10 Downtime Activities for Proposal Writers
Proposal writing is time-consuming work, often with 16-hour days, nonexistent weekends, and deadline-driven chaos. Add in the effects of staffing shortages and industry fluctuations, and many writers have only occasional—and brief—lulls in workload.
With idle time a rarity on most marketing and proposal teams, it’s critical that writers make the most of it. That’s why this week we’re discussing 10 key downtime activities that will improve your performance, fight burnout, and advance your career. On to the list!
1. Conduct a Self Review Good editing, and a little perspective, breeds good writing. So open the final draft of a proposal you recently submitted and perform a full review of the document. Use the peer editing checklist, examining responsiveness to the RFP, executive summary messaging, key value components, flow, readability, and formatting.
You’ll be amazed at how many areas of improvement you’ll discover. Document each area and discuss them with your supervisor.
2. Explore Online Learning Education is key to continual improvement, but shrinking marketing and proposal budgets often leave little left over for outside learning. Don’t fret. While conferences and certifications are certainly valuable, there are a growing number of free online courses and materials available. For instance, you may have heard of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) Consortium, a community of hundreds of colleges and universities that provide free and open digital access to educational materials. We’ve taken several of their courses, such as Proposal Writing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Argumentation and Communication at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Good stuff.
In addition to the OCW courses, take a look at Coursera, a company that partners with top universities to offer free online courses, as well as the Web’s many free academic portals, such as Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab, and free non-profit resources, such as Wikiversity’s School of Journalism and Technical Writing. The options are endless.
Once you’ve identified some courses that interest you, work with your supervisor to develop achievable learning goals. And once you’re done with a course, have a lunch-and-learn with your co-workers to share your new insight.
3. Brush Up on Company and Industry Materials Often proposal writers are so focused on their documents that they neglect to keep up to date on other content being developed inside and outside their company. Don’t be that person. Take a look at your organization’s recent case studies, white papers, press releases, and presentations. Review industry news, such as survey results and journal/magazine articles.
In addition to keeping your content current, doing this often yields useful information to improve the persuasiveness of your proposals. Bonus.
4. Get Involved in Your Industry Getting involved in industry associations is one of the best ways to fight proposal burnout. There are many valuable organizations, from the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) to industry-specific associations, such as the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM), and Legal Marketing Association (LMA). Whatever industry you’re in, chances are there is a relevant organization of marketers and proposal writers.
Once you’ve found an association, don’t just join it; be active. Volunteer for boards and events, and attend local chapter meetings. You’ll gain knowledge, meet other proposal writers, and get exposure to new approaches and technology.
5. Subscribe and Connect While you’re busy being active in industry associations, join their respective LinkedIn groups and Twitter feeds. Look for a few other useful LinkedIn groups, follow them, and set your account to receive a manageable number of updates on group conversations.
While you’re at it, subscribe to a few business and proposal writing blogs (like this one!). It’s an easy, low-effort way to keep your skills fresh and stay informed.
One word of caution: Be careful not to connect with too many LinkedIn groups or blogs. The volume of updates and emails can be overwhelming, so add only a few at a time.
6. Build Internal Relationships Getting what you need, when you need it, from subject matter experts can be among the most frustrating aspects of proposal writing. Do something about it. Reach out to the technical folks in your organization, schedule one-on-one lunches, and get to know each other. Learn about their families, hobbies, and personalities. Bond.
It may be awkward at first, but the effort is worth it. In addition to gaining more knowledge about your organization’s services/products, you’ll build valuable relationships with the people you depend on to do your job. Think that mutual understanding may come in handy when deadlines are approaching on your next proposal? You bet.
7. Get Organized Nothing hurts efficiency more than disorganization. So take some time to organize yourself, both on your computer and around your workstation. Are your emails, files, and favorites up to date and free of clutter? Are all of your checklists, process documents, and cheat sheets in one easy-to-find place? Toss any dated or unnecessary materials, and make sure everything you need is quickly accessible.
While you’re organizing, it’s probably a good idea to clean your workstation. After all, nothing diminishes downtime and productivity more than being out sick.
8. Update Your Content Database Some proposal teams have a dedicated person or people to manage their content database. Great. But for most companies, that task falls on the proposal writers. So what better way to spend downtime than updating your current content, adding new content, or auditing your database to find gaps in content?
Regardless of what technology you use (e.g., SharePoint, Qvidian, PMAPS, company shared drive), keeping content databases current is a major challenge, so use your time wisely. Work with your supervisor to develop a schedule, and make sure to have a process for updating co-workers on any database changes.
9. Show Your Value You understand the importance of proposals and process for crafting them, but many people in your organization—including senior management—may not. Let them know. Ask other teams if you can be a guest speaker during one of their staff meetings. Talk with employees about how proposals are evaluated, the science behind persuasive writing, and recent successful proposal efforts. When speaking to groups of subject matter experts, point out individuals who provided especially valuable input on a recent proposal. Make people understand your challenges and goals.
By developing and employing an internal marketing plan, you’ll create awareness of the proposal function throughout the organization, which can be especially handy when collaborating with other teams on proposals, petitioning for additional staff, and fighting for increased budget.
10. Assist Others Want help when you’re overwhelmed? Then see what you can do for others when they’re overwhelmed. Does a co-worker need some proofreading done? How about some basic research or formatting of resumes? What goes around comes around, especially in the busy world of proposals.
Get Chatty: What other downtime activities have you found to be valuable? Leave a comment and let us know!
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