Have you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey?
With more than 15 million copies sold, the principles in this book have helped many people become more effective both individually and in collaboration with others. It also provides exceptional advice for shaping your business story.
Together, the Seven Habits can profoundly influence the coherence of your story as told through your website, company messaging, social presence, business proposals, and client deliverables. These habits, once formed, get at the heart of good content: well thought out, beneficial to the customer, audience-appropriate, actionable, and iterative.
Habit #1 - Be Proactive. This first habit involves responsibility, and derives from your company’s mission and strategy. (If you don’t have a mission or business strategy, this is a good place to start.) When shaping your company’s narrative and deciding on the avenues to tell your story, being proactive and taking initiative comes first. Your organization possesses the self-awareness, imagination, independence, and creativity to determine how you present yourself to the world.
What do you want people to know about you? How do you want to be perceived? What problems are you trying to solve? How can you effectively communicate your solutions to these problems and the associated value of your offering? When you take the time to tell your story clearly and simply, this foundation provides solid direction for your business marketing and proposal content.
Habit # 2 - Begin with the End in Mind. Having a sense of direction or what you want to become greatly influences your story. If you know you want to be a multi-million-dollar health-food company, your story will be different than if you want to be a locally-based, sustainable food provider for your community. A small-scale, specialized application developer will tell a different story than Apple.
It is time to tie your mission and strategy to your story. Where you want to be in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years helps determine your customers and audience, the quality of the products and services you provide, the types of people you hire, the avenues you use to get your message out, and the look and feel of your content. The company you want to be dictates the story and how you get there.
Because you’re being proactive and taking responsibility for the direction of your story, you begin with the end in mind (creating a mental picture of the success you want), and then you design your content to fulfill your vision.
Habit #3 – Put First Things First. Habit 1 says that you are the creator, you’re in charge of the story. Habit 2 helps create a mental version of the story, determining the end state and success you desire to have in your company. Habit 3 is where you determine the most important elements of telling your story.
Business creates the tyranny of the urgent, and the top and bottom lines often threaten to undermine and undo a company’s narrative. You start out with the intention of completing a certain number of proposals, writing a blog every week, or developing content to improve employee communication. As the year goes on, mission and strategy get lost or put away because there are too many other important things to focus on, and the inbox is filling up with demands.
Maintaining and curating your story, along with performance statistics and data proving the quality of your products and services, should occupy critical space in your businesses management practices and processes. Setting aside time to develop and refine the story, and setting roles and responsibilities to make sure the story is updated and maintained will pay off in the end.
When deciding on priorities in a content strategy, we recommend focusing on single source, reusable content that tells who you are, what you stand for, what you do, how you do it, and why you are doing it. Accomplishing this articulation at a high level, putting it one place where anyone can access and update it, and then establishing a routine for refining it will make all content-based work easier – from updating websites, to writing proposals, to keeping current on social media and interacting with your client base.
Habit #4 – Think Win/Win. Win/win seeks mutual benefit in all interactions. This applies directly to content of any type. You develop content and write proposals and copy to connect with an intended audience and grow business. When developing your story, it is imperative to consider the target audience and customer in a way that makes the relationship and interaction enjoyable, informative, and mutually beneficial. Customers get what they want and need, your company makes a sustainable profit.
Your content, in this sales context, carries ultimate importance, influencing relationships and leading to win/win agreements – i.e., contracts, purchases, life-long customer loyalty. In order to get to a win/win agreement, you must develop a script and narrative that shows you understand the customer and have an authentic and genuine approach to making things better for them.
Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. The first 3 habits focus on internal considerations – your company initiative, vision, and priorities. With Habit #4, you begin to look outward and consider the customer and how they benefit from your content, shaped by your mission and strategy. Habit #5 helps you to understand what the customer is looking for in content.
Too often, websites and marketing material miss the mark. For example, students use university websites to find class schedules, campus maps, building locations, and contact information for professors. But many university website landing pages are littered with the direction of the institution, awards, building projects, alumni events, and other largely irrelevant information. The student is a main consumer of the website’s content, but you can’t tell that the content has been oriented to the consumer.
