Proposal Kit

Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to Price Your Services to Make a Profit

Experienced marketers know there are all sorts of pricing strategies designed to lure in customers. But if you’re new to the sales game or if you are wondering whether or not you can afford to open your business, you may be wondering how to set a price for your services.

You could simply take a survey of your competitors and then try to undercut their prices, but not accounting for all your costs can quickly lead to financial disaster. Most businesses fail because their expenses exceed their income and they don’t manage their cash flow.

There is a basic formula for setting appropriate prices. It’s sometimes called a “cost plus” formula, and here it is:

Cost of Services + Overhead Costs + Buffer + Desired Profit

The Cost of Services should be easy enough to figure. That should take into account the hourly rate of the worker(s) who will perform the services, plus the cost of any goods consumed or delivered by the service.

Overhead Costs get a bit trickier, because those are the ongoing costs of running your business. In this category, you need to include a percentage of expenses such as leasing or purchasing buildings and equipment, maintenance and utilities, salaries of support staff, taxes and insurance, and so forth. After you know your annual or monthly cost for overhead, then you should divide this total cost into an hourly cost and assign that to each hour of service to fill in the Overhead Costs in the formula above.

So now you have your basic costs defined: Cost of Services + Overhead Costs. What’s the Buffer? A buffer is a percentage of the total expenses, added as “padding” or “insurance” to account for unplanned problems that even the most experienced businesses encounter. These might include scheduling issues, unexpected component price increases, accidents, illness, and so forth. The percentage you choose for a buffer is up to you and depends on the type of business you’re in. Some businesses add a buffer of 20%; others add 100%.

And finally, you need to determine your Desired Profit percentage. In other words, how much profit do you need or want to stay in business? Now, adding all these figures together, you should arrive at a price for your services.

After you have worked out a price that guarantees you will not lose money, it’s time to compare that price against the local competition. Is your price much lower than the competition? Then you may want to examine your costs again to be sure you’ve included everything. Many new business owners forget to include the costs of processing the paperwork for a job, for example, or they haven’t made the buffer percentage big enough to cover unanticipated events.

If your price came out higher than the average, don’t panic. Keep in mind that customers may not always choose the lowest price. Compare your services to your competitors. Do you offer additional services, have more experience or industry awards, or offer a guarantee or a warranty that your competitors don’t? If yes, then these may serve as "value added" components to justify a higher price, but then you need to highlight these benefits in your service proposal to inform your potential customer about why you are the best pick for the job.

However, if your price calculation came out with a total that is significantly higher than your competition, you may need to consider where you can cut costs. You may be able to balance the below-cost sale of one service by combining it with a profitable additional service. (The product or service sold below cost in this way is known as a “loss leader.”) There are all sorts of strategies for expanding markets and attracting customers, but it’s crucial to always keep your eye on the bottom line. Knowing your financials inside and out is one of the keys to running a successful and sustainable business.

If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, you should know that you don’t have to start from scratch. There’s a product that can help you determine prices and create proposals and other materials to market your services to your customers. Proposal Kit, like the name implies, is designed for writing business proposals of all kinds. You can use it to fire off simple job descriptions and estimates, or to plan and bid on complex projects with multiple deadlines and subcontractors and such. The product contains multiple checklists and spreadsheets you can use to help capture all the fine details that sap your profits, such as hidden overhead costs you might not think of adding.

Proposal Kit’s checklist worksheets include a Bid/No-Bid Checklist, a Proposal Development Checklist, and a Task Assignment Progress Report, just to name a few helpful ones. And here are just a few of the dozens of spreadsheets contained in Proposal Kit: Price Structure Calculator, Fee Structure Calculator, Quote Calculator, Estimate Calculator, Purchase Order Calculator, Services Cost Calculator, and Project Cost Summary Calculator.

There are also calculator spreadsheets you can use to project cash flow, to figure profit and loss, to analyze return on investment, to create invoices, and so forth. Each financially oriented template in Proposal Kit has an associated spreadsheet for you to fill in.

