Size Matters…for Your Proposal

by Valerie

When Yoda asked, “Judge me by my size do you?”  he was not quizzing the United States Government.  Their answer would most assuredly be, “Yes! We do! Every day, and twice on Sunday.”

If you’ve ever written a response to a Government RFP this is your wake-up call, your forehead-slap moment, and a plea to please keep size in mind.

This is a puppy.  In a teacup.  Enjoy.

There are requirements written within the RFP, typically in Section L, that must be followed.  Your proposal must follow the directions therein, or you will be penalized or completely eliminated from competition.  There are good reasons for these stipulations that spell out the size of your offering generally and specifically.  Size limitations are strongly related to the outdated capacity of government computers, servers, and other technological infrastructure.

We’ve all heard the budgetary woes of government workers, whose technology lags private industry significantly as a result.  Next time you see a government contact, ask them how old their computer is, what system it’s running on, or how much memory it has.  The answer may be, “My computer runs using two hamsters on a wheel, and needs its own cup of coffee to get started in the morning.”

State of the art government technology.

What do you mean, “size matters?”

  • File Size

  • Proposal Size

  • Font Size

  • File Name Size

  • Graphics Size

A fine example of when bigger isn’t necessarily better.

Keep that conversation in mind when writing your proposal.  If you’re considering adding large, complicated graphics that make opening the response on your own, less than three-years-old computer a little bit longer, it’s going to create a nightmare for the Contracting Officer (KO) to open and transmit to others.  Your computer may load for 10 extra seconds, but it may take minutes on the KO’s computer.

Still, pictures and graphics are worth 1000 words.  They impact your proposal and make it more readable.  Be conscious of the size of the pictures and graphics files you select.  In addition, you need to know visuals aren’t searchable.  If you provide vital information in a graphic, the KO won’t find it when using their search function unless the content includes an adjacent sentence or caption.

The RFP gave you limitations on pages, too.  If its directions say to provide 40 pages and you submit 45, assume those last five pages will NOT be read. Your proposal will be judged on the 40 pages specified in the RFP. I hope they were good!  No matter how passionately you believe you need them, you do not get five extra pages to explain why your company is the best.  If the directions said 40 pages, submit no more than 40.

The type of file is also crucial.  If the RFP instructs you to submit your proposal as a Microsoft Word document, use Microsoft Word. If it tells you to use Microsoft Excel, use Microsoft Excel (be sure the cells are unlocked).  When the specs say use a .pdf, then submit in a .pdf format.  The KO generally has a good reason for making a distinction, so don’t assume you know better.

“Big things come in small packages.” – Aesop

Of course size matters, no one wants a small glass of wine!

One not often mentioned, but vital, bit of information concerns the length of your file name.  Yes, the name of the proposal file!  The Federal Government uses secure file transfer systems that constrain the length of the file’s name.  If KOs must rename your file to fit those limits, you’re making things harder for them.  Plus, it’s an opportunity for a mistake to be made and a file to get lost.  No one wants that.  Make your proposal file’s name a reasonable length to identify it, not 120+ characters.

Section L may even dictate which font the agency wants used on your proposal, and the minimum or maximum size of that font.  Pay attention!  This is an easy one to get right, and make the KO’s life a tiny bit easier.  Can you imagine how awful it would be to get your whole proposal discarded because you used Times New Roman 10 and the RFP specified Ariel 11?

In summary, keep your audience in mind and make it as easy as possible for them to find, open, transmit and read your bid.  Read and follow all the instructions spelled out in the RFP.  File size, name length and loading time all matter.  The government is hiring you to do something complex and expensive.  If you can’t submit a proposal that follows their directions, or make the process more difficult for them, why would they choose you?