Monday, October 5, 2009

New Learn to Write Proposals Website

After a reasonable amount of head scratching, we are able to launch our new website.

We have a new look and feel, more member content including an enhanced online proposal guide and "Write Winning Proposals" - our online e-learning course.

We also have various subscriber options available, as well as our lifetime membership.

One of the best features is our new community forum - it's free to register and discuss anything on Learn to Write Proposals or anything proposal, sales or business related. Ask questions, get advice, comment on the Learn to Write Proposals blog - it's up to you.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Services for proposal development

Big companies have large strategic teams to help them develop high-quality proposals with all the bells and whistles.

But what about smaller companies, you know your product and what services you can offer, but you sometimes need help putting the sales message together or creating a powerful document.

So where do you go if you don't have a dedicated graphic designer, or need a proposal professional?

Well, the first stop for resources and training should be Learn to Write Proposals, of course! And with our new and much improved website on the way, you will find everything you are looking for to improve you knowledge and develop your words into winning proposals.

But what about developing graphics? Here are two great resources, depending on your circumstances and location.

1 - BizGraphics On Demand
Outside the UK or if your budget doesn't stretch to hiring someone. It's a searchable library of businesss graphics you can edit in PowerPoint and import into other programmes. Simple

2 -
Use a simple briefing form and design quotes will broker quotes for you from graphic designers registered with the site. What makes this one different, is that they'll try and find ones local for you. That's a great USP for this kind of service.So if you've had a bad experience working with frelancers in India and want that face-to-face working relationship give it a try.

There's no specific section for proposal graphics, but there is one for business report design.

Oh, and they also do the same for web design too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are your proposals fit for purpose?

I hope not.

"Fit for purpose" is a dreadful phrase that screams mediocrity and belies a complete lack of aspiration.

It says "just get the job done, don't try and do more than you have to".

"Fit for purpose" is the war cry of those who don't want to do better.

It's OK to not want something over-engineered, but why not request and engineer the best possible within your constraints?

When you write a proposal, do you use "fit for purpose" as a winning strategy? Or indeed as one of your win themes?

When trying to win work we need to try our best, to excel, to rise far above "fit for purpose".

Everyone can produce a product "fit for purpose". What can you do to add something extra?

Yes, there is a financial cost to doing more than the bare minimum. But how many successful businesses are surviving because they aim to be fit for a King, not just fit for purpose.

If you compete only on price, remember that one day, someone will start doing the same "fit for purpose" thing you do for less.

Go beyond the minimum and demonstrate the value of being better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book review: Mike Parkinson, Do-it-Yourself Billion Dollar Business Graphics

3 Fast and Easy Steps to Turn Your Text and Ideas Into Graphics That Sell

Every once in a while you come across something that influences the way you work. Something that gives you not just the theory but provides you with the methods to do something in a better way. It's even rarer to find something that gives you the kind of visual ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Well, that's what Mike Parkinson has done here. You could say that being a book about graphics that the visual ideas of course should be there, but that's missing the point. Let me explain.

This book is not about pictures. It's about effective communication and how to increase the effectiveness of communication. Once you realise that, this book will influence and improve the way you produce your proposals.

I should point out as well, that this is not specifically a guide for professional graphic designers, though I think that there are many graphic designers out there who would benefit from reading it. It's for anyone who wants to improve written communications and that means everyone who writes proposals. Don't think that because "you do the words and the graphics guy does the graphics" that this isn't for you. It is.

The first section of the book is about the power of graphics and after fours years studying fine arts and over 20 years experience developing effective graphics Parkinson knows what he is saying. Reading this, you know that the book is based not just on experience and intuition, but solid research and empirical evidence.

Next, Parkinson explains the lifecycle of a graphic and how the two elements of a graphic, (surface or cognitive and subsurface or emotional)are connected. It's why a successful graphic works on multiple levels,communicating hard information, yet in a way we find appealing. So how do you know what is appealing and what information to communicate? We need to move from the abstract and into the practical and fortunately Parkinson has a method for us to follow. This is the key for how even the most visually illiterate wordsmith can think about creating high quality briefs for a graphic artist or select the most appropriate library graphics.

There are three steps to the method, each with their own process.

The first step, the P.A.Q.S. process is about ensuring that you have the information to do what is required:

    * Primary Objective: what's the required action after the graphic has been viewed?
    * Audience: who are they and what do they want?
    * Questions: What does the audience need to know from looking at this graphic?
    * Subject Matter: What you need to know to answer the questions!

There's more too it that that of course, which is why each part of the process is covered in detail with lots of examples.

Step two covers how to conceptualise graphics and Parkinson describes four different methods for conceptualising graphics. Never again will you be stuck for inspiration or wonder "I have no idea how to describe this". He also looks at some design techniques - how to present graphics well.

The third step is about rendering your graphics. There are more tips and rules and pages of every graphic type you can possibly imagine for you to learn from.

There's a fun little quiz at the end, plus a glossary and a link to a virtual CD of free examples of business graphics which makes this one of the most comprehensive resources of its type. It's also easy to understand and implement ideas that will improve your proposals.

All in all this book is excellent value and delivers more than expected. If you thought that graphics were a black art only accessible to artistic Photoshop gurus, then DIY Billion Dollar Business Graphics will open your eyes to a whole new world of effective communication.

Buy DIY Billion Dollar Business Graphics at Billion Dollar Graphics

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Free consultancy or a business proposal?

It's a trick used by some businesses that need a problem solving, but don't have real cash to solve the problem, or no real intention of starting a procurement.

What's the trick? To request business proposals from qualified organisations on how to solve their particular problem. They'll even have suppliers come in and talk about the problem, potential solutions and write those solutions in sales documents and proposals...all at the expense of the supplier, of course...and the buyer will never have any real intention of spending any money.

These organisations think they can take the advise of an expert and implement what they can do even though they obviously haven't got the capability. If they had they wouldn't find themselves with the problem in the first place.

Many organisations have found themselves dealing with non-buyers such as this. But what can you do about it, as a business responding to a request for information?

One key thing is not to give the family farm away in your bid. One way to do this when it seems that the organisation is after free consultancy is to make the consultancy subject to a proposal itself. This has two benefits. Firstly, you get paid for the consultancy work and secondly you find out if the buyer is serious about buying. The consultancy project helps define the specification for the major components of the project.

The other way round the problem is to ensure that your solution can demonstrate so much value that they can't afford not to do it...and make sure that there are components of the service that are proprietary - so they can't do it themselves.

Lastly, remember to qualify every opportunity throughout the sales process. Find out what the project budget is...if there isn't one, or it hasn't even been discussed, then that's a first sign that the organisation is fishing for ideas. Don't respond to a proposal at this stage - offer support in putting together a business case, but if they can't sign off 5 days consultancy to help define the project and put together a return on investment, they aren't going to spend big on a larger project either.

