I've said this before, but it's still the best sports analogy around: You should approach most business projects like you are approaching the tee on a golf course. Here's why.
Anyone who plays the game knows it is all about your "approach"--that is, how you stand, where you look, and what you do to prepare for a shot. Stand too far away or fail to notice that the fairway takes a sharp turn pass a tree line and you will end up in the deep stuff.
In business, the "deep stuff" is a lack of success. A product launch goes sour, a business partner decides to move on to greener pastures, someone declines your contract. In our current age working in the gig economy, everything hinges on the proposal, but so few people actually know how to create them. A proposal should absolutely sing or it won't get a second look. Here's how to craft them.
1. Learn how to do interviews
The number one tip for writing a proposal is to do your homework. You have to ask the right questions, and that means learning how to interview people. Ask the right questions, take good notes, and then craft a proposal based on the results. Strangely, too many people try to write proposals without asking any questions. (I believe it is due to overconfidence.) You have to humble yourself and approach any new project asking questions, not only giving answers. Spend the majority of your time investigating what needs to be done. When you've collected the information you need, you'll be surprised how fast the proposal comes together.
2. Use action words
Action words lead to action. Who knew? Too many proposals (and too much business writing in general) is duller than paint on Sunday. When I've had interns working for me, I tell them the same thing over and over again: You have to pick a powerful noun and a powerful verb. Make your sentences snap. When a proposal is easy to read and has plenty of action verbs, people respond. When you use passive voice and try to sound ornate, people take a pass.
3. Keep it short
Back in my early days trying to sell corporate leaders on the services of a small writing team (one that eventually grew to 50 people), I used to think a written proposal should be long enough to justify the high expense involved. I was totally wrong. In fact, when you craft a proposal, it might be true that the highest "ask" needs the shortest proposal. Why? Because the person reading your proposal will be short on time. Get to the point. You interviewed enough people that the proposal is writing itself anyway. Now, make it easy to read. Cover what you need to cover and leave out the filler. Send me a note if these tips work.