We are all about writing winning business proposals here at Quote Roller HQ. And while our immediate focus is on making the process of creating and tendering business proposals really simple for you by putting all the grunt work comfortably inside the digital realm, we also try to help you with the parts of the proposal writing process that rest squarely on your shoulders.
One of the biggest tasks that is ultimately up to you is writing the business proposal’s content. From time to time, we love to share proposal writing tips with you that are aimed at helping you create more effective business proposals. That’s what we will be doing in this article.
Recently, we discovered an excellent, albeit admittedly manly, how-to article about becoming a better writer by copying the writing of others and the old brains started churning around here.
Is there anything to be learned from other writing examples?
Could copying sales writings teach the aspiring proposal writer something about writing to sell?
Could your proposal benefit from copying the words in works of literature?
To answer questions such as these, we took it to task, running down compelling bits of sales copy and making a few notes. Here, we will share what we have learned by offering you eight tips on learning to write proposals that win, by copying down compelling sales copy.
Note: Please understand that, like The Art of Manliness’ article that informs this piece, we are not encouraging you to actually plagiarize the work of others; we are urging you to go through the motions of copying great sales copy so that you can learn from it and inspect it closely, for your own personal development – not for public display. The lessons you learn in conducting these exercises, we think, will help you write better proposals.
Writing a business proposal tip #1: A lesson (or two) from Apple
Apple sells products but you can still learn from their page copy, even if you are creating business proposals to sell services.
Open up a notepad (or a text document) and retype the content on one of Apple’s product pages. In doing so, a few recurring themes will quickly become apparent.
Here are some of the writing conventions you will likely start to observe as you write:
Sentences are simple or compound – never complex
Paragraphs often begin with a preposition as the first word (from, with…)
Other sentences routinely begin with a noun or gerund, indicating action (start, creating…)
Paragraphs are front-loaded (the main idea comes right up front)
Extensive use of second person (it’s all about the infinite you)
It’s all about “You.”
Try hand copying this example from Apple:
With iMovie, you have a great home for all your home video. An all-new design makes it easy to browse and lets you share your favorite moments instantly. And when you want to transform a few clips into your all-time favorite movie or trailer, iMovie gives you the tools to share it with your closest fans or make it ready for your world premiere.
The above is exemplary of Apple’s copywriters’ approach to writing compelling sales copy. How can you apply something like this to your business proposals?
Consider this example of a potential application of Apple’s copywriting style to a Web design proposal:
With our Web design services, you get a professional-looking site for all your products. A responsive design makes your site easy to navigate and lets visitors find your products with ease. And when it’s time for them to take a purchasing action, our webpage layouts eliminate the on-screen stress factors, making it easy for your customers to follow through with the call to action.
See how that works?
Writing a business proposal tip #2: Keeping it simple a la Richard Branson
Billionaire Richard Branson’s blog rocks.
While we are tempted to take our own advice and leave you with that link and call it a day, let’s break it down a little bit.
Branson keeps it simple, yet his blog posts say so much.
Hand copy this actionable text from Branson’s blog:
Turtle fishermen worldwide should realize that they’d make a better living by tagging turtles for conservation purposes and bringing along paying tourists, rather than killing them for soup.
What an example of condensing numerous complex ideas to a single sentence! Ernest Hemingway would be proud of Branson’s concision in this svelte, yet poignant post.
Let’s apply Branson’s style to a fictional proposal from a third-party project management firm:
Business owners such as you need to know that, by outsourcing project management, they are freed up to focus on managing their business, rather than stressing over small details.
Poke around Branson’s excellent blog for a while and you are sure to find many other hidden gems of wisdom – including some that are even more concise.
Writing a business proposal tip #3: Copying CopyBlogger?
CopyBlogger.com is a great resource for aspiring writers.
As the name implies, it’s a resource that is worth emulating.
You can look at nearly any and all posts there and find something to glean from the experience.
That said, a quick exploration of CopyBlogger reveals some interesting writing conventions, such as the following:
Short paragraphs (often one sentence!)
If you are starting to notice recurring bullets in our examples, that’s just to emphasize the importance of the common writing practices you can learn from them!
From CopyBlogger, try copying this article over by hand. Notice the continuing, well-implemented Socratic approach used by writer Sean Smith, all the way through the end of the post. It works, and it keeps readers’ eyes glued to the content, which is the same thing you want to do with your business proposal content.
In keeping with the Socratic approach, how can you apply the types of questions to your business proposals? (See what we did there?)
