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10 Costly Mistakes To Avoid In Federal Bids and Proposals

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Errors in Federal government bids and proposals can cost the whole proposal cycle and an entire relationship. Good news:  here are 10 common mistakes and how you can avoid them! Evaluate your proposal processes to prevent these from creeping in, and start winning more Federal government projects today.

1. Proposal Production

Federal buyers review every detail of your proposals critically. That Federal bid requires compliance with specified formats, sections, page counts, and even margins and fonts! Any small, inadvertent, mistake can force them to dismiss your proposal outright — even if they really loved your submission! If a tiny technical flaw takes your proposal out of the running, you’ll lose more than time and money. You also risk incalculable damage to team morale. Great team members are priceless assets: hard to find, and even harder to keep in today’s competitive job market. 

  • Create a proposal submission checklist based on the Request for Proposal.
  • Double-check that you have included everything the buyers asks for
  • USE the checklist as if your business depended on it…because it does.

2. Reusing Boilerplate Content

Seasoned Contracting Officers see this one all the time: thoughtless cut-and-paste can take your otherwise perfect proposal out of the running! Don’t rush to replicate the same language for multiple proposals. Yes, seasoned govcons do, but they re-use (and customize) each component with a careful checklist.

Your proposal needs to address the unique person and the precise parameters of each RFP. Use a proposal checklist to ensure your proposal is tailored to elicit a “YES!” to your submission.

  • Invest in creating your unique proposal library over time, so you have a process to flawlessly re-use common components, decrease costs and increase efficiency.
  • Document and use procedures to review and ensure that all proposal library components you use have been customized to address the specific RFP as well as the needs and concerns of the specific people who will be reading it.

3. Late Submission

If you miss any part of a submission deadline, you’re communicating that you can’t manage a proposal cycle, never mind a contract.

If you submit your proposal even seconds late, your offer is ineligible for the award. At this point, the buyer cannot choose you—no matter how much they want to—because you didn’t follow the rules.

  • Pay attention to each submission deadline.
  • Leave leeway for the unexpected in your proposal plan, so you can…
  • Submit on time.

4. Poor Proofreading

Your Federal buyer sees the quality of your proposal as a reflection of the experience they can expect if they work with you! Simple spelling or grammar errors are red flags you can easily avoid. Complex proposal proofreading also includes checking that the content you submit is complete, consistent, and compliant with all requirements in format, specification, law, and regulation.

  • Use a proven proposal checklist to compare all details of your proposal against the requirements of the RFP.
  • Proofread beyond grammar and spelling to include dates, statistics, and citations.
  • PRO TIP: when proofreading, read your proposal backward: start at the last page, and move to the first. You’ll see errors you might otherwise have missed.

The Federal buyer who reads your proposal is always thinking, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
~ Judy Bradt

5. Thinking You Know the Scope (if you don’t know the people)

Government decision-makers don’t always draft the RFP to describe the precise results they want to achieve from your proposed solution. Successful bidders get the full – sometimes unwritten – backstory well before bidding from the specific people their proposal will serve. Those conversations uncover key elements of a winning proposal, like critical success factors for this project and what has (and hasn’t!), worked in the past to create a compliant, high-value, and low-risk solution.

  • Get to know all the players at the different layers of the decision-making process.
  • Review past projects (successes and failures if possible) and competitors.
  • Understand the context of how this project proposal fits into the bigger strategy of the department or agency.

6. Not Knowing Proper Proposal Protocols

Did you know? Federal RFPs have a standard structure! Learn the exact submission process and content organization that Federal buyers require and how they’re going to evaluate your specific proposal. Read, read, read the RFP before you start to write!

Contracting officers must reject your proposal if it is not written in the proper format and submitted via the proper procedure. They will also reject the proposal if the questions are not answered completely and properly (including the sections that are not applicable in some way) and in the order they were asked.

  • Pay special attention to Section M, which tells you the evaluation criteria. If you were the Contracting Officer, how well do you think your proposal would be scored? If the answer is “not so well,” then consider not bidding, even if it’s late in the game.
  • Use the same structure and sections for your proposal content that your buyer used in the RFP.

For more information about proposal-writing protocols, see: Building Blocks of a Winning Proposal.

7. Surfing the Internet for “Great” Opportunities

If you see that “perfect” contract that looks set aside for your company, but you don’t know the buyer, you don’t know the budget, you don’t know the incumbent, and you don’t know the history, your odds of winning are in the single digits.

If that’s your situation, then you’re not alone! Often, the best thing you can do is consider the point of contact listed as a clue to start your research into who the players at all five layers are in the buying organization, so you can build the relationships you will need to succeed on the next opportunity for a similar requirement.

  • Ask yourself, “How did we hear about this? Who do we know in the account? Who are we up against?”
  • Make sure you meet your own minimum “bid-no-bid” requirements before making the investment to submit a proposal.

Learn more about the players with this article: Win More Federal Government Bids—Focus On The People.

8. Feeling Like You Have to Bid on Everything (You Don’t!)

Proposals are costly! Did you calculate the entire cost of bidding? That includes sweat equity and lost weekends as well as supplies, paid time, overtime, and opportunity cost. Is your probability of winning high enough to justify investing those resources? And, if you win, will you actually make money?

  • Find and consistently use Bid/NoBid tools to get everyone on your team on the same page about the decision.
  • Review and adapt your tools each year to reflect the lessons you learned and improve how your guidelines predict your success reliably.

Download the Free Bid/No-Bid Toolbox

If you had a Bid/No-Bid checklist that was proven to predict wins with over 94% accuracy, would you use it? Now you can! That’s in this complimentary 3-part kit. Utilize these critical tools to choose better proposals for more reliable wins.

9. No Connections on the Inside

We can’t say enough about your connections. Multiple layers of people influence the decision for every winning contract. Lack of relationships is a good reason for saying, “no-bid”, no matter how juicy the opportunity looks.

  • Create a strategy to engage key players at all five layers by bringing them value in advance of your bid.
  • Set a minimum threshold of relationships and connections your team needs to have before you’ll submit a proposal – especially if you know you’re investing in a bid you know you likely won’t win.

10. Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Finally, a common mistake is pursuing too many opportunities in too many agencies. A confident focus on just a few agencies allows you to invest the time and effort it takes for your subject matter experts and specialists to become the trusted advisers that contracting officers and program managers rely on for the best results.

  • Establish a narrow focus on your core competencies.
  • Become known for outstanding results at what you do best.
  • Share relevant past performance and case studies with your top results.

P.S.: Will You Be The Subcontractor If You Win?

  1. A proper teaming agreement includes what’s going to happen for all parties, prime and sub, and who’s going to do (and get) what if you win.
  2. Never, never, never borrow a teaming agreement from the internet.
  3. Drafting and negotiating agreement for Federal teaming and subcontracting requires special legal expertise that your everyday business attorney might not have. That’s even more important if joint ventures, mentor-protege arrangements, or small business certifications are part of your capture strategy. If that’s your situation, make the investment up front to find and engage experienced expert help from a lawyer with experience in Federal teaming and subcontracting.
  4. Talk to your Federal contracts lawyer about these three things. MORE>>


You can avoid these ten common mistakes and many more when you focusconnect & demonstrate consistency.

About Judy Bradt & Summit Insight

Judy Bradt is an expert speaker and author of the Amazon #1 Bestseller “Government Contracts Made Easier.” She has over 32 years of experience in federal business development and strategy and provides consulting services helping companies to win government contracts through her company Summit Insight. When you’re ready to take the next steps to Focus, Connect and be Consistent in order to win federal bids and proposals, get in touch with Judy.
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