How to Write a Winning Business Proposal: Work at It to Keep It Simple and Short

Your business proposal has just landed on the client’s desk along with those of your competitors. In a week’s time you’ll find out whether they thought yours was the best. It isn’t an RFP so it doesn’t go through the strict, weighted evaluation such proposals require. However, those who judge it will be equally strict in assessing your qualifications. Adhering to the KISS principle could be a major step in your favor.

I’m reading a book called Riders in the Chariot by Nobel prize-winning author Patrick White. It’s a challenging read, with complex characters and situations. It would never qualify under the KISS principle, being at times convoluted, repetitive and wordy. On the other hand, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a taut, easier-to-read book one might consider the KISS principle at work.

For those who still may not know, KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid, or perhaps more appropriate for evaluating proposals, Keep It Simple and Short. In my articles I refer often to the importance of the KISS principle. When writing a proposal, I am particularly concerned that it flows seamlessly from start to finish. I’m not after perfection. What I do want is for the reader to follow me at every stage. In other words, there’s a logic that takes them from the introduction to the situation, to the client’s desired result, and how the process unfolds.

I don’t want the reader to have to backtrack. If they do, they’ll lose the thread of what I have to say, meaning I’ve slipped up in my communication. More than likely, I’ve made some assumption that I expect the reader to figure out without my telling them. No reader should have to jump back and forth to decide whether to recommend your proposal. This requires constant vigilance on your part to follow a simple format structure from the start. How do you attain that structure? Use mind mapping and/or brainstorming to determine the component parts, then place those parts in the correct sequence.

It ought to be easy. Sometimes that’s true, more often it’s not. Stieg Larsson makes it look simple, but you can bet he’s done a lot of editing to get there. I’ll go through two or three versions of a proposal before it meets my KISS criteria. You have to edit it down, shape it, and ensure that all the pieces come together. It looks simple, and when it gets into the hands of the reader for evaluation, that’s how it needs to read.

Will your business proposal make it to the top of the pile? If you Keep It Simple and Short, as in the KISS principle, you will improve the odds. But you will have to work at it.