When I mentioned yesterday that sometimes I’d rather just write about kitten whiskers, one of my favorite colleagues pointed out that combining them with work is totally possible. She is right, so today I present you with kitten whiskers and proposals. Kitten whiskers have two functions:
- To gauge the size of an opening so the kitten can determine whether he can get through
- To fall out and painfully stick in your foot when you’re walking across the room
Seriously, words cannot convey the level of ow that is a whisker in the sole of your foot. It’s almost like stepping on a Lego. Despite those ninth-circle levels of pain, the gauge function is more important because it keeps the kitten out of places in which he really doesn’t fit.
Similarly, proposals have two functions:
- To convince a customer or potential new customer that your solution will fit their needs
- To ruin your life for the 30-90 days between the Request for Proposals (RFP) release and the due date
You can see the parallels, yes? We’ve all been there: shoved into an ill-fitting proposal effort that consumes our days and nights until we’re left exhausted and wondering what malformed beast of a response we just shoved out the door. These situations happen because someone either wasn’t using their whiskers or didn’t know how to trust them.
If you’re new to proposals, you might not trust your whiskers yet to tell you truly whether you should invest the time and people to submit a response. That’s okay! Until you’re comfortable with your own, you can borrow mine. Here are some tip-offs that will tell you to steer clear of an opening that really isn’t a good path for you.
- Suspicious Specifics. The opportunity is obviously wired for another company and you can see it in the specifics of the solicitation (e.g., “The PM must have sandy brown hair and 11.2 years of experience in the South end of Building 4011.”)
- Cannon Fodder. The Contracting Officer called you out of the blue and spent 15 minutes telling you about the upcoming RFP and how nice it would be if you responded to it. If they’ve never spoken to you before and spend the briefest amount of time to reel you in, they already know who they want and just need a certain number of bids to be considered competitive.
- Incorrect Container. In addition to work you do very well, the RFP contains requirements you’ve never seen or heard before. Unless you have a strong teammate to cover those new areas, you (and your response) will definitely not fit in there.
- Lack of Capture. A new RFP has dropped from nowhere, but it perfectly describes your areas of expertise! No. If you didn’t know about it beforehand, you don’t have the opportunity data necessary for a successful response and most likely will fall into one of the three traps above.
I hope these tip-offs help you when you’re faced with a dark hole in the wall and the question of “Should I go in there?” Just remember that everyone gets stuck occasionally, and it’s good to ask for help when you need it. You can trust me. My whiskers have a pretty solid track record.
You might have noticed a bunch of posts appear out of nowhere today. It’s like Christmas! I love you guys, so you get lots of my brainial manifestations to read! Woo!
Oh, and also I decided to kill my business blog and move those posts over here. Because they’re full of good information about writing, design, project management, and the way I work, I didn’t want to remove them from the world entirely, and this spot seems like a good compromise. Why did I kill the biz blog? For two reasons:
- Business blogs need to be updated on a stringently consistent schedule. I kept getting too busy to follow this rule.
- These blogs also need to provide compelling content for customers, prospects, and partners. I completely agree with this rule, but I was unhappy with the constraints it placed upon me when it came to subject matter. Sometimes I’m completely uninspired for proposal/design topics and just want to write about zombies or kitten whiskers or Firebird tires.
So, there you have it. The Spotted Cat will be the best of both worlds for me, and I think for you guys as well. The subjects will be a bit more varied and we’ll all have a bit more fun because I’m free to be weirder over here. Everyone knows weirdness makes me happy. Also, customers and partners who wind up in this spot will get to know me better, and that is a very good thing.
More manifestations will appear soon! o/
Originally posted by Heather Lee on February 4, 2013.
Last week I read a great post by Aaron Hamburger on reverse outlining. We all know the outline process isn’t always as helpful as it should be; outside of a thesis or a proposal, trying to force an idea into an orderly skeleton can require a jumbo mental shoehorn. Fortunately for us, we have more than one way to work an outline. Knowing how you prefer to write will help you develop your own successful process. Which of these guys describes you best?
- The Mapper knows exactly what he wants to say and maps the document accordingly before committing text to paper. He builds an outline first and holds firmly to it as he proceeds.
- The Spackler daubs information here and there as it comes into his brain and likes to organize as he goes along. He might start with a loose outline and move things around to suit the evolving idea.
