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Persuasive Proposals

Copywriting Persuasive Proposals

Proposals are routine communications. They come from outside the organization and from within. The Singapore business matrix is peppered with proposals, as is any advanced economy that relies on this tool to decide what ideas and concepts to adopt, and which ones to reject.

Writing proposals is therefore a scary thing for many. The standard practice is to clone an old proposal style, tweak a few paragraphs and formats, and hope that the proposal will do its job. This approach almost never works. The other approach, also doomed to fail, is data dumping. Cramming as much marketing information and corresponding lists of benefits, backed by statistics, and the odd client testimonial into one document isn’t going to work very well.

We operate in the information age. This does not mean information bombardment, but rather information management. Selecting the most relevant pieces of information and presenting it in a streamlined way that preserves the integrity of the message — now that’s a great proposal. Proposals abound everywhere.

So why is it still so difficult for me to write one? That’s because it’s one thing to write a proposal; quite another thing to copywrite a proposal. Copywriting is different from normal or academic writing.

Copywriting has one primary purpose, and that is ‘to sell’. The reader is the most important part of the process and copywriting has to engage the reader 100% of the time. Not 90%. Not 99%. 100%. So when a proposal is written, the prospects (target readers) are expecting themselves to be at the centre of the content, not the sender of the proposal. Dumping information into a document only serves to make your client work to understand the content. No client wants to work to comprehend your proposal. That is why the majority of proposals end up in the rejection pile.

Be specific about your prospect’s needs and goals. When you copywrite a proposal you place the reader first, all the time. By doing this you automatically place your client and his or her business first. Not focusing on the client’s specific problem, or on the specific solution that provides a specific payoff is the first pitfall that poorly written proposals stumble into. A generic proposal is just not going to cut it with your prospects. Copywriting a proposal will always take into account specifics.

Treat each proposal as a unique piece of communication. Unless you’re writing to Smoky the Bear, your prospects are human beings, each with his or her own sense of uniqueness. Nothing serves to dampen enthusiasm for a proposal than one which makes no clear distinction between customers. The cookie-cutter proposal always ends up in the shredder. Your prospects want to feel special and want to receive a document from you that has not gone out to thirty other organizations.

This is true regardless of organizational size and hiring capacity. A pharmaceutical company in Singapore does not want to receive a template proposal anymore than the small wedding boutique across the road, looking to make a name for itself. Copywriting a proposal means taking into account uniqueness. Take the trouble to prepare a new proposal for every single prospect. This is by no means easy. A city the size of Singapore can appear daunting when one considers the number of businesses operating, each asking for a proposal. Do it any way. Make every proposal a unique one. Soon enough, your prospects will begin to appreciate the effort.

Put your key points first. Organizing your key points is critical to a successful proposal. The norm here is to write a cover letter first, introduce some benefits, thank the prospect for giving you the opportunity to propose, add some more figures and charts, then demonstrate how great everything will turn out. This is not the best method by far, and if it works it only does so because almost every other proposal is following the same format thus reducing the prospect to look for other reasons to choose your proposal from the stack.

Put your key points first; before the cover letter if you have to. Do not bury them in the second or third paragraph, leave aside second or third page. Put your key points first. Copywriting is about selling and in our time-starved economies, relevance is everything. The rest of the information must support the key points so they can come later. Put your key points first.

Write to express. So you’ve put your key points first. That is excellent. If your proposal is still not getting the attention it deserves, it is probably because your key points are full of technical detail or jargon. Clarity is important. Copywriting is about making a strong point quickly and clearly. Don’t use twelve words when seven will retain the same meaning. Big and fancy-sounding words don’t work well in proposals. Keep them for academic writing where vocabulary is given extra credit.

Bombastic language designed to contribute rhetoric, impact, and integrity to the message may not always have the desired outcome upon the subject at hand, nor does it procure any further importance that otherwise might be afforded from the prospecting client, subsequently prodding the dear sir or madam to precipitate a state of communication atrophy with the inevitable eventuality of a decision taken by said prospecting client that terminates any future or present opportunity to further correspond and liaise upon the matter, all owing to the propensity to utilize language that bequeaths terms unwanted and barren of true meaning executed in the spirit of impressing, the consequence of which perpetuates further bifurcation of corporate communication channels.
What a load of drivel, and a classic example of how meaning is so easily lost.

Don’t use fancy language gratuitously. Use words that are most relevant to your content, and which fully captures the meaning of your message. Copywriting is about writing to express, not just impress.

Ensure proper editing. Poor punctuation, syntax, and spelling is poor credibility. Copywriting involves editing. A proposal that has not been edited and proof-read is a proposal without copywriting applied to it.

Errors in grammar, spelling, or worse — facts, figures, and statements — are credibility killers. Read your proposal from your prospect’s point of view. We are hard-wired to find faults in others’ works. use this to your advantage. By putting yourself in your prospect’s position, you are not only able to scrutinize the proposal of personality and uniqueness, but copyediting also becomes much easier.

Consistent formatting, regular language spelling (British or American) and getting the client’s name and salutation correct all go a long way in making your proposal do what it is meant to do — stand out from the crowd and make a point quickly and effortlessly. It is interesting to note that in Singapore both the British and American form of spelling are acceptable for corporate and government use, although in Singapore’s public schools, the British form of spelling is the norm.

Research the organization the proposal is meant for. If the organization ascribes to the commonwealth form of communication, using the American alternative may not be in your best interest. Likewise if the organization uses the American form, so should your proposal. If the organization originates in Singapore, either form will be acceptable.

These rules are also applicable for Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of South East Asia. Copywriting a proposal is important not just for the reasons mentioned in this article, but also for internal communications.

Whether you are writing across organizations or within one, the approach to copywriting a proposal properly is always about taking the time to place your reader first. Write for your readers and your readers will read what you have written.

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