5 ways to automate your proposal process (and 4 reasons why proposals suck)
First, let me give you 4 big reasons why you shouldn't waste much time on proposals, why I rarely reply to RFPs and why proposals really are a pain. 1. Many businesses send out cattle-call RFPs and get dozens of proposals back, so odds are you won't win the work (because who knows what the business will be basing their decision on) because there is almost always someone who is cheaper, has more experience, etc. This doesn't necessarily make them a better choice, but with a proposal you have no way to control how your information is interpreted and no chance to clarify and respond to objections. 2. Many organizations and government agencies are required to send out RFPs, even if the people making the final decision already have a favorite company in mind. So you may be replying to an RFP that you have almost no chance of winning. 3. A good proposal takes many hours to put together, and you're usually spending all that time on a "maybe." Your time is probably better used on finding a new client (or getting more work from an existing client) who doesn't require so much upfront investment. 4. Proposals take your focus away from billable work and replace it with a chunk of unbillable time. Yes, business development is necessary to spur growth, but there are more efficient ways to do this than spending a day or two writing a proposal (networking, asking for referrals, following up on warm leads are just a few). A proposal is something that typically gets you in the door, because it usually won't win you the work. Because of this and the reasons stated above, you should spend as little time as possible on creating proposals and focus your efforts on finding clients who don't require so much upfront effort to land. With that said, if you're in a service-based industry, it's impossible to avoid proposals altogether (especially if you bid on government work), so here are 5 ways you can automate the process so you're not reinventing the wheel every time you have to put one of these together. 1. Build your proposal layout in a program that you are familiar with. Proposals need to look clean and polished, so ideally you should use a software program that gives your business the right gloss. Some proposal software apps (like Planning Pod, for instance) have already taken care of the layout for you, and all you need to do is add your logo as well as any images or PDFs you would like to attach to the proposal. However, if you prefer a layout program like InDesign or Quark or a documentation program like MS Word, you should set up a custom, design template in these programs (such as custom title page, headers, footers, fonts, etc.). 2. Put together an "about us" template for the front of the proposal. This includes a company bio/mission statement, resumes/bios of key staff, list of services/products page, testimonials page and anything else that provides salient background about your business. Craft this so that you don't have to change it for every proposal other than a few tweaks. 3. Create a portfolio/proof/case study section where you can change out elements Most proposals need to be crafted so that you can demonstrate proof in a particular industry or vertical market. You probably already know those markets well and know what those prospects are looking for, so you should first create a folder of images that you can quickly pull from. Then you should set up your portfolio samples or case studies so that you can easily pull copy and images into your layout to customize it. 4. Create specific proposal templates for particular industries or prospect types For my marketing business, we specialize in doing work for several industries, including healthcare and high tech. So we have created special templates for each of these industries where we can easily customize the template for the company and drop in an estimate based on their requests. I would encourage you to do the same if you have particular markets or verticals that you create proposals for over and over again. 5. Create templates for estimates Once you are in business long enough, you start to see patterns in everything, including the types of projects that come through your door. When I first started out in business, I created a custom estimate for everything, but after a while I caught on and started creating master estimate templates. For example, when I would get a request for pricing on an e-commerce Web site, I had a template for that already created, and I would just customize it based on the prospect's particular needs and requests. Again, some proposal software applications will let you create estimate templates that you can modify. However, if you create estimates in Quickbooks, Freshbooks or another accounting software program, you can work off old estimates for similar projects and include them in your proposal. ____________ Want the convenience of an online proposal software app that lets you create many templates as well as turn proposals into invoices? Try Planning Pod for free and see how you can manage your proposals and much more with one convenient app.