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Propose to win

It's important to be clear and concise while writing your business proposal. To come up trumps, you should have thought your way through it meticulously

Can you take chances with your business proposal? Well, you can, but only at your own peril. Only if you ignore the realities of the modern-day business world that you can afford to be less than meticulous, or precise, vis-a-vis your business proposal.

How many times have you heard your corporate friend telling you: “Hey, I wrote my business proposal in a hurry. I was traveling... you see! Anyway, I'll try a more meticulous one next time.”

Hard luck boss! Better luck next time. But you better be better prepared next time. For, writing business proposals is serious business. Some may even argue it's as serious as the business itself. As it's rightly said: A good beginning is half the battle won. It cannot be truer for a business proposal. So never ignore its importance.

If you want to know how to write a business proposal, the person to ask is your customer. The goal of business proposal writing is to answer your customer's questions and persuade them to select you. Business proposal writing should be more about your customer than it is about you. You should write your business proposal to meet your customer's expectations. But first you have to know what they are

Let's look at some of the key features of the art of business writing:

Good Beginning
Never save the best for last, or build to the finish. Give them what they want right up in firm, positive statements. You still need to provide the explanation and proof for due diligence, but if there is anything about your approach that you really want them to know, anything about it that is special, you should call it out first. Tell them what the approach will do for them, what the benefit of it is, and only then tell them what the approach is. The goal is not to deprive them of necessary detail, but to give them what they want, in the order they want it. You've got to give them a reason to bother reading the detail. Think about why they are reading --- they are evaluating what you are proposing in order to do two things: get through the formal evaluation process (completion of scoring forms) and to make a selection. Unfortunately the former is often the primary reason.

The W's
Here is a simple approach to help you cover all the bases in your proposal. For each section/requirement that you must address, make sure you answer: who, what, where, how, when, and why. Repeat it until it rolls off your tongue and you have it memorized
Who: who will do the work, who will manage the work, who does the customer call if there is a problem, who is responsible for what

What: what needs to be done/delivered, what will be required to do it, what can the customer expect, what it will cost

Where: where will the work be done, where will it be delivered

How: how will work be done, how it will be deployed, how will it be managed, how will you achieve quality assurance and customer satisfaction, how will risks be mitigated, how long will it take, how will the work benefit the customer

When: when will you start, when will key milestones be scheduled, when will the project be complete, when is payment due

Why: why have you chosen the approaches and alternatives you have selected, why the customer should select you

This simple little phrase (who, what, where, how, when, and why) can help you ensure that your proposal says everything needed to “answer the mail.” For each of the customer's requirements, go through the list and you will probably have everything covered. You can use it for inspiration when writing and you can use it like a checklist for reviewing a draft proposal.

Looks do matter
Always keep in mind that your proposal layout should be highly readable and make it easy to locate information. You should make extensive use of graphics, because they enhance the readability of the document and convey information well. In the absence of instructions to the contrary, your headings, typefaces, margins, headers/footers, and other formatting attributes can be anything that you want that achieves the goal of your proposal.

So that you don't have to study typography, we recommend:

• A serif typeface such as Times Roman

• 10-12 point type

• A column width of 50-60 characters (either double column or “scholar's margins”)

• Page margins of at least .5”

• The use of color whenever possible

• Extensive use of graphics

• Full use of front matter (Table of Contents, List of Figures, etc.)

• “Navigation aids” such as a cross-reference matrix

• Appendices for data that must be provided, but disrupts your proposal's story

• If the page count is large enough, use 3- ring binders or other binding

• Use tabs that break the content down into sections and make finding material easier

Final formatting and polish is often reserved for the end of a proposal effort. Indeed, in some environments they wait until all edits to the content have finished before they apply final formatting and perform reproduction. On a large proposal they may allow several days to a week just for final production. Some organisations use sophisticated desktop publishing and artwork, others use MS-Word for their final output.

The value of a better-looking proposal must be weighed against the level of effort it takes to achieve it. We recommend that you format your proposal in a layout that you are comfortable with. Keep it simple, and don't overextend yourself by using an advanced layout that you have difficulty producing.

The Content
There are some things that tend to be similar across business proposals. These are tendencies and not rules. The only time there are rules is when the customer issues a Request for Proposals (RFP). An RFP, if it has sufficient detail, will tell you what should go into your proposal and how it should be presented. Sometimes, the nature of a product or service being offered or industry practices provide some guidelines for proposal composition and/or layout.

A typical business proposal might include:

• An Executive Summary introducing your company, what you will do or provide to the customer, and how the customer will benefit from what you propose

• A statement of work or technical approach describing what you will do or provide to the customer. An implementation schedule and description of deliverables is usually included. If products are being proposed, then product descriptions are usually provided (the amount of detail depends on the customer's requirements)

• A management plan describing how you will organise and supervise any work to be performed. A schedule of major milestones and allocation of resources may be provided

• Corporate qualifications that describe your capability to do or provide what you are proposing. Relevant prior experience is usually highlighted

• A Staffing Plan that describes how the project will be staffed is sometimes on large service contracts. If particular people are important to the approach, their resumes are usually provided

• Contracts and Pricing. If the proposal is being used to close a business deal, then business and contractual terms are usually provided

Courtesy: Arabian Man
Posted: 25/06/ 2008

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