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8 surefire ways to slow down proposal writing

How many of them does your company do?

If you are obsessed with speeding up your proposal writing, the first thing you might want to think about are the things that slow it down. They may not be what you think…

To slow down proposal writing:

See also:
  1. Start proposal writing before you have your basis of estimate (BOE) figured out. One way to look at your proposal is simply as proof of your basis of estimate. It’s kinda hard to prove your BOE if you don’t have one. Without the BOE already figured out, people will tend to write about capabilities and qualifications in a broad beneficial sounding way that does very little to help the customer reach their decision regarding what the best alternative is. Trying to work out your BOE while doing the writing is a surefire way to slow down the writing, and having to rewrite every time you modify the BOE will make it take even longer.
  2. Start writing before you have the points you want to make figured out. Every paragraph in your proposal should prove a point. Then you substantiate that point with details that demonstrate RFP compliance while maximizing your score against the evaluation criteria. If you have your basis of estimate and the points you want to make already figured out, the paragraphs practically write themselves. Without a set of points to make, proposal writers will make some up on their own. For better or worse. Actually, the worst worse if is when they don’t. A lot of proposals end up being simply descriptive. A descriptive proposal is literally pointless. Rewriting to try to insert some points is a surefire way to make proposal writing take longer, since you will likely need to edit every sentence in a paragraph that you try to insert a new point into.
  3. Start writing without a compliance matrix. If the writer has a compliance matrix, they know what RFP requirements they have to comply with. They know what words to use. They know what evaluation criteria will decide whether they win or lose in that section. A surefire way to slow down proposal writing is to give the writers a copy of the RFP and then expect them to figure it out, achieve compliance, optimize against the evaluation criteria, and do it on the first attempt.
  4. Recycling past proposals can actually make the writing take longer, as well as hurt your win rate. Your past proposals were all written to prove the wrong points. What concerned the previous evaluators was different from the concerns of the new set of evaluators. So either you leave them as beneficial sounding pointless narratives, or you edit every single sentence. Then there is the wording of the RFP instructions, evaluation criteria, and statement of work to consider. They usually change from RFP to RFP. Parsing apart a narrative to base it on the wording of the new RFP will take far longer than you realize. But perhaps a more likely outcome is that people won’t do that. They’ll “tailor” the “reuse” material by adding some stuff from the new RFP without getting rid of the material from the RFP that was written to address the wrong customer concerns. Given a BOE, a compliance matrix, and a list of points to make I can write sentences faster than I can edit a recycled narrative. So a surefire way to slow down your proposals and reduce your proposal evaluation score is to start from recycled proposal content.
  5. Don't give your proposal writers any structure. How should proposal writers introduce sections and paragraphs? What should those introductions accomplish? How should they be supported? What should they emphasize? All it takes is a little high-level direction. Not knowing these things, having to figure them out, then having to rewrite them when you get them wrong are surefire ways to slow down proposal writing. 
  6. Start proposal writing without a set of quality criteria. If your review process is to invite some people to read the draft and give their opinions, it’s a surefire way to make the proposal writing take longer. If the writers don’t know what the target is, they are not likely to hit it. You may effectively double the writing time if you conduct your reviews like this. You may even simply run out of time and submit the proposal you have, instead of the proposal you wanted to have. Instead, proposal writers and proposal reviewers should both work from the same set of criteria that define what proposal quality is and what they should accomplish to pass the review.
  7. Start the proposal without already having the staff you need to write it. Or assign writers who will be wearing too many hats. Time spent looking for resources or using inattentive resources is a surefire way to make the writing take longer. This is because they won’t be writing to the plan. Either they will use the lost time as an excuse not to do the planning needed to write quickly and deliberately, or they won’t pay attention to the plan and take shortcuts.,
  8. Skip the graphics. Graphics seem hard. But the problem is not illustration. The problem is the thinking that goes into understanding what you are trying to communicate before illustration can happen. It's so much easier to write until you stumble across what you want to say or simply run out of time. A lot of companies spend a huge amount of time writing procedures and descriptions, and explaining relationships that could be easily presented in graphics. Graphics are an investment that reduces writing, focuses what writing you must do on your differentiators, and gets people out of being merely descriptive. So skipping the graphics is a surefire way to slow down proposal writing and add to the amount of rewriting you'll have to do.

If you go back and reread this, the secrets for accelerating proposal writing are there. In fact, the entire proposal process is implied. But the secrets for accelerating proposal writing do not involve recycling past proposals, making putting pen to paper your top priority after RFP release, figuring things out while you write about them, or having ad hoc subjective proposal reviews. 

It’s kind of funny how the things most companies do to accelerate their proposals actually make them take longer. But I like it that way. It creates an opportunity for competitive advantage for the companies that understand it.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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