Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.

Building strategy on issues

 December 3, 2019
by Paul Heron

Successful proposals begin with understanding how the prospect’s needs intersect with your strengths and those of your competitors.

After setting up your response structure (see this post for details), your next task is to analyse each section and answer three questions:

  • What are the key issues (needs, desires, concerns) for the prospect?
  • How will we show we understand and have addressed each issue?
  • What will we do to show our approach to each issue is the best?

Be sure to complete this work before you kick off content development. The single biggest error most bidders make is starting to write without a strategy. The resulting proposal may comply with the RFP—but it will be vulnerable to competitive bids that show real understanding and position their solutions against the field.

A strategy for every issue

Use the RFP and the capture team’s knowledge of the prospect (including likely evaluators) and your competitors to analyse the issues for each section. See this post on how to use a competitive solutions matrix.

For each issue, strive to express solutions and gaps using quantitative values (issue resolution in hours, housekeeping using ISO standards), rather than less certain qualitative measures.

Once you’ve done this, identify actions you will take to highlight your strengths, downplay your weaknesses, exploit competitors’ weaknesses and offset competitors’ strengths. Create strategy statements that express your intent and include specific actions you will take. The table below contains examples:

We will show our team is capable of performing to requirements by— Preparing a matrix of recent similar projects teams showing the overlap with proposed key individuals
We will show our ability to control costs by— —Presenting a table of our 5 most recent public projects showing budgeted and actual costs
We will create confidence that we can complete the project on time by— —Citing that we have a perfect record of on-time completion over the past five years
We will show our ability to offer innovation solutions by—

—Listing innovation awards and citations we won for recent similar projects
—Show images/logos of awards’ sponsors
—Including a client testimonial (CEO of XYZCo.) attesting to a cost-saving innovation


Take time to do it right

Don’t skimp on strategy making. This is the step that enables you to convince evaluators they should select your company for this project.

For any complex proposal, schedule several days to build and test your strategy.



Need help with bid strategy?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




RFQs: Expressing one voice

 November 26, 2019
by Paul Heron

Earlier posts this month provided an overview of RFQs, demonstrating capability to complete the RFP phase and contract, and creating confidence that the RFQ team is and will continue to stay aligned.

If you’re not familiar with AFP/P3 projects, please read the posts linked above.

The importance of a single voice response

Project sponsors (RFQ issuers) select for consortiums that not only have experience and capability, but are likely to remain intact and aligned throughout the RFP phase and the contract term.

In demonstrating unity, a track record of joint projects, together with partnering agreements and similar contractual mechanisms, are important—but the proposal itself also shows whether consortium members are on the same page.

Strong RFQ responses look and read as if developed by a single entity (which is what the consortium needs to be). In contrast, inconsistent messaging and a mix of structural, writing and graphics styles weaken any claim to a single guiding will and mind.

Components of a unified response

Assess your process and RFQ responses for the following:

  • Consistent structure: Structure is the underlying framework behind a proposal section. Although some RFQ issuers provide detailed evaluation criteria that imply a structure, some sections (design approach, operating plan, etc.) may offer considerable flexibility in how to respond. If each major RFQ section (e.g. teaming, design, construction, operations, finance) includes a section on approach, for example, we recommend writing within a common information architecture. Following a framework can help authors from different companies create content that reflects alignment.
  • Templates and content prompts: Preparing writers with templates and prompts at kickoff not only improves compliance in first drafts, it also promotes consistent presentation of similar information. See this post on proposal templates and content prompts.
  • Unified messaging: All sections should reinforce the consortium’s strategy, expressing win themes with consistent language and arguments. While every consortium agrees on a set of win themes at kickoff, follow-up is needed to ensure they are reflected throughout the response.
  • Consistent style: Below the level of structure is writing style. Since RFQs are persuasive documents, the language and syntax are often less technical than for RFQs. This encourages team members’ corporate personalities to creep into the writing, affecting sentence and paragraph structure, often making some sections more informal or “salesy” than others. A third party, such as Complex2Clear, can edit these different styles into a single voice response.
  • Uniform quality: RFQs typically include a glossary of “official” terms and titles specific to the project. The consortium needs to go further, creating a proposal style guide of industry-specific acronyms, short forms for team members, the sponsor, reference projects, roles, committees, etc., how to handle the abbreviation in first-instance references, and any other items repeated throughout the response.
  • Unified look and feel: The consortium logo, template and graphics (org charts, charts and tables, illustrations, callouts) need to align to a set of graphic standards across the entire proposal. Aligning to these standards is another logical role for third party support.

