Have you ever received a request for a proposal (RFP) out of the blue? I’ve received two and I was gullible enough to respond to both and both times I received exactly what I deserved—nada. Really, I should have known better!
An unsolicited RFP that slips into your mail box is a Trojan horse. In fact, I was inspired to write this article after I received a phone call from an unknown person who claimed that she is looking for corporate trainers and would like to include me in the search. So I am about to receive unexpected RFP #3.
In reality, what this individual and other stealth RFP senders often want is to round out a list of candidates in accordance with their company directives, to make it easier to hire who they’ve already planned to bring in. Alternatively, the ruse may be to extract by fraudulent means free consulting advice while interviewing an unsuspecting Solopreneur in search of the next project.
I was caught in what I suspect was the free consulting game a couple of years ago by a charity that is run by a local ivy league university, no less. The Development Director wanted fresh approaches to spice up the fundraising strategy and invited me in to talk it over. I was asked several questions and presented options that I felt would resonate with their donors. I felt very good about the interview.
When I was turned down, I was first disappointed and then suspicious. I came to suspect that either no one was hired, or the person hired was pre-determined and may even have been given my ideas (and the ideas of other suckers) to implement, along with my pricing info as a benchmark.
Whatever the motive, beware the out-of-the-blue RFP. Targeted Solopreneur consultants gain nothing but false hope and the “opportunity” to sally forth on a fool’s errand. However, I’ve decided that if this latest RFP is sent to me, I will respond—my way. I will telephone the contact person and ask a few questions. I shall listen carefully to the responses.
- My first question: Who referred me?
- Question two: Who is performing the job now?
- The third question: What is motivating the change if someone is already doing the job? Is that person or firm unsatisfactory and how so?
If the answers do not add up, I will decline the RFP and politely state that I do not understand why I’m being invited to apply and that I typically respond to RFPs from clients with whom I have a relationship, after we’ve discussed the project objectives.
If the answers to my first three questions pass muster, I will ask three more:
- Who is the project decision-maker and the stakeholders and may I meet with them?
- What information will the perfect RFP for this project contain?
- How will success for this project be measured and who holds the yardstick?
Nevertheless, while a meeting is helpful, it is not a fail-safe. My fake RFPs both included a face-to-face. If you are invited to come in and speak about a project that mysteriously “finds” you, do so without submitting a written proposal. Give them nothing beyond an hour of your time.
If the interviewer insists on wheedling information out of you “What would you do in this situation?”, tell him/her that you’ll be happy to discuss specifics when it is decided that you will work together. If recipes to solve a problem are required beforehand, know that it’s an RFP shake-down.
RFPs are awarded by clients with whom we have a relationship and even then, one might not win. Several years ago, I brought a program concept to a decision-maker at a midsize not-for-profit. During a $40 lunch that I paid for, I was invited to submit a proposal.
Bingo! I said, but it was not to be. After more consideration, it was determined that the staffing needed to support my proposed program was not available and there was no budget to hire. I do not believe that the intent was to hurt me, but I was devastated nonetheless.
So should an unsolicited RFP come your way, proceed with caution. Ask questions to uncover the sender’s motive and listen carefully to the answers. Whatever you decide to do, do not get your hopes up.
Thanks for reading,
Kim L. Clark is a strategy and marketing consultant who works with for-profit and not-for-profit organization leaders who must achieve business goals. Kim is the founder and principal of the consulting firm Polished Professionals Boston and she teaches business plan writing to aspiring entrepreneurs. Learn how Kim’s expertise can benefit your organization when you visit polishedprofessionalsboston.com.
photo courtesy of Jeshoots