Jayme Sokolow Destresses the Proposal Process (and Looks Good Doing It!)

In our continued effort to help you find the POSitivity in writing proPOSals, today we’ve interviewed Jayme A. Sokolow, founder of the 22-year-old proposal service business The Development Source and author of rockstar proposal-mastering blog The Proposal Guru.

Jayme teaches us Quote Rollers how not to stress over your proposal-writing process, how all proposals are the same, and how to get his sweet mustache!

Jennifer K. Riggins: Tell us about your background and your story of how you’ve worked with proposals totaling more than $50 billion.

photojaymeJayme A. Sokolow: After a career in education and the government, I came to Washington, DC in 1984 to take a position as a program officer in a federal grant-making agency. There I learned for the first time about how proposals are developed, reviewed, and then managed after award. I also learned a great deal about how reviewers think from my involvement in so many review panels. After six years, I left the federal government, bounced around in the private and nonprofit sectors for two years, and then decided to open up a proposal development business in 1991. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with some very large IT companies on potential multi-year, multi-billion dollar bids.  So, it all adds up over the years.

Jen: How did you go from a PhD in history to a grantsman?

Jayme: When I was teaching social studies in the Bronx public schools, I went to New York University and received my advanced degrees. Over the years, I’ve found my history background to be an asset in anything I do because it helps provide me with the ability to think analytically and place everything in context. I think one of the strengths of the proposal profession is that we all come from different academic backgrounds.

Jen: Tell us about your company The Development Source, Inc.

Jayme: I founded The Development Source in 1991 to provide proposal development services to nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies. Some of my work involves developing grant proposals for associations, hospitals, and state and local government agencies.  Some of my work also involves developing responses to RFPs for small, medium, and large businesses.  I enjoy the variety of organizations and subject fields and find everything I do in proposal development to be complimentary. At the end of the day, I think that all proposals, regardless of the topic or client, are very much alike.

Jen: What advice do you give those that look at the proposal-writing process as stressful?

Jayme: Ironically, we can make our livings doing proposals because so many people find proposal development very stressful! I have four basic pieces of advice for proposal professionals to lessen the stress:

  1. Find a way to balance your work and non-work life;
  2. Have the confidence to know that you will reach the deadline with a highly competitive proposal;
  3. Organize the proposal development process carefully with dates, milestones, and deliverables so that you don’t need triple bypass surgery as a result of your work;
  4. Try to cultivate a sense of humor about proposals. The alternative to laughing is usually crying.

Jen: What is the most important part of a business proposal?

jaymeJayme: The most important part of a business proposal is your ability to identify and address the needs and problems of your prospective customer in a compelling and persuasive way.

Jen: What is the least important part of a business proposal?

Jayme: The least important part is the cover letter! It still puzzles me that clients agonize over their cover letters, which no one really reads or cares about.

Jen: What is one question to ask a client before sending them the proposal?

Jayme: If by “client” you mean the organization that has hired you to organize and direct the proposal development process, I think the most important question is the simplest one:  Are you satisfied that your organization has been complete, compliant, and persuasive in this proposal?  

Jen: Finally, we have to ask, you have a prodigious mustache. What is it called and how can our male readers learn to tame their facial hair so awesomely?

Jayme: This is a funny question!  A friend of mine once told me that I have one-and-a-half mustaches, as they say in England.  I’ve had the same mustaches since my college days, but the color has changed considerably since then.  To tame my mustaches, I trim and comb them.

Make sure you also check out Jayme’s e-book on federal grants!

Do you have any proposal- or facial-hair-related questions for Jayme?


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