You Can Write Good Proposals!

Writing clear and compelling proposals is critically important because a good proposal that is well-written is more likely to be funded that a great proposal that is difficult to read and understand.  Reviewers need to be able to read your proposal easily and quickly find information that interests them.

Large businesses often spend many months developing proposals and use a team of writers.  Small businesses do not have the luxury of large teams.  In many small businesses, often the proposal team is the owner, someone in business development or a consultant, and an accountant.

Nevertheless, small businesses can learn to write well with limited staff and resources.  If you are a small business, take these steps to ensure that your proposal makes your best case:

  • Organize your proposal carefully to make writing easier.
    • Organize the proposal exactly according to the RFP (Request for Proposals) instructions.
    • Outline your proposal in detail before you begin writing.
  • Begin all proposal sections with a summary and use theme statements to begin paragraphs.
  • Write in the active voice.  Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use plenty of bulleted and numbered lists.
  • Organize your points in decreasing order of importance.  Lead with your major themes.
  • Lead with your benefits, not your features.  Too many proposals are all details (features) and few benefits (value to the customer).  You cannot assume that reviewers will understand the importance of your solution.  You must explain your benefits and why they are a superior solution to the problem identified in the RFP.
  • Support your arguments with evidence.
  • Avoid clichés, jargon, verbosity, bragging, and unsupported and vague statements.  Be concrete and get right to the point.
  • Review and revise.  As you do so, your proposal should get shorter and more focused.
  • Once you have completed a draft, let a Red Team review your proposal.

Writing well is an art, and for most of us our talents lie elsewhere.  However, you can learn to write effectively if you carefully organize your proposal and follow a process of writing, reviewing, and revising that culminates with an outside review followed by more revision.

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