If you aren't sure how to qualify your opportunities, then get the Learn to Write Proposals Prospect Qualification Toolkit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Contronyms, dangling modifiers and confusion. Keep them away from your business proposal.

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At Learn to Write Proposals we often make the same point - a proposal is designed to communicate and persuade. In order to do that you need to write clearly, so that the people reading your proposal, tender or sales document understand it.

OK - that much is simple and straightforward, isn't it? Though it's surprising how often the simple things get ignored!

It usually happens when we use overly technical language that is familiar to us, but not the client.

Sometimes though we can use perfectly innocent words, that might be taken out of context. Again, this is usually due to ambiguous writing and using such things as dangling modifiers where a word modifies the meaning of a sentence. These tend to be amusing:

"After being set alight for 10 minutes, John went to check on the barbecue"

But they cause a problem - they draw attention to the words and not the message.

Sometimes the words themselves are the problem, when they can mean completely different things:

"Jane decided it was time to trim the Christmas tree".

Is Jane adding to the tree or taking away. These words are contronyms - words that have different meaning. Usually the context for your writing in your proposal will make it clear, but don't make assumptions.

Remember that when you say these words your tone, inflection and context carry meaning that doesn't always make it onto the paper, so think carefully about your writing style and choice of words. Always write for your audience and their level of language and remember, you are trying to persuade - don't let the words get in the way of your communication.

Other contronyms:

Buckle - to secure or to collapse
Lease - to lend or to borrow
Out - to remove or to make public
Sanction - to permit or to restrict
Screen - to hide or to show
Weather - endure or decay

Lots more here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Are your proposals fit for purpose?

I hope not.

"Fit for purpose" is a dreadful phrase that screams mediocrity and belies a complete lack of aspiration.

It says "just get the job done, don't try and do more than you have to".

"Fit for purpose" is the war cry of those who don't want to do better.

It's OK to not want something over-engineered, but why not request and engineer the best possible within your constraints?

When you write a proposal, do you use "fit for purpose" as a winning strategy? Or indeed as one of your win themes?

When trying to win work we need to try our best, to excel, to rise far above "fit for purpose".

Everyone can produce a product "fit for purpose". What can you do to add something extra?

Yes, there is a financial cost to doing more than the bare minimum. But how many successful businesses are surviving because they aim to be fit for a King, not just fit for purpose.

If you compete only on price, remember that one day, someone will start doing the same "fit for purpose" thing you do for less.

Go beyond the minimum and demonstrate the value of being better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Less or more. Are businesses seeking opportunities in your backyard?

The recession is hurting. That much we know. There are businesses going out of work and unemployment is rising.

So some businesses are in survival mode, hoping to be around in two years time...and maybe their competition won't be.

So does this mean that when opportunities come along there is less competition or more? I think more. Some businesses are doing well. not just surviving, but thriving. What are they doing that you can't do?

Many of them are willing to change their business model, finding new ways of working and new markets. They are responding and being pro-active...and being efficient at the same time.

Instead of going into survival mode...which doesn't breed confidence in your customers, what can you do that's cheap, innovative and new. Like those new entrants that you find yourself pitching against - where can you find a new market to start submitting your proposals?

Your strategy needs to be to highlight your strengths in your existing market, as an established business, whilst selling a different message of freshness in new markets. It's not an easy balancing act, but it's why every proposal needs to establish it's win themes and be carefully customised to every individual opportunity.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

Yes! is a book with three authors, which had me a little worried, after all can three people collaborate on a small volume like this successfully?

The answer is in the title - yes! Quite simply this is a book of information gems. 50 of them, each presented with enough data about the reasoning and research behind each point to validate it completely, yet not academic enough to be boring.

Each chapter takes a single persuasive element, builds up a reference point around it, shares research to back up the reasoning and then before you know're at the next chapter. Nothing is overdone, so you don't get bored reading it. Some of the stories you may have heard before - maybe it's the one about the study on the use of hotel towels, maybe it's the example about starting prices on eBay...

My personal favourite is entitled "Why should restaurants ditch their baskets of mints?". We all know of the restaurants that have a bowl of mints by the exit - well it turns out why there are a lot of reasons why it could be better to give them out in different ways. It's a good example of how Yes! doesn't rely on old war stories from sales people, or possibly apocryphal stories with non-verifiable facts.

Yes! quotes research from behavioural scientist David Styrohmetz and some research he did to investigate what difference receiving a sweet at the end of the meal would make to the waiter's tips. There was a control group where no sweet was given.

Group one received the sweet at the end of the meal and tips went up 3.3 per cent. Group two received two sweets and the tip went up 14.1 per cent...not bad. Most people would stop there...but this book is about persuasion. So group three were all given one sweet, then as the waiter left, they turned around and gave each diner another sweet. Magic...and increase of 23 per cent.

The strength in the book is in the explanation of why? You can understand simply why increasing the gift from one sweet to two increases a tip, but both group two and group three both get two sweets. However, the difference is in the way it was presented. Firstly, it was a surprise - the waiter had turned to leave. Secondly, the waiter by appearing to choose to give an extra sweet to this particular table made it seem like he especially liked them and the table wished to reciprocate.

Yes! doesn't try to be a book on persuasion for any particular reason. It's not a book about better negotiation, better sales or how to write a proposal. It steers clear of practical application and context. Until the end that is. The last three of chapters add some useful elements. Firstly, looking at influence in the twenty-first century - for example looking at email communication. There's a short chapter on ethical influence and lastly some real world examples of the science of persuasion in action.

I mentioned that Yes! has three authors - Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B Cialdini. They all deserve credit for making a book that's an entertaining read - it would have been so easy to be overly academic and over-long. As it is, it's easy to dip into and pick up some ideas and then come back to it later for another dip. Recommend it? Yes!

Buy Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion from Amazon now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Proposal horror stories...and the lessons learnt

So here are two of my favourite proposal horror stories. OK, one of them involves a presentation.

1. A company decides to use a junior member of staff to put together a proposal for a division he knows nothing about. They give him one day to do it, with instructions to assemble the document purely from past proposals. At the end of the day (yes, after work), the division head will turn up, edit the proposal (with the junior proposal writer still there, of course) and then it will get submitted the following day.

Well...the executive summary taken from another proposal still had the client's name from the earlier proposal in it when it was submitted...guess who was blamed?

I think many people who have put proposals together will recognise the bad practice here - leaving the proposal to the last minute, relying on someone who has no idea what the proposal is about to put it together, not allowing adequate time for proofreading and quality review. The problem could have been avoided by planning a proposal response as soon as the proposal was known about, with the proposal sections allocated to suitably qualified individuals. The junior team member could still have been responsible for managing the process and assembling the document.