Achieving single voice is hard

The effort to complete a compliant and responsive proposal can easily crowd out the items above. Successful consortiums recognize this, start early, and engage the resources they need.


Need help winning RFQ competitions?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




RFQs: Ability to stay aligned

 November 19, 2019
by Paul Heron

Our last two posts provided an overview of RFQs and the key elements in demonstrating the RFQ proponent’s ability to perform the work and, if selected, successfully fulfill the contract requirements.

If you’re not familiar with AFP/P3 processes, please read the posts linked above.

The critical importance of alignment

Beyond technical competence, a consortium needs to create confidence that it will persist through the RFP stage and will function cohesively if it wins the contract.

This is critical to the issuer. A consortium that gets shortlisted and then falls apart due to disagreements, internal issues in one or more partners, financing difficulties, or for any other reason, reduces the competitiveness of the process. If two of three shortlisted proponents drop out, the issuer must abandon a multiyear procurement—a great waste of time and money.

Poor alignment during the execution phase can cause quality, budget and schedule issues—again wasting time and money.

It’s not enough to express confidence that things will go smoothly, based on mutual respect and good intentions. With high stakes and tight schedules ahead, issuers want solid evidence.

Evidence of ability to achieve and maintain alignment

As evidence your team will stay intact and aligned, issuers will look for:

  • Experience as SPV chair: Does the head of the consortium and the designated appointee as SPV chair have a track record of steering similar teams through multiyear projects?
  • Size and strength of SPV members: Are the individual ProjectCo members large, strong companies that can provide equity and guarantees sufficient to attract the needed debt financing? Do they have the resources (people and other) to overcome unexpected setbacks?
  • Skin in the game: Are the key team members also equity participants in ProjectCo?
  • Corporate relationships: Are any team members related entities? Many P3 consortiums include, for example, a financing entity and one or more construction companies with common ownership. These relationships tend to produce natural alignment.
  • Previous collaboration: Have the same companies collaborated successfully on similar projects in the past?
  • Governance structure: Are the governance structure and processes submitted in the response robust and complete? Has the SPV used the same approach successfully in similar past projects?
  • Teaming agreements: Are agreements in place to clearly identify each member’s responsibilities and decision-making authority? Does the response include well-defined dispute resolution mechanisms?
  • Risk management ability: Does the RFQ response anticipate all major risks and explain how they will be managed? Are comprehensive back-to-back contracts in place to allocate risk and minimize stranded risks?

A single voice RFQ response is the first step

Consortium proposals are, by definition, drafted by people in several companies—and yet the project sponsor is looking for evidence that the team is guided by a single mind and will. How do you manage the proposal process to achieve a one-voice response? That’s the subject of next week’s post.




Need help winning RFQ competitions?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




RFQs: Showing capability

 November 12, 2019
by Paul Heron

Last week’s post provided an overview of RFQs (requests for qualifications). This week we’ll look at the single most important thing an RFQ response needs to do—prove the team can submit a competitive bid (RFP response) and, if selected, perform successfully.

Scope complexity in large AFP projects

Alternative financing procurement (AFP) projects, such as public private partnerships (P3s), typically require the proponent to create a new corporation comprised of joint venture (JV) partners, called a special purpose vehicle (SPV) or ProjectCo. The SPV, together with various subcontractors, will design, build, finance, operate and maintain (DBFOM) the asset (highway, bridge, hospital, etc.), and then hand it back in a specified condition at the end of the operating term. NOTE: Many competitions involve a subset of DBFOM activities.

Therefore, unlike straightforward design-build competitions, DBFOM projects require the proponent (SPV) to also prove a wider range of capabilities—and to demonstrate the likelihood of survival as an entity for the operating term of 20 or more years.

Selecting reference projects

Here’s where the puzzle part comes in. Proof of capability involves linking team members (consortium partners) and key individuals to a common set of reference projects. Many issuers ask proponents to identify up to 10 recent projects (called reference projects) like the one on offer, and then to base their response on those projects only.

Identifying 10 representative projects completed in the past 5 or 10 years and with heavy overlap of SPV member companies and the proposed key individuals can be challenging—especially since they need to demonstrate expertise in creating and managing an SPV, as well as designing, building, financing, and operating and maintaining the asset.

