Many books inspire me to be a better writer.
William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White's Elements of Style encourages brevity: remove unnecessary words and extraneous concepts. Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses teaches that complexity can thrive in story telling. Yet, it takes tremendous skill. Jeffrey Gittomer's Little Red Book of Selling shows that you can merge the simple and complex, then you make it practical. Finally, Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People proves that you can get it right the first time. Many books have tried to copy its success.
While I haven't read much advice on how to write, these books help me push the boundaries of my own writing. Here are a few things I've taken away from reading (and re-reading) them.
I kicked my songwriting up a notch as I was getting into proposal writing, back in 2006. At that time, I was writing music for this Hummingbird album. You can now find this on Amazon, Spotify, and a couple other places as well. I've long since lost track of the sales.
I can tell you that I much prefer writing music to proposals. But that should be obvious, and is somewhat beside the point. The question here is if songwriting and proposal writing have anything in common. They do.
Knowing the elements. Writing music often comes in a mixture of hard work and inspiration. The hard work is mastering the elements of composition. These are keys, meters, time signatures, notes, rhythms, dynamics, melodies, harmonies, and other components. If you don't know how to navigate these elements, you'll falter in composing songs.
This is also true of proposals. If you don't know how to create the elements of a great proposal, your offer will fall short. Those elements are Story, System, and Style. We discuss them at great length in our book Goddamned Good Proposals.
Discipline, imagination, collaboration. Beyond elements, the inspiration of writing music comes from discipline and imagination. Composition takes time, concentration, and an openness to new ideas. This may not be true for every composer, but it's true for me.
To write music, I need to sit alone, open up and relax, and focus my attention on the task at hand. Creating requires working elements into new combinations of sounds and tempos and melodies. It demands a lot of trial and error and experimentation. I have to work with others to record this music. Their instrumentation, talent, and voices play a critical role in how it sounds.
There may be a solo genius or two out there somewhere who can create and play ensembles of music by themselves. These individuals are few and far between though. Most great music takes the contribution of many people. They come with diverse backgrounds, yet all speak the same language.
Proposal writing is similar. It demands time, creativity, and collaboration. People must work together to create something that exceeds their individual capability. Each one has a place, a voice, and something to contribute.
Appropriate skill. Even together, elements and inspiration don't produce great music. When writing and performing, the skill level of all musicians has to match the music. If someone doesn't know the notes, can't get in the groove, or won't work with others, the piece will fail. It may be possible to carry an under-performer for a song or a gig. Yet, anyone can tell when something goes wrong. The wrong note, playing out of rhythm, singing in the wrong key - these all bring down the band. It's obvious.
In the same way, a successful proposal effort requires a team working at the same level of skill. Writers, engineers, managers, executives all need to be capable, aligned, and on point. Otherwise, when deadlines start to hit you have one or two people making up for the mistakes of others. And no one likes doing that.
Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it takes a minute. Putting the elements of music together with inspiration and skill takes time. I've written songs in 5 minutes. Other songs have taken a couple months or even years to write. Some of the material comes easily. Some of it takes learning. I can hear what I want to play, but I can't perform it technically.
This is where discipline and imagination come into play. I'll sit down to write, make it halfway through a song, and realize I don't have anything left to say. Or, I'm not sure what note or chord to move to next. Over time, I keep working on a piece here and there, or with steady perseverance.
I've got songs I still haven't completed yet. In fact, I have 112 piano sketches on my iPhone waiting to evolve into finished music. Sometimes it takes a while to write a song. Sometimes it doesn't.
Proposal writing can be similar. You hit the mark straight out of the gate and write a volume in a couple days; sometimes the technical message takes months of work. And at times, a writer doesn't have a choice. The deadline is tomorrow.
All this is to say that composing music and writing proposals have a lot in common. Each takes time, knowledge, discipline, imagination, effort, persistence, skill, and collaboration. A writer has to be a master open to critique and the contribution of others. We don't live in a vacuum. And you can't write proposals in one. (Although, that brings to mind a funny picture. Imagine a miniature person whose office is in the dust bag of a Hoover vacuum.)
Anyhow, I'll leave off where I started. It's much more fun to write music. But, if you have to write proposals, here are a few tips.
Find a skilled writer, one who is expert in listening and taking down ideas. Let this person be creative and ensure they know how to work with teams. When you hire for writing, look for someone who gets the key elements - story, system, and style. Make sure they can gather, organize, develop, and articulate ideas. These are the key skills. They are like the skills a reporter needs.
And, finally, make sure they can work well within different time frames and constraints. When you find this writer (and they are hard to find!), make sure your team can work with them to tell your story.
If you need help writing proposals, send us an email at email@example.com or a DM on Twitter @qocreate. We're happy to be the writers for you. And who knows, we may even make music together.
The 2018 Future Workforce Report produced by Upwork indicates that 63% of U.S. companies have employees who work remotely at least part of the time. This doesn’t surprise Qocreators particularly, because all our employees work remotely 100% of the time –a great boon in terms of flexibility and productivity.
How to further encourage that productivity during the holidays? With some gift ideas specifically for remote workers, of course! You may not be able to get everyone physically together, but you can always send a gift. Here are a few that Qocreators identified as must-haves this holiday season.
