Proposal Writing Tips
Are you seeking proposal writing tips to help you win your next Request for Qualifications (RFQ) or Request for Proposal (RFP)?
If you’re tired of losing more often than winning, our proposal writing tips may be the solution you need.
Over the past decade, we’ve authored close to 650 proposals. With each submission, we refined our approach and began understanding the hallmarks of a winning bid. We’ve accumulated valuable insights that we’ve turned into a list of practical, easy-to-implement recommendations to optimize your chance of competing with other excellent submissions.
We will reveal a new proposal writing tip each week, explaining its importance to proposal preparation and how to implement it in your next submission. Each recommendation will address one of the four components of a winning proposal:
- Writing and Editing
- Design and Layout
Focusing on strategy, process, persuasive writing, and sound design is critical to winning more proposals.
So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #1 – WIN THEMES (STRATEGY)
Incorporating win themes or strategies into a proposal is essential in creating a winning bid. Win themes are essentially key messages that communicate the value of the proposed solution to the customer or decision-maker. They are designed to resonate with the customer’s needs, interests, and pain points and persuade them to select your proposal over those of your competitors.
To incorporate win themes into a proposal, it is essential to understand the customer’s needs and expectations. This involves conducting thorough research to identify the customer’s requirements, priorities, and preferences. This could include analyzing their RFP (Request for Proposal), studying their website and social media accounts, and talking to key stakeholders to gain insight into their priorities and pain points.
Once you have a good understanding of the customer’s needs and expectations, you can begin to develop win themes that communicate the value of your proposed solution in a way that resonates with the customer. This involves identifying the unique selling points of your proposal and crafting key messages that highlight the benefits of your proposed solution.
Win themes should be integrated into the proposal in various ways, including the executive summary, proposal overview, technical approach, and pricing sections. Each section should be tailored to the customer’s needs and priorities and should clearly communicate how your proposal meets their requirements.
In addition, to win themes, it is also essential to develop a proposal strategy that outlines the key steps and actions required to win the proposal. This could include identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your proposal and those of your competitors, developing a pricing strategy that is competitive and profitable, and identifying the key decision-makers and stakeholders who will be involved in the decision-making process.
Overall, incorporating win themes and strategies into a proposal involves conducting thorough research, understanding the customer’s needs and expectations, developing key messages that resonate with the customer, and integrating those messages throughout the proposal to communicate the value of your proposed solution clearly.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #2 – PROPOSAL CHECKLIST (PROCESS)
Our next proposal writing tip is creating a proposal checklist.
A proposal checklist is a tool to ensure that all necessary components of a proposal are included before it is submitted. It is an important document because it helps ensure the proposal is complete and well-organized, increasing the chances of acceptance.
To create a proposal checklist, you should start by identifying the proposal’s requirements, including any guidelines or instructions provided by the recipient. From there, you can create a list of all the necessary components of the proposal, such as the cover letter, executive summary, budget, and project description. You may also want to include specific formatting requirements, such as font size and spacing.
Once you have created your initial checklist, review it carefully to ensure it includes everything required. You may also want to have a colleague or mentor review the checklist to ensure that you have not missed anything important.
As you work on the proposal, refer to the checklist frequently to ensure that you include all the necessary components. Once the proposal is complete, review the checklist one final time to ensure that everything has been included before submitting it.
Overall, a proposal checklist is important for ensuring that your proposal is complete and meets all necessary requirements. Creating and using a checklist can increase your chances of success and make the proposal process more efficient.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #3 – PROPOSAL COMPLIANCE (WRITING/EDITING)
RFP compliance refers to the degree to which a proposal submitted in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP) adheres to the requirements and guidelines outlined in the RFP document. Compliance is critical to winning a contract or project bid, as failing to meet even minor requirements can result in disqualification.
To ensure a proposal is compliant, it’s essential to thoroughly review the RFP document and make a note of all the requirements and guidelines. Then, carefully craft the proposal to ensure it meets all these requirements.
