For better or worse, I have looked at thousands of proposals in my lifetime, both inside and outside the government. Many of them have been visual unappealing. They repel rather than attract readers and are difficult to read. They are uninviting and hence a chore to analysis and evaluate.
This is odd because the people who put proposals together are often highly intelligent. Perhaps because they are so focused on the content, they ignore the obvious need to make their proposals readable.
We know a great deal about what makes proposals visually appealing. There are ways to avoid giant blocks of plain text without a great deal of effort. Bryant Freeland has some simple, practical suggestions that we can all follow to visually help separate our proposals from the others:
- Every page should have a graphic, table, or color to get the reader’s attention. A good page template with your company logo and headers and footers can help make each page more inviting. Even text-oriented readers need visual cues. Good graphics, tables, and color increase interest and understanding, especially when they are well-integrated with the text.
- Create heading styles that easily show sections and subsections. Chucks of text should be broken down into manageable sizes for readers.
- Use page breaks and binder tabs to show where sections begin and end.
- Use different font sizes, bold text, and color to highlight important points.
- Use plenty of indented bulleted and numbered lists to display information and emphasize major points.
These are simple tips, but they will make a big different in how your proposal appeals to evaluators.
As Colleen Jolly of the 24 Hour Company points out, keep in mind that color in your proposal must be carefully coordinated. Colors can be placed on a color wheel, a circle divided into 12 equal parts showing the interrelationship among colors. Primary colors are blue, red, and yellow. Violet, orange, and green are secondary colors because they derive from the mixture of primary colors. Tertiary colors such as orange are a blend of secondary colors with primary colors.
Use complementary colors (colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel) – such as yellow and violet – to create graphics that stand out. But overusing complimentary colors can be visually jarring over too many pages, so use them with care.
However, do not value style of substance. Good proposals, regardless of how they look, must demonstrate an understanding of the client’s problem, emphasize features and benefits, and present a superior solution to the problem identified in the Request for Proposal (RFP).
If you can do this and make your proposal visually appealing, you are likely to have a highly competitive application.