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Proposal Writing

Proposals come in all shapes and sizes. A proposal from an advertising agency to a prospective client can be hundreds of pages long and include exhibits in film, sound and multi-media. On the other hand, a proposal from a small business owner may need only a typewritten page or so to be effective. Some proposals are for the purpose of selling products, others want to sell services but all proposals need to be persuasive.

A successful proposal will sell your idea in writing. This is similar to selling your ideas face to face but not the same. When you are selling in person you can communicate with your words but also with your tone of voice and body language. If you sense your prospect is not getting something you can change direction and make sure that your point gets through. But once your proposal is put in words and is sitting on a page, that’s it. You may be there to help sell it, but then again, you may not. Typically proposals are passed around among several decision makers, often at different times and in different locations. If your proposal is to work, it needs to be clear and persuasive.

Here are some simple tips to help you write proposals that work.

Put the audience first

Always remember that while you live each day with the subject of your proposal, your audience does not. Make the effort to provide your audience with the basics before you try to sell them your idea. Take the time to put yourself in their place and then carefully and clearly show them how your idea is their best solution.

Don’t forget the competition

In an ideal world a good proposal may be enough, but in the real world there will always be competition. This means that your proposal needs to tell not only how you will solve the prospect’s problem, but why you can do it better than anyone else. Just as you need to be confident and assuring in a face-to-face meeting, so does your proposal need to instill confidence that you are the best choice.

Take the reader by the hand

Don’t wax eloquent with long introductions. Get right to the point and immediately let your reader know what the proposal is about and the scope of the proposal. (The following shows clearly why the abandoned red barn on Rte 80 near the new sub-division is a perfect location for a full-service bicycle shop.) Make it clear in the beginning what you are doing and what you are planning to tell the reader to make your point.

Context is important

Any recommendation you make will be made in some context. For example, the proposal maker in the paragraph above may have a context in which two other bike shops in the area failed to be successful. The proposer can choose to ignore that context – and will fail as a result. Or he will face it head on and show why others failed but he, because of increased population, more competitive products, additional products such as bike rentals, will make his venture successful.

Make your proposal strongly and early

Every proposal is asking for something difficult to get: money, support, sponsorship, even making a hard decision. There is no advantage to be gained by delaying your pitch. You aren’t writing a suspense novel so there is no advantage to keeping the reader guessing. Tell the reader from the very beginning what you want and why it is a good thing for him to give it to you.

Be specific

This is the very heart of your proposal. Anybody but ask but you need to come up with the evidence to support your proposal. For example, our bike shop friend might provide statistics on increasing population and demographics showing the exercise and healthy lifestyle were important to the new residents of this area. He could present dealer agreements showing that he will be selling name brand bicycles. He could point to an unusually low rent because the property was not suitable for other kinds of businesses. He might bring proof of a bicycle race planned by the local chamber of commerce that will focus interest on his products. If he had experience working as a bike mechanic, that too would be in his proposal.

Anticipate Questions

Think about the strongest objections to you proposal and take the time to prepare answers. Work your answers into the proposal, even focusing on the question with a sub-head: Example: why this bike shop will thrive when others failed.

Be complete

Your proposal must contain the implicit message that you have thought of everything and presented everything. You don’t necessarily need a formal outline for your proposal but your document should cover the following: Purpose, Background, Recommendation, Reasons for Recommendation, Costs, Timeline, Next Action Steps.

Be yourself

The very word “proposal” brings to mind a long ponderous boring document filled with mountains of grey details. It doesn’t have to be this way. Your reader will appreciate crisp clear writing with colorful detail. Bottom line, the proposal is to help you get something that is very important to you. It’s perfectly fine if your personality peeps through every now and then. As long as you are professional and indicate that you are serious of purpose and know what you are doing, you won’t be penalized for having a personality. Most readers will even enjoy it.

Aim toward “YES”

Never forget the purpose of your proposal: to get the reader to say, “YES.”  Also keep in mind that there is a good chance that your reader has lots of experience saying “NO.”  Your job is to write a tight proposal that doesn’t give the reader a chance to say “NO.”  Work from a structure and make sure that every point you make follows a relentless logic path all pointing toward “YES.”  Make every section, every point tie together like a well-told story. Start by setting the scene, establish the correct frame of mind for the reader by pointing out key points. Drive home the relevant facts that prove your case. Address all possible objections with honesty and strength. Don’t use any extra words. If you want to be persuasive you can’t be boring. Write to move your reader down the inevitable path to “YES.”

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