Second, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in our Aidpreneur trainings, you can’t underestimate the value of your staffing in your proposal development. We’re in a business that, at its core, boils down to humans helping other humans. Your greatest asset as an aid or development manager is your ability to locate and acquire the highest quality, most experienced and most uniquely positioned individual or group of individuals possible relative to the technical solution you’re proposing and the problem you’re solving. Given the nature of our work, in many cases the most uniquely positioned people will ultimately have some type of connection or relationship with your potential client or donor. For example, during the past year, on two occasions when ISG was awarded contracts from different clients we were told that a critical deciding factor was the staff we had selected for our team. In both cases, our staff had experience relevant to the context and solution we were providing, and the client’s technical contact had previous work experience with our staff member (which, fortunately, was positive). Obviously, we had no idea this was the case until after we were awarded the bid, but it underscores the importance of trying to find the absolutely best people for the job.
A third area where you can increase your competitiveness is your budget. There’s a common perception in international humanitarian aid and development circles that it’s always a “race to the bottom” regarding price. However, while I’ve had my fair share of proposals lost because we were not cost-competitive, ISG has also been awarded a fair amount of work were we were actually the most expensive submission. Becoming a master of the budget as both an art and science, and using your flexibility as an individual or small company, can take you an incredibly long way in winning work.
Your mastery of fine-tuning a budget is directly related to the fourth area of competitiveness, which is using the grading matrix within a tender to your advantage. Not every tender you will respond to will have a specific grading matrix, or point system that your potential client will use to judge the quality of both the technical and financial proposals. In cases where there is no scoring system, your best bet is to have a high-value technical solution and realistic budget.
For clients that do use a scoring system, you need to learn how to use this to your advantage. Within the scoring matrix you want to make sure to emphasize what you are truly best at, so that you receive the maximum number of points for these areas. Then you can be more comfortable about losing points on things you’re not so good at, or potentially are not able to bring to the tender, like a particular language skill or geographic experience. Obviously, you need to make sure you meet the minimum percentage or number of points necessary to have your technical submission considered. Assuming you can overcome that hurdle, you need to do the math about what your score will probably rank given your technical solution and financial proposal. This is where cost competitiveness really comes into play, and your potential advantage is an independent worker or small company. In the experience of ISG over the last 10 years, we’ve been fortunate enough to win some fairly substantial work, even when our competition were well-established, brand-name firms, because we placed the right emphasis on both the technical and financial proposals.
Because you are an independent professional or a small company, the fifth area you want to use to your advantage and create more competitiveness is your inherent flexibility. When tailoring your technical solution, workplan, staffing and financial proposal, ask yourself if there are ways you can communicate to your potential client that you are able to customize your solution better, or be more responsive – that is provide a timely response – for your client, or can you “adjust on the fly” easier than others? The bottom line is that sometimes being bigger is better, because that means you have the infrastructure and reach necessary for a large project. But there are many, many cases when smaller is beautiful because it creates efficiencies and increases flexibility and customization. Again, in the experience of ISG, we were recently told by a client just after receiving an award that they were impressed by our responsiveness to their questions during the negotiation, and our ability to cater to their needs for flexibility and customization of our solution. Whereas it took us hours or a day, other firms took days and weeks.
The next two areas of competitiveness that I’d like to discuss may seem a bit misplaced given our industry. The sixth area of competitiveness is making your proposal beautiful. I find it amazing when I come across a competitor’s plain text proposal, with a bit of bold text or some underlines. There’s no reason why the standards of presentation in our industry should be lower than in any other, and believe me, people respond to beautiful. It’s worth taking the time to invest in a graphic designer to build a proposal template for you that can be used over and over again. And, if you’re on that cusp of being a small- to medium-size organization, every proposal you send out should be custom-fitted for your client and as attractive as possible.
Having a beautiful proposal is only the first step, however. The seventh area of competitiveness has nothing to do with your proposal: you need to make sure that you or your company looks beautiful as well. Regardless of whether or not you are participating in a blind tendering process, everyone looks online immediately at your company website, your background data, etc. And it’s in your best interest to make sure your best foot is forward. Beyond looking good, the information that is online and publicly accessible should also correctly reflect the information in your proposal. The last thing you want to do is tell your potential client one thing in your written document, and then have a dramatically different viewpoint, position or statement of fact in your online presence.
In the previous section in this training, I spoke about making sure that you use clear, simple language in the body of your proposal. But the eighth area of competitiveness that I’d like to talk about is about using annexes to your advantage. Many times, you’ll run up against donor-driven constraints regarding proposal length, styling, etc. As you work within these constraints, annexes can be your friend because they provide you with the opportunity to offer more detail about things such as your budget, your work plan or the experience of your staff.
The ninth way to increase the competitiveness of your proposal is to simply understand your competition. It’s important that you have a nuanced understanding of the other firms, individuals or groups that will also be potentially bidding on the same work as you. By knowing this, you can tailor your response to make sure that you stand out, you can play to your strengths and flexibility and cost competitiveness, or you may save yourself energy and expense by walking away from a particular tender because you know that your competition is simply too stiff.
The final area I’d like to emphasize to increase your competitiveness involves connecting with your potential client or donor during the proposal development process. In many cases, this is super simple, because there is a question and answer session, or a pre-tender meeting that you can participate in. However, even when these aren’t available, it’s still in your best interest to engage your potential client so that you, or your company’s name, is seen and recognized as early as possible. This small anchor that you can place in the mind of your potential client gives your proposal that much more weight when it goes to committee for consideration.
By using these 10 techniques, and many more that we discussed in other sections here at Aidpreneur, you can increase the competitiveness of your proposal. Once you’ve written your technical and financial proposals, tweak them for competitiveness and ensure that you have avoided the most common mistakes and pitfalls, you’re ready to submit. This will be discussed in the final section of this training. Thank you for watching this section of proposal development for RFAs, RFPs and RFQs. Remember, if you have any questions at all, please email us at training@Aidpreneur.com.