Some general thoughts on how to write good proposals for tendered projects, having just reviewed a load recently and come across the same frustrations as every time before.
Bear in mind, this is biased towards the digital/creative world in which I spend most of my working time.
- Make it look nice, with a rich, modern design and clear layout. Use a hierarchy for your text formats, use attractive fonts and so on. You only have to make (or pay someone to make) a good proposal template once.
- Provide a personal intro, specific to the project and client, but keep it brief.
- In fact, keep a lot of it brief. You want to impress the client with your attention to detail but the client has to read a zillion of these proposals in short order. So keep the top and tail brief. Get into detail only in the specifics of your services, deliverables, etc. in the body of the proposal, summarising long sections.
- Include images (eg. screenshots of your work), embedded in proposal pages. Don’t just show the obvious stuff (eg. the public-facing aspects of your products) but more of your assets too, especially anything you refer to in the proposal, to make the reader comfortable (eg. your back-end services).
- Besides detailed descriptions of work, list your proposed deliverables clearly.
- Relate to the brief, being clear that you’ve covered all requirements. But don’t just copy-and-paste from the brief, it looks lazy.
- List your assumptions (eg. what’s missing). And state what you expect from the client. This helps to manage the client’s expectations, demonstrates that you’ve read the brief to the extent that you know what it didn’t cover, and illustrates your comprehensive knowledge of the subject.
- Show a little bit about your organisation. Like the people, the work environment, and what it is that makes you exciting. Be open, you’re trying to start a relationship, not just win a contract. Try not to be cheesy though (“look at how freaking cool we all are!”).
- Landscape oriented pages look better on-screen. The proposal will probably be viewed through a PDF reader if it’s not printed, and landscape pages fill more of the screen. A small point but worth considering.
- If you have it, mix in some relevant (eg. sector-specific) experience, don’t just show your best work.
- Index your proposal. The client may need to cut straight to the costings, schedule or whatever, so make it easy for them.
- Details matter. I may be unusually pedantic, but I get frustrated at seeing ten files all called “proposal” or something generic. Include your organisation’s name, a date, version number, etc. in the filename and in the document itself. It makes you look professional. Think about fonts, formats, styles, etc., demonstrating pride, diligence and consistency in your work.
- This may be getting repetitive but, for pity’s sake, read the brief. If it asks for x, y and z, provide them all in your proposal and highlight that you have done so. And if anything is unclear in the brief, call the client and ask about it, that may even help to build a good image of you.