Smart proposal writers follow a regular routine to make themselves more productive, and one popular routine is to spread the process over multiple days.
Done properly, it can get you writing deal winning business proposals, improve your persuasiveness and keep you organized and sane.
But what if you don’t have a routine?
- Your proposals are often late
- They are sloppily written and frustrate your clients.
- It makes you look unprofessional and loses you business that ought to be yours.
If you want to avoid these problems, and learn how to pump out highly effective proposals, read on …
The secret to writing a business proposal – consistency.
Consistently good proposal writing is the backbone of your sales process.
But how can you make that happen? Well, one way is to leave everything to the very last day, knock back several cups of instant coffee and spend all night frantically trying to get it all done.
The better option, however, is to spread the proposal creation process over several days, and calmly write out your amazing solution in several stages.
And it all starts on day 1.
Are you wide awake? It’s time to create a knockout proposal.
First you need to collect all your client’s information: any conducted research, conversation notes and other relevant materials. You will also want to gather up previous proposals similar to this one and any case studies you wish to use.
Next grab a large piece of paper and write a bubble in the middle. You are going to use a mind map to help build your proposal’s structure.
See, if you get the structure right your content will just come naturally. But get it wrong, and just like a bad hair day, it’s all downhill from there. This is why you have to get the structure right now.
In the centre of the bubble you will write the title of your proposal but since good titles should reflect the benefits of your solution, we’ll save that for later when you understand what they are.
Proceed to draw several branches leading out from the center. Assign each branch a section heading from your proposal i.e. Background, Goals and Objectives, Fees, Schedule etc.
Working your way around each branch, list up the key points you want to include. You get better results by working fast and being uncritical. You can always remove items later.
For the client’s needs section, jot down the problems and pain points driving this request. For goals, note the measurable benefits your solution will provide. You’ll also want to note down how your will deliver your solution differently than your competitors – what’s your secret sauce.
Only after you have done all this can you go back and start working on your title. Remember titles can either break or make your proposal. It has to stop clients in their tracks. You don’t need to settle on one today – simply create a couple of rough contenders for you to work on tomorrow.
That’s it for today. You are done here. Go have some fun.
Day 2 – Flesh the proposal out.
Look over yesterday’s mind map and review your lists. Remove or edit anything that doesn’t sit well. Are all your key points client focused? Are they measurable? Are they specific?
Once your happy with your bullet points you ought to finalize the title and subheadings of your proposal. Go do that now.
Then either by hand or in your favorite word processor, create your first draft of your proposal. You should copy your title, subheadings and bullet points into the draft.
Now write… fast!
Don’t stop. Don’t delete. Just write.
Editing is absolutely forbidden at this stage.
See, editing at this stage will only invite paralysis by analysis.
So temporarily restrain the urge to edit and just write.
And before you begin to flesh out all your bullet points, ask yourself, “What does my client want to read?”.
- What will reassure them you understand their problem?
- What benefits will convince them it’s all worth the hassle?
- What will sway them to choose you over the competition?
Remember to include the problem statement, the benefits, the solution and your plan and fees. You may also need your terms and conditions and any case studies you want to use.
And don’t forget your call to action at the end. You must finish with a strong close.
Now give it a read over and make sure you didn’t leave anything out.
Save the file and close it. Focus on something entirely different and get a good nights sleep.
Day 3 – Edit away
Phew – we are almost there. Are you feeling ready to fine tune your proposal master piece?
Get started by reading your proposal out loud. Even better ask a friend to read it aloud. Can they read it without stumbling on your sentences? You want to make your proposal easy to read so massage any tricky sentences immediately.
How did your titles and subheadings sound. Do they articulate best the contents of your proposal? Are they magnetic? Will they stop your clients dead in their tracks?
They do! Great.
Now let’s cut the fat. Writers often say if you can’t reduce your first draft by 50%, something is wrong.
Be ruthless. Remove fluff words. Replace adverbs and their partnering verbs with a single verb which conveys exactly the same meaning.
i.e. he slowly walked => he trudged
And do your readers a favor, get rid of any hackneyed cliches and phrases. Popular offenders like “world class”, “state of the art”, “market leader”, “team player”, “think out of the box” should be banished from the english language.
By now your draft should be a lot leaner. But we still have work to do. We need to make your proposal fantastic for readers who like to scan. As we wrote in our formatting guide you need to
- write sentences no longer than 13 – 18 words
- keep paragraphs short. 3-5 sentences best with 3 being ideal.
- use the active voice.
- break up slabs of text with lists
Go ahead and do that now.
Day 4 – Proofread and deliver
Congratulations! The handwork is behind you. All that’s left is to proofread your proposal and deliver it to the client.
However a mistake here can be deadly so read through your proposal carefully. Even better get a second pair of eyes to help spot those mistakes you’re eyes have become blind to.
Before you send it off to your client, go down this checklist and make sure you can answer “yes” to everything:
- Is the headline personal and convey your solutions benefits?
- Will it stop someone in their tracks?
- Did you keep the sentences and paragraphs short?
- Did you spell the client’s name and company correctly throughout the proposal? Remember to check the often forgotten terms and conditions too.
- Do all your fees add up correctly?
- Have you included tax?
- Have you calculated the fees correctly?
- Did you explain in detail all the high value line items in your fees to avoid suspicion?
- Did you spell check the document with your own eyes and not just rely on your computer to do it?
- Do all your amazing claims pass the ‘BS’ test? Did you substantiate them? Are they realistic?
- Did you finish with a strong close or call to action?
If you said yes to all of the above, pat yourself on the back. You’ve just written a fantastic proposal.
Writing a business proposal need not be hard
As we have seen, writing killer proposals day in, day out can be difficult. But if you consistently use a writing schedule and split the task over several days, it will be easier.
Giving yourself a break everyday can also make you a better writer, clearing up the fog that builds up after staring at the same words for hours and hours. And it will make you a better editor.
What are your secrets to writing a business proposal? Let us know in the comments.