Proposal Kit has over a thousand topic templates so you can include all the information you should to convince a prospective customer. For example, there’s a template for a Warranty and one for a Guarantee, and templates for Company History, Testimonials, Referrals, and almost any other topic you can imagine. Each template contains suggestions and examples to help you efficiently describe that topic in your proposal.

Proposal Kit not only helps you create a complete business document, but the product helps you assemble an attractive one, too, because the template pages are professionally laid out and come in various design themes, so you can choose the perfect style to represent your business, or use your own logo.

As well as offering you hundreds of templates and spreadsheets, Proposal Kit also contains over a hundred sample proposals, so you can see what a proposal for your type of business might look like. You’ll find that Proposal Kit has already done a lot of thinking and planning for you—all you need to do is supply the specific facts and figures for your business and your project. It’s a great tool to help you not only figure out the right prices for your services, but to ensure your business success.

How to Write an Instruction Manual or Handbook

Have you been assigned the job of creating an instruction manual or employee handbook? Are you wondering how to go about accomplishing this task?

Don’t panic. You probably already know all the information you need to include, or at least you know where to find it. Now all you need to learn is the process and the structure.

To start, write a description of the audience your manual or handbook is intended for. What do they know already? What do they need to learn? What are their goals? What are the goals of the manual or handbook? You may want to discuss this audience description and goals with colleagues or your boss to make sure you’re including everyone and planning to meet the needs of the organization.

Next, make a list of all the topics you need to include. Do these topics need to be in a specific sequence to be understood or learned? In other words, does one section build on information learned in the previous section? Or do topics / procedures need to be grouped by category, such as “Employee Benefits” or “Troubleshooting Procedures”? If so, order your topics accordingly. Then share your outline with others and request their input to make sure you’ve thought of everything. Get approval if needed. This outline will become the basis for the table of contents in your manual. Now you’re ready to get started writing the body of your manual or handbook.

Although you could write in any sequence to fill in your outline, we’ll start at the beginning. First you’ll need a Title Page with a descriptive name, like “How to Use the ZYX Printer” or “Smith Corporation Employee Handbook.” Next should be a copyright page, which should contain the date of printing and information about ownership by the author, company, or publisher. This page sometimes includes disclaimers, such as a statement saying the publisher and author are not responsible for misinformation that might be included or for any information that was left out. If you find you have a lot of disclaimers or a lengthy legal explanation, you should put that on a separate Disclaimers page.

Next will be your Table of Contents, but the odds are that you will need to create and insert that after you have completed writing your manual, so for now, just keep in mind that it belongs here.

The first page you will probably want in the body of your manual is an Introduction, where you’ll explain the purpose and goals of the document. You can also include here any assumptions you are making, such as that all your readers are using a specific operating system or that they are familiar with standard medical devices, for example. If you need to list a lot of Assumptions, include them on a separate page.

Now you’re ready to write the main content of your manual or handbook, with all the procedures or topics your readers need to know. After you’ve written all your topics, you may want to end with a Conclusions or Summary page, and perhaps include an Index to help readers find easily find topics.

Does that sound like too much work? Keep in mind that you don’t need to start off with a blank word processing screen to do all this. There’s a product that can help tremendously: Proposal Kit. As the name implies, it’s perfect for writing proposals, but it’s designed for all sorts of “how-to” and informational materials, too. Its templates can give you a big jump start on creating your manual, and help you at each step along the way. Each template contains suggestions and examples of information to include on that page.

There are more than a thousand topic templates, including templates for all those pages mentioned above. You can probably find precisely the topic you’re looking for, but if by chance you don’t, Proposal Kit contains blank templates that you can adapt for any purpose. For employee manuals, there are many company-oriented topics like Mission Statement, Organizational Structure, and Ethics, just to name a few. The templates are Word documents, so you can easily adapt them for your use, and you can insert graphics like charts, illustrations, and photos.

