With ‘online’ RFP response submissions on the rise, we take a look at some of the lessons learnt from a project manager’s and bid writer’s perspective.

To clarify, by ‘online’ we don’t mean ‘submit-your-document-electronically’ through GETS or other portals. Rather, we’re referring to internet-based RFPs that ask you to submit your responses directly through a managed site, question by question.

Submitting those should be a doddle, right? No need for formatting, diagrams, arranging .pdf versions or printing and delivery … where can I sign up? Submitter beware. Online RFPs may – at first glance – appear to simplify logistics for bidding companies but in actual fact present a number of other issues that bidders ignore at their peril.

Here are some top tips to make your next (or even your first) online RFP submission go smoothly:

1. Be prepared

Just because it’s online doesn’t mean you can avoid reading every line of the fine print. Treat the start of the bid just as you would with a traditional ‘download, complete and deliver’ model.

2. Get offline

The key is to download all the questions and prepare your response ‘offline’, so it’s easy to review and edit in one place. (Also makes it easier if you’re working on your response over the weekend at the bach out of mobile range …)

3. Got it all?

Have you downloaded and recorded all the questions at hand? Are you sure? A recent online submission we helped with had a number of hidden ‘child’ questions that only became apparent by expanding every single ‘parent’ question. Naturally, this isn’t something you want to discover too close to the deadline!

4. Every word counts

Limitations in field formatting for online RFP design can mean you’re restricted to a certain number of words or characters in your response to each question. In a recent example, text box restrictions varied from 300 characters to 2000 characters. And yes, that’s characters with spaces, not words.

(That previous paragraph was 299 characters, with spaces, by the way).

What does that mean for writing your response? Make it concise, compelling and count it – before you go to upload your response. Choose to ignore that advice and you’ll likely find the end of your carefully-thought out response chopped off before you’ve had a chance to really drive home your winning point. This is where you’ll really notice the value that a specialist writer can add in responding to this type of questionnaire. Every word counts!

It’s all part of being prepared. Know the requirements and constraints early on in the bid process – if you can get a feel for how many lines the character or word count roughly equates to, you’re half-way there. Think about what are the key points to stress in your response. Write those down and count the number of words or characters as per requirements.

If you’ve refined your response down but you’re still 30 or 40 characters over the limit, it can be very time-consuming to edit the responses down to meet the required limit. This is where you will need to hunt out those long descriptive words in your response that either don’t add value, or can be replaced with a shorter word without changing the overall meaning. The earlier in the process you can do this, the better (and of course, we’re always fans of using short words instead of overly elongated language).

5. Don’t leave it till the last minute

Our last top tip would be to pay strict attention to the deadline – and start to upload your submission a few days’ out. Don’t leave it till the last minute – copying and pasting several hundred questions can take longer than you think. Copying and pasting aside, it’s good practice to have some wriggle room just in case there are last-minute technical glitches, power cuts, major weather events or other disasters right on closing time.

The deadlines for online submissions are generally unforgiving, and your only hope if a catastrophe is looming that will delay your submission is to contact the client contact person before the deadline has passed and plead your case. You may be able to email your bid in, share it via a FTP site, or make other arrangements, but it’s a long shot. Uploading well before the deadline, and where possible, in several tranches, is a much safer option.

So, in conclusion, though in their early days it’s inevitable that these online RFPs will increase in frequency. Keep these tips in mind as you go for easier submissions – and we’re always here to help!