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The 30-Day Proposal: What You Really Need

Want Hermione's Time-Turner to give you the extra proposal hours you need?

“I need more time,” you’re thinking as you pull another all-nighter slammed up against yet one more proposal deadline. “How does anybody get these things done in 30 days?”
What you need most is a reality check. If you’re looking for the way to do the whole job, start-to-finish, in 30 days, stop what you’re doing right now. Take a lesson from the man who led the team that designed the fastest aircraft that has ever flown.

“If you can’t do it with brains, you can’t do it with hours.”
~ Kelly Johnson, Lockheed-Martin Skunkworks, home of the SR-71

Let’s break it down into a simple checklist.
First, the inputs: how many people have how many total hours available to work on any given proposal in those 30 days?
Next, look back on a couple of recent proposals you WON. How many hours did you actually spend on major task areas, including (but not limited to):

  • Relationships: Knowing everyone who has a role in defining requirements and evaluating offers
  • Competitive analysis: How do you stack up against the incumbent and rest of the field, and does the buyer see you that way you do?
  • P-Win: making the bid / no-bid decision
    RELATED: Get complimentary download, The Federal Bid/No-Bid Toolkit
  • Win theme: Finding out, articulating, and proving that you provide exactly what the customer really wants
  • Requirements: Evaluating how you can do everything they want, or…
  • Teaming: Finding the teaming partner(s) you need, defining work share, creating legal partnership agreements in order to meet all the requirements
  • Getting their pricing and proposal inputs, as well as a Competitive Analysis
  • Organized process: including proposal deconstruction, assigning the right person to the right tasks, answering and checking every section — including management, price, and technical volumes
  • Past performance documentation
  • Technical solution development and response
  • Pricing development: Can you price to win, and have the resources to perform, and make money?
  • Proofreading (and re-proofing, and proofing again) and production

Winners do all these things, and more. Can you do these things within the hours you had available in a 30-day period? And still win?
What if we could access magic? Harry Potter heroine, Hermione Granger, tried it: she used a “Time-Turner” that let her time-travel and do more hours work than there were hours in the day! Some tools that can help you collapse time are:

  • Proposal template library: Organizing the parts of your own past proposals, or buying a tool set, that you can edit into the next proposal. If so, add extra time to proof. Contracting officers say that one of the most common reasons for non-responsive proposals is bad template editing!
  • Cost-and-pricing spreadsheets: Work with accounting rules and financial data to create cost allocation pools and calculate out salaries and wrap rates for all the labor categories. Be aware of when the Service Contract Act and other wage determinations apply.
  • Past performance library and case studies: Have your past performance examples stored in summary table form as well as in long-form modeled on the Attachment that your target agencies use to request past performance.
  • Management Volume: Have resumes of key personnel, managers, owners, and corporate data ready to cut and paste

Wait a minute. Even after you add up the time to do all these things, and even after you put some good systems in place…
How does anybody respond in 30 days? The honest answer: They don’t. At least, not the ones who win.
There is no way around it: companies with high win rates realize that the winning proposal effort starts long before the requirement hits the street. They know there are always three “R’s,” in this order:

  1. Research
  2. Relationships
  3. Requirements

Still determined to cram more into your 30 days? Whether you pull all-nighters or time-turners, that kind of “magic” has a price. In a world where time travel is real, Hermione Granger did get more hours of studying than there were hours in the day, but …

“…[her] immense workload finally seemed to be getting to her. Every night, without fail, Hermione was to be seen in a corner of the common room, several tables spread with books, Arithmancy charts, rune dictionaries… and file upon file of extensive notes; she barely spoke to anybody and snapped when she was interrupted.”
—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

And that’s when we start to make costly mistakes, too.
Sound familiar? Anyway, do you really want to be spending more time writing proposals? Or would you rather be building relationships (including ones with friends and family on weekends, as well as business development during the week)?
Either way, of course, you can always pick up your own Time-Turner on Etsy.

Judy Bradt, CEO of Summit Insight, gives federal teams the analysis, custom plans and support you need to grow your federal business. Call her at (703) 627 1074, and visit
Like this article? Check out her 10/25 teleclass, “Building Blocks of A Winning Proposal.”

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