Co-ordinating a proposal, tender or application – or any large document with multiple contributors – is a daunting task. But you can avoid coffee-fuelled all-nighters before the deadline by establishing some good processes early on. Here are some tips for anyone writing a proposal.
Read the documents
So you’ve decided to respond to a request for tender or proposal. While it’s tempting to jump right in and start planning your response, take a moment – possibly even a day, depending on the complexity of the project – to simply read the requirements. The tender or proposal questions will outline the core information you’ll need to provide, but make sure you’re also across the statement of requirements and selection criteria, so you can address these in your response.
Keep in mind that answering your potential client’s questions directly can help you avoid wasting precious resources. There’s no point detailing your company’s entire IT strategy if the question only asks about your server capacity. Not only will it irritate the tender assessors, it creates unnecessary work and uses time you may not have.
It’s also important to read the compliance requirements at this stage, so you can ensure your document meets these from the outset. For instance, some tenders include their own template that you will need to populate with plain text. Knowing this at the start of the process will save you from having to create a branded template and complicated bespoke diagrams.
Create a schedule
Whether you’re using a Word document, spreadsheet, calendar or full-blown Gantt chart, make sure you create a schedule that includes the major milestones in the development of your document, as well as the person responsible for each task and the deadlines for each stage. Communicate this with your team at the start of the project to make sure they are aware of – and able to meet – this timetable. Deadlines won’t work if no-one is invested in meeting them.
If you’re allocating the task of writing sections to various team members or people in your organisation, outline any relevant questions and selection criteria from the request for tender, provide a word count if possible, and direct them to any company- or project-specific writing style guides. It’s easier (and quicker) to help your team write the type of copy you want, rather than having to heavily edit it at the end.
Include plenty of time for reviewing these contributions, as sections of copy may need to be sent back and forth between an author and reviewer/editor several times before they cut the mustard. And make sure you schedule time for an edit (and, if possible, proofread) of the final document in its entirety, so you can catch any inconsistencies in your response and correct any style variations. Be realistic about the time required for reviewing and editing, and communicate this to the team. It’s important that your contributors understand why they need to have their sections ready before the final deadline.
Create a document-control process
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of document control. Anyone who’s just finished hours of work editing or adding to a document only to have the original author unexpectedly email through a revised version will attest to this. Contrary to what some people believe, there is no perfect ‘merge changes’ button; in most cases, it has to be done manually in a painstaking process that will make you want to bang your head against your desk. And cleaning up after several different versions of a document is not only frustrating; it can lead to important edits or major errors being overlooked in the confusion.
To avoid this, make sure there are controls over who has the document at each point in the drafting and finalisation process. Whether you use a file-sharing application like SharePoint or a folder structure and naming convention is up to you. You can have different people writing different sections simultaneously, but once a document is combined for refinement and review, it should only be changed by one person at a time – and someone needs to be responsible for managing this process.
Don’t be a perfectionist
Make sure you don’t miss the forest for the trees. Your document needs to clearly answer the questions and address the selection criteria provided, be compliant with the tender or proposal requirements, and – perhaps most importantly – be finished. As hard as it is for me to say this as an editor: don’t spend so much time perfecting one part of your response that you’re unable to finalise the rest of your document and submit it.
While a major publication – such as a prospectus or your company website – needs to be finely crafted and perfected with multiple rounds of editing, tender teams can rarely afford the time or resources to mull over their documents to the same degree. Of course, you should consider the priority of each section – an executive summary should be well thought out, clearly expressed and free of errors – but when it gets down to the wire, you may not be able to reformat that 50-page technical report you’ve included as an appendix.
Leave enough time for those final tasks
While you may be confident you’ll get the core of your response completed on time, don’t forget all the last-minute tasks that can end up taking longer than expected – like compiling appendices; combining your documents; checking headers, footers and page numbering; and uploading files or having them printed. Allocate enough time for these in your schedule so you’re not scrambling around just before the deadline.
By following these tips, you’ll hopefully be able to establish a tender response process that minimises stress, allows everyone time to do their best work, and – best of all – eliminates the need to inhale Red Bulls while PDFing documents at 3:00 am.
We can help you write your next proposal or add polish to an existing document. Contact us here.