Dear Newbie…


Recently, my brother-in-law, who runs his own company, has been broadening his clientele and dipped his toe into the government sector. I was thrilled to talk with him about his first proposal for a local government opportunity. I went through a few best practices that have been engrained in me for so long I hardly even notice them anymore, and I was shocked by the number of times he murmured “oh, that makes sense” or “that’s really good advice.” It got me thinking about what I would say to someone just entering the world of government proposals.  

What are the most critical things to know on your first proposal submission? 

Planning Will Save You So Much Time 

Planning should take the most time. You should plan the proposal schedule, the compliance matrix, any reviews, and then once the prep work is done, you are ready to sit down and write—or sit down with your proposal writers in a kickoff meeting for larger proposal teams. 

For example, preparing a compliance matrix before you begin writing is important. Because government entities are sticklers for compliance. I shared a few horror stories about entire proposals being thrown out due to non-compliance and watched my brother-in-law’s eyes go wide. A compliance matrix allows you to extract each requirement and then plan the proposal around those necessities. While they take time to create at the start of proposal development, the time they save you during writing, and the surety that you are meeting all requirements pay off in the end.  

Know the Key RFP Sections  

While you should become familiar with all sections of a client’s RFP, there are a few key sections to pay extra attention to. Obviously, you will need to be familiar with the pricing details usually found in Section B, but there are other sections vitally important to developing a compliant, responsive, customer-focused proposal. These are usually sections L (proposal instructions) and M (evaluation criteria).  

Building off compliance, I encouraged him to scour those L&M sections for evaluation factors and instructions, then create a compliance checklist to make sure he is checking each box (figuratively and literally). 

Hold Color Team Reviews (In Some Way, Shape, or Form) 

For my brother-in-law’s small business, he will not have the need or the means to hold a formal Pink or Red Team review, with outside evaluators and the whole nine yards. But it is vital in any proposal effort to assess the proposal as each of the color teams would.  

In all proposals, you should check the compliance and win strategy, maybe not in a formal Pink Team review, but still make sure those are aligned with the RFP. You may not hold an actual Gold Team review, but you should still confirm that inputs from previous checkpoints have been incorporated and the proposal is ready to be submitted. 

Schedule to a Deadline and Submit Early 

After his first submittal, my brother-in-law was immediately contacted and informed a thumb drive was missing, which resulted in a panicked overnight ship of a second thumb drive so his proposal wouldn’t be automatically dismissed. My stress levels were through the roof hearing about this because then he had to find a carrier who could deliver before the final cut off at 4pm the following day. Thankfully, the thumb drive arrived before then, but it reminded me how important it is to allow time to address issues or delays in your initial proposal schedule.  

Even on proposals with quick turnaround dates, creating a schedule will help you dedicate the appropriate amount of time to the right tasks, saving you time in the long run. As part of that proposal development schedule, build in an extra 5–10 percent of time to allow for variations like a missing thumb drive. 

Find Resources to Get You up to Speed 

The last thought that kept circling in my brain during our conversation about starting to bid on government sector proposals was, “Get some training!” I’ve been in several of Shipley’s professional training courses over the past months to deepen my own knowledge, and I’ve been surprised by how much I learn. These courses give a great overview of the basics and then drill down into best practices, tools and templates, and other practical techniques.  

If you’re not ready for a deep-dive into training courses, finding a quick-reference guide like Shipley’s Proposal Guide or any of our Playbooks gives you a glance into best practices and ways to simply improve your writing. 

 There is a lot more to jumping into proposal work than just learning the lingo. Best practices like planning and scheduling, holding color team reviews, or knowing the RFP sections to really focus on are all ways anyone can craft a winning proposal. And there are a lot of Shipley resources available to help you whether you are a novice or a veteran of the proposal world. 

What are your top 5 pieces of advice you would give to someone just starting out?