Any manual or handbook is likely to be read by a large audience, so you want to be sure that the grammar and spelling are perfect. It’s always best to use a professional editor if you can, but if that’s not in the budget, then enlist someone who is not familiar with your manual’s content to proofread it. Testing is an essential component of finalizing any “how-to” or informational booklet, too. You want to be sure that your instructions are clear, complete, and useful for your intended readers. You might also need to get the approval of your company’s legal department before publication, too—corporate attorneys and personnel departments are often concerned about employment issues, trademarks, and all sorts of consumer information that may cause legal issues in the future.

Proposal Kit is perfect for assembling any kind of Word document. Using the included Wizard software, you simply pick the templates you want and fill them in, and then let Proposal Kit do the page numbering and create a table of contents for you, as well as take care of the cover page and any appendices. The product handles the layout and design of your manual, so Proposal Kit not only helps you write like a professional, but also makes your finished work look professional, too.

Your final manual or handbook can easily be printed and bound, or transformed into a PDF file to send via email or read on any electronic device. You can even use various tools available on the internet to translate your masterpiece into an e-book for use with Kindle or other electronic devices.

You’ll find that Proposal Kit is great for producing and organizing any kind of document. It’s a powerful addition to your arsenal of office tools.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Write Your Way into the Job You Want

Here’s a great use for Proposal Kit that our clients have recently alerted us to, and that many people may not have thought about. You can use Proposal Kit to land a new job.

It’s tough to break into business these days, even when you’ve finally received your college diploma. You may have great grades, but you also have great competition, even when you’re just trying to land an internship. Hiring managers are looking for the ability to think like a pro, no matter what field you’re entering. But how can you get a chance to prove you have that ability when your resume is stuck in a pile with hundreds of other applications?

Maybe you need to write more than a resume. No, I’m not talking about including pages of personal references, although those are nice, too. I’m talking about writing a business proposal.

Yeah, right—I can hear you saying it now. You’ve never written a business proposal; you probably don’t even have much in the way of business experience to offer. But like I said, hiring managers are looking for the ability to think like a pro, and you have ideas, don’t you? Prove it with a proposal.

Here’s the basic structure of any proposal: introduction; description of the needs or problems, description of the solution, the benefits, and what the solution will cost; and finally, an explanation of why you’re the best person for the job. And here’s the most important thing to remember: this proposal is about what the organization needs, not about your need for a job.

A company usually has a job to fill and many possible candidates to choose from. All else being equal between candidates do you think they would choose the candidates who just supplied resumes or the one who showed even more potential by proposing something that could further improve the company or their products or services.

It would be best if you already know something about the organization and what they do and what they’re looking for. You could even target a particular project or product. Then your proposal can be more specific, like “Proposal for New Label Designs for the XYG Product Line” or “Proposal to Efficiently Landscape Creek Banks.” So, do some research if you need to. But even if you can’t be specific to a product or a process, you can still describe the need for the position you’re applying for, and how you can fill it better than anyone else. We didn’t say this was going to be easy, you may have to put some serious thought and research into this strategy.

Let’s drill down a little further in the structure of the proposal. The first introduction page should be just a letter explaining who you are and why you’re writing this proposal, and including a request for an interview or a contract—whatever you want to happen next. Next, you’ll want a title page for your proposal. For heaven’s sake, don’t use “Why You Should Hire Me” or anything lame like that. If you can’t come up with a specific project, at least refer to the job position and name your proposal something like “Recommended Candidate for the Telecommunications Sales Manager.”

Now for the first section. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and describe what he or she is looking for. You probably have all that information in a job advertisement, and perhaps you even have more information after talking to the potential employer. Describe why the company needs those skills and experience; this may not be written in an ad, but you can usually guess the reason behind a requirement. This section is not about you; it’s about showing that you understand what the company wants and needs.

The next section should be all about how you can provide the solutions to those needs. Be as specific as possible about how you can meet the needs of a specific project or job position, and what the benefits to the company would be.

Then, finally, it’s your chance to explain why you are the best pick for the position. Here’s where you can put your transcript, your references, and your experience. If you’ve won awards or worked on any similar projects in the past, put them in here, too. Keep in mind that volunteer work and even hobbies might count toward management and team building and aspects like that. And remember that anyone can sing their own praises; it’s always more credible to list a recommendation from a third party.

