Six tips for writing proposals that win business

Ratcheting up your organization to pursue new business as the economy recovers is invigorating. The good news is that revenues finally may start growing again. The bad news is that bringing new business in the door may require writing proposals, a time-consuming activity that many business people would rather skip.

Increasingly, savvy business owners are requiring proposals to ensure that they get the best possible solution at an attractive price; learning how to write great proposals to increase your win rate is a must. Once you are confident in your ability to compete on paper, proposals will become less of a necessary evil and more of a sure-fire way to gain a competitive edge.

Here are tips for making sure your business proposals are winners:

• Begin by demonstrating knowledge of your prospect. Establish from the get-go that you understand the prospect’s objectives and challenges as they relate to the product or service you wish to provide. This may seem like you’re telling them things they already know, but in reality prospects want to be certain you understand their situation and needs. Briefly state the problem before launching into your solution.

• Clarity is essential. Simple, concise writing is a must. Avoid long-winded paragraphs and use bullet points wherever possible. Don’t be overly technical and steer away from jargon or catch phrases. You never know who might be on the decision-making team, so write for a general audience instead of assuming that only people with your level of technical expertise will read the proposal. Have someone else give your first draft a test read to make sure it is easily understood.

•  Beware of boilerplate. It’s tempting to keep recycling portions of previous proposals; the “copy and paste” functions are definitely time-savers! But be careful about relying too much on boilerplate material. The last impression you want to give a prospect is that your proposal is the same “off-the-shelf” response you give to everybody. Again, this is part of convincing the prospect that you understand his/her specific situation and are offering a tailored solution.

•  Avoid an 11th hour sprint. Many of us made it through college by finishing every term paper an hour before it was due. Carrying that habit over to your business proposal writing can be dangerous. Rarely does anyone do his/her best writing when the clock is ticking down the final minutes before a deadline. Start writing as soon as you can and plan to finish at least a day ahead of time. This gives you time to sleep on what you’ve written and to read it thoroughly with “fresh eyes” on a new day.

•  Looks do matter. Great ideas and appropriate pricing are important but even those things won’t help your proposal rise to the top of the competitive pile if it looks sloppy. Choose a readable typeface, an appropriate page layout, and good quality paper. If you are submitting your document electronically, be sure to use formatting commands that will display well on different computers and screen sizes. If you’re unclear about what that means, check with someone who knows the ins and outs of word processing or use a PDF file. Check with the intended recipient to ensure software compatibility and whenever possible, follow up with a printed copy. Include graphics where feasible to break up the text and make the whole thing more readable. Your goal is a professional looking proposal that conveys your attention to detail.

•  Proofread. And then proofread again. All other things being equal, who would you hire–the company whose proposal was error free or the one whose proposal had typos or grammatical errors? Relying on spellcheckers is perilous. Also, it’s hard to do a great job proofreading something you’ve slaved over for several days, so recruit some fresh eyes for the job. And then proofread it one more time. Pay special attention to headlines, a spot where typos are often overlooked.

4 comments

  1. Jeanne,

    You've hit almost all the things that most people writing proposals do wrong. Since I review proposals as well as writing them, I see it over and over again and it doesn't make a good impression on the client.

    Another very important part is the preparation before you even start to write. You need to establish a strategy for winning. Understand how the evaluation will be done and write so it's easy for the evaluators to score you high. Know the clients hot buttons and address them up-front. Understand them as a client and include terminology, issues and references that they will key into. Know your competition and what they'll offer, then silently (I call it Ghosting) talk about it in a way that makes the client think twice or question the competition's supposed benefits – without actually naming them in your proposal.

    You also need to give evidence of what you can do and your benefits, not just talk about them. Include concrete examples. Give a story about how you helped or benefited other clients, provide evidence with numbers, studies, etc.

    Writing a proposal isn't a tactical activity, it's a strategic activity. That's why I devote a large part of my book "Win More Business – Write Better Proposals" (available on Amazon or at http://howtowinmorebusiness.com)to developing strategy with specific techniques and approaches that work. It's important to get it down on paper in a way that impresses the client and gets your message across, but if you don't have the substance behind it, you won't win more business.

    Michel.

    Author, "Win More Business – Write Better Proposals"

  2. May I link to your post?

  3. Jeanne Yocum says:

    Sure, feel free to link to any of my articles.

    Jeanne

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