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How the difference between a proposal outline, an annotated outline, and a content plan impact whether you win

How you get your proposal started plays a role in determining how it will turn out

What happens when you start writing as soon as you have an outline…

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Content Planning Box

An outline is where you start. But it’s a long, long way from the finish line. If you start proposal writing from an outline, you will be giving your proposal writers zero guidance beyond a heading. And maybe an RFP. If they read it. You are expecting the writers to figure it all out. Even the best proposal writers need input and to think things through before they start writing. And less experienced writers tend to write to what they know and feel comfortable with, instead of what the customer needs to hear to reach a decision in your favor. No one does their best work by just jumping into proposal writing. Providing an outline may satisfy those begging to start writing, but it does so by lowering your win probability. It also will likely increase the amount of effort to finish the proposal, because the lack of thinking things through will add to the number of rewriting cycles.

Annotated outlines are better, but still not enough to maximize your win probability

An annotated outline is better than just an outline for proposal writing. It provides additional guidance. The quality of an annotated outline depends a lot on how much structure you have for creating it. If the annotations are whatever you think of in the moment, then the quality will not be the best you are capable of, no matter how much skill or experience you have. 

If you follow a checklist for the kinds of annotations you have and if your checklist is thorough, you will provide better guidance to your proposal writers. Unfortunately, annotated outlines are rarely used this diligently. And it is even more rare that an annotated outline is used as a set of specifications to guide later proposal reviews. In practice, annotated outlines function more like reminders than as a blueprint for how to write the winning proposal.

Content Plans enable you to gather everything you need to figure out how to win in writing before you start writing

A proposal content plan takes an annotated outline even further to maximize your win probability. It turns your annotated outline into a methodology by accounting for:

  • What topics must be addressed and in what sequence
  • How guidance and annotations should be presented
  • What format should be used
  • What roles and responsibilities people will have in creating the content plan and how they should collaborate on it
  • How contributors will know when they’ve done a good job
  • How reviewers will assess the content plan
  • How the methodology will adapt to different circumstances (5-day schedule? 60-day schedule?)

A proposal content plan enables you to ensure that what’s going into the proposal reflects what it will take to win before the proposal is actually written. It gives you a tool to connect your customer awareness, competitive assessment, subject matter expertise, ideas, and dreams with the proposal before it gets written. We turned Proposal Content Planning into a methodology and built the MustWin Process around it. We placed it at the core of the process, instead of focusing on reviews and fixing things on the back end. When we created MustWin Now, our online proposal tool, we found that automating content planning is the best way to figure out how to win in writing.

A proposal content plan is a tangible way to ensure that everything you know about what it will take to win makes it into the document. It enables you to drive the proposal to the win instead of waiting to see where the proposal ends up. An annotated outline is a push in the right direction. And an outline is merely an aspiration with nothing to substantiate it.

Instead of thinking of proposal development as a writing process, think of it as a design process. Design your proposal before you write it. An outline is not a design. It's a list of ingredients instead of a recipe. An annotated outline adds some helpful notes, but is also not a design. If you want your proposal to reflect everything you know about what it will take to win, design it to win with a full content plan and don't just leave it up to the writers to figure everything out.

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A subscription to PropLIBRARY unlocks hundreds of premium content items including recipes, forms, checklists, and more to make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals. Subscribers can also use MustWin Now, our online proposal content planning tool.

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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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