Oh...and don't have the wrong client name in your proposal. Clients really don't like it.

2. It's a presentation for a medium sized government IT contract. It's down to the last two companies. Company A, a large multi-national IT and telecoms company goes first. Then Company B, a small IT specialist. Company B is told later on in the afternoon that they won. They ask for feedback. "Well..." starts the client."...your pricing was almost identical. The solution you offered was very similar. You both understood exactly what we wanted and could deliver in the timeframe." "So what swung it our way?" they asked, assuming that their exceptional client relationship skills had won the client over. The client continued "They came in and set up their computer for the presentation, they handed out expensively produced brochures with the solution detailed. And then they told us that they had left the presentation on the computer at the office". Boom! and there went six weeks work on a proposal and on such things are decisions made.

Lesson: When you go on holiday do you keep reminding yourself "tickets, passport, wallet"? Prepare for your presentations thoroughly and always check that you have everything you need.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Incentivize your bid team...and why not incentivize everyone?

Look through the job adverts - or perhaps you are even writing the job adverts?

Here are the salary highlights from two jobs posted today on an online jobs board:

1) Business Development Manager: BASIC £65K, OTE £100K+
2) Bid Manager: Salary: £45,000.00 - £45,000.00 GBP per year

Why do sales people get incentivised to perform yet bid teams often don't? OK - sales people are the ones generating leads and opportunities, but old on...that's their job. They are paid commission for closing the sale. And what do many businesses require before they are willing to sign the contract? That's right a proposal.

So if an integral part of your future business is in the hands of the bid team, do they not deserve some incentives too? How many members of a bid team have worked late, or even over the weekend to make sure that the proposal gets out of the door? And what did you get if that proposal was successful?

Sales structures within organisations have changed. There is more reliance on proposal writing as part of the capture process and just because proposal teams are not out chasing clients, that doesn't mean that they aren't integral to your success. Sales people are no longer the sole champion of winning new business.

Getting clients isn't easy - so I'm not prescribing getting rid of incentives for sales staff, but rather that incentives should be part of the proposal teams role. When it's late on the Wednesday night and the proposal team has to put in a few more hours before they go home, they will be more excited about doing a good job and creating a winning proposal - rather than just getting the damned thing out of the way - if they know they are being rewarded. And that means everyone in the bid team, not just the Bid Manager.

This should be taken further throughout the whole business. Reward and incentivise staff to do better work (not just the work they are paid to do). It might seem easy just now to pick up employees at the lowest rate and work them hard because they don't want to lose their job. But believe me, are they wanting to deliver above and beyond what is required? Will they move off as soon as a better opportunity comes along, leaving you with the costs of re-hiring?

Why not incentivise them for doing a better job? Finishing project early, with better quality? Coming up with new ideas? Suggesting new projects to the client? (How many project add-ons result from project teams with no sales involvement, yet the project team gets nothing and the sales person gets commission?).

Incentives will help you deliver a better product and happier customers in the hard times and have you better prepared for bigger successes when new opportunities emerge.

Friday, July 10, 2009

When a sales strategy really matters

I was watching Gerry's Big Decision last night a programme where Sir Gerry Robinson decides whether or not to provide angel funding for businesses that are about to hit the skids.

One of those businesses was fairly local to me  - HJ Berry Furniture maker. It's England's oldest chair maker and indeed I have some of their furniture in my house and I can vouch for the fact that it's of the highest quality and will last. The other was a pie and pasty maker in Devon. The pies looked good. If smelly-vision existed I may have ended up eating the TV.

So both businesses have good product, but aren't selling enough. One understandable in a recession (high-end furniture), the other less so (high-quality, low-price food).

There were three things in the show that amazed me.

1) Both businesses, struggling for revenue had an incredibly lax attitude to sales. Poor quality, ill-prepared sales people that seemed willing to do sales calls without any planning whatsoever. Where's the sales strategy, target customers, key account planning?

2) Berrys - oblivious to an incentivised approach to sales. The sales model isn't working...the economy has changed...the competition has changed...the way people buy has changed. Do something different, don't just expect it to fall out of the air.

3) The Managing Director's pitch to House of Fraser. I'm sure that this was a very difficult thing to do in front of TV cameras and with the pressure of Gerry Robinson being there...and it may well have been a last minute thing. Plus of course we only see the bits that they want to broadcast.

But, going to a major pitch on your own and just talking about the product as if you'd only read the brochure 5 minutes before. Talk about the customers of House of Fraser and why they want to buy the furniture. Be prepared about the questions on seat coverings...take a pack of swatch samples down. Highlight the USP - the oldest chair maker in the country with stylish chairs that last...and why not guarantee it. Anticipate the question.

And would you ever go alone to a major pitch? No, neither would I.

All in all it's examples like these that demonstrate that sales skills aren't very good across a range of businesses...or at least there is a reluctance to learn and practice. All major pitches should be rehearsed. You may spend four weeks on a proposal, but only an hour "putting some slides together". If you are at the presentation stage, take it a little seriously.

If you have the product, get the sales effort right and it will sell. If the sales element of your business isn't right, there are very few products out there that are good enough to compensate for it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How to write a business proposal when you are an individual

A recent article looked at how to approach writing a business proposal as a small business and the techniques that you can use to manage proposal development that are similar to those used by larger businesses that have a dedicated proposal development team or strategic proposal centre.

But what if you are an individual consultant pitching for new business, or perhaps a start-up that has a handful of people working for it, all trying to do everything they can to make the business a success? In these situations the people involved have to use a range of skills that probably aren't what they are in business for. And sales, marketing and especially proposal writing is a skill that many people will need for all their business life, yet they will always consider it a chore that takes them away from their "real" job.

Yet without a good sales strategy, without a good proposal there may be no real job.

One of the benefits about being an individual is that you can keep proposals short. There is usually no requirement to submit corporate accounts and policies - you can concentrate on the client requirement. And it's often the case that you have a relationship with that client, so you will know and understand the requirement well.

What you want to get across in your proposal is a demonstrable benefit to the client, your credibility and suitability for the job and pricing - including a simple return on investment calculation. It's based on my simple formula for persuasion:

Benefits + Credibility + Value (ROI) = Persuasion

Keeping your proposals straightforward using testimonials from your other clients, making it clear not only what you will do, but what positive impact it will have and why it is money well spent will get you business. And as long as you have the ability to demonstrate these things, then it shouldn't take long to put them together.

Sometimes though you may still want to get professional help, but can't afford daily rates of a consultant. That's why Learn to Write Proposals offers a service that lowers the upfront cost of proposal development substantially and then rewards us if the proposal is successful - that is when you have more business and have the cash available. It's a risk reward for us - we believe in our proposals so we are prepared to back this up by asking for a small upfront fee and take a win bonus only if the proposal is successful.

