Proposal Basics: Outlining Your Proposal

The very foundation of a winning proposal is the process of organizing the response. At WinBiz, we compare it to a home construction blueprint. You may be able to envision the end result (and have already mentally picked the huge flat screen for the man cave), but before you break ground…you have to design the floorplan, determine how many rooms it will have, how big the home will be, and the overall flow from room to room.

Proposals need blueprints too—the proposal outline.

Unlike all the decisions that need to be made when building a new home, the good news is the government will tell you exactly how to organize the proposal, how they will score it, and the work you will be doing. Yes, yes—we know not all RFPs are created equally and sometimes the government will be clear as mud on those criteria. But, generally speaking, the answers are all in there. You just have to know where to look.

Section L (Instructions)

Section L includes instructions for responding, the due date, and how to organize the response. Also included are things like the number of Volumes your proposal should be presented in, what buckets of content you have to provide, and how many pages you are allowed for each section.

So, to begin, your outline will mirror the example below.

RFP, outlines, win more revenue

Next, you will add in the required subsections that belong in each Volume along with the pages allocated to them while still following the exact order of the instructions. Don’t forget any insertions or attachments that are not page limited. Include the corresponding Section L reference in your outline to double check that you didn’t forget anything as you develop your draft response.

Now, your outline will resemble something like the following.

RFP, outlines, win more revenue

Section M (Evaluation Criteria)

This is where the government gives you the answers to the test. They literally tell you what they are looking for (e.g. “This factor evaluates the degree to which the Offeror demonstrates an understanding of the SOW and the technical tasks to be performed”) and how they are going to score it (e.g. “Factors 1 through 5 are numbered in descending order of importance”). Weave these criteria into your outline to make sure the government can identify the scoring elements easily. Use numbered or un-numbered headings within your outline similar to the example below.

RFP, outlines, win more revenue

Section C (Statement of Work)

This is the section in the RFP that dictates what services the government wants you to deliver. Every RFP is different and each Section C will include varying degrees of detail and complexity—and may not take the form of a SOW. Regardless of what it’s called, somewhere in the RFP is a description of the work to be delivered. Your outline should address each element in Section C in the appropriate place that Section L prescribed. If you are lucky, it will be obvious where you place those requirements. If it’s not, give us a call and we will make sure your proposal is compliant from the get-go.

RFP, outlines, win more revenue

Section “Y” (As In…“Why” Isn’t This As Simple As It Sounds?)

Just by following the government’s words and organizing your proposal first by Section L, then M, and then C—you ensure 80-90 percent of your response addresses key RFP compliance requirements. There’s usually additional requirements buried elsewhere in the RFP, so be sure to scrub line-by-line so you don’t miss any.

Unfortunately, not all RFPs are structured this straightforward. Sometimes, Section L instructions and Section M criteria conflict or aren’t cleanly aligned. Sometimes, Section C follows its own structure altogether and leaves you scratching your head on how to respond. And don’t even get us started on fitting your response into page limits!

Luckily, if you find yourself stuck on how to move forward or got this far in developing your outline but just can’t take it over the finish line—we love proposals and love to help. We create outlines all day, every day and have seen every flavor of incomprehensible instructions you can imagine. We’ll help you interpret them, build a compliant outline, and put your team on the path to success.