Five reasons to plan your proposal before you write it

A proposal is a work product that encapsulates your thinking, knowledge and insight. It isn’t just a response to a customer’s briefing – it needs to contain a piece of you as well.

In our haste to get finished by the deadline, we compile proposals rather than write them. This is particularly true of tender responses, where we are presented with a briefing and a list of questions, and it seems that all we need to do to is write the answers.

As I mentioned recently, most of us spend no time at all on planning proposal content, preferring instead to dive straight into writing. But this is a mistake.

Let’s say you are a chef preparing your team for the dinner service in a busy five-star restaurant. Once customers arrive, you know you won’t have any extra time.

It would be crazy not to know your recipes or assemble all your ingredients at the start of your shift. Not to do so would result in chaos.

Writing a proposal to a deadline is just like this. Once your production process is well underway, things can get out of control quickly. So here are five reasons to plan your proposal content before you start to write.

1.    Find questions within the question. Every question that’s asked in a tender briefing will contain more than one layer, that is, several questions within the question. Look for the layers and you will produce compliant, quality answers that tick all the boxes.

2.    Leverage the time and knowledge of leaders and specialists. The senior people in your business probably don’t spend all day, every day writing submissions, but they have an enormous amount of knowledge and insight that can help you win them. Extracting this from them early makes the most of their limited time, makes your proposal more commercial and strategic, and gives your writing richness and depth.

3.    Provide guidance to other writers. Chances are, you’ll need input from other people for your submission. Don't just send them a question from the tender, and ask them to answer it. This pretty much guarantees that what you’ll get back is a cut-and-paste from an old submission that has very little relevance to the new one. Giving them guidance on how to answer makes it easier for them to write fresh content that will help you win.

4.    Identify evidence to support your claims. In a tender response, buyers have to give your submission a score, and what sets apart those that score highly from those that don’t is that “all claims are fully supported”.

5.    Spend less time re-writing. If the content is planned properly, your proposal should require no more than two drafts; first and final. To do any more than this is a criminal waste of time when you have so little to spare. Years ago, I worked on a huge bid project for a professional services firm that wouldn’t release their people to plan content for the submission. One piece of content I worked on for that bid ended up with 35 separate drafts.

When you are on a deadline and there a lot of work to do, it is very tempting to jump straight into writing, but this is never going to give you the best result.

Content planning is the essential step between creating your proposal strategy and executing it through what you write.