I’ve Got a Proposal to Write, I Need Good Writers!
By Gregory W. Pease, Managing Partner, Tenzing Consulting

You have a Request for Proposal (RFP) looming in your future; maybe you’ve got two or more.  Big or small in requirements, you’re going to need writers--make that good writers--to help you respond.  Typically, the problem is good proposal writers aren’t growing on trees, they aren’t sitting around waiting for your call, and you may not even know where they are.  Whether your good writers are in-house working in management or technical positions, are already engaged on your other proposals, or are in your Rolodex as consultants, you’re going to need to get good writers.  Of course it all begins with strategizing—thinking ahead before your needs arise.  Here are 4 good ideas to get good writers on your team to help you today and tomorrow. 

Assess What You’ve Got.  My first action in getting a handle on good proposal writers is to assess what I’ve got in house, within my proposal shop as well as around the company.  Each organization has its stable of regular and go-to proposal writers and contributors, yet many don’t know where or how to get to other good proposal writers within the company.  Start by talking with company leaders and other managers in the organization, finding those candidates that have been good contributors in the past.  Ask your capture managers whom they like to see on their proposals, whose proposals/sections/ contributions have been favorably reviewed and resulted in wins.  Also, when you’re talking with leadership and management, ask what proposal writing consultants the company has had success with in the past (more on this later).  Once identified, take the opportunity to talk with these members of the staff, review their previous proposal work and gauge their interest in contributing today and tomorrow. From this initial assessment, develop a base of resources and their specialties and skill sets that you can draw on in the near term as well as those who can help “triage” proposals needing improvement or respond quickly to emergent proposal requirements.  Hint:  Every organization has staff turnover…plan on performing this assessment yearly to identify newly hired talent who might be good proposal writers that you can add to your base. 

Leverage What You Have.  As one who “grew up” in the Professional Services Industry supporting the Federal Government, I remember our company had great knowledge of the good writers in the organization.  These writers typically authored plans, analyses, reports, and other deliverables as part of their technical and management performance.  Well respected by editors, peers, leadership, and customers alike, some of these writers were spectacular assets to the organization.  These staff members and managers typically performed in deadline-driven environments so asking them to pick up a proposal assignment was easy in some respects.  But just because they could write a plan or assessment didn’t mean they were versed in the art and science of good proposal writing.  Following the assessment described above, consider investing in both ongoing scheduled and just-in-time proposal training for your great writers.  Shipley and The Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) are great places to start for identifying good training resources.  Ongoing, scheduled training can provide a great foundation of knowledge and experience that then can be honed with focused, just-in-time training before your RFP hits.  Hint:  Be careful when and how you draw on these very skilled resources as they’re typically in great demand and might be limited in when and how they can support you…save them for your complex and must-win assignments. 

Buy Them.  Let’s say you’ve got a very near-term requirement for good proposal writers and you look around and no one is available.  Consider hiring a consulting proposal writer to help you.  As you might know, there are many talented consulting proposal writers available. Be sure to perform a thorough interview, reference check, and assessment of previous proposal efforts (if available) before you select one.  Recognize you’ll make an initial investment bringing any new resource up to speed on company-unique processes, capabilities, technologies, and current company performance before that resource becomes effective for you.  APMP and its member organizations provide a wealth of resources where you can find candidates. Some Hints:  Consider talking with several organizations and candidates before you make your selection so you can see a wide range of capabilities.  Consider a mini-proposal writing test as part of the interview—have the candidate author a paragraph to address a requirement.  For experienced and successful proposal writers, be prepared to pay between $75 and $140 per hour for their labor depending on skill level.  Remember that good consulting proposal writers might be busy when you have a very near-term requirement.  Planning, scheduling, and timely communications remain essential.  Finally, recognize that the second engagement and beyond with a given consulting proposal writer will be where you see significant return on investment as that writer gains more and more knowledge of your company, processes, performance, and capabilities.  Keep the ones you like close by so you can optimize your return on investment.

Make Them.  Some of the best proposal writers I know started with one question:  “How can I help?”  Some have stumbled into successful proposal writing while awaiting a technical or management assignment.  In most cases, the successful writers I know started with a foundation of good writing skills and added an interest in business development.  Consider putting a proposal-writing program in place in your company.  It doesn’t have to be cumbersome.  This program might support about a handful of people each year.  Identified from your technical and management staffs, these staff members would participate in various roles on your proposals, shadowing and helping successful writers, participating in planning and reviews, and taking a writing course and scheduled and just-in-time proposal training.  Ongoing mentoring and coaching with feedback by your good proposal managers and successful writers will give each participant a great foundation of knowledge and experience, quickly moving them to contributor, lead writer, and other proposal roles.  You can also include APMP-based training in your program.  Hint:  Treat this program and participation in it as an investment by the company in the individual and you’ll find no investment as good as this in helping you win more business.  Tie continued participation to meeting objectives and review their performance to stay in the program.  Think about putting in place a “payback period” to recover your investment like done in a formal tuition assistance program.  Once through the program, you’ll have a team of successful writers to attack your upcoming RFP challenges.

Identifying and maintaining a cadre of good proposal writers can be a daunting challenge for any manager and organization.  Addressing tactical needs by leveraging proven and successful resources while maintaining a strategic perspective by building a supporting program can go a long way to increasing the quality of your proposals and your win rate. 

Tenzing LogoGregory W. Pease is a proposal professional, oral presentation coach, and is the Managing Partner of Tenzing Consulting, specializing in strategies, proposals, presentations and coaching. Contact Greg at mycoach@verizon.net or 301-237-3727. Visit www.tenzing-consulting.com.

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