How to create proposals that are bigger than yourself

How do you make the leap from one person doing the proposal to the entire organization being involved?

We all dream of winning it big. If you want your business to win it big, there is something you need to master that’s more important that finding big leads. You have to create an organization that can do things bigger than yourself.

What separates a large proposal from a small proposal is not the value or the size of the project. It’s the number of people involved in preparing the proposal. A proposal with one author is a straightforward production. A proposal with multiple contributors is a challenge in herding cats.

A small business struggling to get proposals out the door while doing a hundred other things might not have time to think about esoteric subjects like process. But unless your proposals can be larger than a single person, you’re thinking small. The real problem is that you’re creating a culture that’s small. You’re creating an organization that does things by assigning someone to it. The capabilities of your organization are limited by the skills of that person and the number of people you have. Growing requires taking someone away from what they are doing to start up the new work. It’s a zero sum game. It's a trap that most small businesses fall into, that limits their potential even after they've grown large.

There is a better way. Stop thinking about individuals, and start thinking about roles. Stop defining quality as whether a person did it right enough and start defining quality as practices. When you do these two things, you create an organization and a culture that are bigger than any one person. Even if it’s just you.

Think about how a larger business operates. They have defined roles and responsibilities, policies, and processes. But you’re not ready to create all of that. What you are ready to do is to create a scalable framework for those things. You can fill in the details regarding policies and process later. But first you need to start thinking about how you do things and not just what to do. You need to start thinking like a company that is something more than the individuals it employs.

The reason this is important is that it sets your business development efforts up to have a win rate that is based on how you do things instead of personal preferences. It lays the expectation for how people work as a team before there are enough people to call it a team.

Eventually the person who finds the leads will be different from the person who chases and captures them. The person who captures the leads will be different from the person who produces the proposals. But the flow of information from one to the next is vital. If before you even have a proposal process you have an expectation that whoever handles the pre-RFP pursuit has to deliver the information needed to win the proposal, and the people preparing the proposal need to be able to articulate what they need to win the bid, you will create the right culture and framework even if today you are the one handling both the pre-RFP pursuit and the proposal.

It’s all about expectation management. The expectations you set today will be a part of the organization for years after your circumstances change. Do you want those expectations to be small or large? Should they be based on individuals or should you manage expectations like a larger organization?

And if you are a large organization, what are your expectations? Are you practicing expectation management or are you just a bunch of individuals following policies?

If you set the expectation that people get things done, then you will create a herd of cats. But if you build expectation management into your organization, you will create an organization that coordinates its pursuits. You need this if you are going to pursue and win opportunities that are bigger than one person. When people practice expectation management, they perform as if they have processes, even when they don’t.

Keep in mind that being arbitrary is the opposite of expectation management. When actions and decisions are unexpected, people react as individuals. It’s a culture destroyer. But more importantly, it’s a win rate destroyer. Arbitrary decisions in business development and proposals lead to the lowest common denominator. They lead to bids that are low risk and ordinary instead of exceptional bids that are the best your team could have brought to the table. And that reduces your win rate over time.

No matter how gifted someone is at business development and proposals, you want an organization that is better still. To get there you have to stop thinking small. The first step in creating a culture that is larger than a collection of individuals is to start practicing expectation management.



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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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