How to design a proposal that stands out and wins the contract

Crafting a winning project proposal is an art. Graphic design can help you inform, educate, and sell within the confines of a few pages.  

You’ve been slaving over your proposal and need a critical eye to transform the complex data into an easy-to-read proposal. If you follow the steps outlined below to create well-organized and graphically illustrated information, it will help your audience understand what you’re going to deliver to them. 

STEP 1: Submit your questions during the appropriate RFP (or RFQ) timeline

One of the best pieces of advice I got years ago was to submit a thoughtful question during that window to show that you are thinking about the proposal a few weeks in advance. This will be one of the steps to get on their radar. Read their RFP carefully so you’re not asking what’s already answered. Make sure you understand the requirements. And, if there’s a forum to ask questions, make sure you join in. A prepared question list can ensure that you don’t forget to ask something important.

If you’re submitting or asking questions, make sure that each question is easy to understand. This is not the place to use jargon.

It is also good to find out all you can about your client. Learn what you can about their industry and see what similar projects you have in your arsenal that can serve as examples of on-target work.

STEP 2: Use the RFP as the outline for your proposal structure

Proposal basics say mirror the recipient’s preferences. Follow the order of the proposal, RFP, or RFQ request. Same titles (headlines), in order. This shows that you listen to the client. Make sure that your headlines use the same language, tone, style, and level of complexity as your audience. Keep away from industry jargon unless you know the level of experience of your recipient. Proposals are often rejected because they did not provide all of the information requested. Don’t leave stuff out! 

(optional) While it is best to follow the order and titles of the RFP I like to make sure these things are included in your proposal.

  • Summary • This focuses on your solution to your customer’s problem. This should be short and succinct — scannable. I like to focus on how your services will benefit the client.
  • Scope • Provide a detailed description of your solution. I like to have this mirror the RFP, yet make it clear how you will deliver. 
  • Investment • This is the time to put all of the costs associated with the job. Unless they are just searching for qualified professionals, this should always be included.
  • Timeline • I like to put a timeline in proposals. They will probably not be the exact dates but it gives the recipient an estimate of how long each aspect of the project will take.
  • Terms • Sometimes I put in terms, sometimes I wait for the contract when a job has been won. This is up to you. 
  • Expiration Date • Use a phrase like “proposal valid for 60 days” to state when the offer expires. The last thing you want is for someone to come back to you a few years later with old pricing and services. 

STEP 3: Make the data compelling and visually pleasing

Make sure you emphasize results that will have the biggest impact on the decision-maker. Persuasion defines what you say in the proposal, and clarity defines how you say it — with words and graphics. Hire a designer (ahem, Ruzow Graphics) to create images, that reflect your point, in your brand colors. Tell your story not just through your words, but in your visuals as well.

Clarity is where design and copy merge. It is a function of the proposal’s layout, expression, and copy. Present the key benefits. With graphic design, you can structure the layout to emphasize the biggest benefits throughout with call-outs, infographics, charts, and graphics. If it is appropriate you should include photos to showcase and feature your projects and key team members. If done correctly this is how a designer can help set you apart. And I recommend leaving white space around your text and design elements so that it is easy to digest. 

STEP 4: Follow your brand guidelines

They should know from the minute that your proposal lands in their inbox or on their desk that it is yours because it looks and feels like what your business stands for. And, if you already have brand guidelines see how to use them here, and here is how they can be sprinkled throughout the proposal with these design details. Even if it is just designing your cover sheet.

If you have brand standards this is the time to pull them out! Any document is an opportunity to highlight your brand’s personality. By following your brand guidelines, you’ll be able to maintain a consistent look for your proposal and build brand awareness. If you don’t have brand guidelines, here is where you can book me to create them for you.

Make sure to use your logo on the cover of your proposal. Adding a logo is another chance to build your brand awareness. I like to add my logo to the cover, and then I use the icon on the interior pages. You can always repeat your logo smaller without a tagline throughout.

The best combination of words, images, and technology for the win

Proposals are meant to win work, projects, and jobs. A great project proposal should be informative and persuasive. Want to win a proposal? The design will make the difference.

Design is more than just creating something that looks cool; design is a solution to a puzzle. Relevant graphic design plays a critical role in helping inform your customers and partners by giving shape to ideas  —  ideas that empower, ideas that inform, ideas that educate and sell. By working closely with your team members I will take the ideas you want to convey and design and develop the best combination of words, images, and technology to clearly deliver your message. Contact me to get started.

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