Archive for the ‘RFPs—Don’t Do ‘Em’ Category

Dear Danielle: How Do You Respond to RFPs?

Dear Danielle:

I really enjoy reading your blog. My question for you is, how do you recommend responding to an RFP (Request for Proposal)? As a member of other forums in our industry where RFPs are posted I struggle with knowing exactly how to submit an effective proposal. I did a quick search on your site and didn’t see anything directly mentioning RFPs or responding to them. I could be wrong. I would really appreciate your input. Thank you. —Anita Armas

Hi Anita 🙂

You didn’t find much on my blog about this because I don’t recommend people pay attention to RFPs whatsoever.

RFPs are the worst way to build your business. Your highest quality potential clients always come from your own pipelines and networking efforts. The lowest quality “leads” come from “job boards” and RFPs. (Hint: As an independent professional, you aren’t applying for “jobs.”)

Clients need to be brought on through your processes and hoops, not the other way around. If you allow them to lead those things, all you’re doing is auditioning to be the lowest priced bidder. Those are never good clients.

Don’t waste your time on RFPs. That’s not how you will build a high-earning, professional administrative support practice.

Here is one of my posts from 2010 for more of my thoughts on the topic.

You can also find more in the RFP category of my blog.

Responding to RFPs

Responding to RFPs is not the best way to get clients because it has you jumping through their hoops and “auditioning” rather than the other way around.

Responding to RFPs will have you expending exorbitant amounts of time and energy trying to land nickel and dime clients (who typically are really only looking for the cheapest bidder anyway) with no guarantee that you’ll even be chosen.

There are better ways, my friends!

Truly, the best way to get clients is to create your own pipelines  so that not only do you keep a steady flow of prospects coming to you (instead of you chasing after them), but also more ideal, better qualified prospects. This will also get them into your processes, instead of the other way around.

And you do that by focusing on a very specific target market.

Once you have that direction and know where you are setting your sights and energies on, it’s vastly easier to learn all you can about that market and understand it inside and out. You can then  figure out where those folks hang out online and off so that you can get in front them and interact together. When you know who you are talking to, you can identify their problems and obstacles more quickly and present your solutions to them in language they understand best.

Get involved in their associations. Join their online and in-person networking groups. Read their publications. Go to their functions. Write white papers for them. Gear your newsletter toward their interests. Offer to write a guest column in their industry publications. Look for opportunities to speak in front of their groups. The list goes on and on.

If you want off the hamster wheel, this is the very best, most fruitful path to getting ideal, retained clients and get them far more quickly and easily.

Dear Danielle: What to Do When Clients Don’t Call Back?

Dear Danielle:

Does it ever bug you when prospective clients who you’ve gone to the trouble of responding to and perhaps even consulted with don’t call back? I mean, doesn’t it seem like the polite thing to do to at least let me know they’ve decided to go with someone else? It takes me a lot of time to put together the proposals they ask for and then to not get a single courtesy reply sometimes really upsets me. –PO

Sweetie, you have to separate business from personal. In business, it’s not about you, it’s about the client. When clients are out looking for solutions to their pains, it’s neither their obligation nor their priority to make sure every last vendor or service provider they contact or hear from gets a courtesy reply.

Would it be nice and the polite thing to do? Of course! Still, it’s just a fact of business. Keep in mind that clients often receive hundreds of responses to a single inquiry. It can be a huge, and unbelievably daunting, overwhelming task just to wade through responses. So we have to cut them some slack and realize that they are more likely too overwhelmed to respond to each and every contact and inquiry.

That’s not to say you don’t count (you absolutely do!) and shouldn’t create a business that makes you personally happy, one that you enjoy working in and that brings you in contact with clients who energize you, appreciate your gifts and expertise, and extend to you the same kind of manners, graciousness and courtesies that they would want to be treated with as well. (In fact, it’s imperative that you DO!) So, here are several things you can do to get off the track where you are going to great lengths to cater to prospects and then not hearing anything back.

