Friday, August 13, 2010

Special offer from Learn to Write Proposals

Learn to Write Proposals
There's never been a more important time to maximise your sales potential -  that means being able to demonstrate value in your proposals and at the same time create better proposals, faster. It's been an exciting year so far at Learn to Write Proposals with the development of e-learning content, our online proposal writing and business style guide and so much more to come with an online seminar series to support you in creating winning proposals.

To reflect the new content offerings we've recently made some changes to our subscription and lifetime membership pricing. However, we want to offer an opportunity to readers of our newsletter to subscribe to Learn to Write Proposals at a significant discount on our new rates. There really is not a better time to treat yourself and your business to a Learn to Write Proposals membership.

That's why until the end of September 2010 you can get 25% of any subscription or a lifetime membership. You can even use this discount to get a discount on individual items in our online shop.

If you want a reminder on what's included, click here.

To get your discount, use this coupon at checkout:


If you have any questions, then don't hesitate to drop us a line.

Learn to Write Proposals
Better Proposals = More Business

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Prospect qualification for business proposals

Writing a business proposal is often a substantial investment for a business, whatever the size. It takes time and resources to produce and, as with any sale, there is a chance that the customer is going to say no.

So the opportunity has to be qualified - that is you need to detach emotion and objectively assess the likeliohood of success, then make the call whether or not to invest in the bid.

This objective assessment or qualification is often difficult for some people - for instance a salesperson who has spent time cultivating an opportunity.

But it has to be done to avoid a lot of time wasting. Qualifying out bad opportunities and concentrating on ones that you can win is one of the easiest things that you can do to improve sales success and therefore the success of your business. It's a technique that all sales staff should learn.

Learn to Write Proposals has a Prospect Qualification toolkit that helps evaluate objectively  opportunities. And we recommend that this is used throughout the sales cycle, not just once.

We have two tools to help you with your bid prospecting:

Bid/No bid tool
This tool allows you to make some preliminary decisions about whether it is worth spending time and effort responding to an opportunity. Although it is always tempting to go after everything, unless you can commit time and effort to writing a high quality, customer focussed proposal, you stand only a small chance of winning.

Probability engine
This tool is designed to help you with your bid and prospect qualification - to help you calculate the probability of winning an opportunity based on key business relationship factors weighted against their importance.

Each time you use the bid qualification engine ensure that you name and save the spreadsheet locally. Keep a version for each opportunity and throughout the bidding process re-visit the tool to re-qualify the opportunity - as you get more information and knowledge about the opportunity then check that it is still a viable opportunity - or alternatively that you are applying enough resources to ensure success.

There are fourteen key questions that you need to evaluate, each of which can be given a customised weighting based on the importance of your particular situation.

As this is a very important process, we have also decided to give this toolkit away free. We'll also be working on a improved paid-for version to track costs of the bid process and estimated project costs against value of the bid and the win probability to give you real-time likely return on investment of the bid.

You can download the free toolkit here:

Monday, March 22, 2010

A business proposal that never was

I was involved in writing a proposal for a client recently. The contracting buyer was a large public sector quango, who had issued an Invitation to Tender to a range of suppliers who had been consulted over a long period of time about the proposed project.

My client had an opportunity to consult with the buyer beforehand and qualify the opportunity on several occasions...including one-one-one meetings and a supplier's briefing. Then the ITT came out with no surprises. As one of the only providers in the country who had the technical capability (and part of the specification was based on my client's solution) my client was confident.

The ITT was issued as expected and we spent several days putting the proposal response together. The process was managed, we reviewed and edited the proposal. When we were satisfied, we submitted it.

After following up several times with the buyer, a letter was received. We had not been awarded the contract. Damn!

Had we not met the specification?
Did we exceed the available budget?
Was our proposed schedule missing the target delivery dates?
Did we have a poor track record?

No on all the above.

It turns out that the buyer, as a publicly funded body didn't want to waste tax payers money by funding a service that was already commercially viable. How did they know it was commercially viable? Because my client's tender response (and that of a competitor) showed it was.

Why the client didn't realise this was the case before issuing the ITT? They had met with my client and had knowledge of our solution before we put pen to paper. Why ask us to spend all that time telling us that this project was coming up to bid, then asking us to bid, when they knew they would be funding a commericial service?

It was qualified, yet still the buyer didn't buy. Just because they didn't do their homework properly on what they could fund or not and let the bidding organisations know.

