The fact is that proposal writing starts well before you even put pen to paper...because the proposal is only part of the business development cycle. Sure, there are the technical things you need to know how to put the proposal together and to write persuasively, but if you know your client and know what you can do to help them, then writing the proposal should be the easy bit...
In order to get to where we have to write a proposal, we have to have a client and a need identified. And either of those could come first.
If you have a product that fills a certain need, then you can target organisations that have that need. Presuming you have a genuine value proposition then it shouldn't be too hard to sell...and presumably you have the need in mind when the product was developed...if you didn't then you have a strange way of going about product development.
But what if you are more services-oriented and don't have an off-the shelf solution to sell? How do you find and create opportunities? In many ways the same way...surely you have a marketable solution that you can offer to a target organisation...
You may have a long list of target organisations, but how do you get in the door. Maybe they have an incumbent offering a similar service already. Firstly, get to know them. Get an appointment - if you can get a call to a decision maker then asking for a few minutes of their time shouldn't be hard - as long as you can demonstrate that you can offer better value to them than a competitor or provide them with something that solves a business need.
Use a SWOT analysis to help you quantify your own value proposition and refine it. Use competitor evaluation tools to help identify your market position.
There are of course occasions when tenders and RFPs are advertised, but by then the organisation has done it's research and knows what it wants - to get the most out of opportunities, try and get in there first and create your own. What tenders provide you with though are information about the business and especially their procurement cycle. The more professional procurement gets, then the better you have to be ready to handle it. Remember that not all your competitors may not jump through all the hoops as well as you, so use the procurement process to your advantage.
Once you have a target client, then create an account plan for how you will achieve your goals. Start those goals small - a phone call with your target buyer. Then a meeting, then an identified opportunity stating at each step of the way what you need to do to close the next goal that you have identified. Remember that getting any kind of action from the client - agreeing to a phone call or meeting is a close...and if you keep closing you end up writing a proposal (hopefully writing a winning proposal) for your client.
Plan regular meetings and calls with the client and once you get to know them, give yourself a monetary target that you are looking to get from that client.
No-one is handing business out these days - you have to go after it, and create your own leads. So do research on potential organisations where you can make a difference, find out how they buy, what they need and go after them with your value proposition. It's not going to work every time, but you will end up with more opportunities to write proposals for.
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