Government Bidding 101: What to Know Before You Write a Bid

The bidding process can be an exciting experience for small businesses and entrepreneurs, but crafting a proposal worthy of federal spending requires meticulous preparation and a keen understanding of the bidding process. Before you even start drafting your bid to work with a government agency, there are several critical steps to consider.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the crucial steps you need to take before writing a response. By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to increase your chances of a winning bid.

Man reviewing contracts in a warehouse.

Reading the Solicitation

Before anything else, you’ll want to read the solicitation you’re interested in responding to. This document contains everything you’ll need to know, including the type of goods or service needed, requirements, deadlines, and evaluation criteria.

Pay close attention to the details. While the opportunity might look perfect for your business, if there’s a tight deadline for bids you may not have enough time to complete the required tasks or attend mandatory meetings. Missing these crucial elements can disqualify your bid from consideration, meaning you’ve wasted time you could have spent bidding on other contracts.

3 Key Points to Note in the Solicitation

Within a solicitation, there’s a number of details to pay attention to, but we’ve outlined the main three below:

  • Deadlines: Make sure you are aware of the submission deadline and any other important dates.
  • Requirements: Understand the technical and financial requirements needed to fulfill the contract.
  • Evaluation Criteria: Know how your proposal will be evaluated to tailor your bid accordingly.


Researching Previously Awarded Contracts

If you’re new to bidding on government contracts, it’s almost guaranteed that there have been similar awarded contracts in the past, and the information contained in those bids can give you a competitive advantage.

Before submitting your bid, it’s essential to search out previously awarded contracts similar to the contract you’re targeting. This can give you insights into what the government is looking for and how to align your proposal with their expectations. Websites like USAspending and FPDS provide valuable information on past contracts, including award amounts and winning companies.

3 Benefits of Researching Previous Awarded Contracts

  • Understanding the Competition: It’s a chance to learn who your competitors are and what made their bids successful.
  • Setting Realistic Goals: It allows you to gauge the financial scope and requirements of successfully awarded contracts while comparing your own capabilities against them.
  • Refining Your Proposal: Every solicitation requires something a little different. Looking at winning bids for a similarly awarded contracts gives you an opportunity to tailor your proposal to the government’s specific needs and preferences, ensuring your bases are covered.


Bid Selection

Employees on the search for the right contract on their computers.

Choosing the right type of solicitation for your company is crucial. Not all contracts are created equal, and selecting one that aligns with your business’s strengths can significantly improve your chances of success. When looking at contracts, consider factors like project size, complexity, and the specific capabilities of your business. These elements will help you determine which type of contracts are of interest to you.

The 3 Types of Solicitations

  • Request for Proposal (RFP): Typically used for complex projects where the government seeks detailed proposals.
  • Request for Quote (RFQ): Often used for simpler projects requiring price quotes.
  • Invitation for Bid (IFB): Used for projects where the lowest bid wins, provided it meets all requirements.


Gathering References

Strong references are essential to a successful bid. A positive word from colleagues or past clients not only holds weight with a contracting officer but also provides a third-party endorsement of your capabilities. But how to get them? Here’s a handful of ways you can go about it.

3 Ways to Solicit a Reference

Direct Requests to Previous Clients

Make a list of previous clients that had a good experience working with you, then reach out to them directly for verbal or written testimonials.

Explain the context of the new bid and how a reference from them could be beneficial. Make sure they’re in the loop as far as when they’ll be required to provide the reference and what kind of information you’d specifically like them to mention, as that will help them prepare a more compelling endorsement.

Professional Networking

Another effective approach is leveraging your professional network. Attend industry conferences, seminars, and business networking events to connect with potential references. The more authentic relationships you’ve built within your industry, the easier this will be.

LinkedIn Recommendations

Leverage LinkedIn to request and showcase professional recommendations. These endorsements add credibility to your profile and are easily accessible by contract evaluators. They can view the recommendations directly on your LinkedIn profile, which can provide an additional layer of verification.


Getting a W9

Available on the IRS website, a W9 is essential for tax purposes when doing business with the government. This form provides your taxpayer identification number (TIN) and certifies that you are not subject to backup withholding. If you’re a Canadian company, you’ll need the equivalent form, the W-8BEN.

Team gathered to determine a plan for government bidding

Following the Bid Instructions

Adhering to the bid instructions is crucial. Government contracts often have strict guidelines, and failure to follow them can result in disqualification, wasting all the hard work you’ve put into your proposal.

Ensure you understand and comply with every requirement listed in the solicitation. This includes formatting specifications, submission method and deadline, and any specific documents or certifications requested.

Steps to Follow

  • Read Carefully: Go through the instructions multiple times to ensure you haven’t missed anything.
  • Checklist: Create a checklist to keep track of all required documents and steps.
  • Review: Have someone else review your bid to catch any mistakes or omissions.


Things to Never Do When Responding to an RFP

There are certain pitfalls you should avoid when responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP). These mistakes can jeopardize your chances of winning the bid.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Missing Deadlines: Late submissions are typically not accepted. Be mindful of submission deadlines and plan accordingly.
  • Using Generic Proposals: If you want to be taken seriously, tailor your proposal to the specific RFP instead of using a generic template.
  • Overpromising: Avoid making promises you can’t keep; be realistic about what you can deliver to avoid an awkward and potentially reputation-damaging situation down the road.
  • Incomplete Submission: Ensure all required documents and information are included in your bid package. Create a checklist and do a last-minute run-through to guarantee you’ve got everything that’s needed.

Woman working on her laptop.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for a government bid is a complex but rewarding process. By taking the time to read the solicitation, research previous awards, gather strong references, get your W9, and follow bid instructions, you can significantly increase your chances of winning a government contract.

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