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Template alternative: proposal cookbooks

There are better ways to accelerate proposal writing than templates

People often assume that because the topic of a proposal is similar to an earlier proposal, that earlier proposal can be easily recycled just by “changing a few words.” This is hardly ever true. We call pre-written ready to re-use proposal sections “boilerplate.” Working from boilerplate is supposed to save you time because editing is assumed to be easier than writing. But unfortunately, the level of effort required to transform the focus, goals, win strategies, themes, results, keywords, and points of emphasis into another document can easily exceed what it would have taken to write it the way you need it.

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Part of the danger with recycling proposal content is that writers won’t review and rewrite everything they should, and will instead just update names, numbers, and key details. But it’s an even bigger danger that the authors won’t optimize every part of the proposal to reflect what it will take to win the new bid. Winning is more important than finishing quickly. Boilerplate that isn’t both updated and optimized can cost you the bid. So what do you do when your authors are complaining that they have to start from scratch writing something that “must have already been written” before? First, you need to understand the real reasons why people crave samples, templates, and boilerplate:

  1. They don’t want to do their proposal assignment
  2. If they have to do it, they’d like to finish quickly
  3. They don’t know what to say

What it really boils down to is a cry for help — “Help me do the proposal faster” and “I’m stuck! Help me figure out what to write.” There are better ways to speed things up and inspire proposal writers.

People who are looking for a boilerplate solution are balancing their desire to win against their desire to save time. For many people, the idea that boilerplate will save time is just an excuse. The truth is they don’t know what to say and rationalize that boilerplate will help them figure it out quicker, thus saving time. A lot of people fear writing, don’t know how to get started, and are afraid of getting stuck. But rather than saying they need help figuring out what to write, it’s safer to say that they want boilerplate to speed things up.

Faster than a template, and more powerful than a proposal template

Instead of trying to maintain a boilerplate library, we think Proposal Cookbooks are a better way to provide inspiration. A Proposal Cookbook contains recipes that make writing easier, but the writer still has to do their own cooking. The recipes in a Proposal Cookbook provide:

  • Questions to answer. A recipe provides a list of questions for the author to write answers to. It is similar to an outline, except that the question format prompts the writer to provide the information that a customer needs better than a heading does, and the list is not sequential. Related questions can be grouped or re-sequenced based on the new RFP.
  • Approaches. Since there is usually more than one way to approach a topic, your recipe should address common circumstances, possible points of emphasis, contingencies, and other considerations for writing the section. For example, you might discuss when it is best to include resumes, use biographical summaries, or use a table to describe staff.
  • Strategies. When writing proposals, the context depends heavily on your win strategies and themes. For example, when you are the incumbent you will write about staffing very differently than when you are not. You should anticipate and recommend strategies for certain circumstances. Writers need to know more than what technical subjects to write about — they need inspiration for how to win in writing.
  • Examples. You can give examples for items that are always the same from proposal to proposal, or for when you are describing a topic that is difficult to visualize. An example can be just a short paragraph instead of a whole section. Sometimes an example is all the writer needs to get started.

The idea is to help the author without crossing the line by doing the writing for them or exposing the proposal to the risks that result from recycling proposal content. By providing a Cookbook, you help your writers make sure they don’t overlook relevant topics, improve quality, and speed up the process of figuring out what to write. But most importantly, you keep them focused on creating a proposal that is optimized to win instead of on editing a narrative from one context to another.

Instead of templates PropLIBRARY comes with Cookbooks that you can use to inspire your proposal writers and accelerate their efforts.

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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