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 Guide...to 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 Proposals...tools, 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 (http://www.bd-institute.org/) 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 (http://www.apmp.org/). 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 (http://www.learntowriteproposals.com) 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.