At least no tax payers money was wasted. Just my clients in preparing and putting together the bid. But a public sector organisation that can't do it's job properly is wasting public money.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Qualification...better proposals...better win rate

Once we have an opportunity we need to decide whether it is a viable one for us to actively pursue. Having meetings with clients, preparing a written proposal, travelling to a presentation and all the other costs of gaining business are just one aspect. It may be that the opportunity isn't quite right for you - it may not be your core competence or could be a distraction from a more important project or prospect. Maybe you know that your competition is in prime position for this piece of work and you feel that this project "has their name" all over it and that it simply isn't worth you writing a proposal..

So how do you decide whether to bid or not? The danger is that you make an emotional decision to bid and write a proposal, even though it may not be the right opportunity for the business, after all you have put in the effort to find or create the lead. You should go through this process even if a client organisation has given you a "hot" lead and asked you to respond to their RFP or tender document.

You need to qualify your lead all the way through the sales process - from the initial prospecting to just before the submission of the proposal. At Learn to Write Proposals we have our Bid Qualification Toolkit to help you make those decisions and it helps you in two ways.

Firstly, the Bid Qualification Engine helps you measure the probability of your success in a particular opportunity, but this isn't a one-time thing that might stop your business development in its tracks...every time you qualify the opportunity you are identifying strengths and weaknesses in your capture planning strategy. Identifying weaknesses in you position (and the potential impact of those weaknesses) early on in the business development process helps you overcome them and make your proposal and position stronger.

Secondly, the Bid/No-Bid matrix helps you make an objective decision about the viability of an opportunity.

Any sort of formal qualifying process is important and should be done regularly throughout the development process. Why? Because it will help inform you about your progress and also will help you if your bid is unsuccessful and an analysis and report has to be made of what went wrong. If you can show that you followed a structured process of identifying potential problems and mitigating them, it helps feed into improving how you go about writing business proposals and winning work.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What to do to win more business...and proposals

It's the obvious question...what do I really have to do in order to win the work.

You may think that you are doing everything right. You've done your homework, worked up a relationship with the client, done your bid/no bid analysis and qualified the opportunity. Everything seems good...but sometimes we get caught up in things and forget the basics.

Basics such as answering the questions. Maybe this blog entry should be entitled what doesn't win work because this is about something that can sometimes get overlooked. There is more than one large organisation out there who spent a lot of time, effort and money preparing the groundwork for a large piece of work that they thought that they would have a good chance of winning, yet not only did they not get the work, they were dismissed by the commissioning organisation at the pre-qualification stage.

Why? That's easy - they didn't answer the questions properly. It's unusual to be writing a proposal and not refer to the RFP to make sure that the proposal is answering the questions - not so unusual that the questions aren't answered fully or in a persuasive manner - but a PQQ is often left to a junior member of the team who just cuts and pastes from other documents. It can be a costly error to not even get invited to tender for an opportunity that suits your business strategy.

The moral of this story. Take care and take time to check that what you are doing is in fact what you were supposed to be doing.

Prepare in advance. Prepare your PQQ questions. Use proposal templates so that your documents look professional and are structured to tell a compelling story. And have your boilerplate answers ready - and then be prepared to customise those answers to ensure you highlight benefits and provide a genuine solution to the client.

How can Learn to Write Proposals help? we have a dedicated Pre-Qualification Questionnaire tool to help you prepare your answers in advance. We have proposal template packs plus guides, tools and training to help to deliver persuasive and value-packed proposals to your clients.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How do you write a business proposal?

I enjoy asking and answering questions about proposal writing and some of these are often quite complex. I recently had the opportunity in a very short space of time to and write an answer to this question...which really gets straight to the point:

How does one write a proposal? Are there any specific guidelines or format to follow?

Here is my one minute answer - trying to think about what a proposal really is about: 

There are a lot of things to consider when writing a proposal. The most important thing is that you have to remember that the proposal is about the customer not about you - and that you are trying to persuade them to buy your products and services. 

So make your proposal persuasive - that means demonstrating you credibility, showing the value of your services and if you can provide evidence that you can do what you say.

The easiest trap to fall in when writing a proposal for the first time is to say "I can do this" and "this is what I've done before". Yes, that's important but not as much as writing about what problem the client has and how you intend to solve it.

Put a one or two page Executive Summary at the start of your proposal - some people aren't going to want to read 10, 20 or more pages - they read the beginning and skim the rest if you're lucky. More likely they just skim the beginning! So get you key selling points across here.

