Australia's infrastructure boom: tips for writing better proposals

Post by 
Emma Van Veluwen
Published 
January 6, 2020
A

s most Australian states are in the midst of an infrastructure boom, there are many good reasons to be excited about what 2020 will offer consultants and contractors.

Perhaps one of the activities which the infrastructure sector will be doing a lot of this year is proposal writing. It is often a task people love to hate as it is right outside their comfort zone, especially as clients in the private sector get more demanding and sophisticated, while the requirements of the public sector get more and more stringent and complicated.

I stand with a small minority in the communications space that loves this kind of work. Sure, there are elements to the bidding process that I can’t avoid feeling anything but dread and boredom -but- the idea of bringing together language and design in a competitive offering to win work brings out my innate competitive side.

For the smaller businesses out there that may not have the luxury of an in-house bid team or the budget to seek external support, here are some areas to focus on this year and win more work:

B2B in the Public Sector

You may feel there is not much scope to differentiate yourself in a public sector tender. You’ll be following instructions to the letter and filling in the blanks in the document you’ve received. The rules are getting tighter and tighter. Put a foot wrong and you are out of the running.

Perhaps you’ve done this a million times before and, although it’s a pain, it seems like a "walk in the park", especially if you often win. If not, you may be just going through the motions, knowing you don’t really stand a chance.

But if you look carefully, you can find opportunities to set yourself ahead of the pack – anywhere that a bit of free writing is allowed. Perhaps it’s in an invited introduction, or just in a covering letter. Maybe you can add an introduction to each section; this is ideal because it may be a different person reading each one. Sometimes they ask for your ideas for alternative ways to provide a service or make deliveries. Sometimes they ask open questions that require more than a yes, no, or a strictly factual answer.

B2B in the Private Sector

Here, the proposal document can either lift you into a shortlist, or drop you so far down you’re out of the picture. So a good written proposal is really important in the bidding process.

And, as with all the other aspects of marketing, it really is best to be closely involved. After all, what you are selling is your business. There will probably be plenty of other people who could do the job you are bidding for, but none of them will do it quite like you will. And if you can write the proposal, or put your stamp on it, this will shine through.

Here are some further tips for the private sector:

Give them what they’ve asked for

It’s amazing how many people put themselves out of the running by ignoring aspects of an invitation to tender. Either they haven’t read it properly or they haven’t bothered to clarify anything they don’t understand.

Make sure you’ve done your homework and can make your response relevant to their situation

You need to know the decision makers and make sure they know you. At best you’ll have met them out of context in the past, and had several meetings with them before this stage. At worst, you’ll have at least spoken to each of them on the phone. So you’ll have a good idea of what matters to them, and of which person will have the final say. If you were in their shoes, what would you be most worried about? Address those concerns all through your text.

Decide what you want to say before you write it down

It’s good to develop your ideas and the messages you want to get across into an outline before you add the detail and then polish it into English that’s easy to read.

Put the benefits that will grab interest right up front

Don’t write a logical sequence as you might for a report. For example, if your solution will be cost effective, you’d say, “I guarantee to save you $XXX in the first three months...” and then go on to say how, so that you justify your claim.

Spell things out clearly

Don’t assume your readers will just extract what you mean. Say what you or your colleagues will do and who will take responsibility for it. Say why and how you will do it, when and where you will do it. Say what reports they will get, how often, who will prepare them, what cooperation they will need. Say whatever is relevant.

Write as you would speak

To let your own personality shine through. It’s ok to be passionate and to demonstrate your hunger for the business. Try speaking aloud as if to your readers before you write down your words.

Use mainly active, not passive, voice

In a passive voice sentence, something is done TO an agent rather than BY the subject of the sentence. Although there are sometimes reasons for writing this way, it is best avoided in proposals as it can be seen as trying to avoid giving clear suggestions or accepting responsibility.

KISS

I’m sure you’ve met that acronym before. It’s really important here. Keep it as simple as you can. Use short or conversational words and don’t use jargon unless it is definitely shared with your readers.

Add variety

With sentence and paragraph length. You can sometimes break the rules of grammar to add power to your message. So you can start a sentence with a conjunction, as here. You can occasionally split an infinitive if it helps your case, or you can use elision and end a sentence with a preposition, as inthat is something I won’t put up with”. This can make your text more believable as long as the rule breaking isn’t used too liberally, but adds variety and spice to your text.

Get the help you need

From colleagues or consultants and friends. It’s always a good idea to listen to what others have to say about your words and your ideas, so don’t keep it to yourself unless you really must.

So get writing to help you win that work.
And good luck this year! 
Ellery Studios is available to assist with bid management, document design, template development, peer review, bid websites, or opportunity branding.

Please contact us should you wish to discuss cost effective ways we can help.

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