Do you work remotely? Tweet us @qocreate with your gift ideas – for yourself or your fellow remote workers. Happy holidays!
Please note that Qocreate does not participate in any sort of affiliate program.
There's an accepted notion in the proposal industry that good writing doesn't matter. Or, at least it doesn't matter that much. Why is this?
For government proposals, the argument goes like this: evaluators score proposals, they don't read them. So, you don't need to write well, because no one will read it anyway. Evaluators have a checklist of requirements to burn through. They don't care about narrative or word choice.
For commercial customers, the argument is different. The customer cares about two things - 1) can we trust the people doing the work? and 2) what is the price? So, you focus on who is doing the work and the cost; writing remains a minimal element in the success of the bid.
If the conventional wisdom outlined above is true, why would good writing matter in a proposal? Because writing isn't about a pleasant sequence of words on a page.
For many years - since the dawn of social media time - I've been wary, a lurker even. I created profiles because people recommended it. Then I watched. Every now and then I'd post something. It didn't really intrigue me that much - the lives of others. I didn't feel like I had that much to share with the world. Posting about my morning coffee or world travels seemed trite (though my family and friends loved it...well, at least the travel pictures).
As years went on, I saw my friends thrive and writhe on their social platforms. Some became super users and influencers with thousands of followers. Some rarely got even a thumbs up, after 250 posts! And some of them are masters of the form (here's looking at you @iamflyrobynfly). Many friends got sucked into feeds, family feuds, and full-on public deterioration. Meanwhile, I wondered what I was doing on the edges.
Companies tell stories all the time - to themselves, to employees, to potential customers, to the competition, and to the world. Stories help us to position our organizations to successfully sell products and services to specific markets.
We tell these stories by developing well-thought-out concepts around establishing and growing our businesses. The resultant messaging manifests itself in brands, logos, marketing campaigns, websites, business proposals, internal communications, and deliverables or products for customers.
When there is a great, well-maintained narrative that customers want to believe, an organization has a great opportunity to succeed. All too often though, the story doesn’t exist, it gets lost in constant retelling, or some employees and customers have never heard it.
This is where storytelling and organizational coherence come into play. When you have a central account of your reason for being and the value you bring to others, it can permeate your team, your company, your audience.
Let’s say you own a small business. You depend on a select group of wonderful employees to make that business run, but you are still very much involved in the day-to-day operations. You want to maintain your staff and keep them happy and engaged, because you’re a great boss and you believe in your people. At the same time, you are working like a dog to get this company off the ground, and while it is profitable, there’s no room for giant compensation increases.
What to do?
We at Qocreate firmly believe in two principles when it comes to staffing. First, pay employees a highly competitive wage right from the start, because it’s fair and it leads to team loyalty. Second, always be on the lookout for ways to engage and reward your employees even when it’s not possible to hand them bonus checks.
Here are seven ways we work to keep our employees happy, and goals we have in mind as our organization grows:
At some point last year, Qocreate’s founder and CEO – Mike, a.k.a. My Boss, The Boss, and/or Boss Man – floated the idea of publishing an eBook about proposal writing and development. Mike is a writer and a reader and had been itching to write a book for some time. Perhaps the time was now.
But the work, we all said. The proposals. The marketing. The app development. The management of a business with clients and employees. ALL THE STUFF. How would he find the extra hours?
Somehow, he did, and Goddamned Good Proposals dropped on August 15.
We are all incredibly proud of Mike for this accomplishment. Although it is in digital format, he has written a book, not a beefed-up PowerPoint presentation or a collection of thoughtfully designed quotes posing as advice. While we initially released in PDF, an EPUB version is imminent, and after that – who knows?
This project became a pet of mine, too, even though I’m not its creator, and that’s what I’d like to memorialize here. We’ve learned a lot collectively about what it takes to produce long-form content like this. Here are a few tips in case you, too, are burning to write a book.
In 1921, Frank B. Gilbreth and Lillian M. Gilbreth presented the seminal idea of business process modeling to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in a paper called “Process Charts: First Steps In Finding the One Best Way To Do Work.” According to the authors, the process chart allows us to better understand complex processes by presenting sub-processes and their interrelations in an orderly way:
"Every detail of a process is more or less affected by every other detail; therefore, the entire process must be presented in such form that it can be visualized all at once before any changes are made in any of its subdivisions. In any subdivision of the process under examination, any changes made without due consideration of all the decisions and all the motions that precede and follow that subdivision will often be found unsuited to the ultimate plan of operation."
As an abstraction of real processes, the process modeling applies “equally well to the routine of production, selling, accounting and finance.”
The technique has an almost universal scope in principle: just about any productive endeavor can be represented in terms of inputs, sequences, decision points, and outputs. And in our technologically accelerated, increasingly integrated workplaces, process modeling has emerged as a highly valuable tool for identifying performance improvements, achieving greater efficiency, and aligning business operations with high-level strategic goals. But even if every problem might be, in some sense, a nail, a hammer still might not be always the best tool.
If you are a small business looking for, in the Gilbreths’ words, “the one best way to do work,” it’s worthwhile to consider a few questions before plopping down your first diamond, circle, or arrow in Visio.