The devil is in the details.
That’s something you hear about, well, everything. But it’s especially true when writing a business proposal.
Sometimes, when you read a page full of information, you spot a small mistake or error that becomes a deal-breaker for you. The same is true for your prospective customers. Take it from someone who writes dozens of articles every week: people will parse through your content, proposals or otherwise, with a fine-toothed comb.
When writing a business proposal, you’re doing it to win a bid and grow your business. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid having little things that you’ve never thought of before put the brakes on your cruising to victory.
Proposal Killer #1: You got no story
Your prospective customers don’t like to read anything – not even business proposals – that doesn’t tell some kind of story.
That doesn’t mean you have to turn everything you write into a full-on literary narrative when writing a business proposal. People don’t really buy into products or services, they buy into people. I love to talk about Apple – it’s a brand that gets so much right, it’s hard not to talk about them in the world of business, even when talking about writing a business proposal. The narrative of rise and fall, and subsequent redemption of the late Steve Jobs is very closely associated with the brand, even under the less-than-apt stewardship of Tim Cook today.
Jobs’ story was nearly perfect as a touchpoint for consumers, largely because it serves as Apple’s version of “The Hero’s Journey.”
What’s your hero’s journey? Ideally, you’ll tell a story that resounds with your customers. When writing a business proposal, you don’t want to drift away from focusing on the customer, so it becomes important to tell your story in a way that is empathetic — and entertaining! — to your readers. You’ve got to offer them a one-on-one engagement.
Here’s what your customers are interested in knowing about your company:
Who are you?
What’s your expertise?
What makes you special?
How does it help me [the customer]?
Once you establish your story, it becomes easier to relate to your customers. They want to see you as a person, rather than a bland and boring formal, boiler-plate, non-human instrument of solicitation.
Proposal Killer #2: Not inviting your prospects in to stay
While it’s important to welcome your prospects with a little bit about yourself, I can’t stress enough how it’s crucial to not veer off into self-indulgence. It’s all about them, baby.
That means your business proposals need to give the recipient a reason to keep reading. The story has to quickly shift from you to them. Each page of your business proposal should have a clear message that relates to the prospect and urges them to keep on reading, right through to the clear and climactic call to action (CTA) at the end.
At every step of the way in writing a business proposal, you need to hit the customers with the benefits to them, always being careful to relate value to you and what you have to offer.
Has your experience enabled you to solve their problem? Boom! There’s your touchpoint. Has your hard work made you uniquely qualified compared with competitors? Wham! There’s something else of value to your prospects.
Take a look at some of Quote Roller’s proposal templates and you’ll see that each page presents the opportunity to tell one part of the arching narrative that bridges from you, on the first page with the “About Us” section, to the CTA at the end.
Proposal Killer #3: Not giving them an action to take
A business proposal is a meandering piece of uselessness if it doesn’t have a clear call to action (CTA).
If you can sufficiently mesmerize your prospects with a great story that relates to them in terms of benefits, they’ll be left hanging if they get to the end and haven’t been given a clear action to take.
Do you want the proposal recipient to digitally sign the document and begin a service contract with you? Then for gosh sake, tell them that! Do you want the prospect to pick up the phone and call your office? Then say that clearly in your proposal!
But remember, the CTA has to be perfectly clear. If you want the prospect to call you, you need to tell them how and when by giving them your phone number and a time to call.
Assume nothing, state everything, when it comes to creating an effective CTA within a business proposal.
Proposal Killer #4: Using “exclusive language”
For many of you, this is something you learned in English 101, but not everyone finds it easy to communicate to the broad audience of “everybody.” You may be the most egalitarian, progressive person around, but that doesn’t mean you always write like it.
Getting this right is essential to creating great business proposals, because you want to avoid excluding your prospects.
Tips for using inclusive language in business proposals:
People are people
Many writers tend to think the word “man” is interchangeable with the words human, people, or humankind. Writing “man” tells the female proposal reader, “I’m not talking to you.”
Similarly, when talking about the generic singular third person, try to mix up the “hes” with the “shes.”
But they’re not all dudes…
Similarly, “stewardesses” are “flight attendants,” nowadays. People in business roles are not all “businessmen,” and workers are not all “workmen.” Use language that includes everyone in your business proposals, even if you know exactly who the reader is; you never know who your customer might delegate to read the proposal on their behalf.
Also note that personal pronouns can cause trouble for readers. A “user” is a gender neutral noun, but it can be “he or she” when it takes the pronoun form. Always try to include everyone.
Put the person first
If you are writing a web design proposal for the creation of websites that are optimized for people with disabilities, you can say so. Just don’t say you make websites for “handicapped people.” Put the person ahead of the disability.
But be mindful that most blind people prefer to be called simply “blind,” not “sight challenged” or other such terms. So if, for example, writing a marketing proposal aimed at working with a school for the blind, don’t use another term as the prospective customer will be keenly aware of the preferred use of the word “blind.”
Similarly, deaf people self-identify as such. However, the majority of the Western deaf population do not identify as having a disability, but rather they simply have a different way to communicate.
Don’t get too jargony
Yes, you are the greatest social media guru in the biz, super savvy about and up-to-date with all the latest Google+, Quora and the newest and next big things. However, if you are pitching to a mom-and-pop shop just looking to expand their business, don’t distract them with exclusive technical speak, make the language simple and clear, and, most of all, make your benefit simple and clear.
Overall, use common sense in choosing inclusive language, but don’t overthink it to the point that you actually undermine your efforts to be sensitive to others or that you are simply composing nonsense.
Proposal Killer #5: Oh no, you’ve said too much
You’ve heard that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you, right?
Well, that’s not true when writing a business proposal.
And I’m not just beating the dead horse of concision. If you write a business proposal with too many words, you will get the dreaded “tl; dr” (too long; didn’t read) reaction from your prospective customer. That’s a given. But the trouble doesn’t end there.
The more words you write in your proposal, the more likely it is that you will use too much jargon or inadvertently write something that is off-putting to your reader. In verbal communications, it’s been said that a foot never enters a closed mouth. There’s a similar thing happening as you’re writing a business proposal. Less is definitely more.
Do you want to write a business proposal that will kill the competition’s chances of winning?
Don’t let the little things kill your business proposals. Make your proposals killer instead. Think it through and make sure you hammer out the small details we’ve just talked about. Sometimes, nailing down the little things is all you need to push past the competition and win that bid!
What are the best tricks you’ve discovered that help you write more winning business proposals?