Some proposal writing tips for ensuring RFP compliance include:
Read the RFP Carefully: Carefully read the RFP document and understand what the client is looking for. This will help you identify what you need to include in your proposal.
Create a Compliance Matrix: Create a matrix or checklist that outlines all of the requirements and guidelines in the RFP. Use this matrix to ensure that your proposal addresses each of the requirements.
Address all Mandatory Requirements: Be sure to address all mandatory requirements specified in the RFP. Failure to address even one mandatory requirement can result in disqualification.
Submit on Time: Ensure your proposal is submitted on time and in the correct format. Late submissions or proposals submitted in the wrong format may be disqualified.
Following these tips and carefully reviewing the RFP document can increase your chances of submitting a compliant proposal and winning the contract or project bid.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #4 – INFORMATION HIERARCHY (WRITING/EDITING)
Information hierarchy is the organization and presentation of information in a way that emphasizes the most important points and makes it easier for readers to understand the structure and flow of the content. In other words, it’s how information is arranged to create a clear and logical path for readers.
When creating a proposal, an information hierarchy can help you make your content more effective and easier to read by highlighting the key points and guiding the reader’s attention to the most important sections. Here are some ways you can use information hierarchy to make your proposal more effective:
Use Headings and Subheadings: Headings and subheadings are a great way to break up long blocks of text and make it easier for the reader to scan and find the information they need. Use clear and descriptive headings to introduce each section of your proposal.
Prioritize your Content: The most important information should be presented first, followed by supporting details. This helps the reader understand the proposal’s main points and why they are important.
Use Bullet Points and Lists: Bullet points and lists are great for presenting information in a concise and easy-to-read format. Use them to highlight key points and make your proposal more visually appealing.
Use Visual Aids: Charts, graphs, and other visual aids can help illustrate your points and make your proposal more engaging. Just make sure the visuals are clear and relevant to the content.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #5 – STYLE GUIDE FOR WRITERS (WRITING/EDITING)
A style guide is a set of standards and guidelines that provide direction on writing consistently and clearly within a specific context or organization. It is a tool that ensures consistency in language usage, formatting, punctuation, and tone throughout a document or a series of documents.
Using a style guide when writing a proposal ensures that your document is professional, polished, and consistent. A consistent document makes it easier for the reader to follow the argument and understand the message you’re trying to convey.
A style guide can help you in several ways when writing a proposal:
Consistency: A style guide ensures you use consistent language, formatting, and punctuation throughout your submission. This consistency makes the document easier to read and understand.
Efficiency: With a style guide, you can avoid wasting time by reviewing rules and formatting guidelines. The style guide provides a clear reference for the rules you must follow.
Professionalism: A well-written, polished proposal reflects well on the author and the organization. Following a style guide ensures that your proposal meets professional standards.
Branding: If you’re writing a proposal for a company, a style guide can help you maintain consistent branding by providing guidelines on language and formatting specific to the brand.
In summary, a style guide is crucial for ensuring that your proposal is consistent and compelling. By following a set of standards and guidelines, you can create a professional, polished document that effectively communicates your message.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #6 – COMMUNICATE ON MULTIPLE LEVELS (STRATEGY)
In a proposal, communicating on multiple levels means conveying information in various ways to ensure that a wide range of readers understands it. This can involve presenting information in different formats, such as text, graphics, and charts, and using different tones, detail levels, and technical language to engage diverse audiences.
At Outsource Marketing, we believe communicating on multiple levels entails explaining critical information through the written word, images, graphics and picture captions. Not all proposal evaluators read every word in every proposal – sad but true.
If you have something that you want to be sure is considered by a proposal evaluator, be sure to communicate in as many ways as possible.
