Contract - July/August 2013 - (Page 34)
PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD POLLACK
Tips on Developing Winning Proposals
by Richard N. Pollack, FAIA, FIIDA
Now that we have returned to our offices after NeoCon®—and we have
survived the crowded elevators and saw a number of new products—it
is time to focus on increasing your pipeline of potential new projects.
In fact, that’s something you should always be doing. To paraphrase
Philip Johnson: The first job you have as a new architect (or designer)
is to get the first project. Your second job is to get the second project.
In my June column, I wrote about beginning the proposal
process as soon as you receive a request for proposals (RFP) by:
• Identifying a proposal principal to champion the process.
• Making a go-or-no-go decision.
• Performing an initial detailed analysis of the RFP.
• Asking the client key clarification questions.
Now, let’s examine the next steps. Best practices indicate that
15 percent of the time devoted to preparing the proposal should be
spent on planning what you want to say and how you will say it. After
that strategy is determined, the proposal tactics and preparations
begin in earnest. Approach it just as you would start any project:
• Determine all parts and pieces of the proposal.
• Establish a schedule for all activities.
• Develop a detailed project plan and fee to describe the services
you will provide.
• Identify and get project plans and fees from any subconsultants.
• Define who the content writers are and who will work on graphics.
• Complete miscellaneous items, such as site walk-throughs, and
obtain insurance certificates.
Developing a highly effective proposal—through content
and presentation—will make your submission stand out from your
competitors. The most valuable information comes from your direct
relationship with the client, followed by market intelligence, and finally
by reading between the lines of the RFP. Market intelligence comes
from relationships you have with real estate brokers, contractors, and
furniture dealers. But remember not to take all of their information
as gospel because it is, indeed, colored by those sharing it with you.
I have had situations in which I was given seemingly intentional bad
information because the person wanted another firm to win the work.
For the proposal itself, develop a standard format and page
layout to make the process efficient. Provide that format to any
subconsultants and mandate that they submit their material to you
using that layout. The most powerful proposals make use of smart
infographics to present complex information quickly and clearly,
and also make it much easier for laypeople to understand the proposal.
Also, captions are important in your proposal (as they are in this
magazine). A caption should succinctly explain to your potential
client what is depicted in an image.
Your proposal needs to convey the benefits of hiring your firm,
not simply show off the work or explain firm attributes. An attribute is:
“We are a multi-disciplinary firm that utilizes an integrated design
process.” But a benefit is: “We apply an integrated design process that
reduces cost, complexity, and potential risk for the client.”
Concurrently with other proposal tasks, develop the project plan,
or scope of services, and associated fee estimate. The fee must tightly
align with the project plan, and should not include any additional
services you know may be necessary but have not been requested in
the RFP. Compare against how contractors bid projects—anything
that you left off the drawings is a change order. Also, do not list any
exclusions, but do include a detailed list of assumptions. Exclusions
can become part of the agreement once you are selected.
The project plan should tightly track the RFP scope, including
outline numbering, if present. I would ask the client for the Microsoft
Word version of the RFP in addition to a PDF or hardcopy, then compare
the client’s scope to my firm’s boilerplate and make adjustments in the
document to support the RFP scope. Avoid obvious cut and paste, and
make sure that the phrase “insert client name here” is not in the final
proposal. I know of a highly qualified large firm that lost a major project
because that phrase appeared a number of times in a proposal. Finally,
have an uninvolved party within your firm review the proposal at least
24 hours before submitting.
Remember that the purpose of the proposal is to get to the
interview. Next month, I will write about interview preparation and
how to win the project with your team’s great chemistry.
Richard N. Pollack, FAIA, FIIDA, writes a regular column for
Contract on business practices in design and professional
development. Pollack is the CEO of San Francisco-based Pollack
Consulting, which supports firm growth and success through
improved business development, winning presentation techniques,
recruitment of top talent, business coaching, and ownership
JULY | AUGUST 2013
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Contract - July/August 2013
Contract - July/August 2013
Columnist: Tips on Developing Winning Proposals
Product Focus: Geometry Rules
Product Focus: From Brazil to London
Product Focus: Drawn from the Sea
best of NeoCon®
Competition: Inspirations Awards
Designers Select: Surfacing
Exhibition: MoMA Explores the Design Mind of Le Corbusier
Contract - July/August 2013