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UPDATE, 8/9/10: I met with the organization, wrote the proposal, and my firm has been shortlisted for this project.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot of proposals, but they have not been yielding good results. I’m determined to vet the proposal-writing process more carefully, instead of jumping into it with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, since my proposals are carefully considered and thoughtfully written, and as such, take a lot of time.

This morning, an opportunity landed on my desk, and I am trying to decide how to approach it. The RFP is for a branding project in a neighborhood in Rochester:http://southwedge.ning.com/forum/topics/seeking-proposals-for-graphic

I think my firm would be appropriate for this project because:

1. My business is located close to Rochester

2. The neighborhood in need of branding is ethnically diverse, and I have demonstrated work experience in ethnic & international sectors

3. I have strong branding experience

4. Description includes enhancing the business district, and as the President of the Aurora Arts & Merchants Association in Aurora, NY, I’m in a leadership position committed to enhancing business development in my local community

…..

OK, now here’s the red flags:

1. scope of work is undefined (“cost should include design of logo and other branding materials, such as a tagline”)

2. budget is not defined

3. RFP is publicly available; it was not submitted to my firm directly

3. and here’s the biggie: they request work on spec (“submit 2-3 project ideas”)

…..

So how to proceed – I will call with questions, for sure. Should I also request an in-person meeting? Discount it entirely since it requests work on spec?

I just learned this morning that I did not win a juicy design and branding project that I submitted a proposal for, in response to an RFP, and am bitterly disappointed. I feel I was an extremely strong candidate – well-qualified to handle the work, with a strong creative portfolio. This was a project in the tourism sector and included a “quality of life” brochure series; new county-wide brand identity for this central New York region; and a web site portal that would be utilized by several city and county agencies.

When I do not win a project, the first thing I do is ask the prospect why. Do you do that? It’s very useful. I promptly picked up the phone to discuss the matter with the agency leading the search, and was able to learn some things about how the committee made their decision and also how I can improve my proposals for the future. Our talk also led to some unanswered questions, so if you have any insight I’d really like to hear from you.

I learned that the committee – made up of reps from various city and county agencies – used a fair, thorough methodology to score candidates, consisting of categories and a point system. The decision was not based on price. Apparently I came pretty close to the top three firms that made the cut (I came in fourth).

In an ideal world, after I submit a proposal, I should be able to meet with the committee making the decision in order to discuss and answer questions. In this case, unfortunately, insisting on an in-person meeting was just out of the question. Because I was not able to talk to them, I’m afraid they made some assumptions about my work and my proposal that I was not able to defend:

• the committee questioned my ability to handle the research necessary to complete the branding portion because they thought Julia Reich Design consists of just one person – me – even though I emphasize “my creative team” in the cover letter. Which leads me to wonder if I need to change the name of my company. Does using my name make it sound like I am just one person?

• the RFP requested copywriting & photography services, and I received low marks here. Why, I wanted to know? I do not offer these services in-house so I included names, websites, and ballpark pricing of two highly talented creative freelancers in the area that I have worked with before, that I would hire as sub-contractors for the project team. Since the scope of work in the RFP for this portion of the project was as-yet undefined, I provided hourly rates for these services and indicated that in some cases, the fees were TBD. How did the firms that made it to the next level include these services? I discovered that they provided a fee range (for instance, $1200-$1800), and made it look like these services were provided in-house. The committee may have appreciated the apparent “ease” that comes with hiring a design firm which provides “the whole package”. Lesson learned – next time, I will do the same, and save the specifics of each creative team member for the interview stage. How do you list sub-contractors in your proposals?

• finally, even though I submitted a strong portfolio showcasing several brand identity projects I have done, I found out that the committee chose other firms over mine because of the recognizability of the other projects. In other words, the decision-makers had seen the other firms’ work previously in the local central New York community – while much of my client base is in New York City. I am not sure what to do about this. Like McDonalds, is the familiar always preferable? I moved to this small community 2.5 years ago from New York City, and have thrown myself into all sorts of community endeavors and taken on leadership positions in local organizations. In spite of this, are they suspicious of perceived outsiders?  Should I take this as a lesson to re-focus my efforts back to metro New York?

……

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the changes I make in my next proposal, based on the lessons I learned from all of this, will win me the next project. But I’m glad I made the effort to call my contact to communicate about the decision rather than fuming silently in my office.

Have you lost a project recently? What would you do differently next time?

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