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Three major mistakes you might be making in your proposals

I've worked for many different architecture firms—small, medium, large, and extra large. And there's two major issues I've come across often in the development of marketing responses to RFQ and RFPs (Request for Qualifications/Proposals) for potential projects:

Use your own brand, not your potential client’s.

Don’t fall down the slippery slope of incorporating your potential client’s logo, color, fonts, buildings, photos, etc. into your proposal—especially on the cover. I have no doubt you can make it look great (however, how many times have you seen a consultant or vendor mis-using your logo or color on the cover of a presentation? I've seen them stretched, skewed, inverted, pixelized, recreated, and even mis-spelled!) If you're trying to apply your client's brand, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to express your own.

Imagine the stack of proposals sitting on your potential client's desk. There may be five of them, or twenty, or even sixty. How many do you think have the client's logo, their colors, or even a photo of their building on the cover? I guarantee there will be several. Just don’t do it. Use that opportunity to tell them, visually, something about your work or your approach.

Think about the goals of the project you're pursuing and what images of your work convey those. I especially like using project photos with people on covers, especially for K-12, higher education, and corporate office design projects. If you don't have photos of people using your spaces, start planning that into your future photo shoots. In the meantime, there are other approaches too—but I can't give away all my secrets here!

Give them what they want, but also give them what they’ve missed.

I always advocate for following the instructions...with just a couple of key exceptions. RFPs often don’t ask for them, but you should always include a cover letter and firm profile at the start your submission. The cover letter and firm profile are your chance to set the tone and summarize the argument you’re crafting with the rest of your submission. They serve as an introduction to reviewers who may not know the background or strengths of your firm and a refresher to those who do. If someone doesn't read anything else, they can function as an executive summary. Just make sure they are well-written, clearly understandable, and tailored appropriately for the client and project type.

Occasionally, a client will specifically ask you not to include any additional information--in that case, follow the instructions--however, make sure you’re integrating a good introduction into the sections you’re allowed. One great place for this is a page of introduction to the ubiquitous section of relevant work. In an SF330 (be thankful if you don't know what this is), Section H is your place to summarize the argument for why the client should choose you over all the other great firms out there.

Remember that you're crafting an argument, not just answering questions.

A proposal should demonstrate your unique, incontrovertible, undeniable qualification for the project you are pursuing. You need to think of each section as adding a point to the argument you're making for why you are the right firm for this client and this project. To do that, it's important to understand why the client is asking for each piece of information. I've seen proposals where the respondent has given just the minimum amount of information to answer a question, doesn't appear to understand the question, or responds in a way that doesn't advance their argument. If a question asks about something with which you don't have experience, don't ignore it. Think about how your experience could lead to it as a next logical step and explain that. As a rule of thumb, never respond to an RFP question with a one word or one sentence answer.

In marketing architects over the last seventeen years, I've developed hundreds of proposals for almost every project type. Need some help increasing your hit rate, managing your marketing workload, streamlining the process, or just some fresh template ideas? Let's talk.


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