Everyone wins - we get clients that we previously wouldn't work with, you get a better proposal and the client gets an improved presentation of the solution and benefits.

It's how an individual, start-up or micro-business can benefit from professional proposal development techniques and writing just like any other business.

If you would like more information, then please get in touch with us here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When two pages can be better than forty when you write a business proposal

When you are writing a business proposal it can be in response to a "Request for Proposal" (or "Invitation to Tender") - that is, a re-active proposal - one that is reacting to an event from the buyer. Or you can write a pro-active proposal - one that you present to a buyer without waiting for them to ask several potential suppliers for competitive proposals.

A pro-active proposal may be used to help define a business case for a particular project - the client may not have realised the benefits of changing to your particular brand of widgets, for example. But what is the best format for a pro-active proposal? Of course it depends on the complexity and nature of your products, but in many ways the pro-active proposal is there to serve one of two purposes.

1) To provide the client with a written follow-up to sales activity
2) To gain attention of a client prior to sales activity

Undoubtedly if you have had existing sales calls and the client wishes to move ahead, then you need to write a proposal that provides complete details of the product or service you offer and all the accompanying terms and descriptions of your offer - a full proposal.

But if you are sending a proposal into a business that you have no agreement with, is that going to work? No. For two main reasons.

Firstly: it's too big a document for anyone to be interested in reading. Sure, it may be interesting but it's going in the bin.
Secondly: it isn't customised to the client's situation and requirements. So how can you provide the details when you don't know them?

What can work though, is a well presented letter proposal, used as a marketing tool. Rather than sending the glossy brochure out, that's also likely to end up in the circular file next to the desk, send a personalised letter.

You may not know the customer's need, but you should be able to find out the decision makers name. And your letter can get straight to the point of highlighting the benefits you can offer. Not just the generic benefits of your solution (again, you don't know their situation, so think carefully about the client benefits?) but the benefits of having you come in and having a discussion.

A sales letter can be a powerful tool, and more people are likely to read a personalised letter than read a glossy brochure. Make it short and powerful - it's a sales tool, so why not include some proposal power words? Have a clear call to action at the end (what they can do) and also a statement about what you will do (when you will call to follow up).

A sales letter won't work every time, but in certain situations they can be a very powerful tool that is easy to create, cheap to send out and gets results.

Find out more about writing sales letters here, and if you would like help in writing your sales letter, get in touch.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How to kill yourself before you have begun

A new can give you huge marketing leverage...under $125.

OK - we've all seen advertisements like this online or in our inbox. And sometimes we've bought that software or service. There are some tools I've bought that I find pretty useful, others that well, let's say didn't live up to my expectations.

But to get you to buy the product you need a compelling sales message, one that instils confidence and trust in the client. So would you trust the software code based on this manufacturers message on their website? And do you believe them based upon what they write?

This could possibly be a good product, but how many people are going to risk it and find out based upon something so simple to get right as spelling and grammar. A few typos I think we all forgive, but this makes me wonder whether to laugh or cry. I mean "cum on, call me" makes me think that a different product is being offered entirely.

No bull,, no crap--(sic) I think this is the worst marketing message I have ever seen.

This is an extreme case of spelling getting in the way of the message. Don't ever let it get in the way of yours. Most of these errors would be picked up by spell check and the rest should be caught by a quick proofread. It's a reminder to us all to allow time to check the simple things.

Is quality review built in to your sales and proposal development process? Or is it something that gets done if you have time?

Do you plan time for a dedicated proof-reader when you have completed your proposals?

Do you have a style guide for them to follow?

Have you ever had a spelling error highlighted by a client? At best it's embarrassing. At worst it's lost you business.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seth Godin about books...and Learn to Write Proposals on proposals

Seth Godin, one of those people (whose blog you should read even if it's not about your field of work specifically had a post about book covers today. You can read it here, or I've included it below.

As I often do, I thought about parallels with
proposals. A proposal cover doesn't have the same power as a book cover - it may have visual or graphic impact, but more often than not it's goal is to look professional and to provide identity to the contents inside and the brand values  of the organisation that is submitting it.

But if the blurb of a book cover is what provides the catch, the hook, the interest that gets us to spend our hard earned money to see what the rest of the book says maybe that's what the executive summary in a proposal should do. A good executive summary should generate enough interest in the reader to make them want to read the rest of your proposal.

But the ways your executive summary achieve this are very different.
  • Solving problems - you demonstrate a clear understanding of the need and how to resolve it
  • Credibility - you can show authority and make the client trust you
  • Value - the benefits you bring to the client are worth more to the client than the costs you propose
  • Proven - you have done it before
  • Visual - graphics help get things noticed and increase understanding and interest. What can you graphically represent to notch up the interest level.
There are surely others...what can you do in your executive summaries to make the reader want to read the rest of the proposal? Because some people deciding whether to give you the business may not judge you on your proposals cover...but they will judge you on your executive summary.

Is the purpose of the cover to sell books, to accurately describe what's in the book, or to tee up the reader so the book has maximum impact?

The third. It's the third because if the book has maximum impact, then word of mouth is created, and word of mouth is what sells your product, not the cover. Tactically, the cover sells the back cover, the back cover sells the flap and by then you've sold the book. If those steps end up selling a book that the purchaser doesn't like, game over. So you have to be consistent all the way through and end up creating a conversation after the purchase. Books are better at creating conversations than most products (when was the last time you talked about a pool cue), but there's lots of opportunity here, no matter what you make.

Some ways that a book cover can accomplish its mission:

  • Iconic (because iconic items tend to signal 'important')
  • Noticeable across the room (you see that lots of other people own it, thus making it likely that you'll want to know why)
  • Sophisticated (because this helps reinforce that the ideas inside are worthy of your time)
  • Original (why bother reading a book you already know)
  • Clever
  • Funny
  • Generic (reminding you of a genre or another book you liked, not generic as in boring)

I don't know about you, but I judge books by their cover every day.

P.S. "Books are better at creating conversations than most products"...most products maybe, though not mobile phones...especially if it starts with an i...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Help us and have a chance to win a lifetime membership with Learn to Write Proposals

Learn to Write Proposals is always trying to improve so we can provide our users with the experience and content they want.

So this month we are asking you how you find using our site and what we can do to provide better content for you in the future.

Our survey will be available until July 31 2009 and then we'll be choosing one winner at random to get not only a full lifetime membership to Learn to Write Proposals but also giving away one free day of proposal consultancy. That's a thankyou worth over £500.

You can take part in our survey here and I promise it will only take a couple of minutes to complete:

Many thanks and I look forward to reading your opinions.

