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Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.

Bid Proposals | Low- and no-budget visualization

 July 29, 2014
by Paul Heron

This is the post we promised few weeks back on budget-friendly visualization.

Most bid teams include too few graphics in their proposals. They often cite cost as the reason—although lack of planning is usually a significant factor.

Let’s say you do plan. You spend time early in the response window identifying your key differentiators, deciding how to respond to your prospect’s hot button issues and developing win strategies. Why and how should you visualize your strategy with little or no budget for art or design?

Why and how to visualize

Using graphics simply as decoration is a waste of space. Instead use them to:

  • Convey information: Use tables and meatball charts to provide a snapshot of your team’s credentials, the range of services you provide, or relevant experience or performance.  Use graphs to show trends, such as an improving on-time delivery record. Use flowcharts and illustrations to show key features of your solution.
  • Deliver messages: Use graphics to draw the evaluator’s attention to a selling caption linking one of your differentiators to one of their key issues. Do this for both information graphics and photos. In fact, the only reason we include photos in a proposal is to create messaging opportunities.

TIP: Pair a simple table or graph with a photo to multiply impact. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Add punch with a photo: Add eye appeal to an otherwise plain table by pairing it with a photo.


Low- or no-cost graphics

Assuming you are using MS Word or Publisher as your proposal platform, here’s how to create or acquire commonly used graphics:

  • Tables: Create these in Word, using a sans serif font in a slightly smaller type size than your proposal body copy. Format your paragraph spacing to 3 points above and below and use single line spacing. Set your borders to half point and shade every other line 12.5% gray. Use a strong colour for the header row and set the header text to bold white.
  • Meatball Charts: Use an Excel worksheet, add colour, save as PDF and crop to insert as a graphic. See this blog post on meatball charts.
  • Graphs: Use Excel’s charting feature and create simple bar or doughnut charts. In the case of doughnuts, we like to select and right-click the doughnut graphic, select Format Data Series (see Figure 2) and add a 1-point white line. Copy the doughnut and paste it into PowerPoint for labelling, then print as a PDF and crop to insert in your proposals
Figure 2: Easy doughnut charts: Select the doughnut inside the frame, go to format data series and format the image, then copy and paste the doughnut into PowerPoint to add labels.


  • Flowcharts: Use PowerPoint, save as PDF and crop. See this blog post on creating flowcharts.
  • Illustrations: These are more ambitious but you can use clipart plus imagination. To make your illustration look professional, choose clipart components created in the same style and colour palette.
  • Photos: Since the goal is to attract attention to the caption, choose photos with visual appeal, rather than opting for prosaic alternatives, just because they show your equipment or people. To quickly find free photos large enough to use in print, use Google Advanced Image Search and filter for your topic, image size larger than 1024 x 768, and usage type = free to use, even commercially.

Visualization works

Complex2Clear works on high-stakes proposals, including some vying for multi-billion dollar contracts. Invariably, graphics content rises with contract value. Successful teams running very large proposal efforts typically aim for 50% graphics content, even when working within strict page limits.

If the biggest and best agree visualization is a proven way to win, what's your excuse NOT to use it?

Photo credit




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