How to write proposals
The best way to write a proposal
Management summary
Your understanding of their requirements
Your company’s suitability for the work
The proposed way forward
Possible next steps
That which is written without effort is usually read without
Samuel Johnson (1709–84), writer
Written proposals need two things good structure and good
English. This chapter is about the structure. (The next one is
about good English.) Structure is important for writing. It is the
reason why the people who write plays are called ‘playwrights,’
rather than ‘playwrites’. Plays are only good when they are well
constructed, and the same goes for anything you write.
A sales proposal will have a clear structure only when the writer
has clarity of thought. An excellent way to gain this clarity of
thought is by constructing your proposals in four stages. Most
people nd this technique improves the quality of their writing
signicantly. Here is how you do it.
Stage 1, Structure: The rst stage is a written plan that
describes the structure of the proposal. It has much the same
Part 1
Sales meetings and sales proposals60
role to the proposal as a skeleton has to a body. This stage
describes the order of the chapter headings and the contents
of the chapter sub-headings. If the proposal is less than two
pages, it will also specify the subject of each paragraph. An
example of this stage is given on page 63.
Stage 2, Words: Stage 2 is your rst draft of the nished
article. As soon as you have written it, it needs reviewing by
a colleague.
Stage 3, Final format: This stage starts with the correction
of the errors highlighted by that colleague review. There will
usually be a lot. Once you have made those corrections, you
should prepare another ‘nished article’ and submit that for
review. (You can be sure that will throw up yet more faults.)
Stage 4, Ready to send: This is the nal check of the nal
version. Once it is done, your document can be sent out.
So why do it that way? The process is disarmingly simple, but it
has four advantages:
1 It gives order, and clarity of thought. The biggest weakness
of most sales documents is that they are not thought through
fully at the beginning. That is like building a house without
an architect’s drawings. Stage 1 forces you to think through
your document – and that helps ensure good structure.
2 It creates a better end product. People who regularly
read proposals will tell you that nearly all of them have
typographical errors and poor style. The second and third
stages reduce these problems signicantly.
3 It is the quickest and most practical way to do it. Tender
documents arriving at your ofce usually come with short
time-frames for your response. This process will help you
meet those time-frames because it brings order to the
bid-writing process and allows you to set target dates for
completing each stage.
4 It is something you have to do at some time. You simply
cannot write a good-quality document without putting
effort into the structure. You can put off doing this part of
the job, but that just makes for more work in the end. The
best time to determine the structure is at the beginning.

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