James England 
Learn to Write Proposals

P.S. Our regular newsletter will be with you again soon with some great articles and exciting developments. Until then, get instant updates and proposal writing tips by following Learn to Write Proposals on Twitter -

What a good waiter can tell us about writing a winning proposal

What can waiters tell us about persuasion? Well, how often has you tip altered depending on the quality of service? How often has your order changed depending on the recommendations of the waiter? And was you judgement about repeat business affected by the person who was your primary contact?

Successful food servers are not just good at increasing the size of their tips - they also improve the revenue for the restaurant by providing a service that is firstly good quality and personable (making people come back again) but by also making recommendations on what people should eat and drink - ever paid more than you intended for that bottle of wine because the waiter recommended it? Research also shows that repeating customer orders back increases tip does how you give people sweets at the end of the meal. I'll be looking at that in my next book review "Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion".

Bad service drives me crazy in a restaurant. And I have no idea why restaurant owners put up with it - I'm sure that the main reason people don't return to restaurants is poor service. What's that got to do with proposals?

Well, look at your proposal as if it were a meal and the client was the diner...stay with me here...would you return to the restaurant? Or put it this way, does your proposal look after the client? Are they going to feel that even though you have recommended something expensive, perhaps even more expensive than they had intended paying, that it was worth it? Does your proposal give them a positive experience and value for money?

Or does it give them indigestion and make them feel as if they never want to eat there again?

How about repeating an order back? Tips increase, which shows greater customer satisfaction. Look at your proposals and be sure that you have accurately reflected the client requirement. Does anything annoy your more than receiving the wrong order because the waiter wasn't paying attention? No. So don't propose a solution that doesn't meet the client's requirement.

Feel free to recommend something better. They value your expertise in this area and want your opinion. And bear in mind, that a more expensive "five star" option makes a less expensive "standard" solution look more affordable...the restaurant knows this by putting all those expensive wines and champagnes on the wine list...all of a sudden you think that £30 for a bottle of wine isn't so bad after all.

People reward good experiences and avoid returning to places they have had a bad one. Make sure your proposal reflects our client's needs and concerns and makes recommendations for a solution. Go on and provide good service and they will want to come back.

There are lots of successful businesses out there that operate in different spheres and ways than yours or mine. But shouldn't be able to look at what makes them successful and integrate some of those features in our business to help us succeed?

Why not try it? Otherwise you may be heading the same way as that dodgy restaurant that you ate at last week.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

how to write a business proposal when you are a small business

Big businesses take writing business proposals seriously. Why? because big contracts are offered particularly by the public sector?

On the radio this morning I heard that in the UK over 80% of public sector IT projects are awarded to only 5 of the largest consultancies. Not that a company with 150 staff is going to attempt to win a contract for national identity cards, but the size of the contract means that the proposal itself can have a budget of millions of pounds to put together. This is a huge project, requiring a large number of people, organisation and a lot of time and effort to produce the tender.

Procurement in the public sector has become more professional and needs to be demonstrably fair. So the procurement process is complex on large projects and that same diligence is required on smaller projects that require written proposals.
Small businesses also need to write proposals - OK, smaller proposals. But in a small business a contract worth £250,000 can be a big piece of work - one that makes the difference between keeping people and letting them go. It's important then that the proposal is professional and accurate. But this needs an equivalent amount of resource to organise, plan and execute.

Yet, even with a dedicated sales team there is often adequate resource to write a proposal. I've written before about the differences in sales people and proposal development. Here is my generalisation: sales people are, for the most part, not great at planning the resources and time required to write proposals to the best ability of the company. This usually manifests itself by not doing anything about an RFP for three weeks, then rushing to get it finished in time.

Why can't a small business use the tactics and approaches of big business in their proposals? Well they can. You may not have the ability to have a strategic proposal centre, with staff just dedicated to writing proposals, but you can do one of two things.

1) Appoint one of your project managers or administrators to be in charge of proposal planning. They should be involved in the weekly sales meeting and plan the resources required to complete each proposal and set deadlines to ensure work is completed on time and early enough to be quality checked and amendments made.

This doesn't need to be a central bid team - all the proposal development can be done by staff in their normal jobs. It's just leaving the project management to a professional. After all, how many CEOs would put their star sales person in charge of their most important project? Not many...yet the sales projects they are working on will be the most important projects in the company next year.

2) If you can't spare the project manager, then you need to improve the planning of the sales team. At the sales meeting don't just look at probabilities, proposals in development and when projects will be closed - every proposal opportunity should require a detailed plan to be produced by the sales person. The first half of the meeting should be the traditional sales meeting and the second half reviewing the proposal plans, resources required and progress.

Small businesses often rely on the can-do, multi-skilled approach and attitude of their staff. Yet the success of big business says play as a team because it makes you stronger. Find ways to help your proposals be from a structured, planned team and they will be better.

If you have a small business and want help to make this happen in your organisation, then get in touch with Learn to Write Proposals.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writing business propsoals with unique selling points

I recently reviewed Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing by Lindsay Camp - a book that's as enjoyable as it is useful.

One of the things that Camp mentions is that in marketing messages there is always the hunt for a unique selling point or USP. Yet, there might not always be one. You can have a perfectly good product, that works well, is efficient and has a good price - but your competition may have something very similar.

It's the same in proposals. We look for that competitive edge  and differentiators to create win themes in our proposal. But sometimes we can put pressure on ourselves to come up with something completely unique that actually...might not be so unique. Perhaps you aren't the only organisation that has a 24-hour UK call centre or a 10-year guarantee or providing shocking-pink high-visibility vests for construction workers (USPs aren't always going to get you more business by themselves).

Camp talks instead about a "competitive promise" - factors that will help change the client's mind. Start off with your single strongest claim and tell the story of why it matters - what difference will it make to them.

Don't dismiss USPs if you have them, but it's worth thinking as well about what are the combinations of factors - that may including "softer" or people related factors that would make clients choose you rather than the competition when you write your business proposal.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Learn to Write Proposals book review: Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing by Lindsay Camp

This is a fun and informative book, one that gives good, sensible advice from someone with years of experience yet dispensed in an informal way that makes some of the more humorous parts feel as they've been told to you by the office sage over a pint after work has finished on Friday afternoon.

I'm not trying to put it down in an intellectual sense; in fact I literally didn't put it down until I'd finished reading it. If you've read some of my other book reviews you'll realise that I like books that are accessible. Ones that give you quality information but not in a stuffy academic manner. When I write proposals I want my message to be easily understood, not overcomplicated. And that's how I like my books. I like this one.

Camp separates his book into three sections: Persuasive Principles; A Persuasive Writing A- Z; and Persuasive Words at Work.

The first section isn't a how-to, but it is a valuable explanation of what persuasive writing is and what it should do. Camp bases it around his guiding theory of the "Three Rs of Persuasive Writing":
Remember the Reader and the Result

It's good advice and Camp even explains his understanding of the readership of this book. Not one that you may have thought. He specifically says he doesn't expect his reader to be someone who is a persuasive writing professional - rather it is anyone who wants to communicate better through the written word. He also encourages you to never lose what you want the end result of your writing to be.