Finally, make sure your presentation looks and sounds professional. Of course you’ll use spell-check, but you need to proofread, too. Or best of all, get someone who has excellent language skills to do it for you. You may not think the placement of a comma or using the correct plural form is particularly important, but the hiring manager just might, and using correct grammar might make the difference between landing the position and staying unemployed. Be sure the pages of your proposal look attractive, too—consider using headings in different colors or adding unusual bullet points or page borders. Just keep the overall tone professional.

Proposals impress managers because they prove you are ambitious and have the ability to think like a pro who sees a broader picture and not just another employee. Even if you don’t get the specific job you have targeted with your proposal, the hiring manager will remember you and she may recommend you to another manager, or hire you for the next position that comes up.

Check out Proposal Kit and get started writing your own proposal.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How to Score A Promotion With This Clever Trick

We were recently made aware of this use of Proposal Kit by a customer who told us how he had used our product. He described it as a “trick” to get a promotion, but we think it’s a clever strategy, so we want to share his great idea with you.

We all want to move forward in our careers, but unless you have a flashy job where you regularly stand in front of the decision makers, it can be hard to get noticed by upper level management.

Most employees who have worked for the same company for a few years have good ideas on how to improve a process or a product within that organization. After all, those employees are usually on the front lines, whereas upper management often spends most of their time in meetings, removed from the daily operations of the business.

You might have a great solution for improving a product or service, saving costs or streamlining operations, or making customer support more efficient and friendly. But how can you communicate your ideas and get credit for them, too? Talking to your peers won’t do it. Often talking to your immediate manager won’t get you more than a pat on the back and maybe a year-end bonus, and there’s always the risk that someone else will claim credit for your idea.

Talking with you peers or supervisor informally about your great idea is a great way to have someone else run with your idea – and get the credit for it.

Why not take the initiative and put your idea in writing? Don't just mention it to a colleague or even to your supervisor. Write up a detailed proposal that outlines the problem, and then offers your solution, explains the benefits to the company, and includes your recommendations. This sort of proposal is similar to a sales pitch to a potential customer, but it’s called an internal company proposal. The purpose is more or less the same, however; you are making a formal presentation to someone and asking them to take action on something you are proposing.

Upper level management will notice that this proposal is not all about you. You are not just asking for a promotion at your yearly review. Instead, you are demonstrating that you have the company’s best interests in mind; that you see the broader picture of your organization; and that you have great ideas on how to improve the company. And by putting your thoughts down in a formal presentation that can be passed around and up the chain, you will get the recognition you deserve for your work.

You may have never written a proposal before, but it’s not particularly difficult. I already mentioned the basic structure above: introduce yourself and explain the need/problem, then describe your ideas for the solution and explain the benefits to your organization, and finally, summarize your recommendations and explain how you can help make your vision come true.

Now let’s break it down a bit more. Your introduction depends on your relationship with whoever will read your proposal. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and ask what that person would want to know. Explain who you are, what your experience is, and why you’re making this proposal. Describe the need or the problem, using all the specific information you have to offer: numbers, statistics, case studies, customer feedback. For example, you may have noticed that a lack of materials often causes delays in your manufacturing process; that your organization’s high fees are causing customers to go elsewhere, or that when one key employee is absent, the whole group ceases to function.

Now, we all know that anyone can simply whine about things that are wrong. Managers do not want to hear only about problems; they want to hear how to fix those problems. The next part of your proposal is what will make you stand out from the complainers because in this section, you will describe the solutions to the problems. Think this section through very carefully, and do any research you need to do in advance of writing it down. Be as specific as possible about what needs to be done. Describe the benefits of your solutions to the company, and explain all the steps and the costs for implementing your solution. Try to account for everything: money, time, training—anything that will be involved. The big bosses will be impressed when you show that you can think like a high level manager.

