End on a good note with a conclusion and appendices
As the year heads at a trot towards its close, my mind turns to proposal endings. Just as every good fairy story starts with ‘Once upon a time…’ so it ends with ‘… and they all lived happily after.’ Unless you’re Roald Dahl, in which case there may be a twist.
Avoid an anti-climax
Many proposals end in mid-air. After rambling on for about 100 pages, presenting information in no particular order. They generally start with an Exec Summary, have a Company Profile and a Solution somewhere, as well as a Price, maybe even a Project Methodology and Timing. Finally they include a whole heap of Appendices and then…after you have waded through all that bumph…your reward is a whole lot of nothing.
Add a conclusion
Just like a good joke ends with a punch line, so your proposal needs an ending. In your conclusion, don’t state anything new. Remind your reader of some of the highlights of your solution and the main reasons to pick you, then outline the next steps. In this way, they come away satisfied rather than frustrated after reading your proposal. It also gives you a chance to act on Tom Sant’s tip to ‘Ask for the Business’ as any good sales document must.
Where to put it
I generally add a conclusion to every section of my document and sometimes have another for the proposal itself. My preference is to put it before the Appendices. This means that if the evaluators split up my proposal into different sections, then each one is self-contained. But I only call it a conclusion if it really is at the very end of the proposal. I always do a double-take when an Executive Summary has a ‘Conclusion’ heading. It makes me wonder whether the writer wants me to read the rest of the proposal or just stop now.
How to cross reference
When it comes to the Appendices, my pet hate is for proposals that are riddled with ‘Refer to Appendix A’ type answers to questions, or ‘See answer to question 12 above’. This really makes the evaluator’s job difficult. Rather tell them what they will find in Appendix A or repeat the answer to question 12 to save them from paging backwards and forwards to find information in your response.
For example, if they ask for your tax clearance certificate then you might include a thumbnail image and say something like:
‘Knowing that our taxes are up to date gives you the peace of mind that our company deals honestly. We pay our taxes to build a better future for all South Africans. In Appendix A you will find our tax clearance certificate which expires on 15 September 2016.’
A rose by any other name
An Appendix is sometimes an Addendum or a Schedule or an Attachment. And sometimes you will see more than one of these in the request for proposal. So what should you call it? You will use the same name that the customer uses, of course. Because the customer is always right. Number your Appendices sequentially or cross reference them to the request. And please include only the information that your customer requests, don’t just throw at them everything you have in your proposal library and force them to work out what’s important. They won’t thank you for this approach.
And in conclusion? Just joking. But you get the point I hope. May your proposals live happily ever after.