When thinking through presenting your content to your intended audience, consider what they want to see – What do they want to know? In what order do they want to see the information? How would they like it presented (e.g., words, visuals, interactive design)? What is the best way to present the content given the message and audience? When you present customers with content that meets their needs in a way they can understand, you have a much greater chance of connecting with and influencing them.
Habit #6 – Synergize. This is where we get down to creative cooperation and interacting with your customers in a collaborative and engaging way. You begin with the end in mind, you initiate the interaction in an effective way, and now you work with the customer to achieve the end result – making your product, service, and their experience significantly better than it was before. You created a story to attract and connect with your customer, now together you are continuing to write the story.
Watch how customers interact with your content. Through web analytics, proposal debriefs, customer feedback, and performance statistics, gauge how the story is being received, and make adjustments as necessary. Take into account the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between yourself and your customers. When you can recognize your own perceptual limitations, and adjust the story accordingly, you will see profits dramatically increase and enjoy a better relationship with your intended consumers.
Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw. In order to accomplish the other 6 habits, this is perhaps the most important. Sharpening the saw is taking care of your own company, and fostering a sense that the story is vital to all aspects of success – from marketing to sales to operations to delivery of your product or service.
Sharpening involves physical, mental, and social/emotional dimensions. The mission and the strategy of the company provide a foundation for meaning and purpose. Physical well-being ensures livelihood and endurance to live the story you are creating (Habit #1 – Be Proactive). Mental discipline allows for renewal in Habits #2 (Begin with the End in Mind) and #3 (Put First Things First), where you organize and plan for accomplishing the end you have in mind. The social and emotional dimensions feed Habit #5 (Think Win/Win) and Habit #6 (Synergize), centered on interdependence, empathy, and creative cooperation.
In all, applying the Seven Habits to your content development and management process allows you to ensure your mission and strategy live in the story you tell, regardless of the medium.
For more information on our philosophy about content and proposal development processes, visit our blog or contact Qocreate.
In many businesses content gets recreated multiple times by different groups for different purposes. Operations teams need a manual for managing projects. Business development teams need a project management approach to respond to proposals. Marketing needs performance statistics to validate claims that the company performs on schedule, on time, every time. And so on.
Because these departments usually operate separately in a company, content is inconsistent at best, with disparity between data and the look and feel of material. What is presented to the public is different than what goes in proposals is different than what the company does in their work with clients. Maintaining information in disparate places becomes taxing, with little structure or direction for articulating a coherent, easy-to-maintain story.
Qocreate supports developing content with multiple purposes, most importantly and specifically the information your team needs to drive sales engagement and quickly and efficiently develop proposals.
In the world of business development, this generally comes down to two types of content – the material related to your technical and management solutions or products, and the material related to your past and current performance history. Potential clients want to know what you are doing, and how well you are doing it.
Taking the time to really tell your story in a lasting and captivating way seems like a waste of resources to management. Having a message is important, but it may be difficult to see returns on investment for establishing a story and building a brand and reputation. We provide a way to do this quickly while setting the foundation and tenor for all of your messaging, content, and proposal material going forward.
In previous posts, we’ve talked about solution and client profiles. We also discussed the idea of a single source approach to content. This post focuses on combining the uses of certain types of single source content.
PDF documents are perfect for this purpose, because you can combine documents and manage pages to include whatever content you want for any specific purpose. For example, you could have an entire volume written on project management. An outline might look like this:
Organization and Management Structure (org chart and management hierarchy)
Recruiting and Hiring Process
Monitoring and Control
Controlling Cost, Schedule, and Performance
Resolving Performance and Personnel Issues
Security Management (Facilities and Personnel)
This project management content serves multiple purposes:
With this outline, you have a structure for organizing your content. And you can the whole outline or any of its pieces to accomplish any purpose related to project management.
