A big proposal with an impossible deadline does not have to end in disaster

What if I told you that on a 50-page proposal for services provided worldwide, due in just 7 days, we scheduled not one but two major reviews and that we planned to write a Red Team ready draft in less than 36 hours with only three writers... Want to know how we pulled that off and delivered an outstanding proposal?

We started by using the Proposal Content Planning methodology we've been recommending and refining for nearly a decade. The size and complexity of this proposal has convinced me once and for all that proposal writing goes faster and more reliably with the right approach to planning before you write. Planning did not take time away from writing. This methodology is fully described in the PropLIBRARY Knowledgebase for subscribers, but you can also get a summary here.

Without the Content Plan, what we needed to accomplish would have been nearly impossible. Nobody believed we could be ready for the Red Team in 36 hours. And yet, what we turned in for review was in better shape than some drafts I've seen that had three weeks to prepare.

For the first 24 hours, we thought about what needs to go in the proposal. We outlined and created a document shell. We dropped in placeholders, reminders, questions, details, and instructions for the future writers. We did this at the bullet level, and sometimes didn't even use complete sentences. We summarized strategies and approaches. We identified graphics and described them in text. We created a description of the proposal instead of a proposal.

We created a baseline that defined what the proposal should be. In effect, we created written quality criteria.

The next day, we reviewed the plan. We needed to ensure the strategies and approaches were valid and that if we created the proposal according to the plan, it would result in the proposal that everyone wanted.

We had disagreements about approaches. We used the Content Plan to put them on the table for decision. Compromises and ways to do and say things went into the plan. We literally got everyone on the same page. Instead of hiding from disagreements, we enthusiastically sought them out so we could proceed in a straight line. This alone was a huge time saver. Instead of waiting for a draft, arguing over commas, and making inadequate changes that only became known when the next draft was produced, we presented, decided, and wrote it. Once.

The writing took the people one 8-hour day and one 16-hour day. We knew exactly what we had to address and how much space we had to address it. The 50 pages only required 23 pages of narrative after you subtract graphics and tables. We intentionally used a lot of these and planned what would go in them to minimize the amount of narrative. Writing was half writing and half graphics and tables completion.

For the narrative half, we not only knew what to say, but how to say it based on our strategies. The Content Plan also helped us treat the writing as a process of elimination. But the main ways it accelerated the writing was by eliminating guesswork, preventing the need for as much rewriting, and visually showing writers how much to write.

It also changed the nature of the Red Team review. Because we had validated strategies and approaches, they focused more on the quality of the text. They identified additional details to make it stronger and put us in touch with new subject matter experts for specific items. The Content Plan approach not only made things faster, it also produced a much better proposal than anyone expected under the circumstances.

But have caution. It's counterintuitive. An extra review, less time to write, and more work and structure for proposal reviewers may take some getting used to. Retraining and executive trust might be required. But this is now the only way I do proposals. Maybe we'll get to do one together one day.

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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. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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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