Submitting proposals is difficult, but there comes a time when you just have to hit the "send" button, even if you're not a hundred percent sure you're ready. Other times, you feel strongly that you wrote the absolute best proposal possible and you can't wait to send it in.
Then you wait to hear if you've been chosen. It's great when you are. But you might also hear back from the potential client politely telling you, "no thanks," and with other proposals, you might never hear back.
So what did you do wrong?
There are endless variables when it comes to proposals. The mood of the person that read it. The mood of the person that wrote it. The weather. The proposals of the competition. Many of the variables you have no control over, but some of them you do.
7 Reasons You Lost That Proposal (And What To Do Next Time)
- You rushed it.
Maybe you found out about the RFP a few days before it was due. Maybe everyone you asked to work on it turned in their pieces late. Maybe you forgot about it, but promised the potential client you would still submit something. It doesn't really matter why you rushed it, just that you did. Rushing the proposal can let through any number of errors, from copy edit mistakes, to focusing on the wrong solutions, to leaving out key pieces.
- You didn't read the request for proposal all the way through.
The RFP is a critical document. It tells you exactly what the client is looking for. If you don't read it thoroughly, you could miss key information that will allow you to craft a proposal that directly addresses the client's fears and concerns. If your proposal doesn't solve the problem they want solved, you're out.
- You gave them what you thought they needed, not what they asked for.
This is a huge reason for conflict in life in general: it's called "Not Listening." Your wife wants you to do the dishes, so you install a new dishwasher. Your dad wants you to help him paint the garage so you hire a contractor. If your client asks you to solve a specific problem, and you offer a solution that is only partially related or focuses on other problems and only solves their problem in passing, they're not going to hire you. Give them what they are asking for, and even if you have great ideas for improving what they are looking for, talk about those after you've gotten the gig.
- Your writing style was too [fill in the blank].
It was too formal. Too casual. Too sloppy. Too verbose. Too simple. Too complicated. Too colorful. Too… anything. The best way to fix this problem is to mimic the style of RFP. Or the client's website. Or their marketing materials. Even if you're applying to be a writer and the client says they want "catchy, upbeat, millennial-style writing" look to see what other types of work they've produced or published. Most often, my clients want a slightly cleaner version of their own writing style. The other benefit to mimicking your client's writing style is that it is a form of communication that they definitely understand, so the chances of miscommunication is lessened.
- You didn't hire a copy editor.
Maybe you didn't have it copy edited at all. Maybe you proofread it yourself. Maybe you asked your secretary to do it, or a writer at your own company. Hire a professional copy editor. Back in the day, before I had much copy editing experience (I was 23), my boss plopped a proposal on my desk. I had never seen a proposal before in my life, and this one was 60 pages long. They gave me four billing hours, and seven total hours until the deadline. It might surprise you, but I didn't do a very good job. We didn't get the project, and one of the notes they sent back was "we found grammatical errors." If you want your proposal to shine, hire a professional.
- Your estimate was too low or too high.
If you really need work, it might seem tempting to underbid--after all, you don't want to lose the contract because you bid too high! If you don't need a lot of work, it might seem tempting to overbid, so you can make a little extra on this project. Sometimes, in those scenarios, you can get the proposal anyway, but it's never a good strategy. If you underbid, you might have to rush to finish the project in time, or scrimp on materials along the way. If you overbid, and they find out, they may never hire you for a project again. Always try to provide as accurate a bid as possible, and tie the value for the client in with the price so they understand why you're asking what you're asking. If it doesn't align with what the client is looking for, then it is probably better for you to not get the project in the long run. And don't forget, they always have the option to negotiate if they like you, but not your prices.
- You didn't follow the instructions.
Many proposals come with varying instructions. Some are as simple as, "Send to this email" and some are far, far more complex. But the instructions that get ignored the most are the little, easy things that no one wants to do. Like, "send your proposal in 12 pt Times New Roman font with 1.5 line spacing." Instead, you used your own branded letterhead--pretty, but wrong. Not following the instructions, whether for something as simple as the font size or as complex as the structure of the proposals, is an easy way to lose.
Though you could still lose the proposal to someone the client has worked with before, or because another contractor has connections within the company, by ensuring that your proposal is clean, tidy, and meets the client's expectations, you can at least give everyone else a run for their money.