Your proposals don't have to suck

As a follow-up to last week's blog post about methods independent consultants can use to find contracts, I thought I'd share some guidance on writing proposals in response to formal procurement processes, such as RFPs and RFQs.

 I have written a LOT of proposals over the years - everything ranging from a two-pager for a small $10k contract up to 100+ page proposals for multi-million dollar & multi-year system implementation projects when I worked at Deloitte. I've also helped my clients with their procurement processes, and as a result I have read and evaluated many proposals from other consultants.

I've seen it all - the good, the mediocre, and the truly terrible. But with a little help and practice, YOUR proposals don't have to suck.

 Here are my top 5 proposal-writing tips based on my own experience.

 1. Start with a clear understanding of the client and their needs.

Carefully read and re-read the RFP or RFQ, and spend some time reviewing the client's website, strategy documents, news releases, and any other relevant info you can get your hands on. Writing a successful proposal begins with deep knowledge of the client's business, challenges, and objectives.

 2. Explicitly state how your experience aligns to their needs.

It helps to think like a procurement specialist - how can you make it as easy as possible for the reader to determine you have the skills and experience the client is seeking? Ensure you address each and every skill, experience or qualification being asked for. As an example, if an RFQ requires five years of project management experience, clearly state that you have five years of PM experience on project x, y, and z - don't assume the reader will infer your experience level from reviewing your CV.

 3. Structure your proposal in a logical sequence.

Many RFPs and RFQs provide a suggested or required format with page length restrictions. Do not deviate from this format because you may lose points or even be disqualified! If your proposal is more open-ended, structure your document with clarity, consistency, and flow in mind. Use tables, graphics or other visuals where possible.

4. Repeat the client's language patterns.

Use the same words and phrases the client uses in the RFP or RFQ, or try to leverage language from their website. Using common terms and expressions helps build a sense of familiarity and confidence... like you "get" the client and understand their needs.

 5. Ask a trusted colleague to perform a compliance check and final edit.

A second set of eyes on your proposal can make all the difference. You don't want your proposal to include typos, and you certainly don't want to be disqualified because you missed completing a minor requirement like filling out an appendix. It can also be helpful to do a "page flip" - print out a copy and review the paper version one last time before you hit send.

 By following these tips, you can improve the quality of your proposals and hopefully increase your win rate. 

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