Communicating on multiple levels is important because a proposal typically targets multiple stakeholders, each with their own level of understanding, interests, and concerns. For instance, an executive may be interested in the high-level benefits of a proposal, while a technical expert may want more detailed information about implementation. By communicating on multiple levels, a proposal can cater to the needs and interests of various stakeholders, increasing its chances of being accepted and implemented.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #7 – PROOFREADING (PROCESS)
You can take several approaches to efficiently and effectively proofread proposal copy. Here are a few tips:
Take a break: After writing a proposal, it’s essential to return to it later with fresh eyes. This will help you catch errors that you may have missed before.
Use spell check and grammar tools: Use spell check and grammar tools like Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, or Microsoft Word’s grammar checker to identify errors in your writing.
Read out loud: Reading your proposal out loud can help you catch errors you may have missed when reading silently. This is because reading out loud forces you to slow down and pay attention to each word.
Have someone else proofread: Another person can often catch errors you may have missed. Ask a colleague or friend to proofread your proposal and provide feedback.
Use a checklist: Develop a proofreading checklist that includes common errors like spelling, grammar, punctuation, formatting, and consistency. Use this checklist to ensure that you have thoroughly reviewed your proposal.
Print it out: Printing out your proposal and reviewing a hard copy can help you catch errors you may have missed on screen. This can also help you review the document as a whole and ensure that it flows smoothly.
Review the proposal backwards: Start at the end of your proposal and work your way backward, sentence by sentence. This can help you focus on individual sentences and catch errors you may have missed when reading linearly.
By combining these approaches, you can efficiently and effectively proofread your proposal copy to ensure it is error-free and professional.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #8 – RESPONSIBILITY MATRIX (PROCESS)
A Proposal Responsibility Matrix, also known as a Proposal Roles and Responsibilities Matrix, is a document that outlines the specific tasks and responsibilities of each member of a proposal development team. It is typically used when responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quotation (RFQ).
The matrix usually includes a list of the key proposal sections or tasks, such as drafting the executive summary, creating the technical solution, developing the pricing strategy, and writing the management plan. For each task or section, the matrix identifies the person or team responsible for completing it, the deadline for completion, and any dependencies or requirements.
The Proposal Responsibility Matrix is essential for ensuring that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities in the proposal development process. There are several benefits of using a Responsibility Matrix in a project or proposal development process, including:
Clarity and accountability: A Responsibility Matrix helps to clearly define each team member’s role and responsibilities in the project, ensuring everyone knows what is expected of them. This can reduce confusion, duplication of effort, and misunderstandings.
Improved coordination and collaboration: With a Responsibility Matrix, team members can see how their tasks and responsibilities fit into the larger project or proposal. This helps to improve coordination and collaboration, as team members can better understand how their work impacts others.
Effective time management: By outlining deadlines for each task or section in the matrix, team members can better manage their time and ensure they complete their work on schedule.
Reduced risk of errors or omissions: With a clear understanding of their responsibilities, team members are less likely to overlook important tasks or make errors in their work.
Greater efficiency: A Responsibility Matrix can help streamline the project or proposal development process by eliminating unnecessary steps and ensuring that each team member is focused on their roles and responsibilities.
Overall, a Responsibility Matrix is a valuable tool for ensuring that a project or proposal is completed on time, on budget, and to the required quality standard.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #9 – WORKBACK SCHEDULE (PROCESS)
A workback schedule is a planning tool to manage projects and ensure they are completed on time. It is a detailed timeline that outlines all the tasks that must be met to achieve a specific goal or project outcome.
A workback schedule starts with the end goal and works backwards to identify all the steps needed to achieve that goal. Each task is assigned a deadline, and dependencies between tasks are identified to ensure that they are completed in the correct order.
In the context of proposals, a workback schedule can be used to plan and manage the proposal development process. It can help to ensure that all the necessary tasks are completed on time, that the proposal is submitted by the deadline, and that it meets all the requirements of the RFP (Request for Proposal).
