8(ish) Habits of Good Primes & Subs

Most of the time, I’m hired by prime consultants to lead their proposals and in that role, I am the primary contact for the subconsultants. I usually develop and send out the request for information (RFI) and track the content coming in. Over the years, I’ve had experiences with subconsultants who were responsive (meaning, they provided exactly what I asked for in the RFI) as well as those who were not quite as helpful. I’ve also been on the other side, representing subconsultants and preparing their materials in response to prime RFIs. In the spirit of putting together the best proposals possible, I thought a few reminders of how to be a good prime and sub would be helpful. I’m sure you have your own tips, but the following dos and don’ts are good to keep in mind.

For Primes:


  1. DO put thought into your RFI. Read the RFP/Q thoroughly and make a complete list of what you will need from your subs, including any forms required by the client. If you take a little more time up front, most likely you’ll only need to send one request. Try not to send requests piecemeal because this can be confusing for the sub and it’s easier for information to fall through the cracks.
  2. DO give them reasonable deadlines to allow time to develop a quality response.
  3. DO give them a technical contact, if they don’t have one already, especially if they are being asked to contribute to the project approach.
  4. DO provide templates for resumes, project sheets, and anything else you need. This helps them understand what you are looking for.
  5. DO keep in mind that your subs may be on other teams. It’s ok to ask for different proposed staff or other differentiators, as well as limit their participation in proposal or interview prep.
  6. DO be specific about what you want; it’s difficult to respond to a vague request.
  7. DO remember that subs may be small firms with limited resources and possibly little experience with marketing. Know your team and provide education and assistance if needed. You can even use proposals as opportunities to mentor small businesses.
  8. DON’T send multiple requests if it can be avoided (see #1). I recently had an experience where a prime kept asking for more and different things almost on a daily basis. If they had taken time in the beginning to think it through, both of us would have saved a lot of time.

For Subs:


  1. DO comply with the prime’s deadline, even if it seems early to you. The prime is collecting information from multiple firms, and it takes time to process it and put it into their format. The earlier they can compile a complete draft for review, the stronger the proposal will be. Something to keep in mind: a prime may judge your response time in the proposal phase and extend it to how you will perform during the project itself. You want to make a good impression. Make sure that working with your firm is a good experience for the prime.
  2. DO remember that the prime is taking on the majority of the proposal development cost and effort, so do your part to make the process as efficient as possible.
  3. DO take time to develop a quality response. Avoid boilerplate, and if you are on multiple teams, take the time to tailor your content for each specific team.
  4. DO change your text from first to third person. One of my biggest pet peeves as a prime is having to change a sub’s language because they sent me a firm profile that says “Our services…” or “We were established in 1997…”, etc. Remember that the prime is submitting the proposal, and they will refer to their subs in the third person. Be a team player and take care of this for them!
  5. DON’T send extra content. If they ask for two projects, send two projects. Don’t send five and tell them they can choose. Chances are, the marketing person will pop in the projects they think are most relevant, but you know your projects best. Choose your strongest two, and just send those. Similarly, don’t send me a two-page firm profile if I’ve asked for a paragraph. You may think it’s helpful to give options, but in a time crunch it is exactly the opposite.
  6. DO send head shots, project photos, and logos as separate jpg or png files, and not in a Word or PDF document. Most likely the proposal is being prepared in InDesign, and copying images into InDesign causes them to lose quality. It works in a pinch, but it’s not the best option.
  7. DON’T ask to review the proposal unless you are a major sub and are heavily involved in the proposal’s development.
  8. DO suggest information that may make the proposal stronger. Maybe you’ve done a ton of work with the prime and can provide a list of projects to demonstrate a successful history of teaming, or maybe you have a great quote from the client. These are things the prime may not know to ask for, but if you have them, send it to the prime or ask if they are interested (just beware of #5 above).

For Primes AND Subs


  1. DO respect each other! Remember that roles can be reversed and on the next project; the sub may become the prime and vice versa. If you treated them with respect last time, your next proposal will be a better experience.
  2. DO remember that life happens. Sometimes, despite best efforts, a sub may need a little extra time, or a prime may have forgotten to request a specific item. We all often juggle multiple deadlines at once, so let’s cut each other a little slack. The important thing is to communicate as soon as you become aware of a change.