Boost Proposal Team Morale in Five Ways

Proposal Team

Boost Proposal Team Morale in Five Ways

A proposal team working on a tight deadline can create a steam-cooker-like environment. Even the nicest marketing professional can get snappy when an architect, senior planner, and project manager are giving three different directions for an upcoming shortlist presentation. Although it’s important the best product gets submitted to the client, breaking down the team in order to get it to that point is not ideal, because usually there is another deadline sneaking up immediately behind your current one.

Avoid crushing your proposal team’s morale by using these five tips during your next project pursuit:  Delegate and Support New Team Members, Communicate Daily,  Be Positive, Don’t Practice “Dirty Delegation,” and Make Internal Debriefing a Positive Experience.

1. Support New Team Members

In the 11th hour of presentation prep, it’s easy to want to take the PowerPoint privileges away from the struggling newbie navigating the mouse and looking for the right function for the past 10 minutes, but don’t do it. You may not remember it, but you were once new to your job. The novice navigating PowerPoint might actually know what they’re doing, but the lack of sleep, nerves, and poor direction is causing this newest team member to move at the pace of molasses. In this moment, if you and your team can stay calm and patient, not only will you boost your team member’s confidence, you’ll build loyalty.

2. Communicate Daily

In agile methodology, there is a daily stand-up meeting. This is a short meeting (key word being: short) to address what each team member will be working on that day. If you have remote team members and you’re preparing for a deadline that’s 2 weeks away, a daily call (FaceTime even better) is a great way to keep your team engaged. If you don’t have time for 10-minute meeting leading up to the submittal or presentation deadline, why are you even chasing this pursuit?  Make sure you discuss how your team will connect through the entire proposal pursuit process at the kick-off meeting.

3. Don’t “Dirty Delegate” or Redo a Proposal Team Member’s Work

If you’re in a management role, it’s very easy to take work away from a direct report (a.k.a. Dirty Delegation) or redo someone’s work if it’s not meeting your or others’ expectations. But guess what, not only did you just insult your team member, you just built a wall of distrust between you as well. This team member is now going to have more anxiety about working on a project and it’s going to slow them down. If you have a new team member, you must give him or her time to learn how to work with your team. Otherwise, you’ll have turnover and you’ll have the “why can’t we find good people” problem.

4. Create a Positive Proposal Team Environment

It’s a common complaint in the A/E/C industry that marketing people can’t get their project teams to write narratives on time or produce slide content. Why? Your project teams are terrified to write content that’s going to be critiqued and ridiculed. Many times, your best engineers, architects, contractors, and project managers are not your best writers. They have the most knowledge but getting that information from their brains to paper is going to take positive persistence on repeat.

5. Make Internal Debriefing a Rewarding Experience for Each Proposal Team Member Involved

Most people hate the annual review process so you can imagine how an internal debriefing feels. Make this a positive experience by incentivizing team members to disclose lessons learned. Mark Zukerburg coined the phrase “fail faster so you can find a solution faster.” The idea that you can find the perfect proposal and presentation process for your team doesn’t exist, rather, you should consider a Kaizen philosophy or “continual improvement.” This type of environment creates a trust centered environment that results in great work and winning processes.


Whether you work on proposal teams within a large organization or a smaller one, building an approach that helps each team member function productively is critical to helping your firm win work. Whether you are a marketing coordinator, manager, or design professional, you can ensure your team creates the best proposal or presentation possible by delegating to and supporting new team members, communicating daily, delegating responsibly, being positive, and conducting internal debriefs. By creating a supportive, and learning-focused environment, you can build proposal and presentation teams that love pursuing new opportunities without the stress and fear.

Better Proposals Start With a Kickoff Meeting

Woman training team of people

If you are pulling a team together for an RFP pursuit, it’s a good idea to have a kickoff meeting to outline expectations and deliverables.  This will ensure a great proposal in less time and hopefully less pain.  The best way to avoid a mad dash to the deadline is to have a kickoff meeting immediately after the pre-bid meeting.

Meeting Preparation

Only invite key staff members to the kickoff meeting.  Usually the project manager, marketing coordinator, and business development manager are involved in these meetings.  When setting up the meeting with your team, make sure you tell everyone in your calendar invite to read the RFP first before showing up to the meeting.  It doesn’t hurt to attach a copy of the RFQ or RFP so there are no excuses for not reading it.

 Proposal Plan

The best way to prepare for a kick-off meeting is to prepare a Proposal Plan.

1.       Pick your favorite tool (Word or Excel).

2.       Create a proposal outline in a table format based on the structure the RFP provides.  For example:

  • Section 1:  Understanding of Services and Approach
  • Section 2:  Qualifications

3.       Add two columns, one for “Who’s Responsible” and “Deadline,” respectively.

4.       Create space for the team.

5.       Create space for relevant project experience.

6.       Proposed Schedule:  Draft 1 will be completed on this date, Draft 2 will be created on this date.

7.       List general proposal requirements (12 point font, double-sided, 50-page limit, number of copies, etc.)

8.       List proposal delivery requirements (time, place, etc.)

9.       Additional Questions to ask the procurement specialist.

Don’t Leave Until You Have the Answers

Do not leave the kickoff meeting until you have every item on your proposal plan taken care of, someone responsible for giving you the information, and a date and time when the task will be completed.  In some cases, this may be you for most of the items, but the main point of this exercise is accountability.

