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7 Effective Proposal Writing Tips for Landing the Deal

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Cheryl Smith



8 min

Seven effective proposal writing tips help you showcase your expertise and demonstrate your experience. Because writing an effective proposal that lands you the deal isn’t always easy. In fact, it can often feel like a chore that sucks the motivation and focus out of you faster than a dementor's kiss.

You’re not alone. Complex technical requirements, mountains of information and tight deadlines easily make proposal writing feel like an uphill battle. Unfortunately, well-written proposals are critical for convincing clients and winning new business.

Here are seven effective proposal writing tips for how to write a winning proposal without the uphill climb.


Annotate for Focus

A common mistake is assuming your experts know exactly how to respond to requirements and questions. While they certainly possess the expertise, they are not always writers. Think of this tip as building a roadmap to guide them where you want them to go. 

By specifying the key points you want your team to address, you ensure they are building an argument that leads to your value proposition. While reducing the need for major revisions.  

  • Communicate Interpretation. Describe how your team interprets the meaning and priority of sections, and even requirements. This focuses and optimizes writing time, and ensures outputs align with expectations.
  • Allocate Space. Allocate more writing space for key information. You want to focus readers on the aspects of your solution that shine bright and score big.  
  • Strong Hooks. Provide ideas for a strong opening and closing. You want to hook readers attention with your value proposition and close with a strong sense of transition to the next section.
  • Strong Visuals. Capture readers attention with visuals and help them understand and accept your position more fully. Integrating charts, graphics or images help you present complex information in a more digestible way.
  • Optimize Your Score. Identify how the client will score each section, and how your response can appeal to decision makers. This puts the client’s problem first, and strengthens your overall argument.

Personalize for Rapport

A generic proposal feels impersonal. It suggests you haven’t taken the time to understand the client’s specific needs and challenges. Personalizing connects with your readers, increasing your relevance and impact.

This shows you’ve carefully analyzed their situation and proposed a solution tailored to their unique context, or goals. It also organizes writing time around what's most important.

  • Highlight the Client’s Industry Challenges. Reference industry trends, common challenges, and best practices to showcase your in-depth understanding of their landscape. This also highlights how you anticipate challenges and your experience in mitigating them.
  • Address the Client's Pain Points. Frame your product in from the client's perspective. Describe how it will remove a headache, make their life or job easier, or streamline operations and save time.
  • Quantify the Client Impact. Back up your claims with relevant evidence or proofs. Data, statistics, benchmarks and even quotes showcase measurable value. They also differentiate you as a trusted partner with a proven track record.

Solve the Problem

Proposals are essentially sales documents, but for complex solutions and services. The “client” has a problem - a need, a challenge or a gap - they want to solve. Solving the problem means describing their situation and pain points from their frame of reference.

This resonates with readers because it shows you’ve listened to their needs and have a clear plan to address them. It also showcases you as a reliable problem-solver.

  • Focus on Benefits. Explain how each key feature translates into a tangible benefit. For example, how your solution directly addresses frustrating delays and efficiency needs.
  • Quantify Impact. Quantify the impact of benefits by highlighting the outcome, for example time savings or increased output. Using data or case studies you can show how you have helped similar clients overcome similar challenges.
  • Anticipate Objections. Consider potential concerns the reader might have about your solution. Or obstacles they anticipate the project encountering. Addressing these concerns - and your plan to mitigate them - proactively showcases your understanding and experience.
  • Address Inaction. Emphasize the time and cost of sticking with the status quo but expecting different outcomes. Describing how unbearable inaction is helps them realize how it hinders their business.  

Educate Readers

Proposals are not just about selling your solutions and services. They are about establishing you and your business as a trusted advisor. By educating your readers, you position yourself as an expert in the field.

By educating them on the nuances of their problem, you position your solution as a strategic, well-informed approach. This also demonstrates your ability to guide them through the process effectively.

  • Frame-in the Problem. Instead of jumping straight to the issue, briefly introduce the background and context surrounding the problem. Present the root cause and significance objectively. This convinces readers of its importance and sets the stage for your solution.
  • Address Potential Concerns. Anticipate and address potential questions or concerns the reader might have. This demonstrates your foresight and comprehensive understanding of their project. It also builds their confidence in your ability to deliver a successful outcome.
  • Define Potential Risks. Educate readers on potential risks. Showcase how you anticipate challenges and plan effectively. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how your approach minimizes disruptions for on-time, on-budget project completion.

Persuade Readers

Proposals are competitive documents, with multiple vendors vying for the same project and contract. Persuasive writing differentiates your proposal from the rest. Using strong arguments, compelling language and a clear value proposition, you capture their attention. And guide them towards taking, and defending, a specific action.

This approach also shifts the conversation from features to benefits, building a more compelling case for your solution.

  • Highlight Benefits and Value. Emphasize the tangible benefits the client will receive by choosing you. Paint a clear picture of how to address their problems, improve their situation, and contribute to their success from their point of view.
  • Guide the Readers. Frame your proposal in a way that positions the reader as the hero of the story. A touch of emotion breathes life into your writing. Sharing stories about overcoming challenges evokes feelings that motivate readers to take action.
  • Repeat and Rephrase. Repeat and rephrase strategically throughout your proposal. This brings a structure and rhythm to your proposal that readers appreciate. It also emphasizes important topics and noteworthy details that are more likely to stick in their minds.  

Empathize with Readers

Empathy plays a crucial role in crafting winning proposals. It helps you connect with readers on a deeper level. Especially when you step into their shoes and discuss the project from their perspective.

