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Don’t write a proposal or award application without this important tool

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

“I met him in the Kmart parking lot on Easter Sunday, and he handed off the proposal.”

That's what an editor told the rest of my department Monday morning. That's the way we used to do proposals when I first started out in the consulting industry. The engineers, economists, or scientists would write the proposal at the very last minute. They would take it to the editor a day or two before, and the editor would try to make it actually sound good in an unreasonable amount of time. (In those early days they also had to run it through the Word Processing Department and have it printed by the reprographics operator.)

I knew I didn’t want to work that way. I’d also discovered that although I had a knack for technical editing, I vastly preferred the writing. Part of that preference came from the fact I liked to run the process and avoid last-minute scrambles like the one described above.

After a couple of years working as a last-minute reactive editor, I knew I could create a better way. Enter the role of “proposal manager.” Why not let the technical consulting staff do what they do best: build bridges, design wastewater treatment facilities, or assess environmental risks? By running the process for them, and doing more of the writing myself, I could alleviate the stress for these subject matter experts while also keeping a handle on the busy schedule of writing a proposal.

Proposals in the consulting industry have tight-and-fast deadlines, and if you miss the deadline, your proposal will be thrown out. If you do not include everything requested in the Request for Proposals, your proposal can be thrown out. What that means is you can spend thousands of dollars writing and producing a proposal, only to lose all that money and any hope of securing a contract simply by missing the deadline or being noncompliant. I’ve seen it happen to the best proposal teams, like once when the cover letter didn't include a small, obscure detail the client had requested.

That’s why you need to have a compliance matrix. A compliance matrix contains all the need-to-know and need-to-include information from the Request for Proposals. It will keep you straight and keep you organized.

I use compliance matrixes for grant proposals and award applications too. It’s a shortcut, proposal outline, and a checklist all in one. I also tack on a proposal schedule to the end, although I find people often ignore it!

Do you use a compliance matrix?


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