Proposals are a common tool in the world of business. Often used as a means of bidding on a contract or creating a long-term relationship with a new client, the process of writing proposals has been the subject matter of an endless array of books and manuals that address the sales process. Fortunately, it is possible to engage in proposal writing successfully by observing a few simple guidelines.
When writing proposals of any kind, always research the background of the prospective client. Find out how long they have been in business, how many locations they operate, their average annual revenue, and perhaps even what type of charities the company tends to support, either as an entity or through their executives. Grounding yourself in the general culture of the client will make it much easier to tailor your text so that it will resonate with the company, and increase your chances of being selected as the vendor of choice.
Always make use of any and all information that is gathered directly from the potential client when writing proposals. Often, businesses that are actively looking for a vendor will issue what is known as a Request for Proposal, or RFP. The RFP is an invaluable document to any supplier that wants to establish a working relationship with the issuing company, in that it often includes important information about format, the arrangement of information, and even the type of information that must be included within the body of the proposal.
It is important to note that the actual format of the RFP will vary from one situation to another. Some Requests for Proposal are short and allow respondents a great deal of leeway in terms of organization and content. However, it is more common for an RFP to provide specific instructions that must be followed to the letter in order for the proposal to be seriously considered. Often, the RFP will specify the proposal format, and may go as far as to provide a proposal template that must be used.
When writing proposals as a response to a comprehensive RFP, great care must be taken to respond concisely to any questions included in that document. Even if there is not a template included, it is a good idea to use the RFP itself as sort of a template and use the questions as headers for each section of the finished proposal. This will make it much easier for the issuer of the RFP to quickly find each of the responses, since they are presented in the same general order as the requests made in the originating document.
There are situations in which the RFP is an extremely informal document, such as a one-page request that includes nothing more than a list of questions and instructions on remitting the proposal. This is where using the research you did early in the process will make a world of difference to the final proposal. With no specific guidelines in hand, you will want to look for sample proposals that you think will fit in well with the client’s corporate culture, and craft those proposal ideas so they do follow what little guidance is provided in the informal RFP. Make sure that even if the questions are general and somewhat vague, you find ways to provide answers that tie in directly with the work of the client and what your company offers to help them successfully carry on that work.
Always remember that writing proposals is not about creating a wonderful format that you think is ideal. The focus is not on what you consider to be a great proposal, but what the client will think is the perfect response to their request. This sometimes means stepping outside your comfort zone and putting yourself in the client’s shoes long enough to see the process from their point of view. While this can be challenge, earning the business makes it well worth the effort.