A workback schedule for a proposal may include tasks such as:
- Conducting research on the client and their needs
- Developing a proposal outline
- Writing the proposal
- Reviewing and editing the proposal
- Obtaining necessary approvals
- Submitting the proposal
By creating a workback schedule for a proposal, you can identify potential roadblocks and ensure that there is enough time to address them. This can help to increase the chances of submitting a high-quality proposal that meets the client’s needs and stands out from the competition.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #10 – FIRST PERSON VS THIRD PERSON (WRITING/EDITING)
When writing in the first person, you write from your perspective using words like “I,” “me,” and “we.” Writing in the third person involves writing from an objective standpoint using words like “he,” “she,” and “they.”
When writing a proposal, the most common approach is to use the third person, as it tends to sound more professional and objective. Using third-person pronouns creates distance between yourself and the reader and help establish your authority on the subject matter.
Here is an example of a proposal written in the third person:
“The proposal outlines the steps that will be taken to improve customer service within the organization. The plan includes hiring additional staff members, implementing a new customer relationship management system, and providing additional training to existing employees.”
However, there may be situations where writing in the first person could be more appropriate. For example, if you are writing a proposal for a personal project or a project that you are intimately involved with, using the first person could help you connect with the reader and convey your passion for the project.
Here is an example of a proposal written in the first person:
“I am excited to propose a new community garden project I have worked on for several months. In this project, I plan to work with local volunteers to build a garden that will serve as a gathering place for the community and provide fresh produce for those in need.”
Ultimately, whether to write in the first or third person depends on the specific circumstances of your proposal and your writing style.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #11 – BE CLIENT-FOCUSED (STRATEGY)
A client-focused proposal is a written document that addresses a potential client’s specific needs and requirements. It is an effective way to showcase your understanding of the client’s needs, demonstrate how your services or products can address them, and persuade the client to choose your company over competitors.
Here are some tips for writing a client-focused proposal:
Research your client: Before writing your proposal, research your client’s business, industry, and specific needs. This will help you tailor your proposal to their requirements and demonstrate your understanding of their business.
Use their language: Use the client’s language and terminology to demonstrate that you understand their industry and business needs. This will help establish a connection with the client and make them feel understood.
Address their specific needs: Clearly outline how your services or products can meet the client’s specific needs. Use examples or case studies to demonstrate how you have helped similar clients in the past.
Show your value: Explain the value your services or products can bring to the client’s business. This could include cost savings, increased productivity, or improved customer satisfaction.
Be clear and concise: Use clear and concise language to make your proposal easy to read and understand. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that the client may not understand.
Follow the client’s guidelines: If the client has provided specific guidelines for the proposal, follow them closely. This will show that you have taken the time to understand their requirements and are willing to meet their needs.
Overall, a client-focused proposal should be tailored to the specific needs and requirements of the client. You can increase the chances of winning their business by demonstrating your understanding of their business and addressing their needs.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #12 – PICTURE CAPTIONS (DESIGN AND LAYOUT)
Including detailed captions for images and graphics is essential to creating a persuasive proposal. Captions provide valuable context and help the reader understand the information presented in the visual element. Here are some reasons why including detailed captions is essential:
Helps clarify information: Captions can help clarify any information presented in the visual element. They provide additional context and can help the reader understand the image’s or graphic’s central message.
Increases accessibility: Captions make your proposal more accessible to readers who may have visual impairments. By describing the visual element, you are making your proposal more inclusive and accessible to a broader audience.
Adds visual interest: Captions can also add visual interest to your proposal. A well-written caption can draw the reader’s attention and encourage them to engage with the visual element.
Now, let’s talk about how to write compelling, persuasive captions for images and graphics:
Provide context: A good caption should provide context for the image or graphic. Explain what the image or graphic represents and how it relates to your proposal.
Highlight key points: Use the caption to highlight the image’s or graphic’s key points. This will help the reader understand the most important information presented in the visual element.
Be concise: Keep your caption concise and to the point. A long, rambling caption can be confusing and may distract the reader from the main message of the visual element.
