To get some insight into their corporate identity and marketing messages, I look at both the bidder and the buyer’s websites before writing. This helps me to decide what fonts, colours, styles, and pictures will work in the template.
I start any proposal template with a striking title page that includes a picture or design linked to the win theme of the proposal. I create a headline sized style for the strong title that links to the win theme slogan. I also create styles for details subheadings and details like the proposal due date, the bid number and the key decision-maker/s. Since these details are less important, they appear in a much smaller font size.
Add a Splash of Colour
I generally choose no more than three colours for my proposal. One colour matches the corporate identity of the buyer, which I use for the main headings and emphasis such as bold text, bullets, captions and call-outs. I choose colours for the secondary headings and text to match the existing bidder template. I co-brand the proposal with both logos, putting the client’s logo first. I generally do a web search for the buyer logo and choose an image with high resolution to match the bidder logo (if allowed).
Use Hot Headings
I define styles for three levels of heading, usually in alternating colours using two colours only. I start with a huge 24-point level 1 heading and make each level smaller than the last but bigger than the normal text size. I use bold or italics to make the headings different from each other. If the proposal is long enough, then I create styles for numbering the different heading levels.
Next, I create styles for the contents page. I usually put confidentiality or disclaimer notices after the table of contents. I also create a cover letter template from the letterhead and any other templates needed for the bid. Getting this done early in the bid leaves more contingency for things that may go wrong on the bid.
Save White Space
Our eyes focus on words surrounded by white space. Leaving white space in the template is important. Use the one-thirds two-thirds layout creatively. Make divider pages for the different sections to slow down the pace of reading and create interest. If something is important, then say it in a way that catches the reader’s eye.
Choose a style for pictures. I usually create diagrams for a proposal in slide format using the main colours for the bid. I re-draw or change existing pictures for consistency. Then I paste the pictures into my proposal as ‘enhanced metafiles or ‘jpg’ images. This format makes images easier to move, format and size in the proposal. Be careful not to choose grainy images or copyrighted images. I have a library of images that are 600×400 pixels or higher so that I can include them to support the messages in my proposals.
I also create pictures that give context in my proposal. For example, for different elements of the solution or key goals, the client has outlined. Visual context makes your proposal easier to skim read. Provide it to give your client clues about the proposed structure. Keeping these cues in the presentation also helps to provide consistency in your messages.
Create Captions & Callouts
Create sample action captions and callouts in your template. Use figure numbers that update automatically for the action captions under each picture. Create callouts for important claims or proof points and use them to draw attention to what matters. When you read a magazine, the callouts alone give you clues about the story.
Share the Recipe
When your template is ready, save it to a template format such as .dotx so that your team can start using it. Creating the template early in the proposal process saves a lot of time later when you’re doing the final collation.
Now bake the perfect proposal
It’s not enough to create a fantastic template. Once the proposal is written, you should improve the layout to make it consistent for the reader and easy on the eye. Allow enough time for this step. Ideally, allow one day per 20-40 pages for layout before printing.
Finally, assemble, package, and hit send or submit and wait to win.