Warren Buffett and the Benefits of Plain English Writing Techniques

Ever read an annual report from Warren Buffet. Try it. Easy, isn’t it? Few successful business-people write so clearly. There is no pretension, no haughty references to obscure allusions and no strange acronyms. It’s all there in black and white. Here’s what Buffet had to say about other business writers, though,

“For more than forty years, I’ve studied the documents that public companies file. Too often, I’ve been unable to decipher just what is being said or, worse yet, had to conclude that nothing was being said. If corporate lawyers and their clients follow the advice in this handbook, my life is going to become much easier.

In the late 90s, I found the Plain Language writing technique almost by accident. It’s also called Plain English, by the way. I was reading a lot about Warren Buffet a few years back and came across a nice, short document he wrote for the SEC. These are the folks who submit legal and business document to Wall Street when going on the stock exchanges. Buffet writes like he speaks. Direct, immediate and without pretension. Continue reading “Warren Buffett and the Benefits of Plain English Writing Techniques”

A Simple Four-Step Strategy for Developing Business Proposals That Work

It’s hard working in the dark, isn’t it? I’ve been looking at Business Proposals for a client all week (I assess Business Plans and Proposals as part of my consultancy services) and have found it very difficult to make a recommendation. Here’s the problem. The proposals are fine. They’re well-written. They look good. They have (almost) no grammar or typing errors. Even the prices are fine. So, what’s the problem?

It’s hard working in the dark, isn’t it? I’ve been looking at Business Proposals for a client all week (I assess Business Plans and Proposals as part of my consultancy services) and have found it very difficult to make a recommendation. Here’s the problem. The proposals are fine. They’re well-written. They look good. They have (almost) no grammar or typing errors. Even the prices are fine. So, what’s the problem?

Business Requirements Excel Matrix Business Requirements Excel Matrix Continue reading “A Simple Four-Step Strategy for Developing Business Proposals That Work”

15 Ways to Write Better Business Case Studies

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at how to write business proposals (and business plans) to generate new business opportunities. One way to succeed in this area is to understand how the ‘Business Case’ is generated within an organization (as this is often written before the actual RFP is sent out) and the type of concerns the business analysts have when writing Business Cases. Continue reading “15 Ways to Write Better Business Case Studies”

40 Tips to Increase Your Business Writing Productivity

37 Tips to Boost Your Business Writing Productivity
Working in China means more business writing and less technical writing, especially proposal development, web marketing case studies and white papers. As a few of the folks I hang out with on LinkedIn are also moving into business writing, I thought I’d add a few tips for business writing. While there is some overlap with technical writing, it does require a different mindset, for example, to understand the emotional drivers that persuade customers to accept or reject business proposals.

40 Tips to Increase Your Business Writing Productivity

This article on business writing reminds us that our sales, marketing, business, and proposal development does not stand alone.
This list gives 37 ways to improve your next proposal. Scroll through it and tell me what I missed.