Now, sum up your proposal by explaining how you can fit into the proposed solution. And then, proofread, proofread, proofread—or better yet, get a friend with good language skills to do the final check. You want to sound like a professional problem solver. You want to look like one, too, so make sure all the pages look great, too. You might want to consider colored page borders or headings or bullet points to add a little flair, but keep the style professional and preferably in your own company’s style.

Finally, gather your courage and deliver your proposal to the person you want to impress, and be sure to follow up a few days later to answer any questions and receive feedback. Even if the company can’t give you a big promotion in the next round, rest assured that you will be favorably remembered for future opportunities.

Check out Proposal Kit for writing your own custom proposal.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Write Your Proposal for Different Kinds of Readers

Different types of people absorb information in different ways. And people holding different jobs may be looking for different types of information. So when you write a business proposal, you should always consider that it may be read by multiple people, all of whom want to see your information presented in the form that best meets their particular needs. You can improve your odds of success by making a conscious effort to appeal to the different types of readers discussed below.

A.    The Executive - The "Executive Summary" section in a proposal is targeted precisely to this person. A top level executive may only read the Executive Summary at the start of the proposal to judge whether or not to consider your proposal at all. Make it clear how your ideas will benefit the client, that you have a detailed plan to deliver on your promises, and that you are the best pick to complete the project or deliver your products or services.

If the potential clients you want to pitch to seem less formal than CEOs or top-level officials of a major corporation, you may want to use a more informal Client Summary page. But the point is that for this type of top-level person, you need to precisely and succinctly summarize all your major points up front. Also, consider using other summary pages throughout your proposal for these readers. If your summaries pass the executive test, then your proposal will likely be handed off to lower level people who will study the rest of the pages and analyze the details.

B.    The Skimmer – Today we all live in an age of information overload, and every business person has less time than ever to sift through a long list of electronic and print documents. Not many people will take hours to read and consider dozens of pages of details, particularly if vital information is buried in lengthy paragraphs of text.

Include enough white space on each page to help readers quickly scan the information there. To appeal to skimmers, break long discussions into multiple short paragraphs, list lots of short bulleted or numbered items, and highlight important phrases with bold colored text.

A reader should be able to visually distinguish the most significant points on each page in your proposal. A professional Proposal Kit package will contain many templates with bullet points and bold headings already incorporated into the page design designed for skimmers.

C.    The Manager – This person is concerned with personnel issues. The manager will want to know who is responsible for which task, how long the task will take, what each person’s qualifications are, and so forth. The manager will study your proposal to determine how many people will need to be assigned and how much time it will take to accomplish a project.

A Proposal Kit package contains many templates to describe personnel, teams, staff, responsibilities, qualifications, education, experience, resumes as well as issues like liability, training, education, safety and scheduling.

D.    The Number Cruncher - The number cruncher will be most interested in the financial and statistical information in your proposal. Make your financial pages clear and easy to understand by using tables and columns instead of burying numbers in paragraphs. Ensure that your calculations are obvious, take all important factors into account, and double-check that the totals sum up correctly.

Number crunchers want to know precisely who is responsible for paying for all aspects of a project, as well as when payments will be made. Include enough information on these pages for the number cruncher to make a decision without having to sort through all the text in the proposal to tease out the financial figures they are looking for.

If you discuss testing, statistics, market share, or prices for goods and services, you may need to explain how you arrived at the numbers you present in your proposal. If you guarantee your financial figures to be accurate for only a limited time, don’t forget to provide that important date or time period.

When you use a Proposal Kit package, you’ll find many table templates already laid out in which you can insert spreadsheets or numbers. Each finance-related template will come with a matching pre-designed spreadsheet to help you calculate your numbers correctly. A Proposal Kit will contain many templates to describe all of this numerical information.

E.    The Detail Person - The detail-oriented person will want to see the fine details of the proposal. This person looks for lists of features and benefits, definitions of technical terms used, detailed specifications and project methods, exact timelines, product or service warranties or guarantees, and so on.

