Turning Back The Chaos

(Conclusion of a four-part series)

You’ve decided to commit your time and the resources of your firm to putting together a proposal. You’ve justified staking your firm’s name, qualifications, and track record to the endeavor. You’ve solicited the content from your professional staff. Hopefully you’ll have a finished proposal completed and out the door very soon, but right now you have a mess on your hands. How will the work you are doing now benefit you when you have to do it all again for the next bid?

If you’re too frantic to see your current proposal project as part of a continuum, then you will overlook the many opportunities to streamline subsequent proposal assembly projects. Beyond merely being a little faster next time, this streamlining is the way you can ensure and raise the overall consistency – of quality, fit, and tone – in marketing your firm. There are right and wrong ways to do this; the right ways may involve a little more attention to detail and time than you may think you have, but they will be better for you over a longer term. Keep this in mind as you work so that you can break the cycle of panic, disarray, and overcompensation. Here’s how you can decisively turn back the chaos.

Organize and classify proposals: If you’re smart and forward-thinking enough, you can envision a path toward being better organized, and manage your way along it. A system of organization that you design yourself will be the one you have the most zeal to use, maintain, and champion. Try to go beyond the default options: File trees (nested file folders) are easy to overuse. Boilerplate folders organized by project type quickly sprout subfolders of one-off material when a proposed project is a hybrid of two different types. As Todd Larson, new marketing director at Pressley Associates suggests, design your marketing folder structure to mirror your website’s organization. This is a good way to align – and streamline – your work as a marketer and proposal generator.

Develop baseline proposal components: Cherry-picking project lists and resumes for the most relevant details on a project-by-project basis results in multiple versions of these components. In theory, they are all ready to go into another proposal, but in reality this can quickly become a tangle. Items age, firms go in new directions, and one-off items proliferate. A one-off resume, for example, may contain a well-honed phrase that speaks to a certain reader and situation, and even uses space efficiently. Beyond a certain date, though, it barely merits a nervous scan, and is best discarded.

Use recent proposals to update your baseline materials: Usually, your last proposal is your best; in it you exhibit the most evolved understanding of the two problems you are constantly solving: how to assemble the best proposal, and how your firm connects to the outside world. In this fashion, you accumulate proposals – the losers along with the winners – in hopes that starting from an earlier one might save time. (As I wrote in my last post, it is always better to start with something other than a blank page.) But bear in mind that researching past proposals and choosing one to bring current may net only minimal time savings.

Retrofit the right way:  It is usually better to start from a baseline template, but retrofitting a more recent proposal may seem like a time-saver with no downside. Wrong!  There’s a right way to do it that takes more time than you usually have when this option looks the most attractive. You must first completely strip out the previous project’s details from the proposal materials to bring them to a solid baseline state before you can customize them for the current package. Unfortunately, when this backwards step is skipped, new project details are layered atop old ones. So much for your last proposal being your best work! Instead of creating the new baseline, or even a one-off; you’ve created a one-off of a one-off. When you consider that a successful proposal is the beginning of a long project engagement between your firm and your client, you don’t want to run the risks associated with sending out proposals built this way.  These risks can include scope and detail oversights, cost overruns, unrealistic schedules, and unprofitable projects. Don’t put your organization at a disadvantage before it even starts to perform the work!

Do a thorough wrap-up: Applications like Deltek Vision allow a true project database to be created that gives you advantages over the limitations of file tree organization. It allows more complete information to be condensed and managed. But again, time is of the essence. Experienced marketers recognize the advantage of doing a debrief after a proposal is won or lost, and entering the info they have accumulated into the project database. Interruptions, crises, and active deadlines can delay or scuttle this job, starving it of freshness so as to render it less and less valuable.

Separate the Timely from the Time-Sensitive: Before you rush on to your next proposal deadline, delegate someone else to champion this data gathering and debriefing so that the activity gets your attention sufficiently without being just another task. This ensures that the work gets done in time to capture details that may otherwise be lost to memory. It separates out the timely (do it now while it’s fresh) from the time-sensitive (do it now to meet the deadline).

I’m cracking the secret of organizing for more streamlined marketing, and I’ll be writing about it as I explore it for myself in the coming year.

Add Your Comments: What are your experiences developing and relying on boilerplate proposal materials to build better proposals? Could you improve quality by delegating attention to downstream organization so you can concentrate on active deadlines?


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