For this to work, content maintenance is essential. Assign someone to update the information on a quarterly basis and make sure it remains true to how the company does work. Assign small portions of the content to people who do the work, and give them a sense of pride by acknowledging their role in the company’s broader story. In this way you have a living record of how the company manages projects, and you can relax, knowing exactly where to go for well-thought-out and current content.
At Qocreate we encourage you to make the best use of your resources, and to develop quality content you can use again and again for various purposes. You have a story, but you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel to tell it to someone. One single source, multiple purposes: this is the way content ought to be.
Contact us if you want to optimize the way you put your content together, or see our previous blog posts for tips on to write proposals more efficiently and successfully.
When you articulate, you are putting the icing on the cake. You are taking a good thing -- your developed and proposed solution -- and making it better. If your audience loves chocolate icing with sprinkles, don’t give them lemon icing on a strawberry pie. - Mike Huckleberry, founder/CEO of Qocreate
Qocreate’s 3 steps to writing a winning business proposal include organization, development, and articulation. In this post, we’ll focus on the final step: articulating your solution.
With each of these steps, the message gets stronger and clearer. The idea in the final step is to refine the message for your specific audience. Articulating your solution gives the proposal the tenor and feel that lets your client see that you understand their business and you respect their time and resources.
Articulation deals with layout, format, length, tone, type of language used, level of detail, and many other nuances. Sometimes a client will determine the format and level of detail for you. Other times, you have to discern what is best.
Attention to coherence and persuasion in your message (i.e., articulation) will undoubtedly impress your clients. Many companies do not take the time required to appropriately tailor their messages for their audience. An organized and developed idea shows you have expertise in a field or discipline. A well-articulated idea demonstrates mastery with your client’s specific problem or opportunity.
Our first two steps, organization and development, are about your ideas and learning to take the client’s perspective. Articulation is about the audience, completely. Devoting time and energy to the details they care about will set you apart from the competition.
Articulating your solution comprises three exercises: ensuring you take the audience’s perspective, refining your language, and removing any errors. Throughout organization and development, you keep the client’s perspective in the front of your mind. You make sure to ask what they would like to see and how they would like to see it. You incorporate a level of detail and structure that makes the solution to their problem easy to grasp. You get their attention by proving that the solution works for other clients.
By the time you get to the step of articulating the solution, you already have a sense of what the client wants. When you write the final drafts, gear everything toward helping the client understand how your solution is best for what they want to achieve.
Ensure You Take the Audience’s Perspective. When writing business proposals, your audience is not always your direct client. For example, in government contracting your audience may be a group of evaluators from different parts of an agency or office. The technical aptitude, responsibility, and seniority of these individuals differ. More senior people may be interested in the executive summary, while engineers or acquisition professionals may be interested in the technical detail.
This is where organization and development become critical. If you have a well-organized, fully developed solution, you can provide any level of detail required. When you get ready to articulate your solution, and if you know your audience, you have everything you need to make evaluation as easy as possible.
The key to writing for an audience is to show you understand their problem, you have an answer for their problem, your answer directly benefits the client, and you can prove that it works. The easiest way to write and provide this clear message is to give a paragraph to each of these four concepts:
When you follow this pattern, you effectively highlight the client in each step, capitalizing on the opportunity to convince them you can help, want to help, and that you’re the best for the job.
Refine Your Language. Once you have your proposal and solution written, you want to work through the documents and refine your language. This works includes many things that can be summed up in a style and stats sheet for your project.
A style sheet includes details on writing the proposal such as voice (1st person or 3rd person), tense (e.g., past, present, future), naming conventions (e.g., how you refer to your client, yourself, your partners, your team), punctuation (e.g., how you use serial commas), and the statistics you are using. Statistics comprise information about locations, employees, contracts, quantifiable successes, revenues, capacity, capability, and so on. The purpose of the style and stats sheet is to develop a single source of information and writing guidance that will be used across the entire proposal.