The A - Z section falls somewhere between a catalogue of tips relating to section one and a style guide. If you are like me, you'll find some of the embedded examples very funny. I loved this one:


Never use a word unless you're 100% certain of its meaning. We've all been tempted to do it - to make ourselves sounds more grandiloquent and meretricious.

But it nearly always turns out crapulously.

Camp doesn't mind saying it the way he calls it, which is usually very funny. He even manages a little dig at Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss - explaining that there's "no room for pedantry in relation to punctuation - or anything else". 

Personally, I don't mind this dig. Whereas I read this book in one go, I find Eats, Shoots and Leaves totally unreadable and completely self-defeating in any aims to improve the quality of writing and communication. How many of you bought that book and never finished it, never mind not learning anything from it?

Back to Can I Change Your Mind? The last section is a stroll through camps creative and writing process. He's not trying to give a magic formula, but rather a realistic insight in what it's like to work as a creative writer and how you might be able to use the information in your writing.

There's another theme throughout the book. One of the very things that make it readable, and that's rhythm. Camp explains and demonstrates with examples how words become more readable with good rhythm. He gives us a phrase:

Trousers for women
Trousers for men

and asks us to say them aloud, and then say them the other way round. Camp explains that the more satisfying way is as written because it ends on a stressed syllable. Try it. It works. Every time.

But the best example of the rhythm of writing, writing that's easy to read, that flows, that makes sense without overwhelming the reader is the book itself. It's clever, but not too clever for its own good and has a lot of tips that I believe will make an instant impact on anyone’s writing.

It's a good read...even if you don't write. All in all, a Learn to Write Proposals recommended read.

Buy it now from Amazon: Can I Change Your Mind? The Craft and Art of Persuasive Writing

Monday, May 18, 2009

Proposal writing and relationships

When you write a proposal how much contact do you have with the organisation that it's been submitted to?

Perhaps you are the Account Manager, in charge of the account and the bid. But perhaps you are a software developer asked to contribute to an important part of the bid, yet have no real connection with the client. In this case the client seems a long way off: Software Developer-Bid Team-Account Manager-Client.

It may be that the developer writes some really good technical input into the proposal, but the chances are they won't unless they are really brought into the bid team and feel as if they are part of the proposal development.

In an ideal world when writing business proposals it would be great to have all the bid team meet with their counterparts at the client organisation so they can see and understand first hand how things need to fit together. Then a co-ordinated response can be developed, with everyone singing off the same hymn sheet (or at least from the same executive summary).

Even if this level of commitment isn't possible - and we have all been in situations where members of the extended proposal team simply don't have the time to spend as long as we'd like on a proposal - there are other ways of bringing these team members closer to the bid. Put yourself in their shoes; you are busy doing project work and someone you maybe don't know very well asks for your help in writing some content about something. You don't have much time, you don't really know what it's about and so you get it done, out of the way and back onto your project.

So how do you involve these important people in your tender response without costing them a lot of time? Easy. Get them to come to a short proposal kick-off meeting, where the big picture is explained. Send them emails about the proposal from the client. Ask them for their help on the solution, not just to write up a section on an already decided solution. If it's possible, give them direct access to the client to ask questions - it removes those degrees of separation that exist.

There are ways of getting your proposal team not just involved, but truly committed to your proposals. Treat people like they are an afterthought and that's exactly what you'll get back from them for your proposal.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Expenses and proposals

So as we look on at the train wreck of MPs expenses, let's ask ourselves why we are all fed up.

OK - these are publicly elected officials that appear to have been creating their own little secret club with many perks.

There are lots of questions. Why are these things not taxed as perks? Why if you were so busy, did everyone seem to manage to claim too much on their expenses, was there anyone who under claimed? When I'm busy, I'm not claiming anything...they are the last thing I get around to doing. And just because a rule allows something, doesn't mean that rule has to be exploited does it? Where does an individual's sense of right and wrong step in?

OK - what's this to do with a proposals blog?

Expenses to most people are reimbursable costs that they initially pay out of their own pocket before claiming back, not a series of entitlements. This is what you would expect as an employer and as a client organisation you also have a right to know what constitutes reasonable expenses.

When working on a project you have occasional expenses outside the core costs of your business - transportation, accommodation, hospitality etc. But are these the cost of doing business or are they extra for the project? Do you list probable expenses as an additional cost in your proposal or absorb them into your standard business overheads?

I've submitted proposals where outside of the financials I've said something along the lines that expenses will be charged for necessary travel and associated costs that occur due to this project, usually providing an estimate and saying that they won't exceed this. The Project Manager is responsible for keeping track of the evidence and submitting this to the clients for reimbursement.

I've never had a client have a problem with this, but I used to have a client whose policy was to charge a 20% administration charge on all expenses. Clients generally raised an eyebrow at this, because just like MPs it looks as if you are trying to profit from expenses. In this case the business calculated that the costs of processing expense reports was around 20% of the cost of the expenses, so they weren't profiting, just ensuring they didn't lose money.

But some things are the cost of doing business and businesses want to know they are receiving good value. Having the appearance of trying to make money doesn't build trust and good faith. It's important that throughout every aspect of your proposal what you are communicating and the impact (positive, negative, financial) is clearly discernable from the information you have provided.

It's a lesson that some members of parliament are going to learn the hard way - perception is reality. So make the perception of your submissions clear, explicit and fair. If you don't you may win one piece of work, but I bet you'll never work with that client again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Budget leaks, Formula One and proposal

We get constant trails and leaks about what is going to be in the upcoming budget...I guess it makes sure that there aren't too many surprises coming up, which is why it's done - to manage expectations and even to get a sense about what the reaction will be.

In Formula One  meanwhile, we had a few teams who interpreted rules differently, sought clarification and still came up with different solutions; all it turns out, within the rules.

What has this got to do with anything?

In each case there has been a consultation of a kind. A consultation that results in important changes and decisions being made which are key to the success of in one case a sports team and in the other a goverment and a country.

So when we have a proposal to submit, how often do you consult with the issuing body to get clarification, get a meeting or even to test out or ideas beforehand. Of course sometimes, especially in public tendering you may be prohibited from this, but it's always worth asking.

There's a lot at stake, so when you can don't waste an opportunity to get your ideas in front of the people who evaluate, get feedback and develop you proposals in the winning direction. If it's good enough for the government (and more to the point Formula One!) it's good enough for the rest of us.

Monday, March 23, 2009

10 things to improve your proposals in less than 10 minutes

These aren't here to cut corners - there's no such thing in writing business proposals (efficiency yes, corner-cutting no!). They are here though to give you some ideas on how little things can improve your proposals, bids and/or your thinking.

