Lesson 8: Writing a Proposal from Scratch
A blank document can be such a scary thing. But the first step to writing your proposal isn’t actually writing—it’s preparing to write.
Start by brainstorming: generate a word cloud or mind map of your win themes, value propositions and key differentiators. Next, create an outline that complies with the RFP requirements.
Then, when you begin writing, build text around your brainstorming ideas. Here are some best practices to guide you:
Write with integrity and heart.
This can be especially challenging in technical proposals. However, it can be exactly what differentiates you from the competition. Customer-focused, clear and concise writing will stand out from overly technical or wordy narratives any day.
Address your client’s needs with a unique solution.
In our last blog, Lesson 7: How to Respond to an RFP, we discussed the importance of responsiveness. Your client wants to know that you can solve their problem AND why yours is the best solution. In a world with an overabundance of choices, your solution needs to grab their attention.
Write in terms anyone can understand.
You are the expert. Your job is to make it easy for your clients to say yes. Avoid overusing technical terms and acronyms, and always define such terms (either through descriptive language or by attaching a glossary). The individuals who evaluate your proposal will have varying backgrounds and technical knowledge – a great rule of thumb is to write for an audience with an 8th grade education.
Use proof points to demonstrate success.
Include case studies, past performance results and reference information as evidence of the results you’ve already achieved. And be sure to incorporate statistics where possible that represents the value you deliver. Proof points should tell a story about how your work has positively impacted your clients’ businesses.
Make it easy on your reader.
When an RFP excludes specific instructions for structure, outline your proposal so that each section flows naturally to the next. For example:
- Cover Page
- Cover Letter
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Experience, Team Overview and Solution
- Contract and/or other Attachments
Vary the length of your sentences (when in doubt, shorter is better), embrace the use of white space and eliminate jargon to make your proposal easier to read. Break up paragraphs so that they are no more than 2-3 sentences long and make sure to incorporate paragraph transitions. Bulleted lists and graphics also convey information in a way that is visually appealing and more easily digestible.
Be sure to read each RFP thoroughly as soon as possible so that you have the time to create your proposal writing plan. For tips, read Lesson 5: How to read an RFP.