In a nutshell: A strong executive summary, differentiation and good writing can help your company’s proposal stand out. Don’t forget to read the RFP carefully!
No matter how small your business is, there will come a time when you’ll need to submit a proposal to secure new work and take on new clients. A proposal, at minimum, will require you to discuss plans and pricing — how you’d provide service and what you would charge.
Winning proposals go a step further. They:
- Create a clear value proposition
- Explain what makes your company uniquely qualified to provide services or products
- Build trust
- Lay the groundwork for a long-lasting relationship
Ready to start writing a strong proposal? Here are some tips:
Read the RFP
The request for proposal — often just called the RFP — can be as short as one page or as long as a novel. No matter how big it is, read it very carefully to make sure you understand exactly what is being asked and the entire scope of the request. Make sure your company is capable of meeting the requests in the timeline described.
Often, you will have questions concerning the RFP. That’s OK. First, look at the RFP to determine if there’s an official method for submitting questions. If there isn’t, reach out to the contact listed on the RFP. Make sure your questions are detailed and specific.
Follow the Guidelines
Many RPFs have detailed guidelines for proposal submissions. The first, and most important, one to note is the deadline — never turn in a proposal late, and if at all possible, you don’t want to ask for extensions. (Think about this: If you can’t meet the deadline for the proposal, will the company think you’re capable of meeting the deadline for their request?)
Beyond the deadline, there might be other guidelines you must follow. As you read the proposal, look for information concerning the submission length and format. Some proposals might need to be submitted electronically, either through an online portal or in the form of an Excel document. Other proposals will resemble a more traditional written document.
Some RFPs have very specific requirements, including font types and sizes. This is more commonplace in the public sector than in the private sector.
Write a Compelling Executive Summary
It’s unlikely that a single person will read your proposal from cover to cover. That’s why it’s so important to have a strong executive summary that rounds up the most significant points from your proposal. This will probably be the only section read by the decision-maker. (You should assume that the other, more specific parts of the proposal will be divvied up and sent to different leaders or departments.)
The executive summary isn’t a sales pitch. It’s your opportunity to tell the reader that you provide the best combination of experience, abilities and value. While there’s no one-size-fits-all format for executive summaries, you might want to consider including the following sections:
- A recap of the challenge, so that they know that you understand the issue they want to solve
- A description of your solution
- A discussion of how you’ve helped other clients with similar challenges
The executive summary should be concise, as you want to respect the reader’s time. Start the executive summary with a paragraph or section that captures their attention, and end it on a high note by saying you look forward to working together and are eager to answer any further questions. This is where you can build trust and talk about your desire for a long-lasting relationship.
A quick note: Remember that not every company will want an executive summary. As noted in the section above, review the submission guidelines very carefully.
Differentiate Your Company
When companies issue an RFP, they expect many respondents to compete for the work. That means you’ll be vying with other firms — including those that might be bigger and have more experience than you.
To stand out, you must consider what makes your company the best qualified to meet the company’s challenges. The answer might be pricing, but that’s not always the case. Perhaps it’s the technology you use, the experience of your employees or the results you’ve provided to other companies. Don’t be vague. “We have strong employees” isn’t convincing. Profiling the achievements of the person that will be in charge of delivering the solution — that is convincing!
Write Well and Review
Don’t overlook the importance of good writing. Spelling errors and grammatical mistakes might lead the reader to believe your company is sloppy and doesn’t pay attention to detail. If you don’t trust your own writing abilities, ask a colleague for help and consider using an online grammar checker like Grammarly.
Once your proposal is complete, review it to make sure you’re answering each question fully. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes — are they getting the information they need in a way that’s clear?
Once you’re happy with the proposal, submit it. Make sure to save a copy for reference, as you might be able to modify passages for use in future proposals.