1. Spell check.
I forgot to spell check something recently. Fortunately this wasn't a proposal so all it cost me was a little embarrassment when I got an email pointing out the typo. Don't let spell checking replace proper proof-reading, but it's a good place to start.

2. Reading blogs and newsletters.
Don't just read great proposal blogs like The Proposal Guysand Tom Sant'sMessages that Matter.Read something that might just give you a new approach to something. Try Seth Godin and Reed Holden as a good place to start.

3. Creating a front page with impact.
Have a look at the front page of your proposal. Imagine it with 6 other similar documents. Would yours be the one that you wanted to reach out and read first? If it isn't...

4. Talk to your graphics people
Graphics can create a powerful way to convey complex messages, explain, persuade and aid retention in the reader. Get you graphics people involved in coming up with ideas to get you message across effectively.

5. Get feedback from the client
Call them, ask for a meeting, give them a form to fill out. However you do it, get some feedback off the people who thought you weren't good (or just not) persuasive enough - and especially off the clients who thought you were. Why did they choose you? Find out and leverage it in your next proposal.

6. Make a wish list of what you'd really like to be able to say in your proposals
If the technical people weren't there to say it can't be done it that time, with that budget, what would your perfect solution look like when you write a proposal? Figure it out and then ask "how can we do it?"

7. Edit a piece of boilerplate
Your boilerplate library may be huge...some of it goes back years. So freshen up one piece of content every day. Add the latest product release details or freshen up that resume with the most recent assignments. And whilst you are looking at resumes...

8. Take a picture of your project team
Not bad pictures, good quality professionally taken photographs that reflect your organisations style. It makes the resumes in your proposal a lot more readable.

9. Have a competition
Do you need to get new project case-studies from the sales team (who don't want to do them)? Then have a competition, they can submit as many as they like and the best one wins a good prize. Credit to Tom Sant's messages that matter for that one.

10. Visit Learn to Write Proposals, of course! Just enough time to read our latest articles and subscribe to our newsletter, blog and twitter feed! And let us bring the best proposal resources, advice and information straight to you.

Keeping it short and simple and jargon free

I recently posted a reply on the must-read Proposal Guys blog, which is of course about proposal writing.

The original post was providing a great example of unreadable jargon used in a real proposal. My reply got me thinking about short meaningful messages, where there is no room to waster your words:

There was a recent programme on Radio 4 on the development of language, particularly in relation to “texting”.

There were two things that I found interesting. Firstly was the rise
in 160 poetry where poems are created in 160 characters or less. Second
was the rise in Japan of entire stories that can be sent in short text

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, if you only have 160
characters to convey a message or a story it makes you think about your
words very carefully. Everyone of them has to matter - you certainly
don’t end up with a 94 word sentence.

The page should be considered expensive real estate where words are valued and thought given to each one.

I wonder what a “160 proposal” would look like, though I dnt cr fr th spllng 2 mch.

Oh, and if you are interested to see what a 160 poem reads like then
your may be interested to know that in 2002 Emma Passmore won £1,500
with this:

I left my pictur on th ground wher u walk

so that somday if th sun was jst right

& th rain didnt wash me awa

u might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up

Another example of this texting as a message of course, is Twitter, so I've started twittering. I'm going to use this as a way of letting people know what's new on the Learn to Write Proposals site, but also to pass on some short proposal tips.

Follow Learn to Write Proposals on Twitter

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learn to Write Proposals not alone in the fight against jargon

Ever read (or tried to) an invitation to tender or proposal notice from a local authority?

Did it have any of these words in it (visit the link)?

The Local Government Association is trying to improve the use of plain English:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is your sales message clear when you write a business proposal?

I recently saw this job advert and read it. Then I read it again and again. And I still had not the faintest idea what the job was about. This is a really good example of bullxxxt bingo!

It's full of jargon, completely unreadable and at the end of it you don't know what it's about. There's sometimes a danger when writing technical proposals that buzzwords start getting thrown around...come to think of it, it doesn't have to be technical for jargon to appear.

We'll cover some aspects of clarity in writing in the next couple of blogs, so if you want to maximise your intellectual capital to declutter your corporate communications whilst rightsizing your client-relationship message transfer then we are going to show you how to re-vitalize a core-competency to move into a gazelle paradigm. Eh?

The short message - this is an advertisement for a job - it's trying to sell something, a place to work. You proposals are there to sell and in order to do that there has to be no confusion what it's about and what you are offering. Look at this job advert. It scores incredibly badly on readability tests but most importantly you have no idea what you would actually be doing if you took this job. Apart from "Build relationships and manage the delivery of a consultation process with stakeholders in line with future strategies". What?

Description:     As part of the efforts geared towards strengthening the failing global economy.
XXXX XXXXXXX Ltd seeks business developers who will proffer business plans and ideas that can be executed to realize and achieve the desired goals.

JOB PURPOSE: To develop and lead implementation of strategies which shape future business delivery and provide the best possible service and information to stakeholders while ensuring compliance with legislation within the Directorate’s responsibilities.


* Business Development Directorate business plan
* Risk Management
* Efficiency measures
* Compliance audits
* Customer satisfaction
* Charter mark criteria met


* Develop a 3-year strategic plan for the Business development Directorate.
* Develop and manage annual business plans identifying key activities, priorities and risks.
* Develop, deliver and evaluate the ILF payment assurance strategy
* Build relationships and manage the delivery of a consultation process with stakeholders in line with future strategies
* Manage the delivery of a revised client service and consultation strategy
* Ensure the Directorate business continuity and recovery requirements are met
* Delivery of the ILF Race Equality Scheme
* Ensure ILF compliance with Data Protection, Freedom of Information Acts
* Improve the ratings of issues on the Risk Register that are owned by the Business Development Directorate


* Relationship management and interpersonal skills
* Communication, influencing and negotiating skills
* Strategy development and Implementation
* Project management
* Presentation skills
* Research and Report writing skills
* Problem solving and decision making
* Change Management
* Coaching & People management
* PC literate with PowerPoint, Excel and Word skills


* Professional and positive approach
* Self motivated
* Strong in building relationships and able to communicate at all levels
* Team player, and able to work on own initiative.
* Dynamic and Creative

ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATIONS: None but graduate level preferred

OTHER DUTIES: Specialist projects as agreed with the CEO to support the business requirements of the organisation. In addition, the Director will be prepared to carry out any other reasonable duties requested by the CEO.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Free Proposal Guide - How to write a proposal

At Learn to Write Proposals we've had a lot of positive comments on our online proposal guide.

It's full of great advice on capture planning, bid management, persuasive writing in a proposal, reviewing the quality of your proposal and much more for when you write a business proposal.