All this information should form the body of your proposal after your summary pages. It’s not good enough to simply state that you plan to do a project; you need to describe how, where, and when all tasks will be accomplished, as well as who will perform the tasks, who will provide equipment and supplies, etc. Describe the project milestones and how and when they will be judged as completed. Explain the qualifications of your personnel. Describe similar projects you’ve accomplished, and/or list your clients or awards and referrals you’ve received.

Be sure to provide as many specifics as you can, writing in concrete terms instead of vague generalities. Choose the best way to portray details, which might include figures, charts, and spreadsheets. Whether you are describing a technical project, writing a complex grant application, or pitching any other idea that is project-, service-, or product-related, you need to explain how your client will benefit, how you will accomplish each step of the project, and why the client should have confidence in your ability to successfully complete the project or deliver on your promises.

A Proposal Kit package will contain hundreds of appropriate templates where you can insert all the specifics you need to describe the benefits of your proposal as well as how you plan to fulfill all your promises and why the client should have confidence in your ability.

No reader likes to search through dozens of pages to locate bits and pieces of crucial information. One of the keys to writing a successful proposal is crafting a well structured document that allows all types of readers to easily find the information they want. Make sure all the sections have appropriate descriptive titles that are listed in a complete Table of Contents so everyone can quickly navigate through your proposal.

Proposal Kit is a professional package designed to automatically organize and format your proposal to appeal to all of these types of readers, all within the same document. You’ll find all the types of templates mentioned above, as well as automatically generated Tables of Contents and professional graphic designs for a clean and consistent look on every page.

An organized and structured proposal that appeals to everyone who will read it is a key factor in writing winning proposals. People will do business with people they trust and giving the right people the right information the way they want to see it will generate trust in you to deliver on what you are proposing.

10 More Business Writing Mistakes to Avoid

Social media is now a vital component in the marketing strategy of most companies and growing every day. This means that knowing how to write compelling, professional business articles and instructional guides can be crucial to growing your business. But the word “professional” is key in this context. Your writing advertises your company, so be sure to make it the best it can be. Here are a few common “gotchas” you can avoid with only a little effort.

1.    Don’t write in a style that will alienate readers. Consider the audience you want to appeal to with your writing. What do they already know, and what do they want to know? Don’t throw in vocabulary they may not understand. Nobody likes to read articles that sound like they’re written in a foreign language, so be careful not to throw in too many acronyms, jargon, and technical language if it is not required. Write at a level that is easy to read, using common everyday terms if possible. You should be able to explain your business to a potential customer who is not an expert in your field. If you confuse your readers, they are likely to go somewhere else and you will lose opportunities for your business.

2.    Don’t wander off the topic and annoy readers by throwing in details in the wrong places. For example, if you’re writing about how to download an app to a cell phone, there’s no need to compare that app to its competitors. Save the sales pitch for another document, or a different section within your document. Write as concisely as possible, and keep your information clear and to the point. If you’re writing instructions, simply list the steps and associated information needed to accomplish the process, and be sure to test it all to make sure you didn’t leave anything out. Keep it clear and as simple to follow as possible up front, then provide details for those who need additional information.

3.    Don’t rely on your word processor's spelling and grammar checking abilities to catch all errors. Spell checkers cannot catch the wrong word (such as ‘there’ instead of ‘their’ and ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’), and if you don’t pay strict attention to each correction a spell check program suggests, you can accidentally insert the wrong term. Spelling and grammar errors can cost you clients who might suspect that you will be as sloppy in your business dealings and what you may produce for them as you are in your writing.

4.    Don’t include a lot of stock graphics. Yes, they’re inexpensive, but they’re also everywhere. Many readers can easily spot stock business graphics, such as images of generic business people smiling, shaking hands, holding meetings, and so on. You want your most important business documents to specifically represent your company, so whenever possible, use custom images to ensure that your proposal or brochure looks unique and matches your existing company brand.

