Great news! A big, well-known organization has a new project coming up, and your agency has been invited to submit a bid for the job. You and your team now have two weeks to put together a proposal that outlines why you are the best choice for the job, your team’s skills, your approach, and what you’ll intend to deliver. The potential client also wants to know the overall budget, a breakdown of anticipated costs and a schedule that indicates when you will be able to deliver.

However, before all that, you first need to critically evaluate the opportunity. Here are some questions to ask.

1. Will you be proud to say you’ve worked with this client?

In my last agency, we made a point of saying no outright to companies associated with tobacco and gambling (which was in line with our company values). Once, I said no to a high-profile cattle farming company as most of my delivery team were vegetarians—they would not have been happy working for that client, so we didn't even open the RFP. Your company and team values will be different, but knowing what they are is critical to be able to evaluate the fit.

2. Are you the best company for the job?

Say you are a graphic design and branding studio with an existing client with whom you have a healthy relationship. That client wants you to build a website that requires custom development.

Even though this project might be new territory for your business, you happen to have a team member with the right skills. Should you take on the work?

In most cases, taking on work which is outside your core set of skills will hurt you in the long-term. Your company will likely be required to provide maintenance support for the system once it's delivered, which will turn into a significant burden should the team member who built it decide to move on. This will hurt the relationship you have with your client and also create confusion in the market about what you do.

In general, unless you know you're a fantastic fit and going to be proud of the work, don't take it on. A considered "no" to your client, reiterating what you are great at and with an offer to help find a vendor to assist with the job, will likely benefit you much more in the long-term.

3. Is the budget realistic?

You’ll often have a sense of how big a project is going to be after flicking through the brief. The next step is to sanity-check this with the prospective client as soon as possible. Most companies won't disclose their budget (waiting to get an indication from the market), so you'll likely need to force the issue.

In my experience, an excellent way to do this is to call the client and say something along the lines of:

"I’ve had a look at your documents and my gut feeling is that this is around $140 - $200k, is that roughly in your ballpark?”

The purpose of this is not to get a definitive answer, but a feel for where the client is at, so you can pass this on to the team that's going to scope the project.

Budgets help you define the solution more than the list of requirements and will be an invaluable piece of information to pass on to the people in your team responsible for designing the solution for your response. Just think about purchasing a new car. Some of the key requirements will be that it transports you from A to B, that it has four wheels and a steering wheel. While these requirements are met by both a Toyota and a Porsche, your buying decision will likely depend on the budget you have available.

If the client's expectations are unrealistic, you'll want to call this out immediately, with the intent of getting them to cancel the RFP and re-scope it (with you!).

4. Can you meet the deadline?

If there are hard deadlines, you need to know if you can meet them. Again, this is only a sanity check. If the project is important enough, you can move around other work, or hire extra people, but you want to know that it’s possible. The planner view in Runn can help you understand this. Conversely, if the work can neatly fit into a gap you have, it’s worth prioritizing!

For most projects with hard deadlines, you also want to understand what needs to be delivered, by when and most importantly, why.

Often, clients have an extensive wish list of things they want, mixed in with what they need. By filtering out the time-critical pieces, you might be able to split the project into phases and deliver those first; or offer up alternatives.

For example, say you are a web development shop, and the prospective client has a significant marketing opportunity that can’t be missed. It requires online sign-up on their new website and a bunch of back-end processing. The online sign-up is likely the time-critical piece, meaning you only actually need to figure out how to do that before the deadline. So phase 1 of your project could  "make do" with a more manual back-end process using emails and people, which you'll deliver by the deadline, while phase 2 could focus on building out the automated backend process, to be delivered a month or so later. Inefficient in the short-term, but effective.

You’ll also want to ask the question if this is a deadline that will be hard for you to meet (due to your other commitments) or if it will be hard for everyone in the industry to meet. If it’s the latter, and you have the capacity, price a premium for the “rush.”

Conclusion

The primary purpose of getting answers to these questions is to figure out if you want the work. All up, this should take you about 30 minutes. If it's a resounding yes, then it's time to ask your company to put in the significant investment of responding to the bid.