Proposal Sample Letter

One of the key steps in submitting a winning contract proposal is ordering the components of your proposal. For many business reports, an executive summary is constructed only after the "meat" of the report is finalized. That same practice is a wise one for constructing the contract proposal letter. Think of the contract proposal letter as an executive summary – prepare a draft statement that you use for all your contract proposals, but save the refinement for the last step in writing your contract proposal.

Most contract proposals for the government are electronically transmitted. Therefore, a contract proposal sample letter is a mere transmittal email that says something like, "ABC Consulting is pleased to submit the attached response to RFP #0000, which includes ABC's Technical Approach, Pricing and Resumes for Key Personnel. Please confirm receipt of this transmission." The reason you want confirmation of receipt is to ensure you have proof that you submitted the proposal by the deadline. That said, the introduction of a winning contract proposal is more of a proposal letter than the transmittal email. The first section of your contract proposal should contain background information about your company, the services your company provides and briefly state the reason why you are a qualified contractor or vendor. Here is a sample introduction that serves as a contract proposal letter:

ABC Consulting (ABC) is an 8(a), economically disadvantaged, woman-owned small business (EDWOSB) with the business mission to provide superior client-centered solutions, flexibility and innovation. We work with our clients to assess their core objectives and deliver cost-effective, efficient and results-oriented solutions. The ABC management team has over 150 years of combined management experience focused on the unique aspects of federal contracts. With our combined legal and program management experience, ABC offers industry expertise with practical experience and knowledge to our federal government clients.

ABC has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, realizing an average growth of 25 percent per year. We attribute our explosive growth to our unwavering commitment to quality. We utilize industry best practices to manage both small and complex projects. Our quality control methodologies include analyses to 1) define management strategies and program objectives in quantifiable, measurable terms, 2) implement systems and procedures to monitor system performance against specific objectives and 3) ensure performance feedback is communicated to program management and staff to improve planning and apply lessons learned. We augment our quality methodologies with risk management solutions to reduce the probability and impact of errors through professional risk response systems.

Our corporate infrastructure is designed to deliver high-quality services to our quickly expanding business base. Our senior leadership collectively functions as an overall support to our program staff and not as typical “managers” dictating procedures, processes or corporate policies. ABC’s senior management operates as a foundation to provide overall corporate support and resources to the program staff directly supporting our clients. We understand our clients’ needs and priorities and manage our resources to support their objectives.

We will leverage our past successes, expertise and best practices to provide the [insert agency's name from the government solicitation] with various organizational development initiatives. The organizational development initiatives we design will improve individual and team performance. The outcome of our initiatives will increase employee engagement through effective communication, collaboration and consensus building. ABC Consulting has the background, training, qualifications and professionals to successfully deliver the wide variety of human capital services required under the Performance Work Statement (PWS).

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About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.