Now more than ever, crafting the perfect proposal is vital to winning your next job and bringing in new business. Although the task might seem daunting, a little planning and attention to detail can go a long way towards landing your next big contract.

Tip 1—Read every word of the request carefully

When you spot the perfect Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ), the first step is to read it very carefully. If you can’t follow the directions, you’re not going to get the job! Pay attention to the information you are supposed to provide, any formatting requirements, and all limitations or constraints. Some requests will specify a page limit, which you should keep in mind throughout the writing process. The request will also present a schedule. Along with the obvious deadline for submission, look for a deadline for questions or inquiries. Thoroughly examine all materials accompanying the proposal; appendices or attachments may provide critical information or material that must be completed. Finally, after carefully reading the RFP, direct any questions to the appropriate person as soon as possible.

Tip 2—Use your cover letter wisely

Every proposal needs a cover letter. You may choose to write this first or last, but it will be the first words the prospective client reads. Use the letter to sell yourself and your services and to highlight your strengths. You have more flexibility in the cover letter than in the proposal itself, so make sure you include any important points that may not fit elsewhere. Often, you can modify an existing cover letter, but make sure you read it carefully and make all appropriate changes. Remember to update the date, address, and project-specific references. Nothing is more embarrassing than a form letter that you forgot to modify!

Tip 3—Organize your information thoughtfully

When you start writing the proposal, look for bulleted points or specific items the company or agency wants addressed and organize your proposal to match the RFP. If your information is clearly laid out, it will be easier to read, understand, and evaluate. After you have completed a response to a particular bullet point or item, go back and read that part of the RFP again to make sure you answered the question and provided the correct information. As we all remember from high school essays, it doesn’t matter how well you write if you don’t respond to the question!

Tip 4—Remember that grammar and format matter

Most RFPs and RFQs provide respondents a few weeks to write their proposals. Finish the initial writing in plenty of time because the real work begins after the writing is “done.” You are an expert in your field and know your qualifications, so the writing will come easily. But after you have finished writing, you will need to edit your proposal. Your skills, talents, and qualifications will all be lost if the proposal is plagued with poor grammar, unsightly typos, or bad organization. If you are going to take the time to write the proposal, take the time make it look professional. Try putting the proposal away for a few hours or overnight before editing. Better yet, have someone else edit your proposal. Fresh eyes can see errors you might miss since you’re already familiar with the text.

After editing, format your document in a way that clearly displays the information without being too flashy or distracting. Use your business colors and logos, incorporate pictures, and use a professional cover page. Add headers and footers to display the proposal title, your company name, page numbers, and any other necessary information. If you write proposals often, incorporating these elements into a template will save you much time and effort on future projects. Finally, always perform a final proofread and formatting check on a hard copy. Then, when you have everything just the way you want, print the final copies, sign your cover letters, and send them off! Good luck!