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How to successfully make the switch from proposal planning to proposal writing

Nice content plan. What are people supposed to do with it?

“What am I supposed to do now?” That’s the question that people are often thinking when the content plan for the proposal is done and it’s time to start writing. They have a plan, but what are they supposed to do with it? How does the plan become a narrative?

See also:
Content Planning Box

The closer your plan gets to the structure of the document, the easier it will be to follow. So starting from the outline is a good first step, but only a first step. To have a solid plan you need to show what each section in the outline should become so that they can see what they have to do. You want people to understand the expectations and not on their own separately make things up as they go along. Here are some tips for accomplishing this:

  • Tell them how to introduce the topic and what points to substantiate.
  • Tell them how to structure or approach the section to be written.
  • Tell them what strategies they should use and what details they should provide.
  • Make sure you tell them how to present things as well as what to write about.
  • Along the way include what it should add up to, what it should emphasize, and how it should differentiate your offering.
  • Help them pass the future proposal quality reviews on the very first draft

Note that you do not have to know the details to guide someone else to supply those details. You can provide guidance in the form of requirements, or you can make recommendations. You can ask questions for them to answer. You do not have to know what to propose to make recommendations regarding what it should address, how it might be implemented, what matters about it, or that it should take into consideration the customer’s preferences. You don’t have to write their sections to help them understand what they are supposed to do about their proposal assignment.

If all you do is give your proposal writers a copy of the RFP, don’t expect to get much back. Plus, expect it to be late since they’ll need to figure it all out and rewrite it again each time they learn something new. There’s also a good chance they’ll overlook things and misinterpret the RFP. Or overlook parts of it.

How to make the transition using MustWin Now


In MustWin Now, it’s quick and easy to provide guidance to proposal writers. Click, type, save, next. If you have time, you can include examples, attach files, and explain in as much detail as you want. You can go beyond a plan and give them a prototype. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can just jot a few notes down in each key section and move on. A little bit of guidance makes a huge difference. 

We like to use MustWin Now during the strategy meetings at the beginning of a proposal. Instead of walking out of the meeting with ideas but nothing tangible, we take notes in MustWin Now so that people leave the meeting with all their good ideas mapped to the document. They leave the meeting with a plan they can follow.

We’ve also done something similar when interviewing subject matter experts. While we’re talking to them we capture the notes in MustWin Now. When we’re done talking, we’ve already got the information the person assigned to writing will need in the plan. Sometimes the writer is the one we just interviewed, and they can see how their knowledge, insights, and ideas can be transferred onto paper. Given a little structure, they often can take it from there and fill in the details.

Proposal Content Planning is scalable. You can do it in 15 minutes. Or you can do it over 15 or more hours. You have to make the decision when to go from planning into writing, and that will depend on your circumstances, which vary from proposal to proposal. But even adding just a few points here or there can add tremendous value and have a major impact on what gets written.

Keep in mind that when you make the switch from planning to writing, if you are using MustWin Now, your writers will have the content plan in one window and MS-Word in another. Will they know what to do next based on the words you put into your content plan? That is up to you to decide.


But just imagine how much worse off they’ll be if you just hand them a copy of the RFP and they jump straight into MS-Word. Who can predict what you’ll get back doing things that way?

Do your writers know what is expected of them?

Have you defined proposal quality? Does your content plan's instructions explain what writers need to do to achieve it?

Is it in writing? This matters, because everybody thinks they have defined proposal quality. It's just that everyone on the team defines it differently. Proposal content planning gives you the chance to get everyone on the same page.

A successful transition from planning to writing means that the plan enables the writers to pass the proposal quality review on the first attempt. Writing depends on a reliable content plan. Even if it is a minimal plan prepared quickly, make sure your content plan is reliable before implementing it. Don’t give your proposal writers bad advice and start them writing against the wrong structure. The review of your content plan is even more important than the review of the draft proposal. 

Don't waste precious time by skipping the plan

Give content planning whatever time you can afford. Add value and help your writers. Review the plan to make sure it is reliable. Then gain back the time you put into it when writers are able to work more quickly and produce better quality results.

Having a plan for what to write and how to present it increases your win probability. Winning makes the time spent worthwhile.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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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