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.