For details on what makes a killer executive summary - look here:

Hope this helps - these are just some quick thoughts. If you want more information on proposal writing and business proposal resources, including ready to go templates and more, then please visit

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Taking pride in writing a business proposal well

I mentioned recently about a couple of posts from Seth's the second. Her reminded me of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

And this is the case when writing a business proposal. Why do the minimum? Why respond lazily with cut and paste from an old proposal? Why rush and make zero effort to explain to the client why they should choose you?

Whether you are writing a two-page letter proposal; whether you are responding to a complex request for proposal (RFP) or invitation to tender (ITT); whether you are using a proposal template or sending a proposition in an email...there's no reason why you shouldn't make the effort to do your job well.

Making the effort will be rewarded. It's a better proposal. It's a happier client. It will get you more business. That's why Learn to Write Proposals give you tools, training and heko to empower you to create better proposals that you can be proud of.

Have a question about how to make a better proposal? Why not ask it in our forum?
Need to write a proposal and don't know where to start? Try a proposal template pack?
Want formal training and to get a certificate for your training records? Take out a lifetime memmbership or subscription?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Be prepared with a business proposal templates

Responding to a request for proposal or indeed needing to write a proactive business proposal means that you need to concentrate on your proposal content. Be prepared for it by creating a proposal template with your logo and corporate infromation ready to go. Set out the structure and the styles of the document so that you think about your solution. It's a useful way to be ready every time your need a professional looking sales document.

And what to put in the solution. Here's our quick persuasive formula:

Customer need +
Your solution +
Explicit benefits +
Clear value +
Evidence of credibility

We'll talk about some of these in more detail in our next blog entries.

In the meantime, if you need to write a proposal and want a formatted and structured proposal template then check out the Learn to Write Proposals' "Proposal Template Packs". Each pack includes different templates, guidance text and a free copy of out Getting Started Proposal Guide.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Content and presentation in a business proposal...a little more

Thanks once again to Seth Godin for a couple of interesting posts in his blog recently.

Here's the first, which I found relevant to my recent post on content and presentation in a business proposal which re-inforces the idea that presentation sends a message about the type of business that you are. It's relevant for all your business writing, whether it's a report or whether you are preparing a business proposal template, or have to respond to an RFP:

Type tells a story

If you write it down, we're going to judge it.

Not just the words, we're going to judge you even before we read the words. The typography you use, whether it's a handwritten note or a glossy brochure, sends a message.

Some typefaces are judged in a similar way by most people you're addressing (Times Roman in a Word document or Helvetica on a street sign or Myriad Pro on a website) but even when you choose something as simple as a typeface, be prepared for people to misunderstand you.

If you send me a flyer with dated, cheesy or overused type, it's like showing up in a leisure suit for a first date. If your website looks like Geocities or some scammy info marketer, I won't even stay long enough to read it.

Like a wardrobe, I think a few simple guidelines can save amateurs like us a lot of time:

1. Invest some time and money up front to come up with a house style that actually looks the way you want it to, one that tells the story you want to tell. Hire a designer, put in some effort. A headline font, a body font, one or two extras. That's your outfit, just like the four suits you rotate through your closet.

2. "What does this remind you of?" No need to be a pioneer (unless that's the story you want me remember). Find a combination of typefaces that remind your chosen audience of the sort of organization you want to remind them of. Hint: italic wedding invitation fonts in the body of your email remind me of nothing except other people who have wasted my time...

3. Be consistent. Don't change it when you get bored. Don't change it when your staff gets bored. Change it when the accountant and marketing guys tell you it's not working any longer.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tone and style in your business proposal

With the initial publication of the Learn to Write Proposals Style Guide (henceforth to be known as the “Guide”) we, the author and publisher of the aforementioned Guide are conscious that we may be seen as incorrectly encouraging the use of an overly-formal writing style that enforces strict and traditional rules of English Grammar, an approach which, in the first instance, is of little or no use in the formation of beneficial arguments and secondly, is completely incoherent to the reader through the writing and use of poorly constructed, rambling sentences and…zzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Then again, tone’s well….important, isn’t it? Bidding for some work, getting the message across – easy! Let’s just put down on paper the top-drawer deal that we’d tell people as if they were stood in front of us. Nice and informal. They’ll feel right at home. Way better than that fancy stuff, innit?

Once again, I say that your words are there to communicate clearly and shouldn’t get in the way of your message. There is a happy medium somewhere between the overly formal and informal. Remember the person who is on the receiving end of your document and reading it - put yourself in their place and imagine the flow of words to them. The chances are that you’ll find a conventional and conversational style (not writing legalise and not dumbing down) will allow you to get your message across almost every time.