Many projects have special characteristics that further limit the choice of reference projects. These include archeological and/or ecological sensitivity, First Nations and other stakeholder needs and extreme weather conditions, among others. 

Finally, a strong local partner with a positive reputation and track record in the project jurisdiction is a must-have feature for consortiums hoping to get shortlisted. 

For our recommended approach to solving this puzzle, see this post on how to manage RFQ reference projects.  See also these two posts on selecting key individuals for proposals and recommended practices in proposal key individual resumes.

Creating and maintaining alignment

Because consortiums typically pursue RFQ projects, there is an ever-present danger of partners dropping out. The consortium leader needs to explain how it will keep the SPV together and aligned.

More on this in next week’s post.



Need help winning RFQ competitions?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Understanding RFQs

 November 5, 2019
by Paul Heron

Requests for qualifications (RFQs) are typically the first stage in large procurements—especially for alternative financing procurement (AFP), such as public private partnership (P3), projects.

The purpose of an RFQ is to narrow the field of potential proponents to those best qualified. This sets up a request for proposals (RFP) stage restricted to (usually) three proponents with whom the issuer can have structured discussions prior to submission. This process is designed to obtain equally acceptable proposals that compete mainly on their financial offers.

RFQs are appearing as part of smaller procurements

Until recently issuers used RFQs only for very large infrastructure projects. Today, in our home jurisdiction of Ontario Canada, issuers are turning to this model for smaller projects—including a current one for street lighting that is likely to result in a contract well below $100 million, including the cost of a 20-year operating term.

How RFQs and RFPs differ

An RFQ response describes how a proponent will approach a project, while the RFP response sets out in detail how it will organize, design and execute the project, including the cost. So—although often tightly structured—the RFQ narrative is largely qualitative and persuasive. An RFP response, on the other hand is a more quantitative, technical document that includes specific commitments intended to form the basis of a project agreement.

One client put it this way: “RFQs ask us to write billion-dollar best sellers. We don’t know how to do that. The RFP is a design and pricing game—that’s a game we understand.”

Challenges to RFQ success

Two aspects of RFQ competitions help explain our client’s frustration:

  1. RFQ issuers are naturally risk-averse. Unsurprisingly, they want to shortlist proponents with proven ability to succeed. That means teams must not only have had success, as an example, building bridges—but nearly identical bridges in nearly identical circumstances (length, weather conditions, water depth, etc.). And issuers strongly prefer consortium members and key individuals who have successfully worked together on those multiple similar projects.
  2. The RFQ scoring process is often opaque. Because responses are qualitative and unpriced, it’s difficult to challenge a low RFQ score. Debriefs are usually very general, and unsuccessful proponents are reluctant to press for fear of reducing their chances in future competitions. From the issuer’s perspective, one reason for keeping the process subjective may be the long operating terms of many AFP projects. The prospect of a 25- or 50-year relationship tends to make cultural fit nearly as important as technical competence.

This combination of a high bar and a subjective process makes it hard for newcomers to get shortlisted.

Want to improve your chances?

The next three posts cover key success factors for RFQs, beginning with demonstrating capability.


Challenged to get shortlisted in RFQ competitions?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Proposal covers and tabs

 October 29, 2019
by Paul Heron

This month’s posts cover the basics of proposal design and packaging. Today we look at covers, tabs and binding.

Above all: Follow the requirements

As mentioned in an earlier post, RFPs vary in their requirements regarding page count, typefaces and sizes, use of the issuer’s wordmarks, binding, etc. Consider any requirements when making proposal design decisions.

Be alert also to conventions when submitting bids to issuers in other countries. Europe, South America and Asian countries, for example, use A4 paper and four-hole binders. Submitting a proposal on 8.5 x 11-inch paper in a three-ring binder will mark you as an outsider.

Base packaging on response type

When deciding how much to invest in covers, tabs and binding, consider the potential return on your investment using the following categories:

  • Single stage proposals: Where the sales argument (technical narrative) and price are submitted together, a strong case can be made for investing in high-end covers, tabs and packaging. This is especially true if any or all of the following hold:
    • Price accounts for less than 50 percent of the total score
    • You expect a large number of bidders
    • Competitive differences among bidders are small
  • Multi-stage RFQs and RFIs: RFQs and RFIs are commonly used in very large, complex procurements to narrow the field of proponents, who then advance to the RFP stage. Because the evaluation is entirely qualitative and the prize is often in the billions of dollars, RFQs and RFIs make the best case for high-end packaging
  • Multi-stage RFPs: The procurement stage of large procurements is typically a design and pricing competition among a small number of qualified bidders. While these proposals need to be professionally packaged with excellent internal wayfinding, there is no case to be made for lavish investments in appearance.

