Proposal support: Could outsourcing help you win more business?
An outsourced proposal team can see you through busy periods and help you create winning proposals.
Winning proposals need custom content—not copy-and-paste.
Every time you compete for new business, you need a proposal that resonates with your readers. It should address their pain points head on. Speak their language. Explain clearly how they’ll benefit from working with you. Show how your solutions will address their operational gaps and meet their business goals.
Creating content like this—that’s truly customer-focused—takes time and effort. But it’s worth it. Personalized content is more meaningful. It’s more likely to engage evaluators and stand out from the competition. It also signals that you’re actually listening to your customer and thinking about what they need—rather than replicating boilerplate copy.
Problem is, RFxs often come in fast and furiously. You may have so many bids to work on that you don’t have time to rework the content for each one. Your writers can’t keep up, let alone your editors, graphic designers, and desktop publishers. And your proposal managers? That’s them, crouching over there in the corner, shivering.
Turning to outsourced proposal writers can help you create quality bids without burning out your staff. If your company is counting on you to win business, getting outside help can give you a real advantage.
If you’re thinking about working with an outsourced proposal production team, here’s what you need to know to get started.
Need help with proposal writing, editing, and design? A professional proposal team can create powerful content that helps your bid stand apart from the pack.
When should I call on an outside proposal team?
Many successful companies can’t keep up with the proposal demands in their organization. Their proposal team is good at what they do, and they keep winning business! There’s a robust pipeline of incoming RFPs, and the ones in house are piling up.
Consider working with an outsourced proposal team if any of these scenarios sound familiar:
- You have more proposals in house than your staff can manage.
- You’re missing review deadlines because your writers can’t produce content in time.
- You’re submitting content that’s below your standards—relying too heavily on boilerplate content that hasn’t truly been customized to the specifics of the RFx or the needs of your customer.
- You have to pass up relevant opportunities because your proposal managers are maxed out and you simply can’t add another bid to their plates.
- Your proposals have a suspicious 1980s look and feel, but there’s never time between bids to step back and re-envision your graphics and proposal layouts.
- You draw inspiration from your competitors’ proposals, but that means that your bids look … very much like theirs. You know you need a fresh perspective on your design, but you’re not sure where to find it.
- Proposals are going out the door with typos, because there’s no one on the team dedicated to editing and proofing—or no one who’s a trained, professional copy editor.
- The company’s SMEs have deep technical know-how, but they have a tough time translating that technical expertise into engaging responses.
- You currently outsource proposal work, but you struggle to find good, reliable proposal managers, writers, editors, and designers. Or you’re spending too much time managing a roster of multiple freelancers.
- You can’t find a proposal writing team who “get you,” sound like you, or understand your product and industry.
- You’d like to explore creating proposals in the Adobe Creative Cloud, but you don’t have in house staff with enough experience—or the time required to train someone.
- Your team has been working way too many nights and weekends, and you’re concerned that full-on burnout is right around the corner.
Working with a contract proposal team should bring you relief. Professional proposal writers, editors, and designers can become an extension of your team, working side-by-side with you to accelerate your production of high-quality bids. They’ll also give your staff some relief, ensuring your team can produce winning bids year after year without getting burned out.
What types of proposal work can be outsourced?
Nearly every part of the proposal process can be outsourced, from pre-proposal research to final proofreading and printing. You can call on outsourced proposal professionals to help with:
Business and strategic planning, including market research, competitive analyses, and go-to-market strategies
Proposal management, guiding every step of your bid from start to finish
Proposal writing, including SME interviews and independent research
Proposal design and layout, in either the Microsoft Office Suite or Adobe Creative Cloud
Graphics conceptualization, whether it’s working from a back-of-a-napkin sketch or a rough diagram in PowerPoint
Proposal editing and proofreading, following your house style
Presentation design and development, pushing the boundaries of how PowerPoint can perform
Printing and production support
Proposal library auditing and refresh
Many types of proposal work lend themselves to outside support. If you bid on three massive Medicare/Medicaid proposals each year, for example, you don’t need to carry multiple copy editors on staff. That’s overhead you can’t afford. You simply need 10 editors, for two weeks, three times a year—that’s it. An outsourced proposal copy editing team is your answer.
Or say you want to refresh your graphics library, but your in-house designers are too busy on live bids. A dedicated outside designer can create a new look and feel for your graphics, then implement it across your library. What seemed like an insurmountable job can get done in no time.
There are many roles you can outsource, but in this guide, we’ll focus on four critical ones: proposal writing, management, editing, and design.
Not sure where to start?
Dragonfly has handled proposal projects for years. Call us anytime for a free consultation. We’ll walk through your processes together and recommend efficiencies and opportunities.
