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Proposal writing for people who are not writers

This is an article for people who are stuck.

This is an article for people who are not writers and don’t know what words to use when they write a proposal. They may know how to do the work and what to offer, but they often go blank when it comes to how to say that in words on paper.

Ok, here it goes…

Don’t describe. Just explain. 

What does that mean? When you describe, you tell the customer the details about your approach, offering, or qualifications. But when you explain your approach, offering, or qualification, it shifts you from telling into communicating things like: 

  • Why it matters
  • What’s special about it
  • How the customer will benefit from it
  • What makes you different and better

Every sentence should have two parts: Your response to an RFP requirement and your explanation.  Often the customer is more interested in the explanation than the fact. Even when the RFP asks you to describe something, such as your approach, what the customer is really interested in is the explanation for why it matters. If you write everything to include a response and an explanation, you will impress people with the quality of your proposal writing.

There are hundreds of articles on PropLIBRARY with tips and best practices for creating great proposals. But if you’re struggling, then trying to think of all the things you could write about, the many ways to position what you’ve said, and more ways to write like an expert is just going to distract you from what you really need to do. Which is to simply explain and not describe.

To make it a little easier, here are some things you can ignore:

Don’t worry about trying to sound like what you think a proposal should sound like.
  • Style. Just say what needs to be said in any style and the customer will hear you. Don’t worry about trying to sound like what you think a proposal should sound like. Most of them aren’t well written. Be authentic. If you are too wordy, too formal, or too informal, so be it. 
  • Construction. Don't let thinking about how many sentences should go in a paragraph and how paragraphs should be structured get in the way of providing the information the customer needs. Avoid the really big paragraphs. That is all.
  • How to introduce things. Don’t write proposal introductions the way you were taught in school. Just jump into the heart of the matter and explain what they are going to get or what you are going to do.

Here are some challenges you will face trying to get things on paper:

See also:
Making proposals simple
  • Writing against an outline that you don’t control and can’t change. You’re going to want to rearrange the topics so they make sense. Only you can’t. If you do that, it may no longer make sense to the customer. The customer will most likely be looking for what the RFP asked for in the exact places it asked for them.
  • Getting the right level of detail. Most proposals have page limits. More than anything else, that will determine the right level of detail. What you don’t want to do is ignore the page limit and write something lengthy for someone else to summarize. That’s actually more work than it takes to write it within the page limit. 
  • RFP Compliance. Some proposals, such as government proposals, must be completely compliant with all RFP requirements or the proposal will not be eligible for an award. It may not even get read. So what you are proposing must be fully compliant with what’s in the RFP even though it’s hard to write against requirements that are out of sequence, disjointed, outdated, or otherwise problematical. Not only that, but you have to use their terminology to ensure they realize it’s compliant. If you really want to learn how to write an RFP compliant proposal, you should learn how to create a compliance matrix.
  • Getting the highest score. Proposals are evaluated and not read. The winner will probably not be the best reading proposal or the best solution. The winner will get the best score. This means responding to the language of the evaluation criteria in the RFP. If you don’t do this, then your superior offering may lose to a substandard one that scores better.
  • Writing using other people’s words. Achieving RFP compliance and optimizing your score against the evaluation criteria means using the words in the RFP instead of the words you are more comfortable with. It’s a challenge, especially when you’re struggling to express things in your own words. If you have to, make two passes at it: once to get the ideas lined up, and then translate it into their terminology. How to respond to an RFP with the right words is the topic of one the online training courses available to PropLIBRARY Subscribers.

When you are ready for more…

When you can write explanations instead of descriptions that meet all those challenges, then you’re ready to start thinking about writing from the customer’s perspective. Because ultimately, they are the only judge of what great proposal writing is. The best proposal writing anticipates what the customer needs to see in order to accept the proposal. When you reach this level, proposal writing becomes easy and the challenge becomes gaining customer insight. 

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

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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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