It’s important to emphasize that following requested proposal formats doesn’t necessarily limit your ability to be creative. In most cases, as long as you follow structural requirements, you have considerable leeway as far as styling, graphic design and presentation. At ISG, we try our best to use these elements to our advantage so that in a highly structured and rigid process there are clear ways in which our work stands out.
A second common mistake is the use of confusing, complex language. We are professionals in industry that is simply awash in terminology, jargon and technical detail. Our industry also contains lots and lots of smart, highly educated people. When you put these two together in a proposal writing context, the result is often output that is complex, and confusing for potential clients or donors. While sometimes it’s difficult to get out of your own way, I highly recommend the use of simple, direct, action-oriented language for proposal writing. I also recommend the elimination of adjectives and adverbs (as much as possible) and the use of short, precise sentences. This tactic results in proposal language that is clear, easy to understand and leaves no doubt about what you are proposing to accomplish and how you intend to accomplish it.
The third common mistake I want to discuss is related to my last point. That is, you should try to make your proposal as easy to follow as possible. As the size of your project grows, so does the complexity of your technical solution and the moving parts required to implement it. In some cases, you can be talking about hundreds of staff, multiple partners, massive amounts of travel and who knows what else. In order to make your proposal clear, I highly recommend the use of charts, tables and other visual aids as tools and guide markers for the reader. Including these structures in your proposal can mean the difference between someone getting lost in the complexity and having a clear understanding about how you will achieve your proposed objectives.
A fourth common mistake I’ve often seen is the statement of unrealistic objectives or outputs. Surprisingly, it’s most common to see these unrealistic expectations from smaller organizations or individuals. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of designing a technical solution for a proposed problem, and I have been guilty of it as much as anybody else. The most important thing to remember is that you should always “Underpromise and Overdeliver.” If you can master this one simple rule, I guarantee your clients will always be happy.
One simple way to ensure you’re underpromising and overdelivering is to work from back to front when creating your proposal. First, clearly state the objective or objectives you aim to accomplish. Make sure you state them in as much detail and with as much clarity as possible. Then design your method for achieving your objectives, step by step. Finally, craft the budget you’ll need to accomplish your work.
The fifth common mistake I want to talk about is so simple that it borders on the ridiculous; however, we see this every day when reviewing proposals for our clients at ISG. One word: copyedit. You need to make sure that your final proposal is copyedited by someone who is professional, and a native speaker in the language in which you are submitting the proposal. As much as we hate to admit it, given the global and culturally sensitive nature of our work, the truth is that nothing erodes your professional credibility faster than poor grammar, spelling mistakes and other simple typographical errors. It’s not critical that you send your proposal to a professional copy editor, often times just having a second or third disinterested pair of eyes read over your proposal can make all the difference in the world.
And here’s a trick I learned some time ago: try reading your proposal from back to front. Because this takes slightly more effort, you’re more apt to recognize spelling mistakes, jargon and typographical errors.
The sixth area I want to talk about is not necessarily a “mistake,” but rather a pitfall I’ve seen trip up many individuals and small companies over the years. When you’re putting together a team to respond to a tender, it’s important to get that team in place and “secured” well before the proposal deadline. There’s little point in putting all the effort necessary into creating a winning proposal only to find out at the 11th hour that the person you were expecting to be your team leader, a critical technical expert or similar, has decided to join another team or is unavailable for your project. Once again, full disclosure, both I and the team at ISG have been guilty of this more than once and it has cost us. There are opposing views about whether or not you need to have a letter of commitment from your team members, but if you are ever unsure about someone, getting that letter in place sooner rather than later is a surefire way to get clear about your team structure.
The final common mistake or pitfall I’d like to discuss in this section relates to bringing a proposal together when you have many people writing or contributing pieces to the overall submission. I personally still don’t know of a absolute perfect silver bullet that provides a solution to this problem, but I do know that ensuring you have one person who owns the proposal submission and is managing the project absolutely cuts down on the chaos and craziness. By having this person in place, you have a much better chance of avoiding missing pieces in the proposal, sections that don’t connect – like a budget that does not reflect the reality of the technical solution – or vice versa, and ensuring consistency from top to bottom. Your real goal is to make your proposal feel as though it was written by one person, with one voice. This is especially true for level I opportunities, which are your sweet spot.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you certainly have a better chance of having your proposal seriously considered by your potential donor or client. But there are a number of ways you can increase your competitiveness during the proposal process as well. This is what I’ll be talking about in the next section of this training. Thank you for watching this section of proposal development for RFAs, RFPs and RFQs here at Aidpreneur. Remember, if you have any questions at all, please email us at training@Aidpreneur.com.