Packaging options

Attention-grabbing packaging creates an impact. One veteran of several evaluation teams put it this way: “When we first get together, and all the proposals are spread out on the table, one always stands out based on its looks. Everyone wants to grab it and start reading.”

For major opportunities, unleash your imagination or hire a professional designer. Packaging we’ve commissioned includes:

  • Wrap-around covers featuring: for a Northwest Territories client, a polar bear trudging across an ice field against a night sky of northern lights; for a major university, a detailed illustration of the ivy clad main entrance; for a country-wide infrastructure proposal, a composite illustration of iconic images from all regions.
  • A binder cover with an embedded screen that played a short video highlighting the solution and its benefits
  • Binder cases and boxes designed to look like the prospect’s own product packaging

Section tabs

Tabs provide other design opportunities. First, ensure the tabs mirror the RFP structure and provide easy-to-follow wayfinding for the evaluators. If you’ve invested in distinctive cover design, consider repurposing snippets of the cover for the tabs.

For large responses, consider printing a table of contents for each section on the tab that introduces it. If the proposal is distributed in sections for evaluation, evaluators will appreciate this thoughtfulness.

Bottom line

Proposal evaluation is far from a scientific process. Covers and tabs offer endless opportunities for emotional appeal that can create a strong first—and lasting—impression.



Need help making your proposals look professional?

Contact Complex2Clear

Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Managing proposal graphics

 October 22, 2019
by Paul Heron

Most proposals have too few graphics, and those graphics are not deployed to greatest effect. Given the tendency of proposal evaluators to move quickly through narratives and, in some cases, to skip large blocks of text, expressing ideas in graphical format provides valuable opportunities to grab their attention and score points.

We’ve often focussed posts on visualization. See the Complex2Clear proposal blog index under column “V” for samples. This post is a high-level look at how to use and integrate graphics to achieve maximum impact.


Create one or two callout styles and use them consistently. Use callouts to express differentiators and scorable benefits and position them consistently on each page. Aim to provide easily found sound bites an evaluator can use to advocate for your solution.

Tables, charts and graphs

Use the right tool for the message you want to convey:

  • Use tables to:
    • Organize text responses to make reading and scoring easy. Common examples are responsibilities matrices and risk tables.
    • Show a matrix of information, for example a meatball chart.
    • Present numerical data where the absolute numbers are important, rather than their relationship to each other.
  • Use graphs and charts to organize numerical data where the relationship between the numbers is important. For example, use a line graph to show trends over time; a pie chart to show how much of the total each number contributes.

Photos and illustrations

  • Use photos to show that something actually exists—for example a building, team of people or dispatch centre.
  • Use illustrations to explain how something works—for example, a process, piece of equipment or network.

Seven-second rule

The point of any graphic should be clear to an evaluator within seven seconds—otherwise he or she may move on without awarding the points the graphic deserves.

Most illustrations are too complex, perhaps because they are created by detail-oriented engineers. Show only as much detail as needed to convey the point of the illustration and use line weights and colour to emphasize key aspects. In the case of complex illustrations where page count is not an issue, consider producing multiple versions, using line weight or color to highlight a specific benefit on each version.


Write a caption that expresses the benefit and/or advantage each graphic is meant to convey. Evaluators will read long captions, so long as they are clear and client-focused. Captions are optional for tables used simply as a way to organize narrative responses. See this post on best practices for caption writing.

Limit the number of colours

Create a unified, professional look by sticking with two or three colours for tables, charts and graphs, and in illustrations, such as process diagrams. Where more colours are needed, use tints of the main colours.

FINAL TIP: Use text boxes to manage graphics

Placing a graphic and its caption inside a text box keeps the caption with the graphic and, especially in two column templates, enables easy resizing by simply dragging a corner or side of the box. Set the text box parameters to “Move with text” and wrapping to “Tight.”


Need help building an attractive proposal template?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Proposal heads and subheads

 October 15, 2019
by Paul Heron

This month we’re focussing on setting up proposal documents. Last week’s post covered body type style decisions. Today we’ll look at setting up and managing proposal headings.