Writing a business proposal tip #4: Transparency like Smart Passive Income
Metrics. Disclosure. Openness. Honesty. All are beneficial in the context of a business proposal, and all are prominently in place on one website in particular.
Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast is awesome on several levels. For one thing, you have to admire a guy who makes, oh around, $75,372.57 or so in a given month. Other than that, you also have to appreciate someone who does just that and tells you exactly how. All that, and the tips in Flynn’s podcast/blog are highly relevant to anyone with an interest in making money online, legitimately and passively.
Flynn is also a smooth writer whose writings we can hand copy to learn a thing about integrating revealing, transparent statements in your business proposals, without sounding like you are bragging.
Write down some of the paragraphs with metrics in them over at Smart Passive Income and you will train yourself to do one thing that your business proposals with benefit from: writing numbers after the decimal point in dollar values. True metrics – not ones that have been rounded to the nearest whole number – give your writing greater credibility.
Writing a business proposal tip #5: Hemingway’s rules for writing
Writers of all types of materials can learn a thing or two from American Literature’s most heralded 20th century luminary, Ernest Hemingway. This includes writers of business proposals.
Just grab one of Hemingway’s many books — A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, or any of the others — and start hand copying the text. In doing so, you are bound to observe Hemingway’s to-the-point, simple, yet highly effective writing style.
Hemingway had a set of five rules for writing, as follows:
Short first paragraphs
Use “vigorous” English
Have more than four rules
One page of great, ninety-one pages of crap
Hemingway’s rules for writing align with established standards for writing business proposals, too. CopyBlogger’s Brian Clark points out in an article, Hemingway had a penchant for writing with concision and high readability in mind at all times. Hemingway’s best practices for writing fiction will serve you equally as well when creating business proposals.
Writing a business proposal tip #6: Principles from the golden age of advertising
Writing a business proposal is a lot like writing an advertisement. The veritable “bible” on that topic is Claude C. Hopkins’ Scientific Advertising.
Here’s a passage to copy, taken from chapter two of Scientific Advertising:
The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales.
It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it as a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it with other salesmen.
Figure its cost and result. Accept no excuses which good salesmen do not make. Then you will not go far wrong.
Words to live by, right?
What is the purpose of your business proposals? Chances are, it’s not that different from the ultimate purpose of advertising.
How could Hopkins’ advice in the above passage inform your business proposals? Are you writing them with definiteness of purpose in mind – to result in a win? Could your writing in some way improve to help you achieve that goal.
The value of Hopkins’ advice to your business proposal writing does not stop there, though. The author provides further nuggets worth copying (and more importantly, taking to heart).
Hopkins advice also reinforces Pat Flynn’s use of exact numbers. Hopkins advises you to avoid platitudes, which are all too common in sales writing now, as they were in Hopkins’ time. Phrases like “market leaders,” “best in class,” and “most respected,” while tempting to use, especially if they are mostly true, should be left out of your business proposals – even when you are trying to sell the benefits of choosing your proposal.
Say that it gives more light than other lamps, and people are but mildly impressed. Say that it gives 3 ½ times the light of carbon lamps, and people will realize that you have made actual comparisons. They will accept your claims as par.
Hand copy that one and you will learn that exact numbers, including fractions, make statements more realistic to customers, and you will ideally learn to use them to your advantage in writing business proposals.
Writing a business proposal tip #7: Reverse engineering the RFP
And now for the curveball.
If you have received a request for proposal (RFP) and are writing a proposal in response, perhaps the best writing you could possibly learn from is that which your prospect has given you. The RFP itself is worth copying over by hand.
The benefits of this exercise are two-fold. One thing you will accomplish is observing any writing conventions that repeat or otherwise feature prominently in the prospect’s writing. The other thing you will glean from this experience is a deeper understanding of the prospect’s needs. This can prove helpful to you as you begin to actually write the business proposal in response.
By copying the RFP over, you will not only be able to incorporate grammatical and syntactical conventions that are familiar to your respective customers, but you will also come to know their unique needs by heart.
And that can be the most valuable lesson of all.
Are you learning from other writers?
The great writers who have gone before can inform you ask you work to hone your proposal writing skills. Even if you do not opt to go through the motions of copying the words of other writers to help develop your skills, you can still learn a lot just by reading and examining great writings.
What writers inspire you? Have you ever tried to apply their style to your business proposals? We would love to hear your writing tips in the comment space below.