Writing a winning business proposal consists of three critical elements: organization, development, and articulation.
• Organization provides the context and framework within which your audience will understand your proposal.
• Development of your approach establishes how you do what you do, and why the customer should care.
• Articulation puts words and ideas on paper, iterating them into a final form.
These elements -- organization, development, and articulation -- are steps in a sequence. You organize your ideas, develop them, and then articulate them for your audience. Success in this process comes through constant iteration. As you develop ideas you may decide to change how they are organized. As you begin articulating and writing down the ideas, you may need to develop them further.
The key is to respect each element of the process, and to iterate until you get a polished message to which your audience will positively respond.
Organizing Your Content (20%) Often in business proposals, the potential client requests your response in a certain format. For government proposals particularly, they provide instructions and evaluation factors outlining how to put the proposal together, and how they will score it to determine who wins.
Sometimes client instructions make sense. Most of the time, they do not. And here is the key to being able to quickly respond, regardless of how the customer wants to see the information they are requesting.
When you begin writing, first organize the information in a way you understand it. Forget what the customer is asking for initially. If you know the solution, outline it and write it down .
For example, if you’re developing a software application, write down the process you will follow to develop it. List the steps and the people involved. Identify who is doing what, when, where, how, and why. Take these ideas and words and begin to organize them. Maybe you put them in chronological order by the steps you will take to do the work. Maybe you create an outline with main points, supporting points, and a conclusion. Maybe you draw a picture. Or, maybe you do all three, or something completely different. The point is for you to have a clear idea of the parts and how they fit together to form the solution.
The way you organize your information in this step determines the model and structure of your proposed solution. Once you understand the parts and the whole, you can present it to your customer in whatever format they request. We suggest beginning with an overview of the solution the way you organized it (2 pages at most), and then giving the customer what they asked for in their request for your quote or proposal.
Developing Your Message (60%) Once ideas are organized, you have a framework within which to develop the message. A well-developed business proposal is one that your customer or any reader will easily understand . They can immediately grasp the answers to the basic questions – who, what, when, where, why, and how.
In something like software development, the answers to these questions include engineers and others taking steps in an iterative process:
Conception. Design. Development. Testing. Deployment. Operations and Maintenance.
These six steps form an organized structure to talk about software development. Each of the steps needs to be developed relative to the customer’s specific issue. So you take the organization and begin to fill it out. Around each step you provide greater detail.
Ultimately, you want to get as much detail and information as you can about the problem and solution. With this understanding, you can place the solution within the organized structure from step one.
The key to developing your message is time. True development requires question and answer sessions, brainstorming, research, conversations, writing and rewriting, and hashing out conflicts. Too many companies go from organization to articulation without thinking about what they want to say.
Build in time to develop your ideas for your proposal. How are you solving your customer’s problem? Why is your solution superior to competitors? What benefits does it provide for your customer? What statistics and qualifications in your company demonstrate you have the competencies that you claim? Can you depict your solution in a single image or graphic that your customer will easily understand? How do you want them to feel once they’ve read your proposal? What action do you want them to take once they put it down?
Taking time to think through and develop answers to these questions is critical to a winning proposal. It is the majority of the work. A client will be able to clearly see the level of thought you’ve put into a proposal by the way you organize content, how well you describe what you are going to do, and how relevant it is to their particular situation.
Articulating Your Solution (20%) Once you’ve developed your ideas to a point you’re ready to write, then you begin articulating the solution. You place your developed ideas within the structure and framework you developed when organizing. As you develop ideas, the organization may change. That’s okay, as long as the organization remains coherent and something the audience can easily follow.
The articulation phase is when you get to writing a draft, and iterating that draft until you get to a final product you submit to the customer. You can include graphics, tables, charts, statistics, schematics and other things to help the reviewer visualize your solution.
During articulation you consider the audience foremost. You think about the length of your proposal, the type of language to use, and the level of comfort with being formal, semi-formal, or informal. You infuse personality and the company brand, the messaging around your products and services that your audience can easily identify.
Iterate, and make sure that the ideas you included in your organization have found their way into the written format. A well-articulated solution is coherent and easy to understand. It allows reviewers of your proposal to immediately identify how you are solving their problem or helping them with their opportunity.
The key to great proposal writing, or any writing for that matter, is to master these steps. Being intentional about how you organize information provides a framework for what you want to say. Developing your ideas within this framework helps them to mature and gain a noticeable body. Articulation is your expression of the ideas within a framework the client will immediately understand.
The next time you’re working on a proposal, try writing down the steps in this blog, and working consciously through each one:
• Determine how you want to organize your information.
• Ask yourself the hard questions to develop a good story and provide some concrete evidence around your claims.
• Think about how you articulate and communicate your message.
Thinking is the hard and time consuming part in this game; it’s what sets the winning proposal aside from the others. Anyone can claim the perfect solution in a proposal. To truly demonstrate mastery, you need to fully think through your solution and present it in a way that makes the customer say, "Aha!"
Ready for more? Check out our next post in this series, Keys to Organizing Content. At Qocreate, we are expert in this process and will use it to help you get to that "aha" moment! Contact us today.