There is, and always will be a huge amount of proposal writing in aid and development work. We do not have the exclusive domain on this – it’s a standard method for procurement across many industries.
For both independent consultants and organizations alike, the holy grail often mused about in hushed whispers around the lunch table or on an elevator ride is work that is acquired without a proposal. Manna from heaven. A chunk of funding (large or small) that just falls into your lap because someone thought you were the right person or group to toss it to.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Terms Of Reference Podcast here at Aidpreneur, you’ve quickly realized that many of the people we have on the show have somehow figured out how to make this happen more often than not. I’m not saying they never write proposals (it never, ever goes away), but many of them acquire a substantial portion of their work without going through a bidding process.
This evolution of a practice can be characterized as moving from ‘seeking’ funds to ‘attracting’ funds.
The simplest way to achieve this is by creating a product or service that is truly unique and valuable. For example, here in Costa Rica I was having a conversation with the owner of the country’s most popular craft brewing company. When I asked him about his sales techniques to get his product into bars he laughed at me. Why? Because he had created a product (or set of products) that were in such demand that his problem was being careful about which clients he accepted. He needed to make sure that the establishment lived up to his expectations about what his brand quality and message conveyed. What a fantastic problem to have!
The vast majority of us are not in this position – we sell our technical knowledge and seek to differentiate ourselves in whatever way we can. As shown by many of our guests on TOR, however, there are very clear ways we can purposefully move from always seeking work to attracting it to us:
- Always deliver. More than anything, make sure you always, always deliver for your client. In fact, whenever possible (while I believe is always) seek to overdeliver by underpromising to your clients. There is no easier way to make your client happy than to show up with extra value as icing.
- Cultivate a rich network. You cannot thrive in a professional vacuum. As stressed time and again by our TOR guests, you need to talk to everyone you can, all the time. Learn from them. Listen to their stories. Offer yourself and your service when appropriate, but more often, just be a contributing part of the community.
- Learn to humbly communicate success stories. No one likes a braggart and even fewer like a know it all. You will accumulate successes in your career and practice. A critical skill to learn, however, is how to communicate those in a genuinely humble way – honoring your clients, teammates and other factors that helped in your success. If there are truly times when you “did it all” and were a hero – let others tell that story (and they will!).
- Ask for testimonials and referrals. While you’ll always work to build trust and convince potential clients you’re the expert they need, it never hurts to have others speak on your behalf. Specifically ask your clients for testimonials and referrals for the work you have delivered and the service you’ve provided. All the better if they will go the extra mile and say a word or two about how wonderful it is to work with you.
- Consistently communicate what you have on offer. You can make it easy for others in your network to send work your way by being consistent about what you can deliver. This is even more important than advertising your skill set. There are tons of WASH experts – but how many know how to deliver a water free lavatory solution?