While consistency is a key in language, so is being concise. Use words sparingly, and only say what is necessary. Many companies believe if a customer gives you 20 pages to write a technical response, you have to use the 20 pages. But what if you could fit the same message in 17 pages? You give the reviewer less work and make the job easier. They’ll appreciate it. Most readers do, unless you leave something important out, or don’t give them all the information they’re asking or looking for. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and organized in an easy to follow manner.
Correct Any Errors. The final step in articulation is to correct any errors from the documentation. We highly recommend bringing in resources outside of the proposal team to perform a clean edit. Working to correct errors increases consistency in content, improves readability, and demonstrates a high level of professionalism.
When editing, use at least two people with minimal knowledge of the project. Give them the style and stats sheet, tell them the purpose of the proposal, and give them time to do a thorough review. When you spend so long writing a proposal, it becomes easy to gloss over errors and miss details that a fresh eye will easily catch. Letting someone else into the process will help. Removing errors from a proposal is like removing them from a resume. A clean and well-edited document demonstrates you care about your work, as well as your audience.
Articulation is the last and final step in writing a proposal. When this process of ensuring proper perspective, language, and clarity is complete, you are ready to submit your work to the client for evaluation.
Planning for each step – organizing, developing, and articulating – of the proposal process allows you to capitalize on and make the best use of your time. Even if your proposal turnaround is a week or two weeks, you’ll get a better product when you intentionally follow these steps.
Know what your client wants to hear, the level of detail they need to know, and make sure to clean up your documents before submission. If you do these things, you’ll be well ahead of everyone else.
Qocreate excels at the proposal business proposal writing process, and we have people who can help you every step of the way in articulation. Please contact us if you need support on your business proposals or have any questions. Or visit our website for more information on our services and experience.
Qocreate’s 3 steps to writing a winning business proposal include organization, development, and articulation. In this post, we’ll focus on part two: developing your message.
This is a majority of the work in putting together a coherent solution and responding to a client’s Request for Information, Request for Proposal, or Request for Quote. It is important to organize your information and ideas before you begin the development process. As you work at developing your solution, you may change how things are organized, but it’s essential to have a basic framework before you start building out your solution.
The key to developing a successful message is knowing which problem you are trying to solve. When you know this, you can easily identify the clients who need the type of help your company can provide. Knowing the problem you are solving for also helps to identify competitors in the marketplace who are working to solve the same problem.
You can see how the picture builds. You identify the problem you are going to solve, and then answer the basic questions involved: who, what, when, where, how, and why, though not in that order.
Answer the Question Why. For the client, answering the question why trumps all others. It is ideally the driving force behind your solution.
Clients want one thing: to increase profitability. Increasing profit means improving performance and better utilizing resources. Including why up front matters.
Tell the client how you are going to help them increase profit and improve performance. And prove it to them by providing quantifiable results from other client engagements. Facts can often drive the sale if your solution is as good as you claim it to be.
Answering the why first may seem counter intuitive, but it’s the sole reason your clients will keep reading your proposal. The why is comprised of three things in particular:
Most people can tell you what a client’s problem is, and they can tell you how they will solve the problem. However, when it comes to benefits, people tend to talk in terms of features. So let’s be clear: benefits are quantifiable returns the client will recognize related to two things: profitability and performance.
A project manager with 25 years of experience doing similar work is not a benefit. Neither is a seasoned team of experts. Those are features. A benefit is 20% reduction in overall operating costs, or automating a process to increase speed and remove human involvement and error, or improving an information systems availability or up time.
In answering the question why, you need to tell the client that they are going to benefit from your solution in a way they will not with other providers. Use comparisons if you have them. Or, talk about how what you do is different than what industry does, or how your approach exceeds standards or the norm.
This may be as simple as offering the lowest price. Or, it may involve creating value through quantifiable and measurable benefits. Be bold. Stake a claim. Show that your solution matters.
This alone will differentiate your proposal.
Take the Time to Show How You Will Do the Work. After you tell the client why, tell them how you are going to do the work. Pique their interest and then give them the goods. Show them: here is the benefit, and here is how we are going to deliver the benefit.
