Five Tools for Averting Proposal Disaster
We all know that proper planning and communication can go a long way to preventing last-minute proposal chaos. But let’s be honest: Every proposal writer, no matter how prepared, has felt the stress of a down-to-the-wire proposal submission. It’s a terrible feeling, and according to a recent University of Washington study, that stress can make us especially prone to proposal-killing mistakes. Not good.
So next time you’re in an eleventh-hour pinch—whether it’s because of a file issue, a content change, or a previously unnoticed RFP requirement—try one of these five simple tools for reducing stress and averting disaster. On to the list!
1. Shrink Your File Size Final proposal files can be seriously large, causing all sorts of unexpected problems. For instance, proposal submissions via email or online portal often have size limits, prompting terror-inducing failure or error messages. Even for printed proposals, large file sizes can bring computing systems to a crawl when opening the file or inputting final edits.
Before you pull out your hair or slam down your keyboard, check out NXPowerLite, an application that quickly optimizes Microsoft Office, PDF, and JPEG files without altering the look, feel, or file type. It’s like magic.
In fact, a report from Trident Warrior, an annual exercise where U.S. naval forces team with Department of Defense and civilian agencies to test new communication technologies, found that NXPowerLite reduced file sizes an average of 84 percent for Word, 88 percent for PowerPoint, and 76 percent for Excel. We’ve experienced similar reductions with PDF and JPEG files.
The Drawbacks and Details: NXPowerLite Desktop is now available to Windows and Mac users, which is great news for those using Apple products. However, the application is still limited to compressing only Microsoft Office, PDF, and JPEG file types. If you’re interested, you can try it free for 14 days, after which you can purchase for $50. See a demo here.
2. Auto Update Your Pricing Tables For many proposal writers, pricing is among the last pieces of content to go final, often forcing you into a mad dash of information transfer from pricing spreadsheets to proposal documents. This activity takes time and can be stressful, leaving you open to embarrassing formatting and data errors.
Fortunately, newer versions of Word and Adobe InDesign allow you to directly link an Excel pricing table, project schedule, or other spreadsheet to your proposal document. This functionality allows for automatic updating of data whenever the Excel source file is updated, removing the time and risk of manually transferring information. When time is getting tight, this can be a life-saver.
The Drawbacks and Details: One drawback is that the proposal file and source file must be saved in locations that can connect. So if your organization uses collaboration software or a network shared drive, be sure to check your permissions before linking the files. For step-by-step instructions on inserting linked Excel tables, click here for Word and here for InDesign.
3. Quickly Bind and Rebind Outsourcing hard-copy production to vendors like Mimeo and FedEx Office can be a good option for many proposals, but when it comes to last-minute submissions, most writers still prefer the speed and control of an in-house production system. However, today’s most popular in-house binding types—spiral, comb, wire, and three ring—all have time-related weaknesses, such as the need for hole punching, tedious assembling, and difficulty replacing pages.
Luckily, there’s a faster option: thermal binding, which uses heat to attach papers securely to an adhesive spine. This method is nothing new, but we’ve been really impressed by some of the latest thermal binding machines on the market.
Our favorite is CoverBind’s new 9000 model, which takes only two seconds to process and bind a document. That's some serious time savings over standard punch-and-bind methods! For teams on a budget, we like the tried-and-true compact 5000 model, which can bind up to 15 documents at once and requires only two minutes for binding and cooling.
Today’s thermal binders also offer advances in durability, usability, and flexibility. For instance, the CoverBind models produce spines with four to five times the strength of punch-and-bind methods and a hinge-like design, allowing the proposal to lay flat when open. And if you have a last-minute change to an already bound proposal, the machines can reheat the document for only 30 seconds: just enough to easily swap out pages. Pretty cool.
The Drawbacks and Details: The most obvious drawback is that RFPs sometimes specify a different required binding type, such as three-ring binders. Also, CoverBind’s maximum spine width is 2 inches (approximately 500 sheets of 20 lb. paper), so large volumes are an issue. The 5000 model is currently $439 on Amazon, with a selection of cover pages ordered separately. See a demo here.
4. Instantly Create and Update an Acronym/Abbreviation List In addition to defining each acronym and abbreviation upon first use in the proposal, most proposal writers help evaluators by including a master list with their submission. But while it’s a good practice (and one required by some RFPs), this seemingly basic task can add chaos when deadlines approach and you have last-minute content changes or additions.
Thankfully, acronym generation applications, such as Wordman’s Acrogen, Acronym Master Pro and AcroWizard, provide a more efficient, accurate alternative to manually creating and updating your list. Our favorite is Wordman’s Acrogen, an add-in for Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010/2013 that quickly analyzes your proposal (or several proposal volumes); detects your acronyms, abbreviations, and their meanings; and creates a list including where and how many times each was found. With a few mouse clicks before submission, you can have a more consistent document and an updated reference list. Simple and time saving.
The Drawbacks and Details: One notable drawback of Wordman's Acrogen is that a version for Word 2016 has not yet been released. We used to have an issue with the inability to create a list in our proposal format or find acronyms and abbreviations in headers, footers, footnotes, or text boxes, but both have been remedied in the latest version. You can try the application free for 30 days, after which you can purchase for $50.
5. Make Wholesale Formatting Changes Proposal writers who use Word nearly always employ a wide range of styles, those handy buttons for changing the appearance and characteristics of text, tables, and lists. Styles are great for creating more consistent, stable, and quickly formatted proposals. However, what happens if you need to make last-minute, wholesale changes to your styles due to a misread RFP requirement, RFP amendment, or page limit issue?
No problem. Instead of tediously updating each style, make quicker formatting changes by updating only the base styles, the underlying styles on which other styles are dependent.
Here’s what you do: Before your next proposal, take a moment to create a few new styles to be used as your base styles, such as one for your headings and one for your body text. Then, right-click on each of your regular styles (under the Home tab) and select Modify. Click the drop-down list next to Style based on and select the appropriate base style.
Done. Now if you modify the size or font type of a base style, every style that’s based on that style will change accordingly. Much faster.
The Drawbacks and Details: The only main drawback here is that using base styles is only efficient if they were incorporated in your template before you began your proposal. So make a note to update your template before you start your next document. We’ll get more into style usage in a future entry, but in the meantime, click here for a step-by-step guide on creating, applying, and modifying styles.
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One Final Note: We’re always suspicious when articles mention products by name, so let’s be clear: Freestyle Editorial has no relationship with the vendors or products mentioned above. They’re just a few of our favorites, plain and simple.