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7 tips for doing proposals with fewer people

These tips are not about doing the same things a little better or more efficiently. They are not about which steps you should follow or which steps you can leave out. These tips are about changing the fundamentals to maximize your chances of winning with the resources that you have.

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Proposal management

1. Figuring out what to write takes longer when you do it by writing and re-writing.

If you jump into writing your proposal and then review it, you’ll find you overlooked things. Or you’ll find that it’s based on what you wanted to say instead of what the customer needs to hear. You’ll try to fix it by making the smallest changes possible. And then review it again. And find more things to fix. You’ll keep doing this, never finding satisfaction, until you run out of time and submit what you have instead of what the proposal should have been. It ends up being faster to start by thinking through what the proposal should be before you start writing.

People often say that because their team is so small, they don’t have time for a lot of planning. But the truth is that small teams need planning the most. They just don’t have the resources to make an attempt and then do it over to get it right.

2. Make discovery of what to write about easy.

It takes longer to figure out what to write about than it does to write it. The best way to accelerate things is not to focus on the writing, it’s to focus on figuring it out quicker. Figuring out what should go into a proposal is a process. It can be made checklist simple, and there are ways to accelerate it. Most organizations focus on recycling the text, which is just a quicker variation of #1 above. Instead, you should accelerate figuring out what should go into your proposal, and what your bid strategies should be. Once you know them, you can turn writing into a simple process of elimination.

Time for planning should be balanced against time spent re-writing. Spending half of the time available planning is not the same as losing half the time you have for writing.Spending half your time planning and half of it writing is better than spending half your time writing and half of it re-writing over and over until you run out of time and submit whatever you’ve got instead of what it will take to win.

3. Focus on enabling people to check their own work instead of reviewing and re-writing.

Writers should be working from the same criteria the reviewers will use later. This will enable them to aim for the right target. But it also means that you can’t ignore how reviews are done and leave it up to the reviewers to make it up as they go along. This in turn means that establishing the criteria for reviews before the writing starts is more important than the reviews themselves. Especially when you are short staffed.

If you are short staffed and the writers expect the review process to randomly create change (more work) that they can’t anticipate, they will undermine the review system. However, when you give them the same criteria that will be used in later reviews, you give them a tool that will help them write more quickly and with more confidence.

4. Separate figuring out what to offer from what to write about.

Because your offering must comply with the RFP requirements, it is tempting to design your offering by writing to each requirement. This is a huge mistake. It means every design change spawns a re-write cycle. Designing by writing and re-writing will never be the most efficient approach. So first figure out what you are going to propose as your offering or approach. Do this separate from writing about it. Review your offering or approach for compliance with the specifications. Review your offering or approach for price competitiveness. Review your offering or approach to make sure all of your stakeholders agree. Then write about it.

5. Have the answers you need when the questions get asked.

This sounds simple, but it requires the ability to predict the future. Since no one can reliably do that, you have to anticipate everything you possibly can. During the proposal you will make dozens of trade-off decisions. How will you know which trade-off is best? In every part of the proposal, you will want to emphasize the things that matter most to the customer. How will you know what they are? Ultimately you want your proposal to score the highest during the evaluation process. What is that process? Those who anticipate best and have answers to at least some of these questions will have a huge competitive advantage over those who do not. Those who don’t have the answers will have to do last minute research, try to work around what they don’t know, and endure extra re-writes as people try to cope with a lack of information. A streamlined flow of the right information can not only make it easier to get by with fewer people, but can also give a smaller team an advantage over a larger one. It can also enable beginners to beat more experienced professionals.

6. Wear multiple hats but don’t drop any balls.

As humans, we like each person to have a role. But small teams can’t dedicate a person to each role on a proposal. Sometimes the business developer is the capture manager and the proposal manager. And sometimes the lead writer as well. Sometimes that makes sense, and sometimes it does not. The trick is to define the roles functionally. If you know the responsibilities for each role, then when one person has to wear multiple hats, they know everything they have to cover. If balls get dropped, it will be because you asked them to wear too many hats. But balls should never be dropped because someone overlooked something.

7. Be decisive.

Indecision is a huge time waster. A major cause of indecision is a lack of information. See #5 above. When it’s time to make a decision, the decision should be made quickly. The fewer the resources you have to make up for time spent deliberating, the more important it becomes to decide quickly.

Making decisions and then revisiting them is also a form of indecision. So when you decide something, make sure you stick to it. This also means you should ensure that your key players are not commitment shy.

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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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