Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Catching fish by learning the hard way.

I have a picture of my friend Brian fishing on the lakes of New Hampshire in New England, and each time I have to write a business proposal I take it out of my photo album, pinch out the creases and place it on my desk. It serves as inspiration. I remember the summer of my contentment when the photograph was taken, and my amazement at how Brian could rake in fish after fish while my line remained inert and lifeless. "It's all in the attitude," he laughed rolling in another whopper of a salmon. That was that digitized moment I captured with my camera. And it is the moment I have framed on my desk. I defer to that picture because I think that attitude is also the secret of writing a winning business proposal. Like fishing, I suppose it requires a bit of hope and a whole lot of unyielding faith in the enterprise; that the proposal you spend hours hammering out will be as enticing for the client as any good bait.

That's not always the case and I learnt this lesson the hard way. In the early days, I used to chase every piece of business that came my way. I was selective-how do I say this tactfully- like a dog in heat. For days after I sent out a proposal I would stew in anticipation. Hopeful, I would wait for the call back sometimes even jumping the broom and calling the client myself but that was until two earthquakes hit my psyche all within the same month.

In one instance a prospective client called requesting a proposal for a PR strategy. It was a large company with a successful product and a stale image. I was overjoyed at the prospect of winning this potentially lucrative contract. Naively -okay I confess stupidly,- I responded by writing a detailed account of my ideas. 15 hours and 4 boxes of mixed Chinese vegetables later, I had conceptualized what I instinctively knew was an exciting and market targeted PR proposal. The client called the following 2 weeks later , and I was told that the proposal they had wanted ASAP was being placed on hold. "The budget is tight now, but we'll give you a call when we're ready." Three weeks after that the very same company started a campaign that bore a horrific twin-like resemblance to my own and I knew I had been taken for the worst kind of ride. The incident shattered the last bastion of my innocence.

It is never easy to take the long view of things, especially in a culture of 10 second sound-bites and MSN instant messaging service. But in a process that was slow and complex as growing my own business was, I know that the ability to learn from my mistakes would always have to be my anchor. Writing winning proposals will forever be an important part of acquiring new business and retaining old clients. A good proposal sets apart from your competition, it increases your hit rate on getting the business you want and it allows the name of your business to get out there, positioning your firm as the one of choice.

But listen. I no longer believe that the proposals I write should be a detailed blueprint that contains all my ideas, but something more like an artist's sketch, a document that is sufficient to sell the idea -the concept of what I am proposing. Before I start writing, I try to gather information about the clients needs, expectations and problems. Then I write briefly the project's objective statement, developing in turn the project's concept, time line, evaluation plan, and budget. Most importantly in all my proposals I let my client know that I understand what they are trying to achieve. Armed with the proposal I develop the attitude-or maybe it is in writing the proposal that the attitude comes-, and this is my favourite 'go get 'em' line; "we have the solution to your problems, our proposal demonstrates this, now can we do business?"

Thankfully, now, that answer is invariably yes and finally I can keep up with my friend Brian.

Judette Coward Puglisi has been catching many fish over the last 8 years. Catch her net on her firm’s website www.


Maria said...

Judette, a little while ago you mentioned inviting me to lunch (cold calling) to talk about business possibilities. You mentioned how nervous you were. Amazingly, in doing one of my annual 'destroy the clutter' missions, I found the thank you letter you'd written - post the lunch. Be assured, it wasn't added to the 'garbage out' pile!

Tamah said...

Interesting to know.