How to Collaborate on a Business Proposal

Martha asked me, “I want to put a template or guidelines to my team members as a result of my research about the good way to write a proposal.”

One of the problems if you’re new to writing business proposals is where to start, especially if you have to write with a team rather than by yourself.

Where do you start?

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Proposal Template: Purpose

In Martha’s case, she was in charge of a project where different people (mostly programmer) gave their input into the business proposal. They were responding to the requirements in the RFP.

Not all had formal writing experience, so she needed to provide both direction and encouragement. She also needs to get them ‘onside’. Otherwise they’d try to undermine her by finding faults in everything she proposed.

She, and her team, needed to focus on the essentials and not get caught up on the details. The proposal would not be perfect, but it would (and did!) get out the door on time.

This means they had to write focus on:

  1. Language – write in business English, rather than technical jargon or industry-speak. We banned at three letter acronyms (TLAs).
  2. Style – in a style that the client will appreciate and understand. The target audience was executives, not general users. The writing needed to reflect this.
  3. Tone – in a tone that is positive and encouraging but not prone to hyperbole or bragging. We had to stand over what we wrote.
  4. Precise – with words that are short, to the point and clear. Again, avoiding flowery language and clichés.
  5. Structured – each paragraph and idea must lead (flow) into the next.

The first four all required attention by the individual writer.

For Martha, the fifth point (linking all the material together) is where things got difficult.

Remember, the reader should not see the ‘stitching’.

If they can see where you joined material, then you have a problem. The tone, language, style and content need to flow. If the styles clash, the reader will lose faith in the material. If read like it’s been cobbled together – not what you want.

How to get your team started on the proposal

Of course, it depends on your starting point. When I worked with Martha we put together some style guides and then drilled down into other ways to collate, review, and publish the material.

Here are some things we did.

  1. Created a style guide (and bought the Microsoft’s Style Guide as support materials).
  2. Held a workshop and showed the team examples of how to write proposals.
  3. Gave them exercises & discussed what worked and what didn’t.
  4. Had them critique (e.g. examine) each other’s work and then discuss.
  5. Got them to write the sections they are most comfortable with.

To get the project started, we gave the programmers (i.e. those with writing tasks) dates for each draft. Notice I say draft. Document revisions are part of the process; not something to stick on at the end.

This type of project takes time, so you’ll need to be patient.

Give people honest feedback, don’t ridicule their efforts, and see who shows the most promise.

Maybe you can take this person under your wing and mentor them. Having an eager, trusted assistant will stand to you in the long run.

What do you think?

How do you manage projects where many writers will give input? How do you get started, especially if they are new to this area? What mistakes do we need to avoid?

You can use this green and white design for environmental projects, such as bids related to conservation, nature, green issues and similar activities.

Download: Proposal Templates (MS Word)