How to Make Your Proposal Stand Out: An Easy Trick

Evaluators and decision makers have fractured attention spans. Your readers want to quickly understand your solution and know why they should choose you. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for evaluators and decision makers to do their job. (I’m sure you can see the advantages of making your audience happy, right?) Most evaluators are not eager to pour over every word of your proposal. They would rather be home, at a baseball game, watching TV, or almost anywhere else doing something else. In fact, most proposals are not read; they are scored or skimmed. The following trick will help to make sure your proposal is understood and remembered , which will increase your proposal win rate.

Here is an easy, effective trick on how to make your proposal stand out and make it easy for your future client to choose you: use icons and symbols. Icons and symbols also break up the monotony of page after page of text.

An icon is defined as a representational graphic element that is visually analogous with an action, concept, or entity. A symbol is a representational graphic element that has a learned meaning or accepted connotation for an action, concept, or entity.

You can use any image to represent any action, concept, or entity as long as it is logically relevant. Use your insight into your target audience to establish relevancy. (Stylistically, you can make your icons and symbols as high-end or simple as needed for your audience.)

With this in mind, be sure to choose imagery that is logically relevant to “benefits” and  “discriminators” while being congruent with your company, your client, or the subject matter. (For example, use a lock for IT security and a safe for financial security. Whatever you choose, make sure your icons and symbols remain consistent throughout your proposal.)

I highly recommend labeling your icons and symbols directly to avoid confusion (as shown in the symbols below). Labeling ensures clarity and clarity helps ensure success.

If you are page constrained, another approach is to eliminate labeling and simply use legends early in your proposal—in context—to communicate whether your content is a benefit or discriminator. The following is an example of a discriminator symbol used without a legend.

1-Minute Read: Messages That Undermine Your Proposal

In the end, it is your decision whether or not to use labels or legends; however, apply your understanding of your future client to determine the right approach. Knowing how to make your proposal stand out will make it as easy as possible for the evaluators and decision makers to choose you.

-- Mike Parkinson, PPF.APMP, 24 Hour Company

Mike Parkinson, PPF.APMP, is an internationally recognized visual communications expert and award-winning author. He is a partner at 24 Hour Company specializing in bid-winning proposal graphics. His Billion Dollar Graphics and Get My Graphic websites share tools and best practices with proposal professionals. Contact Mike at or call 703-533-7209.

Topic(s): Best Practices