Heads and subheads provide structure, guiding readers through the proposal. This is critical to scoring, given the typical proposal evaluator’s short attention span.

Use a consistent theme for heads and subheads

  • Choose a font family that is readable in standard and bold faces and multiple sizes. Helvetica, Futura and Franklin Condensed (see below) are often used for proposal heads.

  • Select one or two colours that are strong enough to be legible in small type and that will photocopy well in black and white. Good options are your company colours, or colours from the prospect’s logo or website.
  • Avoid using reverse type, screens, gradients and other devices. These are distracting and may not print or photocopy well.
  • Avoid all caps. All caps text is harder to read than upper and lower case and should be used (if at all) for main section heads.
  • Don’t base styles on Normal. See the section on this in last week’s post on Proposal body style.
  • Set line spacing: Good design spaces headings close the paragraphs they introduce, rather than having them float between paragraphs. Use Word’s “space before and after” paragraph settings to do this. For 10- to 12-point type, 9 above and 3 below is a good combination.
  • Set headings to move with the paragraph below. Check the “Keep with next” box in Word’s paragraph settings to avoid leaving a heading stranded at the bottom of a page.

Writing heads and subheads

Follow these guidelines when setting up heads and subheads:

  • Mirror the RFP: Align your ATOC and headings with the RFP scoring structure (see example in table below). Write and number heads and subheads to mirror any breakdown of rated requirements provided, using Word’s built-in multi-level list function.

  • Limit choices: Creating many more heading styles than needed often results in authors becoming confused about which style to use. Instead, create two or three levels and name them accordingly (e.g. Subhead1, Subhead2, Subhead3)
  • Use unnumbered subheads to break up text: Avoid large blocks of text that less engaged evaluators may skip. Instead, use minor or run-in heads to introduce scorable elements.
  • Message where possible: When writing subheads to break up text within RFP-defined subsections, avoid simple labels in favour of benefits-oriented messaging. For example, version B below is preferable to version A.

A: Warranty terms
B: Comprehensive 5-year warranty

Remember the goal

Headings and subheadings should work together as an effective wayfinding system for evaluators. Make font, colour and settings decisions with this aim in mind.

Next week: Integrating graphics



Need help making your proposals look professional?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Proposal body style

 October 8, 2019
by Paul Heron

This month’s posts focus on design decisions that can make your proposals look professional and easy for evaluators to read and score. This post provides guidance for selecting and using a body type style. Rule 1: RFP requirements trump our advice.

Choosing fonts

Unless you’re a professional designer, stick with two fonts—one for body text, and a second for heads and subheads. You can find recommended font pairings on the web. Remember, the goal is a professional-looking, easy to read proposal. When deciding on type consider the following:

  • User availability: Use typefaces included in the standard Microsoft font suite.
  • Size and readability: Type is measured in points. A point is one-seventy second of an inch, a throwback to the days when type was set in hot lead. An “x” in 10-point type is 10 points in height. While larger type is generally easier to read, readability at a given size varies greatly among typefaces
  • Serif vs sans serif: Serifs are small projections or “tails” on the ends of letter strokes. Serif typefaces are easier to read than sans serif, which is why most books, newspapers and magazines use serif fonts. That said, most teams use sans serif fonts. Calibri 10, 11 or 12 is a common choice for body copy. Arial narrow is a common choice for page limited proposals. Heads are often set in Helvetica or Futura
  • Colour: Use black for body copy.

Setting up Word styles

MS Word provides many font and paragraph setting options. Choose settings before kickoff—especially if you plan to manage sections as separate documents to completion. Aligning styles on multiple clones of a template is painful.

  • Language: Specify the language for Word’s built in spell-checker
  • Line spacing: Increased line spacing helps readers quickly move from one line to the next. If a template column is more than 40 characters wide in your selected font, increase line spacing to at least 1.15 for readability
  • Paragraph spacing: Do not use extra returns to space paragraphs. Instead, specify before and after paragraph spacing in points. We typically use 3 point and 6 point, so headlines can sit close to the paragraph below.
  • Justification: Resist any temptation use fully justified body text (right and left edges align). Instead, set all text flush left. Flush left (also called left justified) text is easier to read, avoids uneven word spacing, and is more visually appealing on the page. (This post is set flush left)
  • Widow/Orphan control: Turn on to avoid having a single line of a paragraph at the top or bottom of a page
  • Set first line indent (if used)

Achieving emphasis

Use bold to achieve emphasis in body copy. Italics are hard to read and should be used sparingly. Underlining is a throwback to the days of manual typewriters, looks dated and is hard to read. Use emphasis sparingly. Overuse of emphasis equals no emphasis.