Four Critical Roles You Can Outsource: Proposal Manager, Copywriter, Copy Editor, and Designer
There are many roles you can outsource to accelerate your proposal production. Here are four that lend themselves particularly well to outsourcing.
Proposal managers are responsible for the end-to-end development and production of a proposal. It may seem impossible to think of an external person leading your internal proposal team, but it regularly happens with great success.
Outside proposal managers can become a temporary (but indispensable) part of your business development team, helping with any or all of the following tasks.
- Read every single word of the solicitation document (and any attachments), and develop a precise understanding of what you’re required to submit.
- Create an outline of the proposal structure. The outline may contain a compliance matrix to ensure key requirements are met as well as an assignment sheet indicating who’s responsible for which sections.
- Determine which topics the evaluators care most about, prioritize assignments accordingly, and keep the team focused on the most important content.
- Develop a response strategy, win themes, and discriminators.
- Make a production calendar, listing key milestones such as color team reviews, dates for editing, final review, production, and delivery.
- Lead the kickoff meeting, sharing the schedule, assignments, draft executive summary, and proposal outline.
- Manage the overall schedule, ensuring all internal deadlines are met, and readjusting the schedule as needed to accommodate changes and RFx amendments.
- Organize color team reviews.
- Coordinate production and delivery of the bid.
External proposal writers can add desperately needed horsepower to your proposal team. And they’re not necessarily “just writers.” Depending on when you involve them and their knowledge of your industry, they can help you develop a response strategy and win themes—before any of the proposal is ever written.
In addition, proposal writers can:
- Write specific sections of your proposal (e.g., executive summary, technical approach, resumes, management, IT) or, depending on the size of your bid, write the entire response.
- Interview subject matter experts, extracting critical details about your offering, strengths, benefits, and potential risks.
- Translate your experts’ technical jargon into clear, readable prose.
- Weave win themes, success stories, and differentiators into your content, creating a persuasive storyline
- Identify opportunities to add graphics or visual elements to the proposal, within the RFx’s guidelines, creating a more compelling layout.
- Serve as a color team reviewer and identify holes in the text.
- Gather input from color team reviews and revise content accordingly.
- Review the proposal to make sure the tone of voice is consistent throughout the document, even if multiple authors contributed to it.
Because so many authors and reviewers contribute to proposals, it’s helpful to have a “cleanup crew” to follow the writing team. An external copy editor (or team of editors!) can bring a much-needed outside perspective on your proposal, spotting errors that you’re too close to the content to see.
Proposal copy editors can help you:
- Check for mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- Ensure consistency in hyphenation, capitalization, and numbers, in line with your preferred style guide
- Enhance readability, clarity, and conciseness
- Verify the customer’s language is used correctly and consistently
- Confirm that headings and other formatting elements have been applied correctly
- Look for consecutive numbering of figures and ensure that all figures have callouts, captions, and action captions (if used)
- Reconcile acronym use across the proposal, and create an acronym list if needed
- Carefully cut extraneous content to bring sections into page count
- Flag inconsistencies in content across sections
- Ensure consistent use of British English or American English, depending on the customer’s geography
Proposal Designers and Desktop Publishers
When it comes to proposals, designers often face a perfect storm of rules: font, font size, and page count are all predetermined and rigid. These limitations can make it feel impossible to produce a visually appealing document.
But designers who specialize in proposals welcome this challenge. They’re used to working within strict design parameters. They can work with your proposal manager and writers to create a visually engaging bid that wows your evaluators.
Proposal designers and desktop publishers can:
- Analyze your commercial RFx (or Section L and M in your government RFx) and gather any and all formatting requirements, such as font, font size, and margins
- Create a comprehensive set of custom styles in Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign. These styles will match RFx requirements, reflect your branding, cover all content types required (e.g., titles, headings and subheads, narrative, bullets and last bullets, figure captions and action captions), and look amazing.
- Provide templates for your authors to write in, with RFx questions preloaded, and custom styles applied to all sections of the template.
- Create cover pages that reflect your branding, speak to the customer, and help your proposal stand out from the crowd.
- Create graphics that reflect your branding, clearly illustrate complex processes and systems, and provide visual interest to your portfolio.
- Balance the need to include rich information in your proposal with the need for white space, carefully adjusting leading (the space between lines), margins, indents, and typeface to include all your content, hit page count, and maximize white space on the page.
- Create deliverables that help you give compelling orals presentations, pushing the boundaries of how PowerPoint can tell a story, and supporting materials so you tell a consistent story throughout the pursuit.
How do you outsource an RFP or proposal response?
