My proposal experience has ranged from a single-page letter to documents with hundreds of pages. A proposal can also be a speech or a Powerpoint (or Keynote) presentation.
I have more than two decades of experience responding to formal Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and Requests for Qualifications (RFQs), which are issued by federal, state and local agencies as well as many corporations and nonprofits.
To create a winning proposal, you have to give your best effort. You need to combine your business savvy, your psychological insights, your communication skill, and your creativity, all in one package.
– Tom Sant in Persuasive Business Proposals
Proposals as art
Proposal writing is not a science, in spite of what you might hear from some proposal experts. There are many concrete things you can do to make your proposal better and increase its chances of winning. But there are at least as many soft things—less concrete things—that affect a proposal’s chances. And that’s where it becomes an art.How much do you know about the opportunity or project? How did you hear about it? How well do you know the decisionmaker (assuming you know him or her)? Does the RFP tell the whole story (hint: it never does)? What does the decisionmaker think about you? What is your brand? What makes you different from the competition? How far from the rules of the Request for Proposals can we deviate (and the answer is not always zero)? What will be the main storyline of the proposal, and how will we convey that? What photographs do you have on hand and is there time to get more?
No two proposals are alike, so my process adapts to the time remaining until the due date, the availability of technical staff to answer questions, and the information you have on hand (resumes, case studies, photographs). There are some things you can expect, though, every time you work with me (I’ve written out the process I follow for the typical architecture or engineering proposal and you can read about it here. For proposals or bids for goods or equipment, some of those steps will be different.) After you call me, we’ll need to meet as soon as possible. And before the meeting, I will need to review the opportunity in its entirety.