When I’m asked to review proposals written by my clients, the biggest mistakes I see are:
- They’ve created a marketing document! It’s all about the agency, and focuses purely on what they want to tell the customer (rather than what the customer actually wants to know)!
- It’s too generic and isn’t aligned to the specific project or specification they’ve been given.
- There is a lack of evidence (including evidence reduces the customer’s risk and makes it so much more compelling to read).
- The language is too flowery and full of jargon – so the proposal is boring to read and loses simplicity, clarity and impact.
Here’s our step by step guide on how to ensure that your future proposals are client-specific, bespoke documents that align exactly with the customer’s specification and are written to create maximum impact!
Step 1 – Create a Relevant Introductory Paragraph
I see many proposals starting with a paragraph called something like “About Us”. It then turns into an executive summary extolling the virtues of the agency concerned. Basically – it’s a glorified piece of generic marketing literature, which more often than not, has no alignment to the client or indeed the project that you’re bidding for!
I want to turn this on it’s head. I always start my proposals with a paragraph called “Our Understanding of the Requirements”. You will then briefly talk through your knowledge of the customer’s needs, using bullet points to list the information that they have stated they need. This may be in the form of a specification, or just notes that that you’ve taken in a meeting.
You can then go onto to tie this section up with a short paragraph on how you are going to fulfil these needs with a sentence like:
“ABC Recruitment’s proposal will explore all these areas, illustrating them with case studies and examples to showcase our approach, experience, capability and capacity to fulfil this project.”
By the way – if you don’t have a specification or a brief from the client, how can you possibly write them a proposal if you don’t actually know what they need?
If the client asks for a proposal but fails to provide you with any briefing on their requirements, they’re clearly not serious about doing business with you!
Step 2 – Create Working Headings
Use the bullet points you’ve created in the introductory paragraph (the customer’s needs) to structure your proposal and create your working headings.
At this point the proposal will just have an introductory paragraph and then a list of headings which reflect all of the customer’s needs. Usually one of these will be pricing.
Step 3 – Brain Dump your Notes/the Specification under each Heading
Go to your meeting notes, the specification, evaluation criteria, terms & conditions and any other tender documents you’ve got and copy and paste the relevant bits under each heading. Put these into a different colour – you’re going to delete this in the final draft, but it helps you to ensure that what you write is absolutely aligned to the customer’s requirement.
Step 4 – Add Source Material from the Tender Library
Find any source material in your tender library or in previous bids/proposal that is relevant to each section and paste it in below the relevant heading. This is just the foundation of each section, so don’t worry about formatting or word counts at this stage.
Step 5 – Customise Each Section
Now start to customise what you’ve written. Read through the source material you have pasted in and delete anything that is not relevant to the customer’s requirements. Customise your answer in alignment to what you’ve been asked and fill in any gaps that are not covered by your source material to ensure that the customer’s requirements/specification is fully covered.
Make sure you include:
- What you’re going to do.
- How you’re going to do it (including who will do it and by when).
Be specific – don’t make grandiose claims – give plenty of factual detail (e.g. don’t say “this will be done by experienced staff” – instead make it relevant to the client’s needs e.g. “your account team will comprise a dedicated Account Manager (name) who has 14 years’ experience of managing timebound volume recruitment campaigns for industrial staff in Nottinghamshire”).
Step 6 – Add Evidence
Now go through your draft proposal and insert evidence to showcase your capability, experience and capacity. Add in facts, figures, KPIs, examples, case studies, testimonials that are relevant to the client’s requirements to make it real and impactful. Show the customer where and how you have done “it” before so that you inspire them with confidence.
Step 7 – Edit and Proof Read
Only now do you start to really edit your proposal. You may find that what you’ve written is 3 or 4 times the length it should be and doesn’t read terribly well! Don’t worry – just read the proposal out loud to help ensure the sentences flow and that the information is listed clearly in a sensible order and format.
At this stage, you may wish to re-order your section headings so they flow chronologically.
Once you’ve cross reference the content with the original brief, removed all duplication/any irrelevant content, and rewritten each section so it flow nicely, you’re now ready to shorten it to the correct wordcount.
Step 8 – Formatting, Branding & Layout
You should now have pretty much the final document in terms of content, but it might not look that great. Here’s where you can add a branded cover page, contents page, page numbers etc. You’re then ready to go!
If you wish to discuss this further, or need help with a particular project, please call us on 01688 400319 or email email@example.com.