- The Sprayer dumps all his ideas into a big textual quagmire and organizes it afterwards. He tries to cover every possible information angle before he puts a sense of order to the document and rarely, if ever, starts with an outline.
For example, I tend to be a Spackler because of my twitchy thought processes. If I don’t set down each idea as it occurs to me, the next quantum brain jump takes me somewhere else and I forget where I was going. Understanding this tendency helps me take advantage of it when I need to outline for something more structured, like a proposal or technical manual. You can do the same when you know which of these guys you’re like. Here are some helpful outlining tips for each one.
If you’re a Mapper, your best friend is preparation. Gather all document requirements, including purpose and audience, before you start to outline. Mappers tend to have an easier time with complex and stringent requirements like those found in Requests for Proposals, but knowing as much as possible ahead of time can simplify the process even for creative pieces.
Although preparation is always helpful, Spacklers also rely on a stream-of-consciousness approach. At the bottom of your outline, write down every entry as it hits your brain, no matter how weird it seems. Leave yourself space between sections to insert them where they fit best and toss the outliers when you’re finished. This approach benefits documents with very light or loose requirements that are difficult to organize from the front.
Sprayers inherently have a more difficult time outlining than the other guys because they focus on what they want to say rather than organizing it beforehand. If you’re a Sprayer and you have to create an outline first, go ahead and write out all your ideas, but keep them to one or two sentences. When you’re finished, look for a pattern in the information. You should be able to build your outline from there.
Do you have other ideas for outline easification? (Yes, I just made that up. Verbs aren’t the only words we forge around here.) Let me know in the comments or via Twitter @VerbForge!
Originally posted by Heather Lee on January 29, 2013.
During my time as an information developer in the oil and gas industry, I was lucky to work with an outstanding writer and editor who also became one of my best friends. We share a love of words, especially creating new ones, and it was she who dubbed us verbivores. In an industry where many people would be hideously bored, we were endlessly entertained. How could we not be when presented with words like “appurtenances” every day?
Being a verbivore is a big part of why I became a writer. It’s also what makes my editing and content projects so much fun. I’ve been writing creatively since I learned the alphabet (my mother has the proof), and importing that creativity into technical projects is a critical component of the way I work. For example, we all know documents need to convey information to a target audience. Sometimes the best way to do so is to present that information differently. This is where the verbivore steps in.
Now I’m not advocating making up your own technical words willy-nilly, or even rooting through the thesaurus to find the most esoteric synonyms known to man. Just keep your mind open to the available options. Do look at your thesaurus when a paragraph reads so dryly you think your message might get lost in the dust. Do consider rewording when a sentence sounds too much like something from another document. And above all, do have fun with your composition, even if you don’t keep all of the fun bits.
By the way, I’m thinking of adding Chief Verbivore to my next batch of business cards. What do you think? Tweet your vote to @VerbForge or leave me a comment on LinkedIn and I’ll post the results here next week.
Originally Posted by Heather Lee on October 21, 2012
I work a lot with AJ over at Four Points Proposal Services, and our customers have often commented on our unusually positive attitudes when it comes to our work (and in AJ’s case, life in general). We have several reasons for being so disgustingly sunny.
- We love what we do.
- We think happiness is important for us and our customers.
- We are confident in our ability to produce great work.
This combination boils down to attitude, and it defines our organizations as we work to stand up our companies. I’ll briefly explain our views on each aspect.
Loving our work. Although we have very different backgrounds, AJ and I landed in this business because we love to learn and we’re not afraid to try something new. Over time, we’ve carved niches for ourselves in proposal work. She loves SME discovery, graphics coordination, and compliance matrices. I love crafting document templates, past performance volumes, and proposal outlines. We feel that truly enjoying your work is the best way to be successful…so we do.
Sharing happiness. We keep ourselves happy by finding work we enjoy and then excelling at it. This excellence in turn keeps our customers happy. In our experience, business relationships are most beneficial when all parties are more than just baseline satisfied, so we aim for the best possible results on every project we take. We honestly want our customers to benefit from the work we do for them.
Being confident. Our confidence comes from experience and results.
In the end, there are many ways to win. Find the one that makes you happy, and you’ve won twice.