Writing Successful Consulting Proposals

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Published: April 16, 2012
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How many business proposal have you worked on and simply got outpaced by competition? Many consultants make the same mistakes over and over when delivering business proposals. It’s time to boost your conversion rate and turn every business proposal into an actual project. Here is what you need to keep in check.

1- Don’t start a proposal talking about your company’s history

It’s important information but is highly ineffective at drawing in the attention of your audience. As someone who reviews hundreds of proposals each day, Mr. Sant confirms that the most successful proposals are those that are interesting and unique. They should break of the writer’s comfort zone and confront the lofty, spectacular goals we often set for ourselves, but rarely achieve.

2- Don’t bore your prospective client with ordinary

Clients are becoming less tolerant of the ordinary boilerplate they’ve been receiving from proposal authors. The proliferation of proposal-writing systems has made reading them so painfully boring that doing something wrong, or at least different, would be a refreshing change. Don’t discuss technical issues related to implementation of your new wonder tool. If your idea has real merit we will recognize it and be on the phone with you very soon.

The competitive nature of the modern world is also making many proposals seem bland. It’s no longer enough to innovate on one front or make a product that does one thing well—the plan should be fleshed out from start to finish with no second-guessing or inference drawing involved.

3- Communicate more concisely

A growing trend that is becoming very irksome to proposal readers is the increasing verbosity in writing. After finishing your proposal, edit and proofread with the goal of reducing the total length of your proposal by one-third. You will make your message become more succinct and will become clearer in the message you seek to convey. In literature, brevity is the soul of wit; in proposal writing, clarity is the soul of confidence. Couple with clear writing a vivid depiction of your ideas and you have the necessary components to succeed in proposal writing.

3- Writing style expected in these proposals

Reviewers expect less formal writing than they did ten years ago. Clarity is now the ultimate goal, not professionalism (although the two often go together).

4- Protecting your own interests

In many cases, consultants are more than eager to offer their full range of services to clients that have signed them on to work on a project. Be aware that accepting work you cannot complete adequately or offering ideas that will not be considered fairly is not in your best interest. You should develop a system of analyzing proposal requests that keeps your own practice thriving and successful.

5- Use an outlining structure that enables your ideas to fit your field of expertise

You should have an arsenal of services available that can be used to help clients facing multiple different problems. Clients want to see proposals that are unique, but they also want to see proposals that reflect their individual needs. If you don’t have time to focus on the former, at least produce a proposal that meets a unique need in the latter category.

6- Look before you leap

Starting too soon is one of the biggest mistakes that can befall a proposal author. Spend more time learning about a client’s business to gain a better handle on how to package your entire proposal. Develop a client’s relationship with their customers and you have got yourself a winning proposal. Differentiate the product or service you offer and follow the golden rules discussed at the top—be brief and be bold.

For a 4 step process on improving your proposal writing, read Steve Polen's article regarding the issue.

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