Writing Winning Proposals - Part One
Updated: Jul 4, 2018
Whether it is an award entry, proposal, grant application or bid, you are writing to win – win more work, more recognition, more customers, or maybe more funding. In these situations, there are four main areas that I keep in mind when crafting any piece of proposal work: pertinence, persuasiveness, perfection, and proof.
This week’s post will focus on the first two, pertinence and persuasiveness. While this advice is aimed at writing construction proposals, it can be applied to many different industries.
Keep it Pertinent
Put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes. For them, there is nothing worse than reading through a ton of information that has nothing to do with the proposal. Before submitting your final draft, go through it and remove all the unnecessary information. Or, in other words: no fluff.
Generally, a simple overview paragraph of 3-4 sentences of what the project was about is far better than the entire site diary. Summarise the aim of the project, the challenges you faced, and the solutions you provided.
Word Counts Matter
There will usually be a word limit or specified space (4 sides of A4, for example) that you have to enter your response. I once went to an interview where the manager kept leaving the room as there was a bid due that day and the writers had only used 100 words of the 500-word limit. If you have a 500-word limit, wherever you can, use it.
While this may seem counterintuitive to the “no fluff” rule, there is probably a lot more you can say about your project. Review what the question is asking, and think about how your project achieved it. What problems did you solve, what value did you add for the client, what cost savings did you make, what safety initiatives did you try, what innovative technology did you use?
If you still only have 100 words, try asking someone removed from the project – they may be able to see the bigger picture more clearly.
Simplify Your Language
Where you have limited space, consider simplifying your language to fit the space provided. For example, instead of demonstrate try substituting show. For formal submissions it can be hard to think like this, as often we are more inclined to use larger, more complex words to make ourselves sound “professional”. You can demonstrate your expertise, or you can show the client how you will solve their problems.
Another point to consider is people outside your company may not understand your products and services to the same level that you do, even if they work in your industry. So, keep it simple – a good quote to bear in mind is that no one will ever complain that your writing was too easy to understand.
Make it Persuasive
The aim of writing a proposal or award entry is to win. To do this, you need to convince the client or reviewer that what you offer is (or was, with an award entry) better than what anybody else is offering. So, how do you do that?
Identify Their Problems
With any bid question or award criteria, try to understand what exactly the reviewers are looking for. This is often easier with awards than with tenders, as they are generally more prescriptive, but is still a useful point to keep in mind.
With bids, try asking yourself these questions:
Why is the client asking about this particular area? Is it a specific problem for them?
What would keep them up at night, worrying about this particular area?
What do we do that addresses these problems?
What would reassure me if I was in their shoes?
What would the client’s objections to our proposals be? How do we overcome them?
When writing award entries, try asking these questions:
Did our service or product address all the award criteria? (A useful way to judge this is to write a “what, why, and how” summary for each criteria.)
If the awards are hosted by a client, what did we do that would make the biggest impact on their business?
What did we do on this project that was new, better than our competitors, or could be used as industry best practice?
Sell the Benefits
Often, we are so close to our work that it’s easy to fall into the trap of writing about your product or service without describing why it’s amazing. Don’t assume that your readers will automatically work out why you’re the obvious winner; instead, make it easy for them to choose you as the stand-out bidder.
To do this, re-read your copy and use the So What rule. So, if you write:
Our hard hats have integral lighting.
Ask yourself, “So what?” Why does that matter?
Our hard hats have integral lighting so staff can see better at night.
Our hard hats have integral lighting, which improves our staff’s safety because they can see more clearly at night.
You could do another “So what” test, but this time I would link it to proof (proof will be discussed in Part 2 of this post, but you can see how this greatly strengthens the statement):
Our hard hats have integral lighting, which improves our staff’s safety because they can see more clearly at night. Since introducing these hats, we have had a 40% reduction in night-time slips, trips, and falls.
While there is no magic formula to winning proposals, keeping your writing concise while also clearly explaining how you’re the best company for the job is a good start.
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