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 quality reviews. Yes, you still need to coordinate schedules and organize documents. But when time is tight, the key to quality reviews is consensus on clear instructions. Try this:

  • Centralize reviews: This will eliminate confusion and skip the post-review "merge" step, buying you more time for revisions.  
  • Schedule office hours: Making your experts available for an ad-hoc reviewer questions delivers more informed review comments.  
  • Instructions not feedback: Quality proposals focus on intent and the "how to" of your solution. Asking for instructions, rather than feedback, delivers the details your team needs to revise and help evaluators understand and accept your solution at a deeper level.  

When you find yourself in a tight-proposal-turnaround pickle, these tips will help you and your team focus on the tasks at hand; validating the solution and the strategy, writing a solid first draft, and quickly improving proposal quality so it leaves a lasting impression with evaluators. 

1-Minute Read: Drive Proposal Quality with More Productive Reviews