Follow Up

When the deadlines approach, start following up with team members and remind them, “This is what we agreed to at the kickoff meeting, do you have item 2 ready?”


Stick with the process!  Your team will get used to the overall process and it will make getting your content together easier.  If you have any questions about proposal plans and kickoff meetings, please contact us.

4 Tips for Pre-bid Conferences

I went to a pre-bid conference today for a county design-build project.  It was lightly attended by mostly the subconsultants who were looking to sign on with a prime contractor.  It’s always interesting to observe how different companies approach the pre-bid conference.  You see the various consultants that are actively trying to sign up with a contractor and the contractors trying to avoid making any commitments to team – for now.

When I attend pre-bid conferences, I usually try to do four things: be visable; listen to all of the information; ask questions; and pay attention to the pre-bid attendee list.  Below is a little more information about each tip. Read more

Why You Need A Proposal or RFP Consultant

It’s Competitive Out There!

When you’re submitting a proposal, you’re probably competing against strong firms with huge budgets and resources.  Not only can we help you compete with the competition, we’ll make your company stand out as a leader in the field.  Here are 10 reasons you need to hire a proposal consultant for your next RFQ or RFP response:

  1. You don’t have enough money to hire someone full time but still want a high-quality RFP response.  Hire us as you need us.  We’ll create a great proposal for you in less time and you’ll get a better product.
  2. We have more experience creating and submitting RFP responses.  We have experience submitting RFP responses to multiple client types for a variety of industries.  We’ve submitted winning proposals for healthcare, software engineering, civil engineering, and commercial construction firms.
  3. You’re much better at operations than proposal writing.  Wouldn’t you rather be doing what you’re good at?  Let us take care of the proposals and you take care of operations.
  4. Formatting is a pain.  Formatting your RFP response in the way the government agency wants it can take a lot of time and effort.  We’re pros at doing this.
  5. RFPs aren’t written in normal English.  Most RFPs were written by procurement staff and lawyers.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to determine what the agency is really looking for in your RFP response.  We have experience with a variety of agencies and can create strategic responses to better position your firm for a win.
  6. Private proposals and government proposals are not the same.  We can help you understand the differences and how your firm can compete in different markets.
  7. A proposal expert can help you sell your company better than you can.  A proposal consultant can give you an objective view of your company and create a strategy that will differentiate you from the competition.
  8. Every government agency is different.  What works with one agency may not work with another agency.  You need to know the differences between agencies so you’re not disqualified from a pursuit.
  9. Your competition can hire a copywriter, graphic designer, and editor to work on their proposals but you can’t.  It can be challenging to look as good as your competitor if your competitor has more resources than your company does.  We can help you look as good as the big guys.
  10. Paper, printing, and binding, oh my!  Every detail counts.  We take into consideration the packaging of your proposal and make sure every detail of your paper submittal looks as professional as possible.

How to Make Fewer Mistakes on Your Proposals and RFP Responses

It’s happened to all of us, you’ve spent the last week working on a proposal only to find a grammatical error on the first page of your proposal the day after you’ve submitted it to a client. Proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation on proposals are critical. If you submit a proposal that is filled with errors and isn’t written clearly, then it immediately causes problems for the reader. A member of the selection committee who is reviewing your proposal may instantly start to mistrust the information in your submittal, he or she may think, “If this vendor can’t even take the time to edit their own proposal, I wonder how they’ll perform on this contract?” Make the selection members trust your company by submitting a proposal with fewer errors. I have a few tips listed below to help you submit a better RFP response.

  1. Always have someone else look at your proposal or RFP before submitting to a client. When you’ve been working on a proposal, you start to see what you want to see and not what the text actually says. If you can find a fresh set of eyes to review your RFP response before you submit, you’ll be amazed by how many errors your reader will find.   If the product or service you sell is extremely technical, you may need two editors. You may need one editor who has the technical acumen to find the more technical errors in your proposal and then a “Grammar Nazi” to find the grammatical errors.
  2. Keep brushing up on your grammar skills. I am a regular follower of Mignon Forgarty (or “Grammar Girl”) and her terrific weekly podcast and website.  One of my favorite resources is the Grammar Devotional. Mignon is fantastic at examining the most common grammatical issues in a very fun and accessible way. As you brush up on your skills, you’ll be amazed at how your writing improves.
  3. If you have to submit an online proposal, make sure you create all of your answers in a Word document first. No matter how simple the form, make sure you create a Word document that you can share with others for review purposes. Creating a response in Word is also helpful in case you lose your information due to a technical issue with the online form. If you have a copy of your responses in Word, you can easily cut and paste your responses error free.
  4. Use a style guide. You can eliminate many inconsistencies in your proposals by using a style guide. Consistency is important when you’re working on proposals and sometimes having a guide can end arguments between coworkers. I use the AP Stylebook, but the Chicago Manual of Style is a great resource as well. In addition to using a standard style book, you may also want to create your own company style guide that lists words and formats that are specific to your industry. For example, a civil engineering company may want to have a company style guide that specifies industry specific terms and spellings.

Now you have a few tools to make your next proposal error free. Please contact us if you have any additional questions about producing proposals with fewer errors!