If a client wants to increase profit and better utilize resources, you need to show them how your solution does this for their particular organization. Here is Qocreate’s approach to developing your solution when writing a winning business proposal.
Sixty percent of writing, and maybe more, comprises thinking about writing. It begins with organizing ideas and ends with the story. The process in between takes the most time, and requires thinking.
In this series we focus on the age-old questions of who, what, when, where, how, and why. Developing your solution requires answering all these questions. Take the time to write them down on a piece of paper and think through the answers to each of them. When you do this, take your perspective and the client’s perspective and work them together, along with any other critical staff or organizations who may be involved in your winning solution.
Who. Include people in your organization, the client and any influencers within their organization, and then others. Others could include the general public, client customers, standards organizations and governing bodies, and any other people who may be affected by the solution. Benefits extend to these others as well, where clients may be particularly interested in passing on benefits to customers or a specific group of people.
What. The what comes from how you organized your information. Is your solution a process? Is it a series of actions categorized under major tasks? Is it a system configuration? Answering the what means telling the client your approach.
Sometimes the what presents best in a graphic. Graphics, tables, charts, and schematics benefit proposals because they show the client how things work. Putting time into developing good graphics and graphical elements will benefit you many times over in articulating the what of your solution.
When. With when, you provide a time frame in which you will execute the what. Answer, as far as possible, when the work will begin, how long it will take, when you will do what steps, and when you will complete the project.
Setting a time frame around the solution helps to create expectations for performance. It also operates as a benchmark for quality, and demonstrates to the customer that you know what you’re talking about.
Where. Sometimes where may include simply “at the client site.” But other times, clients want you to generate the where -- for example, if you are putting together a national marketing plan. Where may also include certain elements of the proposal, for example which buildings, servers, networks, or systems will be affected by an information technology solution.
Where helps to ground the solution by giving it a spatial representation. It follows with when to see how the what fits into space and time.
How. How tells the client the method, approach, and means by which you will deliver your solution. When you articulate the how, write in and include as much detail as you can. It is always easier to cut content then to create it. So, create the content in how with as much gusto and attention to detail as possible. Include every step, every working part, every consequence and resulting action.
How uses the who, what, when, and where, and tells the client exactly the means by which you will accomplish the goal. The how of a business proposal is second only to the why.
Answering these questions allows you to build out and put flesh on the bones of your structure for the solution. You first organized the content, and now by answering these questions, you have information to fill in your structure. Now it is time to create a draft and begin to iterate your solution into a final format. This involves articulating your solution.
Qocreate is expert in helping companies organize, develop, and articulate their solutions. Check out more resources here, or contact us for help in writing your next business proposal.
Qocreate’s three steps to writing a winning business proposal include organization, development, and articulation. In this post, we’ll focus on organization, helping you to put structure around your ideas and solutions.
Once you do the hard work of organizing, writing a proposal in response to a customer request becomes a quick and enlightening affair. Whether your client requests a quad chart, a white paper, a Statement of Work, a Request for Proposal, or a quote, you will be able to clearly see how your solution satisfies their needs.
Clients often tell you exactly how they want to see the information presented. It is important that you ultimately present the proposal in this format. However, many clients – especially government clients -- do not request proposal solutions in a way that immediately leads to truly coherent organization. For that reason, much of the struggle in putting together a proposal is trying to figure out how to give them what they want, while not compromising the story or integrity of the solution.
Qocreate has a way to help with this problem: putting first things first, frame the solution in a way that makes sense to you.
We recommend writing out your business solutions in solution profiles before a client even requests the proposal. This means articulating your solutions with fidelity to how you actually do the work. Put everything down on paper that you know about the solution. Answer the questions who, what, when, where, how, and why. Create graphics, tables, schematics, and other visuals to help potential clients see the work being done. You want to create a day in the life of your solution, a story around how the work gets done.
Organizing in this sense includes brainstorming to get the whole picture, grouping up parts, selecting a method for organization, and then putting the pieces together within the chosen framework or structure.
