Expert Tips for Tight Proposal Turnarounds

If you’re in the complex business of government contracting, you know it’s nearly impossible to put together a winning proposal in less than 30 days, unless perhaps you’re the incumbent or it’s a Task Order. Yet, last-minute proposals with short turnarounds can pop-up out of nowhere. When you find your team stuck in this pickle, we’ve got your back. Here are our top tips for tight-turnarounds that won’t sacrifice your schedule or the quality of your proposal.

Plan Before You Write

Instead of trying to compress your 30-day process into a 5-day schedule, plan for writing to the time allotted. Yes, you still need to craft a compliance matrix. But when time is limited, validating your solution before the team starts writing should be a top priority.

Your sales team has already determined how closely you’re offering meets the business need and what value it delivers as part of the bid decision process. Use this information to outline your win strategy for each requirement, and consider prioritizing requirements based on the evaluation criteria. Here are some questions to answer for your team:

  • Why is this section important?
  • Who is this section or question important to?
  • How to support your win themes?

When you outline, you give your team a plan; they don’t have to stop and think about what to write because you’ve given them specific directions for writing concise, quality content that speaks to the reader.

Write a Solid First Draft

Instead of trying to cover every little detail in the Kick-Off Meeting, focus on questions and answers. Yes, you still need to communicate the schedule, and centralizing it for maximum visibility is best, especially with the potential of last-minute vendor questions in the wind. But when time is tight, answering your team’s questions and making it clear exactly what you expect from the first draft should be at the top of your list. Here are some ideas for kicking off the questions:

  • Walk through the proposal outline. This will raise questions up-front and help everyone clearly see where the section dependencies are.
  • Establish expert office hours: Your team will know exactly when they can reach experts, and expect an answer, if they need a solution or strategy validation.
  • No-No Word List: If you have “forbidden” words or phrases like “best-of-breed” and “best-in-class,” give your team a set list. It also helps to include a reminder of commonly miss-spelled words to search for, like “public sector” without the “l” before submitting their work.

When you invite the team to question your solution and strategy up-front, you validate their understanding of the task at hand. When you give your team the tools they need to write it right the first time, you avoid a lot of frustration.

Do Not Skip Reviews

Instead of trying to jam in a bunch of review cycles, or worse, skipping them altogether, focus on one, perhaps two, if there’s time, really quality reviews. Your reviewers are your gatekeepers; they provide input your team needs to perfect compliance and hone strategy. The trick to a productive review is consensus, and that consensus is dependent on clear instructions and an effective feedback loop. Try this:

  • Centralize reviews: Inviting your team to review from the center, rather than from all sides using email, eliminates conflicting input - and skips the “merge” step, buying more time for writing.
  • Schedule reviews during expert office hours: Making your experts available for an ad-hoc question raised during review means questions are answered, you guessed it, during the review.
  • Establish reviewer roles: Assigning each reviewer a role, such as solution, strategy, and readability, focuses input - so does giving your reviewers the same tools you gave your writing team. 
  • Instructions not feedback: When you ask for feedback, you get opinions (“This is weak"). When you ask for instructions, for example, “how can I improve this section?” you get a specific, actionable, direction.
  • Prioritize before revisions: When you prioritize review instructions before the team dives back into writing, you control what gets worked on. For example, you can quickly ferret out unhelpful instructions, prioritize compliance, and clarify vague instructions to maximize precious time remaining.
When you find yourself in a tight-proposal-turnaround pickle, these tips will help you and your team focus on the tasks at hand; validate the solution and the strategy, write a solid first draft, and have time to review and improve the compelling quality of your proposal for the win.