The type of request that a state or school districts will issue ultimately depends on the requirements set by their governing board and the result they need to attain.
While each State and District operates differently, it’s a general rule that large purchases over a certain dollar amount have to go through a competitive bidding process to ensure optimal utilization of government funding; the best value for the best price. This is where an RFP comes in. A Request for Proposal (RFP) is a solicitation issued by a government entity or agency for a solution that meets their needs for a product (s) or service.
In this tightened and condensed approach, we’ll look at some strategies for creating an effective RFP, from the fresh perspective of a vendor (aka “me”) in a fun format of the five T’s:
Part one of this blog series will look at the first two T’s: The Timeline and The Technical.
Whether you are a purchasing specialist or child nutrition professional, you know that school districts typically publish RFPs during a specific time of the year for certain categories, depending on the estimated time needed for implementation or roll-out prior to a new school year. Regardless of the time period, it’s important to ask yourself these questions when deciding a turnaround time:
- Are you providing enough time for vendors to find, read, and ask for explanations on your RFP?
- Are you providing enough time for vendors to receive clarification and adjust accordingly?
- Are you providing some cushion days to your usual turnaround to account for any holidays or closures?
- Are you letting prospective vendors know of changes in business hours around holidays to ensure someone is available to receive their bid package?
Due Date & Time
- Is this selected due date achievable by multiple couriers or within normal business hours? Consider that many shipping services may not be able to deliver a response package first thing on Monday morning. If that’s the deadline, vendors either have to submit much earlier, reducing their prep time, or take some delivery risks.
- Can all of the RFP’s requested items be reasonably completed by the due date? Some legal or financial items may not be immediately on hand and require advanced notice to external parties.
In my experience preparing RFP responses to school districts, I can tell you that our teams have always taken every possible day to work on the response. Online bids are often submitted the day of and mailed ones are shipped with just enough time to get there the day prior to or the day of the submission deadline. Why? Because we understand that new information can arise, either internally or externally, that could affect our response. We’re also usually working on preparing multiple proposals that are due in the same time frame.
Some say it takes a village to raise a child. Well you can also say it takes a village to prepare an RFP. With any given RFP, each of these vendors are going to have multiple teams carefully combing through every word, request, and condition in the solicitation. Since an RFP is, in many ways, a legally binding document upon submission, vendors want to be fully aware of what is required of them and what stakes are at risk. Use your RFP document to try and answer as many vendor questions as you can, and save time in the long-run:
Include a Response Checklist
- One of the most helpful things you can do for your review team and your vendors, is to prepare a response checklist. This checklist will list out exactly what needs to be returned and in what order. This is going to make reviewing all the incoming responses faster and efficiently.
Review and Re-review your RFP before publishing it
- Make sure that all language is clear and that all requested forms are provided. Double check the due dates and check for any contradictions in the language. For example: Did you mention insurance somewhere but forget to include it on the aforementioned checklist?
Provide adequate technical details
- Sometimes asking for what you want isn’t enough. Specifications vary across products and vendors. Try to include as much information and reference (such as brand and model numbers) as you can because this will set the standard for what is desired and help increase vendor responsiveness (how well a bidder’s proposal meets your needs).
Think about the little things
- Small things like page numbers, section headers, and points of contact for questions, can also make it easy for vendors to interact and prepare their response.
Additionally, and this should go without saying, be careful with utilizing another district’s RFP structure and language. Some of the language and requirements may not apply or may not be needed in your schools. Again, every detail matters when both districts and vendors are investing their time and money into this partnership.
Stay tuned for Tips for RFPs Part Two
In Part Two we will cover the other T’s for effective RFPs, including Technology, Treatment, and Tools to help you generate the best responses.
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