How many people does it take to write a proposal?

The best way to determine how many people you need to write the proposal and what skills they should have is to thoroughly plan the content before you start writing. Only when you know exactly what it is that you plan to write can you accurately determine how many people you need to write it.

Unfortunately, you usually need to estimate the number of writers far in advance of having a Proposal Content Plan. The budget for a proposal is often submitted before the RFP is even out.

That is why a lot of people do their bid and proposal budgets based on a percentage of anticipated revenue (typically 1-3%). It’s easier to say what the company is prepared to invest in the proposal than it is to say what the proposal will actually require.

From this number you can take out the core staff (typically a Capture Manager and a Proposal Manager but sometimes others) and any production staff required at the back end. Next add in reviewers and ancillary support (contracts, pricing, etc.). Take out any resource and travel costs. Whatever’s left is what you’ve got to cover the writing. The last step is to figure out how many people that will cover.

It helps to be able to anticipate whether the proposal will be under 50 pages, 500 pages, or 5,000 or more pages. It also helps to have some idea what subject matters you will have to cover, so that you can identify subject matter experts (SMEs) and decide whether to have the SMEs write the proposal or work with a proposal specialist to get the proposal in writing.

Trying to estimate the amount of writing and how long it should take is where people get into trouble. I have heard many people cite benchmarks like it will take a day’s worth of effort for every page in a proposal. But it’s really elastic. The time per page for a 50-page proposal due in 30 days will be very different for a 500-page proposal due in 30 days, even if they are otherwise for exactly the same bid. Other factors, like the speed and experience of the writers, whether the proposal is on a familiar topic, whether the customer is well known, whether staff are dedicated or distracted, etc. also impact it.

You should keep in mind that on a 30-day schedule, the time available for writing may only be 15 days, with 10 of them before the major review. On a 10-day schedule, the time available for writing may only be 5 days, with 3 days to get to a first draft. Incidentally, you should clarify whether you are counting calendar days or business days. What really determines the number of people you need is whether one person can write a section in the time scheduled. This in turn depends on whether that person is dedicated or distracted.

Small page counts vary less in the number of writers required than large page counts do. A 50-page proposal due in 10 days will most likely require 2-4 people, not counting review or ancillary staff. It will most likely have two main sections of 10-15 pages, and a couple of smaller sections. So it will probably need 3 writers producing about 5 draft pages per day. But a 500-page proposal would have a wider range due to having more variables.

When you have a detailed Proposal Content Plan, it is easier to estimate with precision, because you have accounted for everything that needs to be written in advance. But a Proposal Content Plan will not be ready until several days after RFP release. In fact, you may need your writers before the Proposal Content Plan is complete, because you might want them to contribute to the plan.

So it is difficult to estimate how many writers you will need before you know the schedule or have the RFP. But what I can say is that it only takes one proposal specialist to screw in a light bulb — unless you want to have someone review the quality and someone to price it. It may also vary depending on how much time is given. And to make it more realistic, it will also depend on how many light bulbs you need to screw in, which you will not know until you are finished. All I can really say is that the budget for this task will be one-half of what it actually costs. If you’re lucky.

Hope you’re lucky with your proposals!



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Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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