Proposal Tune-Up

May 09, 2005

A lot of design and environmental firm principals have been around a long time— they’re an average of 48 years old. That means that they have probably been doing this work for 20-25 years or more. Sometimes, when you do something for SO long, you start to get a little sloppy. You may take certain things for granted— like your proposals. You may think that these documents are being done properly because you seem to stay busy, or the firm has done well. But my experience is there’s usually lots of room for improvement. Pull out some of your most recent proposals and take a look at how you fare on these eight points: Does the proposal clearly spell out why the client should hire you? If not, you’ve got a problem. You are assuming that the client will sort through all of your project experience and qualifications to come to that conclusion. But they may not. You must tell them WHY hiring your firm is clearly in their best interests. Do you clearly spell out what your understanding of the client’s needs is? If not, you are assuming that the client will trust you to figure that out. That takes a lot of faith on the part of clients who have possibly (probably) been burned many times by design professionals who made incorrect assumptions about what they wanted and then screwed things up. Don’t be put in this boat! Have you demonstrated some unique insight into to project at hand? What is going to make you seem different from the other people and firms pursuing work from this client? Not all design professionals are real creative, and even fewer are great communicators. Make it clear that you have done your homework by telling the client what you know that the other guy won’t tell them. There must be something unique in your insight. Have you edited the writing so it reads well? Too often, these proposals are filled with long words when short words will do, or sentences that repeat what was just said two paragraphs earlier. Cut down the verbiage. Make things clear. Use short words. Show respect for the client’s time by not wasting it with bad writing. Have you checked everything over for errors? Spell-check won’t do everything— you can have the wrong word in there and it won’t get picked up. The client’s name and that of their organization have to be right, or you could cast a doubt on the quality of services your firm provides. For example, on a custom-range hood I just got a proposal for, the CAD drawings have my name spelled as “Zewig” in some places and “Zweig” in others. It makes one wonder what else they will get wrong if you hire this firm. Who wants to take that chance if other providers are out there? Have you given the client everything they asked for? Clients often have peculiar requirements. If they asked for four references, did you give them four? Or did you only include three? If they want a listing of projects showing HVAC replacement for operating-room suites, did you show them HVAC replacement for other areas in a hospital? You have to take out the RFP or notes from client visits and go through them with a fine-tooth comb to find everything they wanted. Then compare what you gave them with what they asked for. If every item requested is not in your package, you screwed up! Do you clearly show the project organization chart? If not, why not? You should ALWAYS show the project organization chart with the client in the top box. Name the project manager. Show the PIC as the safety valve with a dotted line between the PM and the client, but don’t make it look like all communications flow through the PIC. Show each of the other key disciplines or project roles and who will fill those jobs by name. Make sure these are the people whose resumes you’re including and no one else. This chart is an important item— don’t forget it! Have you used good organization and graphic design? Everything should be clear and easy to find. The tabs should be readable and match the table of contents. The table of contents should have page numbers. The colors and presentation of your company name and logo should be used consistently throughout. There shouldn’t be too many different fonts and typestyles, and there ought to be some white space. Good graphic design makes you look like a pro. Amateur design makes you look like a second-rate provider. Use these eight points not just on the proposals you’ve done, but the proposals you’re doing. Make sure that someone who has been involved with the client is guiding your efforts and too much is not left up to disconnected marketing coordinators with limited experience. Even if you have plenty of work, why not try to bump up your hit rate and your prices? It just makes good sense! Originally published 5/09/2005

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.