Empathy humanizes your proposal, helping readers relate to you on an emotional level. This builds trust and reminds readers that people, not data, make the decisions. It also keeps your proposal client-centric and invested in their success, not just the win.

  • Empathize with Challenges. Acknowledge the client's challenges and demonstrate that you understand their situation and its frustrations. Empathize with their emotional concerns and show that you understand the pressure they are under. This builds trust and rapport that positions you as a partner who can alleviate their burden, stress and anxiety.
  • Get Excited about this Project. Tell stories using your experience and positive and upbeat language. Use “we” statements to create a sense of shared experience and goals. This personal approach communicates a genuine interest in their project
  • Have a Conversation. Be professional, but write as if you are helping out a friend. Empathize with their pains and connect to their perspective. This shows how genuinely invested in their success you are.  
  • Use Narrative Scenarios. Use your client or expert experiences to speak to the reader’s aspirations. Use stories to demonstrate how you will help them achieve their dreams and overcome their fears. Include transitions that ease the path to understanding the next section.

Clarity is Still King

Proposals are complex documents with a lot of complex information to communicate. Clear, concise writing ensures the reader understands your message efficiently and interprets it accurately. It allows them to grasp your key points and increases your chances of a positive evaluation score.

It also amplifies your persuasive tactics, making readers more receptive to your solution.

  • Logical Flow. Organize your proposal with a clear and logical flow. If the solicitation mandates the outline, use that to your advantage. Use headlines and images to showcase your ability to communicate value within the mandated outline.
  • Formatting. Use headings and subheadings to break down complex information and guide the reader through your proposal. Use bullet points and tables to present lists, data, or key points in an easily digestible format. This makes your proposal easier to read and understand.
  • Simple and Direct Language. Showcase your value proposition using strong action verbs. Aim for clear and concise sentences that are easy to read. If jargon is a must, define technical terms or industry acronyms within the proposal for the reader’s clarity.
  • Active Voice. Active voice sentences are more direct, confident, focused, and engaging. They also tend to be shorter and more direct than passive sentences. This improves readability and makes it easier for readers to grasp your message quickly.

Avoid Common Proposal Writing Mistakes

You’ve poured your heart and soul into crafting a winning proposal. You’ve outlined a compelling approach, highlighted your expertise, and meticulously addressed every evaluation criterion.

Here are a few common proposal writing mistakes that can easily derail your hard work:

  • Not focusing on the problem. Don't just identify the issue, explain its significance and the impact it has on the reader and their business.
  • Not answering the question. Burying your answer in the third paragraph forces readers to play detective. This can lead to frustration and lower scores.
  • Making it all about you. Check your sections, paragraphs and sentences. Do they all begin with your business name? Flip that around and lead with the client or their project when at all possible.
  • Lack of Evidence. Back up your claims with statistics, case studies or quotes to build greater credibility. This proof lends credibility to your claims which is critical for reader trust.
  • Unprofessional Design or Formatting. Use a clean and easy-to-read layout with appropriate fonts and spacing. This makes a positive first impression that lasts from cover to cover and beyond.
  • Overselling. Don’t exaggerate. Once readers think you’re not being honest with them, they will begin to doubt your proposal.
  • Fluff. Don’t give your clients fluffy sales pitches and boilerplate. Their eyes will just gloss over. Instead, sell your benefits and evidence to convince them you can do the job.

Effective Proposal Writing Tools

We've explored seven writing tips that set winning proposals in motion. But, let's be honest, proposal writing still takes a lot of time. So, here are some practical tools for saving time to write.

  • Proposal Writing Guide. Standardize how you write to ensure clarity, style, tone and word choice. This ensures consistency across your writing, making it easier for readers to understand and navigate your work.
  • Proposal Writing Checklist. Communicate your writing process to ensure you haven't missed any crucial elements. This gives you a sense of accomplishment, and assurance your writing is polished and ready to go.
  • Proposal Writing Software. Streamline your writing process with co-authoring and automation for easier access to accurate content and expertise. This accelerates the writing process, saving more time for quality and more proposals with your same staff.
  • Proposal Content Library. Avoid recreating the wheel with an accurate, well-regulated content library. For standard sections, such as management methodology, it maintains consistency across all of your proposals. For reuse, it offers a foundation on which to tailor each proposal. 
  • Proposal Writing Software with AI. Leverage secure AI to surface relevant reusable information from your content library. This also accelerates the writing process, saving time and promoting accuracy and consistency.  

Crafting a winning proposal requires a blend of strategic planning, clear communication and compelling writing. By following these seven effective writing tips. you can present your ideas with confidence and increase your chances of securing approval.

Remember, a strong proposal not only informs but also inspires. Take the time to refine your writing, showcase your expertise, and demonstrate the value you bring to the table. So, go forth and conquer that writing task - the world of impactful proposals awaits!

Related Article: Keep the momentum going with How to Write a Persuasive Proposal: Convincing Clients

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Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith is our Senior Content Writer. She has additionally been writing and managing proposals since 1998. Shipley trained, she has helped establish proposal centers and advised on capture strategy, coached orals teams and lead marketing, communications and knowledge management programs. Cheryl is a graduate of The George Washington University with degrees in Theatre, Communications and Literature. When she’s not sharing her passion for work, she loves drawing, writing, cooking and exploring the Virginia woodlands with her husband, their dog Chase and the fuzzy guests they host for Rover.

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