Setting direction for writers

When writers set off to generate content without a shared plan, bad things happen. Often early drafts become a meandering description of processes and features with no focus of selling power. In other cases, individual writers make their own assumptions about the team’s win strategy, resulting in confused messaging.

To avoid these issues, adopt the practices below.

1. Communicate strategy at kick-off

Before asking subject matter experts (SMEs) to begin drafting:

  • Identify and analyse the prospect’s strategic drivers and hot button issues, then
  • Find, develop and express your team’s differentiators and value propositions for each main section, and
  • Document the results in a written proposal plan

Only then, with the leadership aligned on strategy, plan a proposal kick-off meeting that gives content developers clear direction for communicating the strategy in their sections.

2. Provide prompts and planning tools

Most SMEs are not natural writers and will struggle to express their knowledge clearly. Provide direction in the form of prompts for all but the most straightforward questions. Be as specific as the following example:

Maintenance Staff: Describe the maintenance facility staffing plan, including roles and numbers of individuals by shift.

Make a table with roles identified in column A, and use columns across row 1 to identify the shift pattern.
Complete the table with the number of individuals by role for each shift.
Below the table write two or three paragraphs describing our past experience and success with this staffing model, and how we manage cross training, etc. to staff for absences and vacations.

Ask writers to begin by analysing their sections and planning their content using bullet points and review and approve each writer’s section plans before he or she begins to write copy.

Use section storyboards to manage word count in tightly page-constrained proposals, such as RFQ responses, and to build rich visualization into sections.

3. Develop a style guide and bid-specific dictionary

Create a style guide of approved list of proper names, terms and acronyms at the kick-off to promote consistency and avoid excessive last-minute copyediting. Maintain this in a shared, searchable format, so it stays current as you make updates to the original release. Next week we’ll post on using style guides.

4. Set rules for using boilerplate

Some types of content lend themselves to re-use with minor tweaks. Examples include company history, case studies and resumes (where roles are identical from one project to the next).

But discourage writers from cutting-and-pasting proposal content from previous posts instead of focussing on the current prospect’s specific needs. Also discourage copying and pasting from vendor sales sheets. Features should always be explicitly linked to the prospect’s requirements.

Monitor repurposed content carefully for relevance and strategic alignment.

Result: More responsive writers—and more wins

Writers used to aligning themselves behind a defined strategy before starting to write will produce more responsive—and successful—proposals.

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