In fact we think that it's so useful that we've pulled together the articles into a downloadable e-book - the Learn to Write Proposals Free Proposal Guide. You can download a copy for free here.

Not only that but very soon we'll be releasing our Extended Proposal Guide with:
  • Over 20 additional sections and topics
  • Extended information, guidance and diagrams on each topic
  • Worksheets and step-by-step guides to get you applying the information to your situation
  • Real examples from real proposals
  • Advice on how to use Learn to Write Proposals to maximise you proposal effectiveness
Make sure you sign up to the Learn to Write Proposals Newsletter to get an update on when it will be released.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Keeping it short

I was listening to an article on radio four on the development of language, particularly in relation to "texting".

There were two things that I found interesting. Firstly, the rise in 160 poetry where poems are created in 160 characters or less.

Secondly, was the rise in Japan of entire stories that can be sent in text messages.

So what has this got to do with anything? Well, if you only have 160 characters to convey a message or a story it makes you think about your words very carefully. Everyone of them has to matter.

So why do so many proposals obviously have so many words that don't matter? Maybe it's time that that the page should be considered valuable real estate and room is strictly limited.

Oh, and if you are interested to see what a 160 poem reads like then your may be interested to know that in 2002 Emma Passmore won £1,500 with this:

I left my pictur on th ground wher u walk
so that somday if th sun was jst right
& th rain didnt wash me awa
u might c me out of th corner of yr i & pic me up

I wonder what a 160 proposal would look like.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to write a proposal with graphics

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

What is the point of a graphic in your business proposal or sales document?

A paper written some time ago in 1986 looked at the way that graphics could be used to enhance the persuasiveness of presentations. The study ( conducted by the University of Minnesota had some interesting findings that not only are applicable to presentations, but really can affect how to write a proposal too..

The report recommended using graphics where you needed to:
  • Increase information density
  • Display multiple dimensions
  • Organize complex issues
  • Support abstract concepts
  • Illustrate trends
The report found that using graphics would improve audience:
  • Attention
  • Comprehension
  • Yielding/Agreement
  • Retention
  • Influence audience action
Lastly, it said that support in colour is more persuasive than that in black and white.

Great, you think, let’s fill our bids and proposals full of colourful graphics and it will have a magical effect on readers. But is it that straightforward? Of course not, but if we can use graphics to help in any of these areas we should, and as the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Graphics will help readers notice, understand and retain your information but it’s important to use them appropriately for them to be effective.

To do that you need to follow some basic do’s and don’ts:
  1. Only use a graphic if it improves your message. Don’t use graphics just for the sake of using graphics.
  2. Use one graphic for each element you are explaining – if it’s a multiple step process you are explaining or a comparison then use graphics side-by-side or in sequence for each element and number each graphic appropriately.
  3. Remember, simple graphics are easier to understand.
  4. Use captions that describe the graphic and the point, or benefit that you are trying to make
  5. Create bespoke graphics for your proposal – don’t use web clip art. Design your required graphic early (when you are preparing the solution) and get them created by a professional graphic designer and incorporate them into your solution – they should never be an afterthought.
  6. Review and improve graphics, just as you would your proposal text.
  7. Insert graphics at the point in the proposal where you have the explanatory text. It makes the page more attractive and provides an easier reference for understanding. Depending on the size of the graphic, put it at the side or after the explanatory text.
    Sometimes RFPs have very constraining response requirements that don't allow graphics in the main proposal body text. This is the only time that graphics should be included at the end of the proposal as an appendix.
  8. Do a test print out early on and ensure they look high-enough quality when printed as well as on screen.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A simple approach to a sales letter

Part of the Learn to Write Proposals online proposal guide.

Treat a sales letter just like any other business proposal, a persuasive piece of writing.

Here is my recommended structure for a letter business proposal:

1. Project objectives (Why do they need your services?)
2. Solution and benefits (What benefits can you offer them?)
3. Scope of services (What will you do for them?)
4. Your responsibilities (What will they do for you? e.g give you office space and a computer...)
5. Duration of engagements (How long is the contract for? Hours/week)
6. Fees and charges (What is you hourly/daily/weekly/monthly rate.)
7. Why Us? (this is some your credentials - past projects. Also highlight your knowledge with the company and the way it works)
8. Terms and conditions (What does it include and what doesn't it
include - e.g. expenses, benefits, employer contributions etc.)
9. Next steps (what do you need them to do and when - a call to action).

Feel free to leave any of these bits out if you don't feel they are appropriate, but as in any business development always try and show that you offer value and make it persuasive. Unless you know that the opportunity is a  100% formality always put some work into your proposal, just in case they ask anyone else to tender (some organisations have to legally, so ask them). It's always worth having a good persuasive sales letter either way.

Don't start your letter proposal with a question. Most clients want to know immediately that you understand their business, not be asked about it...starting with a question to grab attention in sales is used when the salesman doesn't know anything about the client, like when you get called with "would you like to reduce your phone bill..." I bet you don't go much further, right?

When writing a business sales letter instead try and start with the clients name - do your research and make sure you get it right. It show's that you are thinking about them, not just what you have to offer. Then move into what their problem or requirement is followed by how you can solve that problem.

Go on further in your letter to expand on the need/solution and back up with evidence that you can do what you say - evidence of past projects or client testimonials is a great way of doing this. Include any unique selling points that you may have.

Then if you can demonstrate the monetary value that you offer.

Finish up with a call to action and as a last tip add a P.S. - there's statistical evidence that shows that sales letters with a P.S. get better responses.

So, an outline of a sales letter (very short version!) may be something along the lines of:

Dear Dr. Taylor,

The rising cost of publishing and printing yearbooks are causing schools and students to reconsider the most cost-effective way of collecting one of the most important memento's of school life. A Yearbooks R Us, we can provide you with the highest-quality yearbooks with a price guarantee for three years.

[some more about the schools need for yearbooks and your service here - not saying these are the appropriate sales buttons to push, but you get the idea]

We can offer a choice of yearbook styles and will include the cost of design work in with the total order. There are no hidden charges, the price we charge is per book with a minimum order of 50. Additionally, we will provide a 10% discount per book on orders over 100 books.

At Obama High you only want the finest for your students and we can provide that, as we have been doing for over 15 other schools in your area. I have inlcuded a letter from the Principal of Liberty High who has been delighted with our yearbook quality and price for the last five years.

The cost of our books is: [give some clear information on prices here - what are your unique selling points - discounts for volume? holding prices if given a multi year contract? including the design work for free?]

We have a variety of styles and design types of yearbook available and I'm sure you would like to see them. I will call your office on Monday next week in order to arrange a meeting where I can leave you some samples.

Kind regards,

Jane Doe
Yearbooks R Us

P.S. If your place an order before 31st January, then we'll give you an additional 5 books free for your school library.