Having a few spelling errors or a rough-around-the-edges look certainly does not invalidate all the great content in a proposal. Or does it? After all, you should be graded based on the virtues of your approach and price. Most of the time, the evaluation criteria don’t mention grammar and spelling, and many Requests for Proposal specifically ask to avoid elaborate presentation.
The problem is evaluators are only human. Half of them may not be wired to notice your errors and imperfections in desktop publishing or graphics, but the other half are. These evaluators will take offense at your alleged sloppiness and lack of attention to detail. They will make a leap and deduce that your proposal writers’ typos somehow are reflective of your future poor performance.
They may deem you untrustworthy when your graphics appear to be borrowed from several different proposals, and scuff if your paragraphs have unequal spacing. Subconsciously, they may decide that you are not particularly professional, educated, or don’t possess other virtues they believe someone they would do business with should exhibit.
So, no matter how hard you work, all your blood, sweat, and tears will not lead to contract award-unless you go through the steps of thoroughly polishing your proposal like a car enthusiast would a Corvette prior to a car show.
- The first step is to eschew grammar and spelling errors. This means editing your proposal multiple times in every possible way: electronically, in hard copy, on screen using a projector, and by reading out loud. Scrub, scrub, scrub-and when you are absolutely done scrubbing, scrub some more. Editing requires multiple passes, not just once prior to shipping. Every time you comb through the document, you will find only a certain percentage of errors. With each subsequent pass, you will find more.
- You also want to be consistent in the appearance of your graphics. All your proposal visuals have to have the same palette, shapes, and fonts. Consistency breeds trust, whereas having your graphics look like you “Frankensteined” your proposal piece by piece, will have just the opposite effect. You want the evaluators to trust you implicitly, so matching graphics is a worthwhile investment.
- Spend the time to lay out your proposal document properly. This means a clean look with equal paragraph and text spacing, matching fonts, bullets in a consistent format, all the graphics lining up correctly, no headings at the bottom of the page while the section starts at the next, and so on.
- Research shows that double-column and single-column layouts are equally readable if your proposal has graphics. If your customer hasn’t indicated a preference, it is easier to use a single-column format. If you have a complex layout with multiple sections or double-sided pages, a professional desktop publisher should help you with production. Government contractors rely on consultants or in-house desktop publishers to make proposals attractive.
- You also want to prepare a proper proposal cover. The cover images should be reflective of your customer, rather than your brand. It sends a subliminal message that you are customer-focused, understand them, and belong. When you are just starting out, it is forgivable to have a generic cover instead of an expensive custom cover for each proposal. As you grow, however, you should invest in having a graphic artist create a special cover for each large and highly contested pursuit-just as your competitors, no doubt, would do.
The competition for government contracts is steep, and in this budget-tight environment it is only going to get more competitive. Winning requires pulling all the stops and doing everything within your power to make your offers more compelling. Instead of letting errors and appearance flaws detract from your credibility, invest in polishing your proposal to engender instant trust.