Thousands of proposals for government contracts are sent every day.
An equal number are also rejected.
Many businesses struggle with contract proposal writing. They fail to win lucrative government contracts, resulting in wasted time, resources, and most importantly, revenue.
But the simple truth is that a handful of easily-corrected mistakes lie behind most bad proposals. By rectifying these mistakes, companies can dramatically increase their chances of having their proposals accepted.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about writing winning proposals. We’ll cover the correct structure, common mistakes, and give you some practical tips to ensure your proposals are above the competition.
What is a government contract proposal?
A government proposal contract is a proposal designed to win a contract from a government agency.
Responding to an RFP or RFQ is not the same as writing a normal proposal. Typically both RFPs and RFQs require detailed response formats and are highly specific about the information needed.
A proposal sent in response to an RFP will be more general than one for an RFQ or RFT. It will cover a broader problem and there will be much more room for providing a unique solution.
Quotes and tenders, on the other hand, will be highly specific. The main part of a quote will usually be an item-by-item cost breakdown of standard products. Often, government agencies will evaluate quotes or tenders based on price alone.
How to write a government contract proposal
It’s worth reiterating that you should always follow the instructions given in an RFP or RFQ closely, while using the prescribed format.
However, government contract proposals usually follow a similar structure and include some common proposal elements.
Use the following template as a guide when writing your proposals.
A cover page and cover letter
A cover page is like a book cover. Included at the start of your proposal, it communicates professionalism. A cover letter (or executive summary), which comes immediately after the cover page, is a brief introduction and summary of your proposal, including your solution, overall timeframes, and past experience.
Remember – the proposal isn’t about you. Your company description should be brief and detail exactly why you’re perfect for the job. You’ll want to cite your reputation, experience with similar projects, awards, team expertise, and so on.
You might also want to include short biographies of key team members. This adds a nice personal touch while communicating relevant expertise. Include contact details of those mentioned in case recipients want to speak to an individual directly.
Case studies and testimonials
Adding case studies and testimonials builds credibility with your recipient that you have relevant experience and expertise.
Pick past projects and clients that are related to the government agency you’re targeting. They might be competitors, associated with the same industry, or government agencies themselves.
Scope of work
The “scope of work” should comprise of two core parts: an outline of the government agency’s largest problem or problems, with a clear breakdown of challenges and corresponding goals (preferably in a table format), and a description of the solution.
Including a description of the agencies’ problem, with a summary of its goals and challenges, shows that you have a full grasp of the work that needs to be done and can tailor your solution accordingly.
The outline of the solution provides both an overview and a concrete roadmap, both of which are essential for a potential client’s understanding of your proposal. You may even want to add a timeframe, affixing specific dates next to bigger milestones.
As price is a major factor – if not the primary factor – in a recipient’s decision-making process, it’s imperative that information is clear and concise.
It’s best to include a detailed line-by-line breakdown along with an overall price. Where pricing is variable and subject to external factors, explain this below the main section.
Contract, terms and conditions, warranties, etc.
A big mistake that many companies make is not including important legal copy in the proposal. During the selection process, government agencies may want to review documents like terms and conditions and warranties. Requiring your recipient to seek further information just adds unnecessary friction.
Give your recipients everything they need to make a decision. Using government proposal software with content libraries that contain locked or non-editable documents verified by your legal team can streamline this process immensely.
Include a section where your recipient should sign in case the potential customer wants to approve the proposal straight away.
Manually printing, signing, and scanning a contract is time-consuming, so include an electronic signature call-to-action to save time and eliminate obstacles for recipients.
5 tips on how to make your proposals better
Once you’ve taken care of the structure, you can improve your proposals even further by implementing a few simple tips that are proven to boost opens and conversions.
1. Send your proposals at the right time
Sending proposals at the right time guarantees that the highest possible number of recipients reads them. It’s one of the easiest ways to boost your open rate.
Now, there are a few caveats to this strategy. The “best time to send” varies based on industry. So the only way to accurately pinpoint the best time for your proposals is by running tests. Proposal software that includes tracking tools allows you to run these kinds of experiments.
That said, research from CoSchedule indicates that Tuesday at 10 AM is the best time to send emails. The second follow-up email should be sent on Thursday, and the third follow-up email on Wednesday. You can use this information as a starting point for your own strategy.
2. Use electronic proposal and signature software
One of the easiest ways to streamline your whole proposal workflow is by taking advantage of e-proposal and e-signature software.
Most proposal tools come with collaboration and automation functionality that employees can use to significantly cut down on the amount of time it takes to create a proposal.
What’s more, writers can use an organized content library to add tested and pre-approved marketing content and legal clauses to proposals quickly. By using elements in government proposals that worked in the past, chances of acceptance increase significantly. Proposal software also removes the hassle of adding electronic signature fields.
Finally, tracking features mean that you can see exactly when clients open, read, and accept proposals. Not only can you run experiments to find the best-performing content, but you can also adjust your follow-up strategy to reach clients at the best times.
3. Use templates and track results
Templates are excellent for one simple reason: they allow you to copy successful elements from previous proposals and leverage past performance. They can also save you a ton of time.
What’s more, they shore up many of the shortcomings of sales teams. Most sales reps are not natural proposal writers. By providing them with a solid structure and clear guidelines about what to include in the various parts of a proposal, you ensure quality and professionalism even if the person lacks writing expertise or experience.
But there is a crucial point to keep in mind: less is usually more when it comes to visual elements.
Including too many can make your proposal convoluted and difficult to read. Just one or two graphs or images is you’ll need. Don’t forget to include the pictures of the employees in your company bio.
5. Keep your proposal customer-centric
What are your recipients’ values, preferences, pain points, doubts, and so on?
Keep the answers to these questions top of mind when crafting your proposals. Practically every section of a government contract proposal should be written with the potential client’s needs in mind.
Even areas that don’t usually lend themselves to this kind of “personalization” can be customer-centric. Bios of team members, for example, can focus on relevant experience and case studies can be carefully selected to appeal to a particular government sector.
The fact that information about government organizations is readily available online makes the research process relatively easy. You may even want to attend events and committee sessions in-person as part of the research process.
It’s easy to get lost in all the advice about writing successful proposals. Both large and small businesses often find it difficult to filter, organize, and integrate all the different tips and tactics spread over the web.
So here’s one way to think about it. Great proposals are fundamentally a result of processes. The companies that repeatedly win new business through their proposals rely on a well-researched, tested, and efficient process.
Rather than try to implement the tips outlined here in a haphazard fashion, build them into an iterative workflow that employees can execute seamlessly. Doing this will place you well above your competitors and empower you to drive consistent results time after time.
Bethany is the content marketing manager at PandaDoc. When she's not writing new content or discovering a new distribution channel, her time is spent exploring her Brooklyn neighborhood with her husband and two French Bulldogs, Tater Tot and Pork Chop.