Proposal development isn’t a one-person job; it flourishes in an atmosphere of collaboration and shared knowledge. To create strong proposal content, you want to work hand-in-hand with your outsourced proposal crew, involving them in the process as early as possible.
Follow these steps to create an effective proposal-writing relationship:
- Start early. Add your proposal manager and proposal writing crew to the team as soon as possible so they can learn about the opportunity, understand your response strategy, and meet key subject matter experts. An early start also means you’re less likely to work weekends or evenings to develop a quality piece of work.
- Connect. Put your outsourced folks in touch with IT as soon as possible to make sure everyone gets access to your SharePoint site, proposal management software, or other IT systems.
- Share. Share a copy of the solicitation documents you’re responding to, your production schedule, and copies of previous proposals, as well as access to your content library, brand standards, and editorial style guide. You want your new proposal managers, writers, editors, and designers to have all the information they need to learn about your solution, your company’s voice, and how you go to market.
- Define expectations. Be very clear about what you need help with, what you expect from your new crew, and when and how work should be delivered.
- Collaborate. Hold a robust kickoff meeting, and meet regularly (if not daily) with the team. Assist your teammates by answering questions promptly, wrangling subject matter experts (when needed), and providing feedback at critical junctures.
Relax. An outside proposal team can bring relevant experience, a burst of energy, and a fresh set of eyes to your work—enhancing the quality of your bids and upping your win rate. Working with a trusted team can boost your confidence in the final product, reducing your stress and your staff’s need to work 24/7.
“The content Dragonfly helped us create for our proposal library has been used so much! The difference between where we started and where we are now is 180 degrees. We so appreciate your help in the process.”
— Schneider Electric
How to choose a proposal consultant
How do you find a good proposal partner? Look for a team who:
- Communicates well in general. Partnership and a good working relationship are major factors in your success.
- Delivers content on time. There’s rarely any wiggle room on an RFx response, so make sure your writers, editors, and designers strictly adhere to deadlines.
- Has experience with the type of proposal you’re creating (e.g., government proposal or research request).
- Understands your industry, its language, and its quirks.
- Will add value by asking relevant questions or making suggestions, rather than simply serving as an “order taker.”
- Has certified APMP bid and proposal professionals, or has completed other training related to proposal development.
Look for a bit of cheerful fearlessness, too. Professional proposal writers aren’t afraid of enormous page counts, tight turnarounds, or massive acronym lists. They should be a helpful bright spot in your hectic proposal world.
Outsourcing proposal services: Should you pick a freelancer or a firm?
Compared to freelancers, proposal consulting firms offer several advantages:
- A proposal agency will match your RFx with a qualified proposal professional—or team of professionals—who understands your industry and proposal requirements.
- An agency can help you scale your proposal team to match your business development activities. If you have more bids in house, an agency can provide more writers, for example. Once a proposal is turned in, you can turn off the extra support.
- An agency will also have a deeper bench of talent, so your business development efforts aren’t contingent on one solo writer, proposal manager, editor, or designer.
- Many firms can support your entire proposal lifecycle—you only have to reach out to one point of contact to get all the help you need.
- Proposal production agencies usually have more quality control processes than freelancers. Anyone who’s assigned to your project has been vetted, and their work may even be supervised or reviewed before it comes back to you.
Freelancer or firm? Choose the path that makes your life easier.
How to choose a proposal consultant
When you put together a proposal, it’s easy to get hung up on, well, yourself.
Professional proposal writers provide an outside perspective. They can help your writing move from the “all about me” style of proposal writing to focusing on the customer instead. A good proposal writer will follow the “art” of proposal writing:
A—Ask key questions about your customer’s world:
- Who are they? Who do they want to be in the future? What are their aspirations, dreams, and visions?
- What specific problem are they trying to solve?
- Why are they trying to solve it right now? Is the need urgent or is it just “time for a change”?
- How have they addressed this problem in the past? Have they tried other solutions? What happened when they did?
- How is the problem affecting them? How are they being limited or constrained?
- Where do they see themselves in the future if this problem is solved? What would success look like for them?
R—Reflect what you’ve learned in your proposal. Focus on:
- The issue your customer is trying to solve
- Your recommendation for their specific situation, based on your experience and knowledge
- The benefits they will reap from following your recommendation
- Proof they can trust that you’ve done this exact work successfully before, for other customers
T—Tie every section of the proposal back to the customer. Don’t slip back into a discussion about how great you are. Your proposal writer should keep asking:
- How does this section relate to the customer’s specific challenges and goals?
- Does this section describe what life will be like after implementing our solution?
- What are their stressors? What keeps them up at night? Am I addressing these head-on in this section?
How can we help?
We’re excited to write, edit, and design for you.