Proposal writing tip

Proposal writing tip: etc = “oops, ran out of things to say”

Think your proposal is ready to go? Do a quick spell-check and see if you can find any instances of the abbreviation “etc”. This is one sign that the proposal isn't yet ready for the customer to read.

At best, finishing a sentence with “etc” looks like you have run out of things to say; at worst, like you have run out of interest in what you were writing about. It doesn't matter whether you were stumped, distracted or just ran out of time.  You don't want one little three-letter word to tarnish an otherwise great proposal.

Luckily, this is easy to fix even if you don't have a lot of time left before the deadline.

Look again at any phrase ending in “etc” and see if you have supported the main claim with at least three pieces of evidence ("...for example, X, Y and Z").  If you really had run out of things to say, consider deleting it.  The customer won't notice it's missing - but they will notice your use of “etc”!

Proposal writing tip: beware the cut-and-paste answer

As useful as proposal content libraries are for knowledge management, cutting and pasting from them can be problematic. For example, if your library content has been built to answer a standard question that has been asked in a certain way - like "describe your quality process" - it will go only part-way to addressing a more specific question that asks you to "describe how your quality process will achieve zero defects and manage risks in achieving budget and schedule".

That's where your specialist knowledge is needed to turn the description (of the quality process) into persuasion (how this will deliver something that's meaningful to the project and the customer).

Does the proposal you submitted last week sound like the one you pitched six months ago?

Join me for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 2 May 1.00pm AEST to find out to how build a great proposal library by harnessing the knowledge - and building the skills - of your subject matter experts. Pretty much every organisation has a ‘library’ of past proposals that they draw from when writing new ones. In theory, content libraries should help you answer the questions that come up - in one form or another - in all RFTs. These are core issues that every prospect wants to know about, including your past experience in similar contracts; customer references; capacity and resources; approaches to quality; approaches to Health, Safety and Environment; innovation; and risk management.

Proposal content libraries are important for knowledge management and to make the production process faster. However, the way that they are built and used tends to hinder – rather than help – the proposal effort.

Firstly, just the fact that the library exists tends to make people lazy. I see far too much cutting and pasting and not nearly enough thinking about what the RFT is asking and what the proposal really needs to say.

Secondly - let's face it - writing proposals isn't most people's favourite job to begin with, coming as it does on top of a mountain of other work. Because of this, I've seen many organisations employ writers to produce content for proposal libraries. But this is a bit like asking the cabin crew to fly the plane.

Good proposal content comes from experts who know what they are talking about. Passing the content development task off to ‘writers’ means that material is often superficial, because experts are busy and it’s difficult to get their time for interviews and reviews. The process gets drawn out and expensive, and leads to a one-shot outcome that is quickly out of date. Content is written descriptively, rather than persuasively, meaning that it lacks any expression of customer value. All of this leads to lacklustre proposals that lack insight and depth.

Writing persuasively is about taking what you know and putting it into context that the customer will understand, and that convinces them to see things your way. This is a skill that anyone can learn, and the process for doing so is actually very simple. If you missed the webinar, contact me to find out more.

Proposal writing tip: beware the too-brief answer

Tender documents are tricky beasts. Sometimes, the questions seem long and impenetrable. Other times, they look deceptively easy.

It is never okay to give a yes/no answer, even when it looks like this is what the tender is asking for. You still need to explain your answer, so that the buyer has a good understanding of your position on the issue.