Use active language: Use active language in your caption to make it more engaging and persuasive. Use action verbs and descriptive language to make the caption more compelling.
Speak to the reader: Address the reader directly in your caption, and use language that speaks to their needs and concerns. This will help you connect with the reader and make your proposal more persuasive.
In summary, including detailed captions for images and graphics is important for clarifying information, increasing accessibility, and adding visual interest to your proposal. To write a compelling caption, provide context, highlight key points, be concise, use active language, and speak to the reader.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #13 – DEMONSTRATE VALUE, INSTILL TRUST AND COMMUNICATE LIKEABILITY (STRATEGY)
This methodology for creating effective proposals responding to RFPs is based on three core elements: building trust, demonstrating value creation, and communicating likability.
Building trust involves establishing credibility by showcasing relevant experience, industry expertise, and past successes. This can be done by highlighting case studies or testimonials demonstrating the firm’s ability to deliver results. Addressing any client concerns is also important in building trust, as it shows the firm is responsive to the client’s needs and committed to delivering a solution that meets their requirements.
Demonstrating value creation involves understanding the client’s needs and goals and offering a tailored solution that addresses those needs. This requires a deep understanding of the client’s pain points and desired outcomes and a proposal that clearly outlines how the firm’s expertise, resources, and approach can help achieve those goals. The proposal should be compelling and showcase the firm’s ability to deliver measurable value to the client.
Communicating likability involves establishing a personal connection with the client and conveying warmth, empathy, and approachability. This can be achieved by personalizing the proposal and using language that resonates with the client, demonstrating a willingness to collaborate and listen to their needs. By establishing a personal connection with the client, the firm can build rapport and trust, leading to a stronger and more successful business relationship.
In summary, effective proposals require building trust, demonstrating value creation, and communicating likability to create a proposal that resonates with the client and ultimately wins business.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #14 – COMMUNICATE WITH MORE “VISUAL LANGUAGE” (WRITING/EDITING + DESIGN AND LAYOUT)
Writing with “visual language” means using words and techniques that create mental images in the reader’s mind. It is a way of communicating ideas and information through more vivid, concrete, and evocative language. This technique can help your proposal stand out and impact the reader more.
To write more visually in a proposal, here are some tips:
Use descriptive language: Use adjectives and adverbs to describe your proposal’s features, benefits, and outcomes. For example, instead of saying, “our software is efficient,” say, “our software is lightning-fast and streamlines your workflow.”
Paint a picture with words: Use metaphors, similes, and analogies to create mental images that help the reader understand complex concepts. For example, instead of saying, “our security system is robust,” say, “our security system is like a fortress, protecting your data from every angle.”
Use visuals: Incorporate images, charts, graphs, and diagrams to supplement your written content. This will help break up large blocks of text and make your proposal more visually appealing.
Organize your content: Use headings, bullet points, and numbered lists to break up your content and make it easier to read. This will help the reader quickly find the information they need and understand your proposal’s key points.
Be concise: Use clear and concise language to convey your ideas. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that may confuse the reader.
Using these techniques, you can create a more compelling and visually appealing proposal that stands out from the competition.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #15 – USE ACTIVE VOICE (WRITING/EDITING)
Active and passive voice refers to how verbs are used in a sentence. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action, while in passive voice, the subject receives the action.
For example, in the active sentence, “John wrote the report,” John is the subject, and he is performing the action (writing the report). In the passive sentence “The report was written by John,” the subject is the report, and it is receiving the action (being written by John).
In proposal writing, using active voice rather than passive voice is generally more effective. Here are a few reasons why:
Active voice is more engaging: Active voice makes your writing more dynamic and engaging. It helps the reader focus on the action being performed rather than the object receiving the action.
Active voice is clearer: In many cases, passive voice can be more ambiguous or unclear. It’s not always clear who is performing the action or what the action is.
