Proposal Elements

Sometimes clients are surprised to find out that we work on RFPs and proposals. I think I’m surprised that they are surprised; are you surprised by my surprise? (Just a little fun.) Think about it, in the end, a proposal is a method of marketing your firm. Ideally, your proposal is not the only piece of your marketing that the potential client sees, but in some cases, that is the way. So, if your proposal is the only piece of marketing a multi-million dollar client sees, shouldn’t it look good and have some meat behind it?

Here are some obvious elements of a proposal along with some tips. We’re not going to give away the farm, if you want more info, give us a call. We’ll even send you our proposal before getting started. By the way, we compete on proposal too. We’ve lost some too, but you learn from them and retool.

Proposal Cover – Set the tone for the rest of the proposal by focusing on the prospective client and not your firm. Make the cover memorable to launch your proposal on a positive note. Especially with a public RFP do you want your proposal to be remember as #8 or the proposal with the interesting cover?

Cover Letter – This is a one-page document that works with the proposal and should be worked on last in my experience. After developing the inside of the proposal’s text, write the cover letter with the highlight to key elements inside and start showcasing your company’s competitive advantages. Remember to make a connection and write the cover letter to the prospect using personal pronouns instead of vague statements like “client” and “vendor”.

Executive Summary – Write this section first as a table of contents for your proposal. Highlight the main points of your proposal in a page or two. Remember to give valid business reasons why to select your company over the other companies. This is a competitive, not a walk in the park. Get aggressive and position your firm on top.

Submission Format –I’m amazed by how many times this is skipped. We always say be memorable, but be memorable for the good reasons. When answering an RFP, use the client’s format regardless how stupid it appears. The client is attempting to compare apples to apples and if you change the order or rename each section, it makes it difficult for the client. It is easier for the client to disqualify your proposal than it is to figure it out. Also, with the competitive nature of business today due to the recession, lawyers will pick apart your winning proposal if it does not follow the rules.

Also, do not skip questions. Skipping questions is a red flag that you are hiding something or do not have experience in the area. For longer proposals, use tabs to separate different sections to make it easier on the prospect. Easier to read proposal subconsciously translates into easier to work with when doing work together.

Page Layout – The traditional margins of 1″ that are automatically set in Word are no good. It is hard to read text that is 7″ across. That is why books are printed in smaller formats or have columns. Your text should not be any wider than 4″. Trust us on this. What do you do with the extra space? Use pictures, charts, and graphics. The University of Minnesota found a 300% increase in readership when a document uses pictures. Show your prospect instead of tell your prospect that you are the best by showcasing experience of similar projects.

Proofread –  Regardless if you’re the best writer in the world, you need someone else to review your proposal. Each time, there will be something unclear and confusing.

Writing – Write as clear as possible in a concise format. Use bullets to summarize what you are trying to say instead of 3-4 paragraphs. Remember, the selection committee is reading multiple proposals back to back. Answer all the questions honestly with no BS. Be flexible and provide options to give the client power. With these options, do not nickel and dime your fees just to show low prices; they have calculators on hand and they know how to use them. Also, besides just reply that you met the qualifications, spell out your company’s benefits and again, why you are the best for the project. Give the selection committee ammunition to choose you and ways to  defend their decision to hire your firm if the committee is split.

How does your RFPs and proposals stack up? We’ll be happy to review them with you and discuss ways to improve your chances of winning projects.