Do you want to do business with the U.S. government? Federal government agencies buy billions of dollars of products and services from private businesses every year. To win a contract with the government, you’ll need to write a government contract proposal.
Government contract proposals have a lot in common with general business proposals, but they differ a bit in that they require specialty topics and follow a more or less standard format. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with official government channels like the gsa.gov website, where you can find all sorts of information about applying for contracts with federal agencies. This is one of the places you will probably be submitting your document to.
It’s crucial to follow any format requirements and supply the specific information requested by a government agency (these are often spelled out in the GSA requirements and instructions). That said, all business proposals, no matter the type of business or the potential client, have four basic goals and follow a standard structure. You want to 1) introduce yourself, 2) show that you understand your prospective client’s needs, 3) highlight your goods or services and present your costs, and 4) persuade the client that your organization is the best one to choose. Using pre-designed templates and samples along with some automation software in a proposal kit can help you write your proposal quickly and efficiently.
The first thing you need to do is target your prospective client: in this case, that will be a government agency. You can get information about agency budgets, missions, and goals on government websites, and you can also look at Government Accountability Office reports. Determine the best person in that agency to send your proposal to with a few phone calls or by studying organization charts.
The key to a successful business proposal is to tailor it to the party who will receive it. Put yourself in the other party’s shoes. Imagine that you are in charge of purchasing within that government agency, and try to figure out why they have a need for your products or services. If you don’t know the agency well, you may have to do some research about their functions and their history, but this effort will pay off in creating a customized proposal that is more likely to succeed.
Creating a customized proposal doesn’t mean that you can’t reuse a lot of the same pages for multiple proposals; it simply means that you need to tailor each proposal a bit to show that you understand the specific client’s needs.
A proposal is a sales document meant to persuade potential clients—in this case, government agencies—to give you their business. To do that, you must instill trust that you can deliver the goods or services they need.
If you look around the GSA web site at a variety of proposals you will see they follow this approach, they will start out with some standard introductions and a filled out list of details using a standard GSA format, then they vary widely in the information that follows depending on the company, product and services being sold.
So, following the general order described above, you should start your proposal by introducing yourself with a Title Page. The Title Page is optional and should be a brief; just explain who you are and include your company contact information. The Title Page is exactly what it sounds like: a page that introduces your business and names the specific product or service you are discussing. Some examples might be “Environmental Cleanup Services for Oil Spills,” “Proposal to Supply Satellite Phones to Border Patrol Agency,” “Scanning Services Proposed for IRS Offices,” and so forth.
Make sure to find a special Cover Sheet that meets GSA requirements that you will include as the first page of your document (after the optional Title Page). This Cover Sheet is where you include all of the information the government agencies want to see in a standard one-page format.
The next section of your document will be the Customer Information section which is another part of your document which will follow a standard format required by the government. This is typically just a couple pages of line items you need to fill out for a wide variety of details such as rates, delivery schedules and so on. You can also add specialized topics such as a list of Awarded SINs and any Special Attributes of your product or service.
After the standard introduction topics comes the company-centered section. This is the free-form part of your document where you can add any information you want to promote your company. This is sometimes referred to as “your value position.” Add topics that describe how you can meet the agency’s needs with your goods or services, and how you stack up against the competition. You’ll add pages with titles like Products, Services Provided, Price List, Services Cost Summary, Benefits, Warranty, Guarantee and so forth—include all the topics you need to explain what you can provide.
You may also need to include specialized topics that address specific concerns of that agency, such as describing your experience or training in handling sensitive data or coordinating with multiple parties, etc. Add pages with details the agency will want to know, such as descriptions of your Personnel, Equipment, Training Plan, Insurance, Safety Plan, Security, Certifications, Quality Control, Environmental issues, and so on.
A company pitching catering services to the government may have to deal with many different topics at once, such as selling both services and products as well as servicing multiple locations for a client, along with all the associated equipment and logistical needs.
A building maintenance company may need to discuss access, security, and equipment issues as well as describing the services provided.
A company selling “green” products to the government may want to list materials used or sources, describe special features of their products, discuss how their products compare to competitors, or list special bundling deals or volume discounts.
After you’ve described your goods or services comes the final section, where you provide your company details. Your goal is to conclude your proposal by convincing the agency that you are the best choice for the contract and that you can be trusted to deliver the goods or services. Here, you’ll add pages like Experience, Testimonials, References, Awards, About Us / Company History, Capabilities, Qualifications, Our Clients, Customer Service, and so forth—all the topics you need to persuade the client that you have credibility and can be trusted.
After you have all your words in place, you’re still not quite finished. Make your proposal visually appealing by adding color and graphics. You can incorporate your company logo, use colored borders, and/or select custom bullet points and fonts that match your organization’s style.
Finally, carefully proofread and spell-check all the pages. It’s hard to spot errors in your own writing, so it’s always a good idea to recruit someone who is unfamiliar with your proposal to do the final proof. Spell check cannot catch words that are correctly spelled but misused.
Save your proposal as a PDF file or print it, and then deliver it to the potential client. Delivery requirements may be explicitly stated in the agency requirements: if so, be sure to follow them exactly. Emailing PDF files is very common, but there may be times when a printed, signed, and hand-delivered proposal will impress the potential decision-maker more. If you are submitting your documents to the gsa.gov web site you will have to sign up for an account and follow their instructions for uploading and posting your documents (most likely in PDF format).
As you can see, the contents of a government contract proposal will vary. Each organization’s specific proposal pages will be different, and for maximum success, each proposal should be tailored for the agency receiving it.
You can also see that all proposals follow a similar format and structure. You don’t need to start from scratch, either—you can find templates for all the pages mentioned in this article in a proposal kit. You will need special templates designed specifically for government contracts such as a Cover Sheet (for government contracts), Awarded SINs, Special Attributes, and a Customer Information form. Starting out with pre-designed templates and sample proposals will give you a big head start on creating your own winning government contract proposal.
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