1. Don’t respond to requests for proposals. Inevitably, these are just price-shopping forays. Don’t audition if you want ideal clients. Instead, create your own pipelines and engage in marketing and networking that drives traffic to your website. This way, you are drawing your right clients to you and getting them into YOUR process rather than the other way around. That’s the way it should be. Look at it like this: your entire website should be your “RFP.” It should be holding up a mirror to clients and then showing them how you can help. Do this and you can get off the RFP merry-go-round that rarely pays off for your efforts.

2. Pre-qualify prospects. Once you have clients at your site, make sure they are the kind of clients you want before you go expending any great effort on them. What’s the point of doing that if they can’t pay, aren’t serious about hiring you, or don’t look like they will otherwise be an ideal fit? Make your website do this work for you by creating an online form for prospects to submit.

3.  Have an initial conversation (also known as the complimentary consultation). Once a prospect appears to be worth your effort and interests, offer them a consultation (at a scheduled time/date, not on the fly). The idea is to get to know more about the client and their needs before you (or they) commit to any further efforts. This conversation allows you to gain some clearer insight into the goals the client is trying to reach and how you then may be able to help them. From there, you both get to determine whether you want to talk more or work together.

4. Be a client snob. The longer you maintain a mindset of scarcity and desperation for work, any work, you will keep yourself on the hamster wheel of aggravation, ill-fitting clients, and the never-ending, exhausting work of jumping through proposal hoops with little return on the effort. It’s your choice. But if you choose to be desperate instead of selective, don’t complain about the clients because you’re the only one keeping you there.

Example of an Inappropriate Request for Administrative Partnering

We received a submission to our Request for Partnership Center recently that was a good example of what we WON’T post to our members forum.

We don’t do RFPs (Requests for Proposals). That’s why we call them Requests for Administrative Partnering.

And we don’t post job advertisements because you are business owners, not employees seeking positions.

That’s NOT how business is conducted nor the proper mindset and tone for clients to be taking in approaching you.

This recent submission represents everything wrong with how the market has been educated to view virtual assistants as remote workers and substitute employees rather than what they are: independent business owners and experts who specialize in administrative support.

Not only did the person submit a three-page job description expecting daily, specific hours reporting to a supervisor (among other inappropriate and illegal expectations), but they also declined to provide their name.

Since they indicated that the “applicant” would be a community resource to various brokers in their agency, I’m guessing they perhaps thought their particular name didn’t matter. (Seriously?!)

Where to even start. There’s a whole host of things they are not understanding.

First, this is a business-to-business relationship.

Second, the relationship is a one-on-one one. A virtual assistant is not a community resource who is passed around at the client’s whim.

And sorry (not sorry), but if you can’t be bothered to provide your name, we aren’t going to be bothered to assist you.

We do not post anonymous RFPs. If you expect our members to provide you with detailed, personal information, you better be prepared to do the same.

On top of that, I absolutely detest people who try to get one over on the system and take advantage of people. It’s called being dishonest and unethical, folks.

This RFP came from a Human Resources department. They damn well know better. They are just trying to cheat the law and the government and get an employee they don’t pay taxes on.

After consulting with my admins, here is how we responded:

“Thank you for your interest in the our Request for Administrative Partnering Center. However, you appear to be seeking a telecommuter (which is an online employee who is still legally subject to the employment laws and employer tax obligations of the land). That’s not what Virtual Assistants are, nor how they work with clients.

“You also did not include your name as requested in the form. As the submission is not appropriate, it will not be posted to our members forum.  For more information about Virtual Assistants, what they are (and what they aren’t), how they help clients, as well as how they work with clients, our Client Guide will be helpful to you.”

This is yet another good example of why we have ditched the virtual assistant term. Assistant is a term of employment, and when you use terms of employment in a business context, it simply confuses clients and sends the wrong message.