Most of us have a love-hate relationship with writing proposal. When we've decided to start our own business we should be ready to communicate with clients.
On the one hand, we adore being asked. After all, proposals are the lifeblood of our business, so who doesn't appreciate being wanted? On the other hand, we despise unknowns. And by their very nature, requests for proposals are full of them. They force us to make assumptions, pressure us to draw conclusions, and often propel us into chaos. No wonder proposals evoke feelings of doubt and vulnerability in even the most staid professional. Then there’s that other thing. You know. The thing nobody talks about. The thing known as “proposal abyss,” whereby hours, days or even weeks of time get sucked away, unrequited and unrewarded with not so much as a courteous or even curt “thank you”—let alone that highly coveted “yes.” It’s no wonder proposals cause untold frustration and angst. But they don’t have to.
Here are 8 sure-fire tips for overcoming proposal anxiety—and winning.
1. Think, don’t write.
Of course, you’ll write the proposal. Eventually. First, though, spend time gathering information. Never take a request for proposal (RFP) at face value. Ask questions. What problem does the potential client want you to solve? Is that really the problem or is it something else in disguise? Where did the problem come from? How has it been tackled in the past? What happens if it isn’t resolved? Is there another, more pressing problem? Dig for information. Then dig some more.
2. Demonstrate stand-out value.
With dozens or even hundreds of others competing for the same business, you absolutely must differentiate yourself. What sets you apart? What do you have to offer that others don’t? How is your process different? What and how will you save money, generate leads, boost sales, etc.? Be sure to articulate your value two ways: first, in words that explain the value of doing business with you and second, in facts, figures or hard dollars that demonstrate how much you’ll add to the bottom line.
3. Develop the framework.
Note the word “framework,” not outline. This isn’t eighth-grade English, so don’t panic. Just map out each of the sections in your proposal. This will ensure you don’t forget anything. It also allows you to delegate some of the writing to others on your team, if necessary. Generally speaking, a winning proposal follows a framework similar to this:
- Short Introduction
- Project Details
- Problem Overview
- Objectives (How You’ll Solve the Problem)
- Results (ROI)
- Suggested Deliverables
- Why Us/Value Statement
- Terms & Conditions
4. Focus on results.
While it’s important to include who you are, what you do and how you do it, the fact is, clients pick consultants for one or two reasons: (1) they know and like you and/or (2) you’re the answer to their problem. Make sure you give them the nitty-gritty on what you’ll do, as well as how and when.
5. Get clear on scope.
Scope creep. There’s no more dreaded phrase for consultants, so be very clear about what you will—and won’t—do for the client. Enough said.
6. Make proposal more readable.
Forget the notion that a proposal has to be formal and stuffy. Professional, yes. Organized, definitely. Stick to your framework, avoid jargon and buzzwords, and use subheads, bullet points and even imagery (judiciously, of course) to create visual interest. Say what needs to be said, but don’t be redundant and drone on and on. Channel Goldilocks, if you must, making the length just right: not too long, not too short.
7. Pump up the pizzazz.
For the client, part of the proposal process is getting to know you, your work habits and company culture. Infuse your personality into the proposal using your own personal brand, including language and style.
8. Finish early. Finish well.
Those who wait until the last minute usually look like they did. Buck the eleventh-hour trend. Complete your proposal in plenty of time to proofread it like crazy. That includes reading it out loud and sharing it with at least one other person. Then, set it aside for a few hours, overnight if possible.
Do you have any advice for writing proposals? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.