Writing the Perfect Proposal

Recently, I rewrote a proposal for a small company with a unique green product. The original proposal had five problems:

  • It stressed what the company offered and ignored the problem potential customers were trying to solve.
  • It listed features of the product rather than benefits.
  • It neglected to point out where the product differed from others in the marketplace.
  • It overloaded the customer with attachments and links.
  • It assumed the customer would know what to do next.

Ineffective proposals arise for very good reasons: most often the writers are so close to the product (or service) and so enthusiastic that they no longer see it through the customers’ eyes. Moreover, they are so sure the customer will agree with their enthusiasm that they pack the proposal with every bit of information available; and then simply assume the customer will initiate a personal meeting or conversation.

Belief in your product or service and loyalty to your company and customers are excellent traits and should appear in any proposal. However, you yourself wouldn’t make a purchase based solely on a sales person’s enthusiasms; neither will your customers. The perfect proposal:

  • Identifies the problem or mission of the customer.
  • Focuses on benefits to the customer.
  • Differentiates the product or service to ease the customer’s process of choosing.
  • Delivers the message clearly and efficiently, keeping overall length (including attachments and links) to a minimum.
  • Gives clear contact information and a reason for the customer to contact you, preferably in person.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communication, we have over 25 years of experience writing proposals, from letter proposals to books, that give customers the information they want in words that excite their interest. We can do the same for your proposals. Contact us today.

Successful Writing: Five Common Traits

No matter what you are writing–whether it’s a blog post or a letter home, a multimillion dollar response to a proposal or a testimonial for a friend–all successful writing obeys these five basic rules:

  1. It is written for an audience and as specific an audience as possible. Only diaries and confessions are written solely for the benefit of the writer.
  2. It conforms to standard English so that no one has to decipher it to understand it. An exception is made here for fiction writers and lawyers.
  3. It has a purpose (for example, to entertain, educate, inform or intrigue), and it keeps to that purpose. It doesn’t ramble.
  4. It follows a structure, whether alphabetical, chronological, front to back, top to bottom or some other logical progression.
  5. It relies mainly on verbs and nouns, not adjectives and adverbs. That is, instead of phrases like “we are the world’s greatest company,” successful writing provides details (“we’ve won 20 industry awards”) that demonstrate greatness.

Successful writing is defined by its ability to communicate to others what the writer intended to communicate and perhaps more.

If your proposals, website and other marketing collateral are falling short of success, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re based in New Hampshire but our writing has brought us clients from throughout the US and around the globe.

Writing with Less Stress: Three Tips

In business, you are expected to write. The act of writing can be very stressful, especially if it involves spending hours on information that readers then ignore or misunderstand. Here are four ways to reduce the stress of writing:

Method 1. Don’t write, call. I happen to be a writing person; I stumble when I’m forced to talk spontaneously. You may very well be just the opposite–a person who shines when you talk. In any case, these days we spend way too much time writing to each other (or leaving voice mail) and not enough talking directly, when any miscommunication can be easily cleared up and our words have an immediate impact. Surprise someone: talk to them.

Method 2. Consider your readers. Remember that everyone’s first question is, “How does this affect me?” Let your readers know right away what is in it for them; then launch into the explanation. Once you explain the benefits of your product, service, or solution to readers, they are more likely continue reading.

Method 3. If you are asking a question, make sure there’s a question mark somewhere in your text. Otherwise, you are forcing readers to guess that you want answers. If you’re answering a question, make sure your answer comes first, before you offer details and caveats. For example, in the executive summary of a proposal, readers are interested first in the answers to their questions and then in learning how wonderful you and your solution are–not the other way around.

If you are frustrated by the results you get from your marketing collateral, proposals, letters, and emails, review them to decide whether you might be better off with a face-to-face meeting; whether you have given primacy to your customer’s interests; and whether you have clearly asked-and-answered.

Do you have tips for reducing stress in your business life? Join the discussion on LinkedIn at Let’s Talk Health Care or leave your comments here.

Disclosure: I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post. However, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. You can find more ways to be well at HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn and Let’s Talk Health Care.

Writing with Authority

Countless blogs have been written, for men and women, about speaking with authority in meetings and before groups of employees, executives and peers. When it comes to writing with authority, not a single writer speaks up! Here are a few tips I’ve gathered over the years as a professional writer:

Tip 1. Do not write to impress; write to communicate. You convey more authority if you contain the long explanations, self-congratulations and business jargon. (“In regard to your recent communication, we are proud to extend to you the following proposal for installing our state-of-the-art, quality engineered product….”)

Tip 2. Be kind to your audience. You are the expert at what you do. Explain or avoid technical terms and acronyms, especially if they are peculiar to your company. You may think that “everyone knows that” but if they don’t, you’ve lost your audience.

Tip 3. Deliver your main point in the opening sentence or paragraph. A few years ago, researchers collected emails from C-level executives and their employees and found that C-level executives communicated with fewer words and shorter sentences, primarily because they got to the point faster. If background and explanations are essential, let your correspondent know you have provided them after the conclusions.

Tip 4. Know when to stop writing. If you aren’t communicating by email, then stop communicating by email: pick up the phone.

If your proposals, blogs, letters to customers, emails to management or employees or marketing copy are not projecting authority, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words mean business.


Writing Technical Information for Non-Technical People

A while ago, a LinkedIn user complained that his non-technical audience insisted on understanding a technical issue but became frustrated or bored whenever he went into detail. This problem occurs in written materials as well: websites, manuals, reports, newsletters, presentations–wherever technical information is relayed to a non-technical audience. The solution?

First, as a technical presenter, whether speaking or writing, you have to understand that your idea of an adequate explanation is quite different from your non-technical audience’s. They do not want to become you. They hired or brought your product or service because you because you know more than they want to know about the subject.

Second, recognize that your audience’s concerns are not entirely aligned with yours. You want an technically elegant product; they want a solution to their problem. Think about the level of information you want from your doctor. You don’t want a medical degree in histology; you may not even want to know details of a procedure. You want to know what’s wrong with you in everyday language, what your options are and how soon you’ll feel better.

Third, when you must deliver details, it helps to use analogies, comparing the technical situation to something nontechnical. For example, “this process control simulator works like a video game; people think they are controlling the real plant but they aren’t.”

Fourth, use pictures. People understand diagrams, photographs and tables where words confuse them.

If you are having trouble translating technical information into everyday language, email me. I have 20+ years of experience writing white papers, websites, manuals, brochures, newsletters and proposals that communicate technical information clearly to non-technical people.