5.    Never include text or graphics from another source without a license, written permission, or authorized attribution. If any part of your writing is posted online, plagiarized content could easily attract the attention of the content owner and result in DMCA takedowns, cease-and-desist orders, online comments about your business practices that will never go away, or even worse, legal action. Because social media is so popular now, anything posted publically has the potential to be quickly duplicated many times online, and online content may be searchable by competitors or original content owners. The text or graphics you ‘borrow’ may contain unique markers that make searching for appropriated content easy. Nothing is more embarrassing for your business image than being accused of plagiarism and copyright violations.

6.    Don’t include images with elements that could cause your reader or client to question your attention to detail or your professional qualifications. For example, if you are in the automotive or safety industry and you use an image of a driver talking on a phone or not wearing a seatbelt while cruising down the road, this could injure your reputation. You don't want your client’s first impression to be ‘this is a safety violation,’ when you only thought that the photo was a nice image for the page. If the photos you use show behavior that is contrary to your business practices or your clients’ practices or beliefs, you could lose potential sales and clients.

7.    Don’t include stock images that contain another company’s logo, trademarks, or products. You don’t want to advertise for other companies.

8.    Don’t send the document out before checking to be sure that everything is correct. There’s nothing more annoying to readers than clicking a link that doesn’t work or takes the reader to a location that seems illogical. If you’re referring to Model 947 and the device the reader is holding says 948, the reader will be confused. Make sure labels in graphics match the discussion in the text. It’s always a good idea to have someone who is unfamiliar with your company or product check everything you write to be sure it makes sense to the average reader.

9.    Don’t forget to account for all the pieces before you send or print out your document. This sounds obvious, but how many times have you received an email message discussing an attachment that is not actually attached? It’s human nature to think “I’ll insert this figure later,” and then forget to do it. Make sure steps and figures and pages are numbered sequentially; it’s common to end up with skipped numbers when multiple users have created or edited documents. If you’re sending a printed document, make sure all pages are there, too, and if you have a table of contents or an index, check all the page numbers to make sure they are correct.

10.    Don’t distribute documents saved in original word processing formats. When you send your documents to clients via email or links in an online site, use PDF format. This allows readers to easily print out or read your document online without display problems. Documents created with word processing programs may not display or print correctly if the recipient is not using the same program, and your graphics, fonts and formatting could wind up looking like a sloppy mess. Using PDF makes it easy for all readers to access your document on their terms (online and offline, digital and print) and see it the way you intended.

Using a pre-designed package of proposal, contract and business document templates will help keep you on track. Pre-written templates will help keep your writing organized, structured and on-track.  Proposal Kit packages are designed to help you create easy-to-follow proposals with lots of bullet points along with summaries and detailed topic pages.  With a large content library of completed sample proposals and business documents you can see how to write structured and organized documents.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How to Pick Your Business Proposal Writing Solution

Looking for a solution to help you write business proposals contracts, RFPs or grant applications? There are three main types of proposal writing systems available on the market:

  • Desktop software and template-based for PCs and Macs
  • Monthly paid subscription web-based services
  • Expensive enterprise class solutions

The prices of the various products vary; so do their features and how many add-on services you may have to purchase to make use of the system. How do you know which system is right for you? Here are basic descriptions and pros and cons of each system to help you decide.

Template-based products (i.e. Proposal Kit) generally contain a variety of Microsoft Word documents that will work in many platforms and word processors, along with instructions, samples, and sometimes additional software to help manage the assembly or other processing of documents into a final polished proposal. To use a template-based proposal writing product, you simply download the product to your personal computer, and then use the templates with your word processing program to put together a proposal and print it or save it as a PDF for electronic delivery by uploading to a web site or sending via e-mail.

Template-based products are generally the easiest solutions to get started with, because most people already know how to use their word processing software. If you work remotely or while traveling, you can use a template-based product on any laptop or tablet with a word processor, regardless of whether you have an Internet connection at the time.

The license fee for a template-based product is a one-time license fee, and you can use the product as many times as you like, and as often or intermittently as you like without incurring additional costs. There are no ongoing subscription fees to contend with (which will substantially increase your total costs beyond the costs of template-based products within a couple months); you have complete control over the product material and you manage your proposal content (when you deal with trade secrets and confidential data you don’t want to be giving access to all of that material to an unknown entity that may not be able to keep your information secure).

