It is getting scarcer each day to encounter the person who had a 30-plus year career with one company, earned a handsome retirement pension, and is now happily retired.
In the future, their stories will be relegated to the annals of academic writers looking at the history of what used to be.
More and more people of all ages are finding a new way to work in the gig economy. They make money by establishing small businesses and doing something they are skilled at (and hopefully enjoy) and go from one contract to another.
To be sustainable, the new way to work requires a finely-tuned ability to find work, submit winning proposals, do the work, collect your money, and then do it all over again.
The “proposal” and your skill in writing it can be the most significant factor in whether you secure good contracts or scurry along at the bottom of the pack.
Which proposals get the most wins?
Despite the importance of the proposal, it is not a skill included in school courses or even most business degrees.
Workers trying to learn how to do formal work proposals find themselves being passed traditional examples that were fine in an era when people were willing to pour through pages of details to get to the pertinent facts at the end.
Coupled with the skill of knowing how to write winning proposals is the skill of knowing what makes the most sense strategically for you to bid on.
As the extraordinarily successful proposal writer Tom Amrhein puts it: “The fastest way to improve your win ratio is to stop bidding on things you can’t win.”
That means if the job calls for a licensed engineer, for example, and you are a self-taught draftsman and a good one, you are still not going to win the work if the criteria says licensed engineer.
You may possess an extraordinary amount of knowledge and be excellent at communicating with young people, but if a school is asking for a licensed, accredited teacher, you will never be able to persuade them to give you a chance teaching physics.
Do your homework before you start writing your proposal
If you or your business wants to expand its clientele by bidding on proposals, start by doing your homework. From the start, you need to be very clear on what your company’s area of expertise is and what distinguishes you from others in your field.
Read the request for proposals carefully to see if you and your staff have the basics to be serious contenders for the work.
Next research the customer. Find out as much as you can about them: what they do, any honors they have achieved, their history, their vision, and their value system. Knowledge really can be power when it comes to writing the winning proposal.
Take the time to write down in plain language the nature of the challenge the customer is trying to solve and why it is important to them. How does the contract they are posting fit into everything else that they do?
Then figure out how you could do the work, what is involved, what it would cost, and how long it would likely take you.
Forget the traditional proposal style when you start to write
If you look at a pile of business proposals from the past, you will see that more than a third of them start out with a detailed corporate history of the bidder and include the cliché of how delighted they are to be invited to respond to the request for proposals.
If you want to draw a favorable response right at the start, skip all those parts of talking about yourself first and focus totally on the company looking to offer the contract.
To quote Dr. Tom Sant, author of the report “The Seven Deadly Sins of Proposal Writing,” “…self-centered content is never as appealing as content focused on the client.”
So open your proposal with an immediate and captivating idea of how your company can tackle the problem they face.
Instead of giving your long back story, sandwich in a few details here and there about how long you have been in business and similar projects you have tackled that give you unique insight into what they are seeking.
Don’t save the best for the last
Answer their questions early into your proposal, rather than at the end. Everyone is impatient and the days of wading through page after page to get to the meat of the matter are gone.
Be simple and clear in your language, removing all the traditional business clichés and focusing instead on important information that will be crucial in the decision-making process.
Be very clear about what your quotation covers and detail your intended work process.
It is excellent practice to have one section that starts with: “Our quote includes the following items:” and list them specifically. You can even be more direct with “Here is what you get” and the list if you wish. You won’t lose points because of that.
Give them a reason to be nudged in your direction
To clinch your proposal, make sure you provide the client with good, hard evidence that you are the best company to do the job.
Examples of good proof include the professional skills and degrees and licenses of staffers who will be working on the project, references to projects of a similar or larger size that you have completed, and any honors or awards your company has received for its work.
Close with a minimum of three excellent reference letter excerpts and a maximum of six. Tell the proposal reader clearly that your best argument for winning this work is the satisfaction your clients have in you, and then list short, pithy and highly relevant excerpts from these letters with the name of the letter writer. (You can include the full letter at the back as an addendum, but pull out the good parts in your summations.)
Close by succinctly summarizing your financial quote and estimated time line for completion if you win the privilege of doing this work.
Thank you for reading this post. Until next time take care.
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