  1. Show that your response is logical and organized
  2. Make the information easy to find. Cross reference against the Request For Proposal
  3. Include a table of contents for proposals over 10 pages in length
  4. Show that your response is logical and organized.
  5. Make the information easy to find. Cross reference against the Request For Proposal
  6. Include a table of contents for proposals over 10 pages in length
  7. Ensure that your Proposal is in compliance with the RFP
  8. Arrange material in order of priority to the reader
  9. Arrange everything in the order that’s most important to the client
  10. Arrange the response in accordance with their requirements
  11. Number pages and sections consecutively; do not re-number each section
  12. Use headings that make sense to your readers. See Audience Analysis template.
  13. Each section title should stresses the main benefits
  14. Each section title should help readers orient themselves
  15. If possible, express the key point of the section in the headline, or immediately after it.
  16. Highlight important points
  17. You can emphasize the most positive points by using bold, underlining, different fonts, spacing, titles, bullets and summaries
  18. Sell the Message.It needs to have an emotional element. This is not a technical document. You need to hit the pain points.
  19. Respond completely. Don’t skip anything.
  20. Answer every question in the RFP. Failure to respond correctly to the RFP may disqualify your proposal. The client put these questions in for a reason, and expect an answer.
  21. Avoid banal headings and titles
  22. Rather than say “Development Section,” say “Ten Ways to Improve Your Processes”
  23. Use action verbs in heads, especially verbs that stress a benefit for the client
  24. Avoid boilerplate
  25. Don’t recycle resumes and corporate profiles from previous proposals; modify them in accordance for the proposal at hand. Using old, tired resumes will be perceived by the reader, and will count against you when they can making the final judgments.
  26. Avoid hype, padding and other self-congratulatory drivel. Remember that the proposal is a legal document that becomes part of the contract if you win
  27. Support your recommendations
  28. By giving specific details and quantifying the benefits whenever possible
  29. Don’t just say that you will comply with a requirement — say how we’ll do so
  30. Don’t attack competitors. Refer to rival products if you must.
  31. Point out the weaknesses of alternative solutions.
  32. Use a strong closing statement
  33. Ask for their business; tell the reader exactly what you want him or her to do
  34. Remind the reader of the benefits of taking action
  35. Avoid business cliché’s
  36. Avoid hackneyed openings and closings that clients have read a thousand times. Avoid “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for considering the enclosed . . .” Get to the point: “Here is your proposal.” Avoid “If you have any questions, please feel free to call.” That closing has been done to death, so avoid it and write something more genuine.
  37. Make your proposal easy to understand
  38. Use the same terms and jargon that appear in the RFP. Don’t try to impress the client with your own special brand of buzzwords or TLA (three-letter acronyms)
  39. Use simple, direct language
  40. Close your business documents on a high note. Don’t be too humble. A little confidence never hurt!

How To Ensure Your Business Proposal Gets Accepted By Difficult Evaluators

What’s your success ratio with proposals? 25% is average. Very few get 50%. I help government agencies evaluate proposals. Most bids that come across my desk make the same errors, use the same flawed strategies and are never accepted. And the next time, they repeat the same mistake. Here are some ways to avoid this. It’s not painful, it just requires effort.

What’s your success ratio with proposals? 25% is average. Very few get 50%. I help government agencies evaluate proposals. Most bids that come across my desk make the same errors, use the same flawed strategies and are never accepted. And the next time, they repeat the same mistake. Here are some ways to avoid this. It’s not painful, it just requires effort.
How To Ensure Your Proposal Gets Accepted By Difficult Evaluators

What does a Proposal Evaluator Do?

My job is to reject your proposal. I fail proposals if they miss a requirement, avoid a clause or get the figures wrong. We received 36 proposals for the last RFP. Some were over 300 pages. The less I have to review, the better.
Tip: make sure the proposals are well-bound. We scribble all over them, book-marking pages, and adding comments. Don’t use cheap papers and poor ring-binders. If they fall apart, I’m not going to re-assemble your document.

  • I eliminate proposals that don’t measure up. This means they fail on a technicality, are over budget, don’t agree to the deadline or have omitted to include some document.
  • Then I review what’s left and make a short list.
  • For me, evaluating a proposal is a process of elimination, not a process of selection. That happens later.
  • When you start your proposal, don’t focus on getting selected, instead WRITE A PROPOSAL THAT CANNOT BE ELIMINATED!

Here’s how you can do this:

  • Write your proposal so that the evaluator cannot reject it on a technicality.
  • Respond to every requirement in the Request For Proposal (RFP). This means you cannot be dis-qualified on the grounds that you were “non-responsive to the RFP.”
  • Identify the solution. If it’s a product, name it & give the version number.

  • Don’t be vague. State clearly how you will do this. If possible, describe the solution in a single sentience.

  • Demonstrate that you have provided this expertise in a similar project.
  • Support you claims with case studies, white papers and other reports where you are given credit.
  • Provide pen portraits of your team. CVs go in the appendix.
  • List the benefits that your solution provides. Cross-reference these against the requirements. Itemize and prioritize each benefit.

Remember, the evaluators are looking for ways to disqualify you.

  • Check your proposal once, twice and three times.
  • Each time check for a different weakness or error. For example, once for writing errors, then for flaws in the solution and finally in the costs.

Conclusion
Write the proposal so that it cannot be eliminated.
Once you have this established, then drill-down into each requirements and respond from the perspective of the reader. Regardless of how good you think your proposal is, if you overlook a technicality, you’re out.
What have I missed? Let me know what you think below.