Proposals are about persuasion, but also they are communicating that persuasive message. That's why it's important to understand som basics of language - how to use words, grammar and punctuation, tone and style. That's why we have our Style help you understand how to best use language to create persuasive business proposals.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Content and presentation in a business proposal

When you are writing a business, either a proactive proposal or responding to an RFP (request for proposal), how important is a good looking document?

That is, aside from the content how much difference does it make if your proposal looks tidy, well laid out and professional?

The answer is very important. Though good presentation alone won't win you any work, poor presentation may very well lose you business.

A proposal you send to a client represents you and your buiness. Is the message that you want to communicate one of lack of attention to detail, cutting corners and sloppiness. That's what you are doing if you send a poor quality document, with poor formating, layout and bad (or no) graphics.

Or would you rather let the client know that you care about quality, pay attention to detai and have put some effort into their proposal?

Proposals can be high pressure to get completed in time, that's why you should prepare in advance and have a proposal template that allows you to concentrate on writing proposal content, not on layout. Configure styles and numbering so that you don't waste valuable proposal time configuring or fixing your document.

If your Word skils aren't great or you are in a hurry, then why not use a template pack from Learn to Write Proposals? We have a variety to choose from all with letter proposal template, formal proposal template, cover letter templates with all styles pre-configured. Plus we include guidance text and a free copy of our Getting Started Proposal Guide.

This is what Patricia C said about our proposal template packs:

"When I said that I liked the templates pack, this includes the absolutely BRILLIANT e-guide to writing a proposal. This gets straight to the nitty-gritty in a way which means I think I just might make the deadline!"

Get one here now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How many pages in a business proposal?

I've been preparing a few proposals recently that have asked for a limit on the number of pages that you are allowed to submit.

Why does anybody insist on a certain number of pages? They do it to try and make a fair choice, without having to plough through mountains of content. To focus the response on what's important.

But to be fair, allow each supplier to fairly express themsleves. Some proposals can easily be short, but a proposal should have a natural length based on its complexity and the number of questions that need answering. Sure, have a guide for a number of pages, but really if you ask for an eight page response and have twenty questions to answer , then how can anyone answer any of those questions adequately?

Do the procurement people only allow the first eight pages? Would they discount the proposal because it went a couple of pages over, even if it was clearly the best? Maybe, maybe not. It may depend on the formality of the procurement. If in doubt ask the question and be prepared to start editing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Big proposals for the small guy

More and more businesses have to write proposals, but are their proposal skills getting better?

In the UK the government wants government departments and local authorities to support small businesses by giving them opportunities to win work. But are small businesses in any position to either respond to invitations to tender (either independently or through consortia), competing against larger businesses with more experience in public sector tendering?

It's unlikely, isn't it?

Yet more and more, businesses have to respond to business opportunities with written proposals and they don't have the skills.

So businesses actually lose out, because they can't handle the procurement process and nothing changes. How to change this status quo? Either businesses get outside assistance, improve their skills or procurement becomes simplified which shows no sign of happening.

So if you need to get up to speed quickly to create better proposals, getting skills why not look at Learn to Write, templates and training to get you ready for the hurdles of procurement.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

10 ways to make your proposal easier to understand

Many proposals are complex, but there is no good reason to over complicate. Try and simplify your arguments and proposition so that buyers can easily understand it and see the benefits of it.

Here are some suggestions how:
  1. Use easy to understand words. OK - this might seem obvious, but how many times have the technical team supplied content that is completely undecipherable? Make sure everyone reading the proposal understands it.
  2. Know your audience. Following on from number 1; use the language and style appropriate to the people who will be reading your proposal.
  3. Use diagrams. It's an old chestnut, but a picture really can be worth a thousand words. Use appropriate diagrams to support your explanations in the text.
  4. Keep the diagrams easy to understand. As with words, keep them simple. Use more than one diagram if they start getting over complicated.
  5. Be explicit about the benefits. Don't assume that the client will jump to the same conclusions you will. Explain why your proposal is better for them.
  6. Don't use 100 words when 10 will do. If you can get your message across in fewer words do.
  7. Have a point to each section of the proposal. Use a win theme statement at the start of each section to explain the key message and benefits contained in that section.
  8. Use a compliance matrix. Even if the client doesn't ask for one, a table showing that you meet or exceed the requirements shows the client immediately that your proposed solution will do everything they ask.
  9. Present your pricing sensibly. Break down your pricing into sensible elements that reflect what you are going to provide. Have you ever received a bill and wondered how they came up with it? Don't let the client fell that way about your proposal.
  10. Be consistent with terminology. Don't assume everyone knows everything. If you use TLAs (three letter abbreviations) or other specialist terms, then don't be afraid to provide a glossary or explanations in footnotes. You never know who will end up reading it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Getting the proposal writing skills to do the job...part two

Supported with an individual development plan these are all successful ways that help create an informed and skilled workforce. The BD-Institute’s Capability Maturity Model for Business Development ( is a long document, supported by many hours of research that shows that success results from better processes used consistently across a team.

