ResourcesWriting a one-page proposal – mission impossible?

November 2, 2022by Izane Cloete-Hamilton

STRATEGIC PROPOSALSWriting a one-page proposal – mission impossible?

When it comes to writing winning sales proposals, most of us use persuasive writing best practices. This invariably includes outlining the value of your offering, what differentiates you, how you are going to solve the potential client’s challenges, project scope and estimated timelines.

However, when required to write a winning one-page proposal, many of us break out in a cold sweat and get trapped in the ‘can’t do-it’ cycle of rapid breathing, sweaty palms, and clammy foreheads!  At this point you may also repeatedly ask yourself why there is even a need for a one-page proposal and if it is even possible to package all the important information into a one pager?

Writers write long when they haven’t taken the time to write short.”

Paul Raymond Martin

I’ve been there, done that and had the sweaty palms to show for it – until I discovered the books The Language of Success and Persuasive Business Proposals that is!  Both written by renowned proposal consultant, Dr Tom Sant, these books offer a wealth of information and practical hints to help when writing proposals of any length. So, whether you are a beginner or an old hand at writing proposals, do yourself a favour and invest in these books – and no, I am not getting any royalties!

Back to writing a one-page proposal.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of one-page proposals. Is it difficult?  Yes, it is. Is it a mission impossible? No way!

I will demonstrate that writing a winning one-page proposal is not only possible, but it has a valuable role to play in today’s business world where time is of the essence.

Why only ONE page?

There is much to be said about the benefits of one-page proposals such as it is less time consuming for the client to read, it cuts straight to the point, has high impact upfront and speeds up the decision-making process.

It is worth remembering that smart people are busy people who only have (and need) a few minutes to read, absorb and reach a decision.   And that is when the one-page proposal is worth its weight in gold especially when written in such a way that it grabs maximum headspace during those precious few minutes! This is one for those times where less is more.

If you can’t explain something in a few words try fewer.”

Robert Brault

One-page proposals are most definitely not a blanket approach to all sales and proposal pitches, but when called for, it is important to understand that brevity is king. We all know how busy our clients are, and by trimming your proposal down to a few words not only shows understanding and respect but indicate your willingness to meet the needs of your clients from the outset.

When are one-page proposals called for?

One-page proposals are most useful where:

  • clients are already familiar with your company and do not need an extensive company introduction
  • the solution is relatively uncomplicated and easy to explain
  • you want to make an impact and grab attention.

Even so, it still requires proper planning and innovative thinking to get your message across in a concise and effective manner. Less is more but not easier and it takes a particular skill to include all the necessary information – and only the necessary information – in just one page.

So, how can you do this?

Just like you would with a lengthier proposal, the basic principles and best practices of persuasive proposal writing are still very much applicable.

Everything starts with thorough and thoughtful preparation. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Thoughtful preparation and planning will ensure that you use every word and square inch sparingly, yet effectively.

If you can say it in a paragraph, don’t write a book.”

Frank Sonneberg

Consider the following steps when preparing your one-page proposal:
ONE: Collect content, references, solution options and graphics

Gather as much information as possible about your client’s business needs or problems. Try to look beyond the RFP to media reports, annual reports, and meeting discussions to understand – really understand – your client’s needs, problems, and vision.

Remember it is all about your client. Carefully consider the solution/s you would want to recommend and the resources you need to effectively deliver.

Ensure your value proposition talks directly to what the client has asked for and that you have sufficient evidence to back it up.

I find using a mind-map works great for this part of the process.
TWO: Organise content in a persuasive structure

Dr Tom Sant’s NOSE Model is my absolute favourite model to use as it helps you to structure your one-page proposal effectively:

N – Needs. Summarize your understanding of the customer’s needs and WHY it is a problem worth solving

O – Outcomes. Outline the probable outcomes from acting and indicate what will be better, faster, avoided when the needs are met

S – Solution. Recommend (not suggest) a solution that addresses the needs and delivers the results. Include project scope, timelines, and pricing

E – Evidence. Identify the evidence you are going to use to strengthen your pitch and show you can do the job on time, within budget  and why you are the right choice. For a one-page proposal this section can be as brief as referring the client to your website or by attaching case studies/references as a separate document.

First impressions count and selling already starts with the first word. Give careful thought to the title of your proposal. It is likely the first thing a decision maker will read so make sure it is compelling enough that your client wants to read more.

Place yourself in the shoes of your reader. Which title will prompt you to read further: Solid Waste Management Proposal, or Creating a Clean City?

But what about the pretty pictures? Yes, I know we all love pretty pictures! The clever use of graphics, icons and images will support your proposal’s message and make it more appealing to read. Infographics can be effective in depicting timelines, project phases, deliverables, and cost savings – and they are pretty too!

THREE: Show me the value for money

All clients are interested in the bottom line. Omitting what your solution will cost your client, can be an immediate deal breaker. The use of price charts will help to illustrate costs concisely and effectively.

Differentiate between cost and value. Impress upon your client the value of what your solution is worth – vs the cost.

Don’t forget to list the most critical terms your client should be aware of. Full terms and conditions can be discussed at contract stage.

Keep the conversation going by ending your proposal with a ‘call to action’. Even if it is just one line calling for a signature or leaving your client with your contact details.

FOUR: Review, Review, Review

It is important to ensure your proposal is persuasive. Do you clearly identify your value proposition and how you will make your client’s business more productive, efficient, or otherwise better?  Keep the following tips in mind when reviewing your proposal:

  • Confirm that you are summarizing the value of your offering in such a way that your client is compelled to say YES!
  • Make the most of limited space and utilise logical layout methods to cut through the clutter. Whitespace, columns in parallel, graphics, charts and icons help your client find relevant information fast.
  • Make sure that your choice of words is deliberate, to the point and that each word used serves a specific purpose. Clarity is essential in persuasive communication.
  • Test that your proposal is truly a one-page document by printing or saving it as a pdf document.
FIVE: Submit on time!

It is of no use to prepare a perfect one-page proposal only to submit it late. If your client gave you a specific date and time, submit on time (or before) if possible.

Now that you realise that writing a one-page proposal is totally possible, hopefully the sweaty palms and clammy forehead belongs in the past!  In closing, I would like to leave you with one final thought:

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do”

Thomas Jefferson
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