Brainstorming To Get the Whole Picture and its Parts. Start the organization process by putting all the ideas and parts on paper. This is where you want to see the forest. Create a high-level view of your solution. Include people, processes, technology, templates, tools, and expected results.
• Who will participate in the solution?
• What are each person’s roles and responsibilities?
• What steps will they take to do the work?
• What tools will they use and what systems or infrastructure will they interact with?
Identify efficiencies and benefits to the customer, matching them against industry standards to demonstrate expertise and results. Get these ideas on paper any way you need to – drawings, rough notes and sketches, ideas pulled from the internet.
Grouping The Parts. Once you have everything down on paper, begin to group the parts together in a way that makes sense to you.
Sometimes you can use groupings industry or standards organizations have put together. For example, with project management, you can use overarching phases of Initiate, Plan, Execute, Monitor, Control, Close. Or, for something like administrative work, you can use tasks like scheduling, conference support, memos, answering phones, travel arrangements, and so on and so forth.
The point is to start looking at possible ways the parts fit together to form the whole. There are multiple ways to do this, but work on one that makes the most sense to you. Then shop the idea around to your co-workers and teammates and use the feedback to further refine your thinking.
Selecting a Method for Organization. Having a clear picture of the whole solution and its component parts, use a method of organization that suits your task.
• Project management lends itself to groupings of activities under major phases.
• Software development lends itself to a chronological and iterative process description.
• Developing a network topology requires drawings and schematics laid out in a physical configuration. Installing the network requires articulating the process that eventually results in the configuration.
You can organize information in any number of ways – chronologically, spatially, categorically, hierarchically, geographically, etc. Choose the structures that work with your idea and begin to think about how they fit together.
Sometimes, the structures work together. For example, you have a hierarchical organization executing a chronological process to produce a result. Or, you have spatial configurations being deployed in different geographic locations. The idea is to choose structures appropriate to your solution in a way that helps people visualize how things will be done.
Putting the Pieces Together. Now that you’ve taken the time to look at the whole, identify the parts, and figure out the structures that best fit your solution, you can put the pieces together. The work of putting the pieces together into a solution is called development, which is the second of Qocreate’s 3 steps to writing a winning business proposal.
With the parts and whole set up in the appropriate structure, you can now begin to understand how your solution fits within a client’s request. This is the ultimate goal of organizing – to see things clearly, so that you can help clients visualize how you solve their problems in a way that makes sense to them.
Organizing Your Response to a Client’s Request. In the beginning of this post, we said that often clients do not ask for information in a way that makes sense. This is likely because the request has been put together piecemeal by different groups or departments.
One group writes the technical scope, another determines how the proposal will be evaluated, and still another puts together the pricing structure and labor categories. Often there are multiple requirements and it can be confusing how to organize your response. Here’s what we recommend.
Take the customers’ requirements and create an outline based on their guidance. Make sure you cover all aspects of what they are asking for in the request. Then, use the solution you’ve created and the organization you’ve built to begin filling in the outlines.
As you do, you’ll see where you have gaps in your solution, or the client has gaps in its request. If you have gaps, begin to fill them in with additional work on the solution. If the client has gaps, it may be an opportunity for you to show your expertise and demonstrate the value of your solution.
At any rate, you will likely not be able to write the proposal with the solution being organized as you envisioned it. When this happens, take the introduction or executive summary, and present the overall solution in a way that makes sense. Then, as you work through the proposal as the client organized it, you can refer back to the overall solution, which includes the whole and the parts you outlined in the previous steps. This allows a reviewer to see the coherent whole, but also to evaluate the proposal against the client’s criteria.
The end result of taking the time to organize your thoughts and ideas is that you see your solution clearly. This allows you to see how it works against other methods of organization, especially those your client uses in asking for response to requests.
Looking for step two? Read our next post, Keys to Developing Your Message. Qocreate excels at helping companies organize their solutions. We can help you create these in response to proposal requests, or in anticipation of them. For more information, visit www.qocreate.com.