Within smaller businesses though, it doesn’t always seem possible to put these processes in place due to time and budgetary constraints; and of course, in small businesses there isn’t usually the need for that level of process. But using some of the best practice that big businesses use is surely an advantage for small businesses too.

It also makes us re-think our earlier questions. Where would you get the skills to handle that increase in required knowledge? And how do you do it in a way that supports learners preferred methods of learning?

Ultimately we need to support proposal skills development within small business Learners are often motivated by doing and having to write a proposal to a strict deadline only increases that motivation, especially when there is new business involved. So we need ways that learners can get access to the information they need quickly and in an appropriate manner.

What is needed is a solution that provides a repository of knowledge that’s available in various forms – informal advice, resources to get you creating your proposal and indeed formal training.

There are knowledge banks of proposal information out there, that give you information. At the high level you can undertake a formal accreditation process with the Association of Proposal Management Professionals ( Members of this organisation are usually professional proposal managers, writers or proposal consultants, but it is an excellent professional support with an extensive knowledge base of proposal related content.

But for small businesses this level of information isn’t always appropriate. At Learn to Write Proposals ( we provide resources to get small businesses creating better proposals quicker through various means of knowledge transfer.

Your ideal situation should try and encompass elements of different solutions – external perspectives, internal experience and support for structured and informal learning.

Community-led informal learning is available to anyone who wishes to join the community through forums, blogs and twitter. Have a question? Then just ask. For the more theoretical learners we have a knowledge base of content accessible an online proposal and business writing guide whilst the pragmatists have access to tools and templates to get directly involved in the proposal creation process. There’s also an e-learning course with a certificate for those looking for a more formal learning path with a certificate for your training records.

There are other resources available online and offline of course, and no-one should ever underestimate the un-documented knowledge held within the collective experience of an organisation. But remember that your development is best served by multiple learning strategies, not just information retrieval related to one specific task.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Getting the proposal writing skills to do the job...part one

Learning can be a funny thing. We’ve all experienced it with varying results during our school years and we have varying reactions whenever we have to undergo any form of work-based training. How many of us really want to site through another manual handling session?

These are of course, two very different parts of the learning experience. Learning suggests gaining new knowledge skills and experiences often without context. Training sounds more corporate – and it suggests learning a specific work related task.

Our desire to learn and take on new skills as adults is often directly related to our experiences in education earlier in our lives, yet the type of learning we do in the workplace is completely different. It’s usually a lot easier to contextualise the learning experience because job specific training is usually related to a specific task that either makes us able to do our existing job easier or helps us progress into a new job.

And how do we learn? It really depends on the role and type of organisation as well as the preferred learning styles of the individual. In larger organisations with a dedicated training department or training manager, it may be taken care of for you. But what about the micro-, small- or medium-sized business? Lot’s of learning takes place in smaller businesses and though some is formalized, much of it could be classed as informal learning.

Let’s give this some context. Many small businesses are familiar with having to develop proposals. Yet, when someone is introduced to their first proposal, and asked to get a response out to the client in two weeks the chances are they didn’t know what to do. Without worrying about the quality of that proposal, the chances are that the proposal will have made it to the client.

So where did the knowledge for how to write the proposal come from? Those same smaller businesses that don’t have dedicated training departments are unlikely to have dedicated bid teams either, yet the transfer of knowledge takes place. It may be that the first time proposal writer, who didn’t know where to start read some old proposals or asked an old hand in the office how to do it. Maybe they bought a book or did a search on Google for some help – informal knowledge transfer that helps but isn’t quantified in any way.

There’s often an assumption that big businesses know how to do things properly, so let’s ask ourselves what would happen in those businesses in the same circumstances? If a skills gap has been identified there needs to be a business case to spend money to fix it. That would usually be one of three options:

    * Sending the employee on an external specialist training workshop or course
    * Providing training on an internal program
    * Bring in a consultant to bridge the knowledge gap and leave a legacy of knowledge behind once they have finished

There may also be other initiatives such as mentoring programs r availability of a knowledge bank with support and training resources such as e-learning content.