Active voice is more persuasive: Active voice can be more persuasive because it emphasizes the agency of the subject. By highlighting your company’s actions, you can make a stronger case for why your proposal is the best choice.
Here are some examples of how you might change a passive sentence to an active sentence in a proposal:
Passive: The proposal was written by our team.
Active: Our team wrote the proposal.
Passive: A decision will be made by the committee.
Active: The committee will make a decision.
Passive: The problem was identified by our team.
Active: Our team identified the problem.
Passive: The report was reviewed by the CEO.
Active: The CEO reviewed the report.
In each of these examples, the active sentence is more direct and engaging than the passive sentence. It makes it clear who is performing the action and emphasizes the subject’s agency.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #16- HARNESS THE POWER OF WHITE SPACE (DESIGN AND LAYOUT)
In the context of proposals and responding to RFPs, “white space” refers to the areas of empty space between text, images, and other design elements in the proposal’s layout.
Here are a few ways that designers can harness the power of white space, specifically in proposal design:
Emphasize important information: By using white space to create separation and contrast between important information, such as section headings, key points, and callouts, designers can draw the reader’s attention to the most critical aspects of the proposal.
Create a sense of organization: By using white space to separate different sections and elements of the proposal, designers can create a sense of organization and hierarchy that makes the proposal easier to navigate and understand.
Make the proposal more readable: By using white space to create margins around paragraphs, to break up large blocks of text, and to add breathing room between lines of text, designers can improve the readability of the proposal and make it easier for the reader to absorb the content.
Create a professional and polished look: By using white space to create a clean and uncluttered design, designers can create a professional and polished look that conveys a sense of quality and attention to detail.
Overall, by harnessing the power of white space in proposal design, designers can create more effective and visually appealing proposals that stand out from the competition and communicate their message clearly and effectively.
PROPOSAL WRITING TIP #17- AUTHOR A COMPELLING COVER LETTER (WRITING/EDITING)
A well-structured and persuasive cover letter can significantly improve the chances of winning a contract. Here are some recommendations for structuring a compelling cover letter for proposals:
Header: Include your company’s logo, name, address, contact details, and the date. This approach helps establish your brand and provides the necessary contact information.
Addressee: Address the letter to the appropriate individual or department detailed in the RFP. Make sure you have the correct spelling and title of the individual.
Subject line: Be concise and specific. Mention the RFP title or number and the project or service you’re proposing.
Opening paragraph: Begin by expressing your enthusiasm for the opportunity and briefly introduce your company, its expertise, and what sets you apart from the competition. Mention any key qualifications or industry recognition you’ve received.
Project understanding: Demonstrate that you’ve read the RFP and clearly understand the client’s needs and requirements. Please show your appreciation for the client’s objectives and challenges, and explain how your proposal addresses them.
Proposed solution: Briefly outline your approach to the project, emphasizing your unique selling points and the benefits your solution provides. Please focus on the client’s pain points and how your solution can solve their problems efficiently and effectively.
Experience and track record: Highlight relevant past projects or success stories showcasing your industry experience and track record. Include quantifiable results and testimonials, if available.
Team and resources: Provide a snapshot of the team members working on the project, their qualifications, and the resources you’ll leverage to ensure project success. This demonstrates your company’s commitment and capacity to handle the project.
Closing paragraph: Reiterate your excitement about the opportunity and your confidence in delivering the desired results. Encourage the client to review your full proposal for a detailed understanding of your offerings.
Call to action: Invite the client to contact you for further discussions or to ask questions. Please provide your contact information again and express your availability to discuss the project at their convenience.
Signature: Close the letter with a professional sign-off, such as “Sincerely” or “Best regards,” followed by your name, title, and contact information.
Remember to keep the cover letter concise, focused on the client’s needs, and tailored to the specific RFP. Proofread your letter thoroughly to ensure it’s free of grammatical errors and typos. A persuasive cover letter sets the stage for a strong proposal and increases your chances of winning the contract.