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Get the Job, Part 1

Apr 6, 2010 12:00 PM, By Don Kreski

Thoughts on the science of writing winning proposals.

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Understanding how to respond to requests for proposals helped Stage Front Presentation Systems, a USAV Group member, land this installation for the Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga.

Understanding how to respond to requests for proposals helped Stage Front Presentation Systems, a USAV Group member, land this installation for the Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga.
Photo by Lyndi J. Haja of Stage Front Presentation Systems

There's an art and a science to writing winning proposals.

The science will help you make sure the document you submit will realistically describe what you plan to do, sets a profitable price on your work, and protects you from unreasonable or unanticipated demands and issues.

The art can help you to make the case that you are, in fact, the best contractor to do the job, worth hiring over others who bid the same price or a lower price to complete the work.

To help you optimize both sides of the equation, I recently spoke to three industry experts on the process of answering requests for proposal (RFPs): K.C. Schwarz, founder and CEO of the Northglenn, Colo.-based buying and integration consortium USAV Group; Pete Dugas, CEO of Atlanta-based integration and consulting firm TSAV; and Jeff Loether, president of Gaithersburg, Md.-based consulting firm Electro-Media Design.

The science: preparing a response

Schwarz, whose background includes work on multibillion-dollar proposals for the defense industry, says that as a first step, you need to consider the proposal an integral part of the project itself. For Schwarz, that means two things: 1) that the person writing the proposal has a clear understanding of the company's ability to deliver the work, and 2) that there's a methodology in place to make sure that the company has the resources to profitably complete the jobs it wins.

"There's a sacred triad of project management," he says. "Scope, schedule, and resources. What's the scope, what's the schedule, and what are the resources required to do it?"

Dugas, whose company builds higher-end AV systems in the United States and overseas, agrees. "A lot of factors go into the decision to bid," he says. "The biggest one is understanding your capacities. At TSAV, we're looking for projects that hit our sweet spot in terms of logistics, timeline, technology, and availability of people." When they do, he says he's not too worried about the margin he gets when he wins the bid. The profit is generally there.

Both Schwarz and Dugas agree that many of the RFPs they see are well-written, with requirements defined by an AV consultant or an educated owner. "If that's the case, your first priority is to answer the questions and provide what's required," Dugas says.

But there are times when the RFP is not complete or correct. "You have to do some kind of requirements or design review on every bid," Schwarz says. If you find flaws, you may add details about what you plan to provide, propose an alternative, or choose not to bid.

"Of course, if we find the RFP is incomplete and we're not comfortable bidding it as written, that's more of a challenge," Dugas says. You not only need to supply what's missing, but find a diplomatic way to do so.

These flaws can exist in any number of areas. "It's our responsibility, in many cases, to train the client in what they have to plan for," Dugas says. "We need access. We need a loading dock. We need the space to be heated or air conditioned for a certain amount of time before we get there. We have to specify what the electrical contractor will provide, what the voice contractor will provide, which ports will be open on the firewalls."

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