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

Succeed with this counterintuitive approach

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 had the Red Team draft ready in less than 36 hours with only three writers... Want to know how we pulled that off and delivered an outstanding proposal?

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Content Planning Box

We started by using the Proposal Content Planning methodology we've been recommending and refining for two decades. 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, it accelerated the writing. 

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.

Why we waited 24 hours before we started writing

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

What we created was a description of the proposal instead of a proposal. Another way to look at it is that we created a set of specifications for the document. This baseline defined what the proposal should be.

We believe that all proposals should have written quality criteria, and that they should be given to the writers before they start writing and used by the reviewers when the draft is ready. What we did was to combine proposal content planning with defining proposal quality criteria. In effect, the content plan became the quality criteria.

Why we waited a little longer still

The very 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. The compromises and decisions regarding the 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 put them behind us and 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.

What happened when we finally started writing

The writing took one 8-hour day and one 16-hour day. That's 50 pages created in 72 hours of writing. 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. In reality, the 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, reducing the need for rewriting, and visually showing writers how much to write.

How this approach improved the Red Team review

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.

Read this before you try it at home...

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. There may be resistance from nervous writers. Retraining and executive trust will definitely be required. But this is now the only way I want to do proposals. Maybe we'll get to do one together one day.

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

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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.

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

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