The horror of the RFP

Today I finished that most dreaded of writing projects: a response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) or ‘tender’ as it’s more commonly known. I was invited to participate in this by an old colleague who is now working in Marketing in the Australian arm of a large multinational technology company.

They got me in because they had no-one to co-ordinate the actual written response. Sound absurd? Well, the thing about RFPs is that you have to respond in a thoroughly prescribed way, using a set of Word documents and spreadsheets provided by the client that give you no room for manoeuvre at all, especially in terms of formatting.

This job took three weeks in all, and finished with the mother of all print jobs, producing two copies of a bid that filled six binders and ran to over 1,000 pages. Of these thankfully, only around 300 actually needed editing, proofing and layout, but having to print the whole thing took me back to an era where I regularly needed skills I’d almost forgotten about. It’s been so long since anything I wrote was printed on this sort of scale that I’d almost entirely forgotten how stressful it is getting something perfect on paper with a deadline looming and depending on other people to provide you with proofs.

There are so many things that can go wrong: have I got the FINAL versions? Has the printer put in the latest version of that spreadsheet with the pagination corrected? Why has that cross-reference field pulled in a section break and added a blank page, throwing the entire document numbering sequence out? And why in God’s name did the person who set this whole master document up not use a proper style sheet?

The experience has taught me a lot of things, the main one of which is that when it comes to Word documents, I am a total control freak. I cannot abide working in other people’s documents. All of mine have pre-determined style sheets, margin settings, headers and footers, proper vertical spacing, etc, etc built up over years to remove all the most annoying aspects of using Word. I can format a ten-page document in five minutes using just keyboard shortcuts once I’ve put it into one of my templates. How anyone can stand using Word any other way is beyond me.

Receiving the SMS saying ‘Bid printed and submitted’ was a moment of intense unburdening. Now we just have to wait and see if the blasted thing wins.

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