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  • What not to say in your proposals

    Instead of being afraid of saying something wrong that causes you to lose the whole proposal, you should be more concerned with saying a bunch of little things that dilute your message. This happens far more often. Maybe it's because people take a while to get warmed up before they start writing anything decent. Many of the examples below are things that people often write out of habit to help them get started. You can write a better proposal just by breaking these habits.

    Qualifications Without Benefits
    It's not about you. Your proposal should be about your customer. Instead of saying:

    • When you were founded
    • Who the founder was
    • How much you have grown
    • How long you have been in business
    • How big you are
    • How many employees you have
    • How many cleared staff you have
    • How many locations you have
    • What your mission is
    • About your other customers
    • Where you are located
    • We're ISO certified
    • We're certified in...
    • We're an 8(a) or SDB

    Say how your size, age, location, or other qualification will benefit the customer. Make it about them and not about you.

    Who cares?
    If you find yourself saying any of the following, you should find a way to re-write it so that the customer will care:

    • We are pleased to respond
    • We pride ourselves
    • Our strength is our people
    • We believe

    Empty assertions

    The adjectives below are often used without any substantiation. Empty assertions do damage to your credibility and do the opposite of persuading the customer. Avoid saying that you are these things, unless you prove it. You may be able to drop the adjective and just keep the proof.

    • State-of-the-art technology
    • Top firm
    • Great reputation
    • Premier
    • Low risk
    • Excellent customer service
    • Best value
    • Respected
    • Our customers come first
    • We are the only ones
    • Best of breed/class
    • Leading edge
    • State of the art
    • Quality focused
    • Uniquely qualified
    • Innovative

    Miscellaneous Don'ts

    • Don't tell the customer what their needs are. If you feel the need to document the requirement, do it in the form of a statement about what you are going to do to fulfill the requirement.
    • Don't summarize requirement. You can show your understanding by stating what you will do to fulfill the client's needs. When you summarize the requirement, it's redundant with the RFP and runs the risk of being patronizing or just plain wrong. When you say what you are going to do and how the customer will benefit, they will recognize it as something they need (or at least something close).
    • Don't use passive voice. It's a grammar thing. If you don't know what it is, look it up. It's important.

    And finally, here are some things that are OK to say...

    • We don't know, but we'll find out
    • What you expect of the customer
    • What other people say about you
    • There are risks associated with the project

    There is nothing wrong with being human. You don't have to be perfect or have all of the answers. You just have to show that you are an excellent partner to work with through the ups and downs of the project.

    Carl Dickson
    By Carl Dickson, Founder of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

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