Monday, December 1, 2008

Responding to Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for Virtual Assistants

We all need 'em - clients, I mean. And as virtual assistants (VAs), we primarily use online resources to find 'em: online associations, freelance work sites, subcontracting opportunities with established VAs, etc.

But what if we spot a Request for Proposal that is in perfect alignment with our qualifications and business operation practices? Well, the logical thing to do would be to respond to the RFP.


So go ahead. Respond.

"How?" you ask. Ah, yes! If you've never responded to an RFP or been unable to craft a successful template for such, you may be stuck at this point. But there is hope, my friends. There is hope.

The first thing you'll want to do is read every word in the RFP; read all instructions and inferences in the text. The company or person (client) who submitted the RFP may have a specific form for you to complete or ask that all responses be structured in a particular way or sent in a certain format (e.g., PDF).

It is very, very important to read all of the instructions the client provides, and then read them again. I can't stress this enough!

When you're ready to give it a go and reply, carefully follow the instructions provided. Then, in the most appropriate manner, craft a letter or e-mail accordingly. If there are no instructions perse, then consider structuring your response to include the following:

Include the date of your response. If you are sending your reply via e-mail, this will be automatically included in the header of your e-mail.

Reiterate what is being requested. By briefly and concisely repeating back to the client what it is they are asking, you show an understanding of the client's needs and capability of fulfilling those needs.

Break down each element of the RFP based on your billing structure. So for instance, let's say you bill differently for administrative tasks than you do for Website design tasks. If the RFP is requesting both, show in your response how it will break down time-wise, etc.

Respond to every question asked in the RFP. If the client wants to know your rate(s), include that in your response. If the client wants to know what software you use or are familiar with, be sure to include that too. Not responding to all questions tells the client a) you are hiding something, or b) you're not qualified and avoiding the question. Even if that's not the case, this is how the client will most likely see it. After all, they don't know you and will probably never meet you face-to-face. New VA clients can be a skeptical bunch, and rightly so. It is the VAs responsibility to set the client's mind at ease.

Include a copy of your contract with your response. In this way, the client can quickly engage your services without spending time trying to figure out what to do next. If the client is interested in your services, make it easy for the client to work with you. Attaching a copy of your contract to your response does just that.

One caveat to the above: You may wish to exclude your Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the contract you attach. If the client does contract with you, tax information and the like can be supplied via official government forms, etc.

Include your contact information somewhere on the response. This means using letterhead, folks. Very important is the need to project your professionalism. What better way to stand out in a stack of responses than by using professional stationery. On your letterhead, include your name, company's name, address, phone number and e-mail address. If you are using e-mail to respond, be sure to include a signature block at the end of your message. This is similar to what you'd include on your letterhead. Again, make it easy for the client to contact you.

I hope this takes the frog from your throat and gives you the courage to go for it. If you find an RFP that you are qualified to fulfill, and the tasks fit within your operational structure, then respond. By all means respond. As long as you do it in a professional, thorough manner, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In parting, I'd like to share a couple of encouraging analogy's.

Did you know that Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school's basketball team?

Stephen King actually wallpapered a room in his home with rejection letters before he landed his first big publishing deal.

Don't let doubt keep you from your dreams. Happy RFP Responding!

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