How to Write a Proposal: Getting Back to the Basics

Writing a good proposal is a lot like writing a college essay. It may be a more complicated process requiring a dedicated team and hours of work, but there are still simple, basic concepts we learned back in school that can substantially improve your chances of winning. Here we outline a few of them. 

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Our tips on how to write a proposal

  1. Read the Directions. Because this is the most important one, we’ll say it again: Read the Directions. Teachers told you this all through elementary, middle, high school, and college, and it still holds merit. There is nothing worse than losing a bid because your team did not include something outlined in the RFP.
  2. Plan Ahead. Having a good strategy for the proposal can only increase your chances for success. Research everything you can that will make your proposal better; background information on the client, any recent news articles on the client, and anything in the directions of the RFP that seem unclear. The planning should begin even before the RFP comes out.  
  3. Back Up Substantiations. This one is so obvious that it’s the most basic idea to forget. It’s effortless to fall into the trap of repeating that your company can do what the proposal is asking for, but never actually explaining how. Before you start writing, sit down and think about what the project is, whether or not your company can do it, and how you plan to do it. If you can’t come up with a plan then you probably should find a bid for a project you can do.
  4. Include What’s Relevant; No More, No Less. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “fluffy” parts of writing; little anecdotes, grandiose sounding words, a plethora of adjectives. See, we just did it right there. But adding too much information that is irrelevant to the RFP does more harm than good. As human beings we have the tendency to assume more is best; if you’re not sure that your content has value, you might just tack on as much information as possible and assume it will end up sounding good. This is a terrible habit and you should stop right now. It’s time for us to get back to the point where we write as much as we need to get a point across and get rid of the fluff. If you can’t come up with valuable content, reassess your strategy.
  5. Keep a Thesaurus Handy. How many times have you read something about thought to yourself, “Geez, they’ve used the same word at least 15 times!” There are few things more obnoxious than reading an essay that uses words like “important” or “good” over and over. Keeping a thesaurus (or handy will only make your writing better because you have the resource to liven up every paragraph. The best -tip we have comes from a high school English teacher: highlight the first word of every sentence in a paragraph and make sure the same word is never used more than once. Trust us; it will make your proposal infinitely more enjoyable to read.   
  6. A Good Proposal Writer is Always Trying to Be Better. This one is self-explanatory. There is no such thing as a perfect proposal writer, and peer review is always a good idea, but you should always be working to fine tune your craft. The more you write and hone your skills, the better you will be, period.  

Want more tips to improve your proposal writing skills? Check out these great resources:

Download Video Now: Why People Hate Proposals and How to Solve That

Topic(s): Best Practices