Do not base style names on Normal

By default, Word bases new styles on “Normal”, which is what you get when you open Word and start typing. Since Normal may have different settings on different machines, style issues can arise when copying and pasting copy created on multiple machines.

To avoid this vulnerability, create a new body text style based on “No style,” and then base bulleted and numbered lists, table, etc. styles, etc. on the new body text style.

The payoff

An hour or so spent choosing fonts, and then thinking through style setting decisions, will save time and frustration during editing cycles and when aligning multiple documents prior to submission.

Next week: Proposal heading styles



Need help building an attractive proposal template?

Contact Complex2Clear

Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Proposal design basics

 October 1, 2019
by Paul Heron

Proposal design is not a frill, but a key contributor to success, whether or not evaluators are consciously aware of it. The aim is not to make your proposal look flashy or slick, but to promote your overall sales message.

A visually appealing, well-organized proposal:

  • Supports clear, persuasive communication
  • Reflects a sense of professionalism
  • Makes it easy for evaluators to navigate and score

In contrast, a design that appears dated will undercut any claim to cutting-edge technology and approaches. And a poorly structured proposal will burn off evaluators’ limited attention spans, reducing the chance of receiving all the points you deserve.

Follow the RFP requirements

Some RFPs provide tight design guidance—others, none at all. Most require, or at least allow, double-sided printing and the use of 3-hole binders. This format saves paper, is easy to print and assemble, provides a spine that can be printed for easy identification when stacked or shelved with other proposals, and can be easily separated into sections for multiple evaluators. Most important for proposal teams, loose leaf binders enable last minute page substitutions to correct errors or update information.

Use a styled template

Nothing improves the overall appeal of a proposal as much a well-made template. If you lack capable in-house resources, consider investing in a professionally developed template that can be reused. A complete template includes:

  • A palette of two or three complementary colours
  • Fonts for body copy and heads and subheads
  • Paragraph styles for body text, headings, bulleted and numbered lists, etc.
  • A page grid using one or multiple columns
  • Separate layouts for resumes and project sheets
  • Simple and matrix table formats
  • Footers and headers (including page numbers)
  • Callout design(s)
  • Graphics integration

NOTE: This month’s posts provide guidance on the above items.

Headers and footers

Headers and footers help readers navigate your proposal and manage sections they’ve removed from binders for distribution or photocopying. Follow these guidelines:

  • Use the header for issuer information. One common option is to place the issuer’s logo or wordmark at the right and RFP information flush left (inside and outside in facing page layouts). Note: Confirm your issuer has not prohibited the use of their branding in the response.
  • Use the footer for your logo, the section title and the page number. Always place the page number at the left (outside of facing pages).
  • Use MS Word tables for header and footer content to maximize formatting options.
  • Turn off “Same as previous” option when including section names in footers.

Word vs InDesign

Most proposal templates today—including RFQ responses for large infrastructure projects—are created in MS Word. While InDesign undeniably enables more appealing designs and closer type management, Word has become very robust and has the advantage of being available to all content drafters.

Proposals submitted in InDesign are typically first drafted in a Word template that approximates the final design, and then converted after the final review prior to submission. This conversion effort, and the time it takes, are strong arguments for sticking to Word.

Simplified frameworks for first drafts

Proposal managers often ask developers to draft narratives in the Word template. But for complex templates (e.g. those based on multi-column grids), we recommend using simpler templates for capturing first drafts. This avoids writers wasting time trying to align their drafts with the template instead focussing on their responses. Content is then moved into the template prior to Red Team.

Resumes and product sheets are often tightly formatted to meet page limitations. For these, we routinely provide simple Word tables for capturing content.

Populate the template before distribution

Whatever formats you use to capture drafts, populate them with heads and subheads that correspond closely to the RFP’s structure and language. For guidance on structure, see this post on using an annotated table of contents (ATOC). We also recommend including content prompts for more efficient and compliant first drafts.

Next week: Choosing fonts and styles



Need help building an attractive proposal template?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 






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