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Doing Federal Government Contracting?

Here are some Tips for a Winning Technical Proposal

Over my 30 year career as Program Manager, Marketing Manager and Proposal Leader at high tech government contractors (including Hughes, Raytheon and Titan), I have been involved in the preparation of many proposals. These have resulted in small to multimillion dollar awards. Twenty years ago I led a proposal team at a small microwave company (Datron Systems-now part of L-3 Communications) to supply radar simulators to the Navy’s Top Gun school. It resulted in a $15 million contract, the largest in company history. That experience taught me several lessons about preparing a winning proposal:

1.Read the RFP over as often as you can. You will often discover some new nugget of information each time. Highlight it and be sure to address it in the proposal.

2.Expect that the reviewer(s) know nothing about the job or your business, and will not understand any of the technical jargon that creeps into proposals. Educate them (they will appreciate it). Let your wife/husband read it, then rewrite it so he/she understands it.

3.KISS: Keep It Short and Simple. Put all the boring stuff (drawings, studies) in attachments and refer to them in the main part.

4.Make sure the proposal is well written and grammatically correct. Engineers are notoriously bad writers. If there are multiple contributors, designate one “literate” person to re-write everything. Caution: Make sure the original writers buy off on the result if they are expected to perform on the contract.

5.Tell a story. Make it flow from one topic to the next, not bounce back and forth; and break it up with pictures, charts, etc. Keep all tenses the same where possible. The best choice for tense is the present. Make it sound like you are already doing it.

6.Add some passion and toot your horn. The reader should believe you can’t eat or sleep without doing this sort of work, that you do it better than anyone and, in the words of 1950s TV salesman “Mad Man” Muntz, “I’d do it for free but my wife won’t let me.”

7.Conduct a “Red Team” review a few days before the deadline, leaving enough time for a re-write. Proposal contributors may not review their own department’s sections. The Red Team’s task is to put themselves in the position of customer reviewers. Use red pens.

8.Hire an outside consultant to either lead or assist in preparing the proposal; or, at the very least, to review it. He/she can provide an independent perspective and take some of the heat away from management. Better the writers harbor ill will toward an outsider for making them work overtime and re-writing their work.

9.Have the lowest price.

(By the way, my proposal team may have done too good of a job describing Datron’s capabilities, as they eventually defaulted on the contract.)

Join SCORE Counselor Keith Larson and dozens of other Murrieta-area business owners at a FREE monthly Business Roundtable, held 3rd Wednesdays from 7:30 -8:30 AM at the NEW Murrieta Chamber of Commerce. To make a FREE business counseling appointment, send an e-mail to . Or visit the SCORE website at

Written by Keith Larson

Keith is 1 of 6 experienced SCORE volunteers providing FREE business counseling at the new Murrieta Innovation Center 26442 Beckman Ct. To make an appointment, send an e-mail to or visit the SCORE website at Join Keith and other Murrieta-area business owners at a FREE monthly Business Roundtable, held 3rd Wednesdays from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. at the Innovation Center.

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