The main issue to consider in template-based products is that the different offerings vary widely in quality, so carefully compare the actual contents of packages to be sure you’re getting the best value and a quality product. Look at packages carefully to avoid the low-quality knock-offs and don’t be afraid to ask questions and review demos.

Web-based proposal writing systems are exactly what they sound like: you type your proposal information into a web site to create your proposal online and your potential clients look at your web based proposal online. Advantages of using a web-based system are that it usually has a low starting cost (but those monthly fees add up quickly and quickly surpass the cost of a PC/Mac template package) and you don’t have to download and install a program to your personal computer, so it may initially seem cheaper and faster to use. Also, after your proposal is posted, you may have access to some analytics, such as the ability to track how many people view your proposal. However it is typically better to simply reach out to your prospects with the personal touch of a phone call or e-mail and you will gather more-or-less the same information.

A big disadvantage to using a web-based system is that the proposal software and your business information are stored on the web. A web-based system is potentially more at risk from hackers, because the data from thousands of businesses presents a high-value target for hackers seeking confidential business information. Also, a web-based solution may not be available when you need it, like those times you can't log in when you are flying or on the road. You should also consider whether or not you can easily extract your proposal data from a web-based system for use elsewhere. Most web-based solutions are new business ventures without proven track records - and if you read some of their support blogs you will find out which ones have frequent web site outages.

Web-based programs generally offer users less guidance and formatting and styling options than template-based packages. Web programs typically favor more of a “blank slate” approach and are usually much more limited in the amount of actual proposal writing content (templates, samples, etc.) than a template-based package. Current web-based solutions do not offer many basic features or the layout, design, and graphics capabilities of word processing systems available on PCs, Macs, and tablets. You may be very restricted in how you can create, format, and lay out your proposal, so you might not end up with the most polished looking proposal when you use a web-based system (or even a web-based word processor).

Web-based systems are not very well designed for responding to RFP’s or grant requests. Most of the time you have to follow strict guidelines for how proposals are to be written, formatted and submitted that cannot be done with web-based subscription services. While it may seem they offer something "new" in a web-based interface they are typically 10 to 15 years or more behind the curve in creating proposal writing content and polished professional proposals versus other solutions such as that found in Proposal Kit.

While a web-based solution may initially seem like the lowest cost product, keep in mind that a web-based business model depends on extracting monthly fees from customers, using a subscription payment plan. Over the course of just two or three months, a web-based solution will generally cost more than a downloaded product - and the costs will keep rising.

Now for the third category: enterprise class proposal solutions. These products are targeted for the use of big businesses. Often you cannot find a price or place an order online to download an enterprise product; you typically have to schedule a talk with a salesperson to get started. Plan on spending thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars on an enterprise solution, plan on significant setup time, and plan on bringing in consultants to set up and teach your employees how to use the system.

Enterprise proposal systems may be the best solution for large corporations that need widespread collaboration for their proposal projects and large sales teams, but enterprise systems are not designed (or priced) for individuals or small businesses. Even within large corporations, an enterprise proposal system is sometimes not the most efficient choice for doing a quick custom proposal or a small team project. Low-cost template-based solutions are frequently used by individuals or small teams within a large organization for one-off project proposals or to prototype a very complex proposal.

The three types of proposal software systems are not necessarily mutually exclusive; they can also work well together. You may want to pick multiple solutions to cover a wide array of situations and needs. Many users consider a downloaded template-based package like Proposal Kit a low-risk investment and a great addition to their basic business toolkits.

Most large corporations use template-based solutions alongside other systems for quick one-off proposals and prototyping. A template-based system allows users to work anywhere, view more samples and get more writing assistance, and use formatting tools to create a polished proposal that can be delivered in print or PDF format.

Template-based Proposal Kit systems are generally more efficient for smaller projects and more cost effective in the long run.