Small design, writing, programming, and consulting jobs are often awarded on the basis of an informal proposal or interview process. But larger projects often use a more elaborate Request for Proposal (RFP) approach. And in cases where the client is a public institution, these RFPs must, in most cases, be publicly posted and open to anyone who is interested in bidding on them.
Winning business through RFPs is tough, sure, but there are still a few very good reasons to keep up with the published RFPs in your market: They offer a good window into the state of the industry, can keep you abreast of new projects being launched by past clients, and may also reveal the occasional gem of a winnable project.
The key to getting value from RFPs is using tools that can help you find opportunities that are appropriate for your business, and find enough of them that you will have a reasonable chance of actually winning some.
Here are a few of the tools and methods that I have experimented with over the years, and the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Onvia was my go-to RFP monitoring tool for a few years, until I tested it against Find RFP (below), and then switched over to that service completely. Even the cheapest Onvia package is far more expensive than other RFP monitoring services, and the charge goes up dramatically if you want nationwide coverage.
Like the other, less expensive, services, Onvia gets most of its information by scouring all of the websites that state and local governments use to post RFQs and RFPs. Onvia’s justification for their higher price is the extra research and market analysis services they provide, and the fact that they also include some private (non-government) bid opportunities. Both of these extra features, however, seemed to be aimed primarily at contractors and other companies in the construction industry, so unless you sell parabolic light fixtures, rent construction barricades, etc., it’s probably not worth the extra money.
2. Find RFP
As I mentioned above, I tested Find RFP against Onvia for several months before canceling my Onvia subscription, and I didn’t see any relevant opportunities on Onvia that weren’t also on Find RFP. Combine that with the fact that Find RFP was a lot cheaper ($29.95/month for national coverage) and it wasn’t a hard decision.
I haven’t actually tested Governmentbids.com, but it appears similar to FindRFP. FedOpps.com used to be another option, but it looks like it has gone out of business.
Most of these services have free trial periods, so it’s possible to try more than one and see what works best for your business. If you can, try them simultaneously so that you can see if one is picking up opportunities that the others are missing.
One thing that I will suggest about any of these services is that you consider using a keyword search to tailor the RFPs you receive, instead of using industry codes. The industry codes are pretty vague in many cases, and it is very common for RFPs to be categorized incorrectly. And the more specialized or obscure your service is, the more important it is to use this approach. Don’t just pick an industry code that sounds close and hope it works, because if RFP writers select other codes then you won’t see those opportunities.
4. RFP Database
RFP Database is different from the other RFP services in that it relies on users to supply RFPs and RFQs, rather than pulling information from government sites. Members earn “credits” for submitting RFPs they have found in other places, and then use these credits to view RFPs submitted by others.
The good thing about this system is that it isn’t limited to government RFPs. Users can submit opportunities they find anywhere, so you will occasionally find things that don’t show up in the other services. The drawback is that it isn’t comprehensive, which means that it is mainly useful as a tool to augment another service such as Find RFP.
5. RFP Postings on Professional Organization Sites
Depending on your specialty, there is a chance that there is a professional organization out there that posts RFPs of interest to you on their website. I won’t try and list any here since you probably know which organizations are relevant to you, but just as an example, here is the American Planning Association’s RFP/RFQ database.
Most of these sources aren’t going to notify you by email when a new opportunity is posted, so you’ll either have to set up a system to remind yourself to check these regularly, or use a tool like ChangeTower to alert you when something is added to the page.
6. Local or State Government Purchasing Sites
Services like Find RFP mine hundreds of sites for their listings. If you have a particular geographic focus, you can access these same sites directly – generally for free – and sign up to be notified of new opportunities that meet your criteria.
Start by visiting the RFP/RFQ areas of websites run by the state, city, and county governments in your area, as well as universities, hospitals, etc. On the sites, look for language like “doing business with us” or “resources for businesses.” The actual list may be called “bid listings,” “procurement opportunities,” etc., so don’t just look for “RFP” or “RFQ.”
The same rule about using keywords instead of industry/commodity codes that I mentioned in item 3 also applies here. Don’t set up a situation where you are depending on the RFP creator to categorize the RFP correctly.
7. Alerts and Social Media
I’ve tried looking for new RFPs using Google Alerts and some of its alternatives in the past and never had any luck. Things seldom appear, and when they do it is often months, or even years, past the due date.
My attempts to set up ongoing Twitter searches have also been unproductive. Broad search terms result in too much noise, and more specific searches rarely yield results.
Putting it Together
I recommend that you use a combined approach in order to see the maximum number of opportunities and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Start by picking one of the inexpensive paid services like Find RFP to do most of the work for you, and set yourself up to receive notifications directly from the key agencies or organizations in your geographic market.
Since these RFPs are by definition “public,” there is a lot of competition, so you’ll need to see a lot of them to find the few that you really have a chance at. Taking a look at a large number of RFPs also gives you a chance to share the opportunities that aren’t right for you with friends and colleagues, which can be a great networking activity.
And once you’ve found an RFP that looks promising, make sure to check out our How to Respond to an RFP post for some tips on crafting an effective proposal.