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PDFs Part Three: Five Time-Saving Tips for Proposals

In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, many professional services firms are submitting more proposals and dedicating more time to their research, development, and customization. For instance, in the legal field, a recent NexisLexis® study found that 42 percent of firms have increased their proposal volume over the last 12 months; only 7 percent have decreased.

While this trend may seem like good news for proposal writers, few firms have made comparative increases in their proposal resources. As a result, more and more writers are swamped, each searching for ways to save time without sacrificing quality.

We’re here to help. That’s why this week we’re discussing five ways to more efficiently use portable document format (PDF) files throughout the proposal process. On to the list!

A Quick Caveat Before We Begin: Like parts One and Two of our three-part PDF series, we’ll be discussing features specific to Adobe Acrobat, since most businesses use this software for PDF creation. For similar features of other common PDF creators, such as PDFCreator and CutePDF, please consult their respective websites.

1. Create Fillable Forms Most Requests for Proposals (RFP), particularly government-issued RFPs, require the completion of various PDF forms: pricing sheets, cover pages, representations and certifications, etc. Unfortunately, while some of these forms are fillable (like this one), most are not, making their completion a time-consuming endeavor. Typically, writers either print and manually complete the forms or use Acrobat’s tedious typewriter feature to enter text throughout the document.

There’s a better way. Acrobat now lets you convert a scanned or static PDF form (or Microsoft Word or Excel document) into an intelligent PDF by automatically recognizing and converting static form fields to fillable ones. This function can be a big time saver, particularly for multi-page forms with numerous response fields.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With your form open in Acrobat, select the Tools pane on the right side of the screen, then Forms, then Create. Select From Existing Document, then click Next. Select Current Document, then click Continue. Voilà! Now you’re ready to insert the appropriate text in each fillable field.

2. Convert RFPs and Forms to Word/Excel Writers sometimes attempt to copy text from a PDF and paste it into a Microsoft Word or Excel document to recreate RFP forms or develop proposal outlines, compliance matrices, pricing tables, project status sheets, etc. The idea is logical, but even with newer versions of Acrobat, the results are spotty at best, often requiring reformatting to remove random paragraph marks, indents, extra spaces, and/or page breaks.

Fortunately, newer versions of Acrobat have remedied this long-time complaint by allowing you to convert PDF files—even those with scanned text—to Word or Excel while fully preserving the fonts, layout, and formatting. Pretty cool. You can convert entire PDF files or select just a portion of the file to convert. For instance, we often find it useful to convert the RFP pricing tables to excel files for easy calculations.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With your file open in Acrobat, select the Tools pane, then Content Editing, then Export file to…, and choose either Microsoft Word Document or Microsoft Excel Workbook. When the Save As window appears, insert a file name, select a location for the new document, and click Settings. If your PDF file contains scanned text, select the Run OCR if needed option. Click OK and click Save.

3. Compare Two RFPs To develop an accurate, customized proposal, it’s often necessary to compare two RFPs or two versions of the same RFP. For instance, if your firm bid on work two years ago and that same work is coming up for bid again, you’ll want to identify any changes in the new RFP’s scope and requirements. Similarly, if your firm is crafting a proposal and a modified version of the RFP is issued in an addendum, you’ll want to perform a similar analysis. However, doing a line-by-line comparison of two RFP documents can be a painstaking ordeal.

Thankfully, newer versions of Acrobat allow you to compare versions of nearly any PDF file by producing a color-coded report of all differences in text, font, order, and graphics. This function is especially useful for comparing scanned RFP documents, for which we use the Compare text only option.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With Acrobat open, select View from the top toolbar, then Compare Documents. Once the Compare Documents window opens, choose the document locations of the two PDFs to be compared, insert page ranges (if desired), and select OK. When the report opens, select the Compare Navigation icon on the left side of the screen to modify what types of differences you’d like to view.

4. Make Last Minute Edits With many RFPs requiring appendices and attached materials, writers often have to create and combine multiple PDF files into one proposal volume for electronic submission or hard-copy production. Unfortunately, this task is often finished just as an unexpected, last-minute change comes through.

To avoid this frustration—and the deadline-blowing time that goes with it—newer versions of Acrobat allow you to directly edit PDF text and images. With just a few clicks, you can find and replace text throughout the proposal PDF and quickly move, crop, resize, or replace images. If an image requires more detailed edits, you can open it in an external design program, edit it, and automatically update it in the PDF. When a deadline is rapidly approaching, we’ve found this function to be a lifesaver.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With your proposal file open in Acrobat, select the Tools pane, then Edit Text & Images. Click on the text or image your want to edit, which activates a window with the available editing tools. After making your desired edits, click out of the text or image.

5. Automate Production Tasks Speaking of last-minute tasks, after creating the final PDF of an electronically submitted proposal, most writers maximize the file by stripping out document information and comments, optimizing viewing of the file, and minimizing the file size (particularly when submitting through an online portal). However, these worthwhile steps take time and are easily forgot.

Luckily, newer versions of Acrobat have an Action Wizard that can combine and automate these and other production tasks. For instance, using the Create New Action function, we made a Prepare for Electronic Submission action that removes comments and hidden document information, compresses images, optimizes image colors, embeds fonts, sets our desired view for when the document is opened, converts all content to searchable text, and reduces file size—all in one click. Done.

The How To (in Acrobat XI): With Acrobat open, select the Tools pane, then Action Wizard. Click Create New Action. A new window should open. Add your desired steps to the action by selecting an item on the left and clicking the plus sign to move it to the right. One you’ve added your steps and organized their order, click Save, type a name and description for the action combination, and click Save again. The action will now appear in your list of preset actions. Whenever you want to run the action, select the Tools pane, then Action Wizard, then your action from the list, and click Start.

Note: The Action Wizard comes with various preset combinations (e.g., making documents more available to assistive technology, publishing sensitive information, optimizing for on-screen viewing, and preparing for distribution). However, we have found it worth the few minutes to set custom combinations for proposals.

Shameless Plug Alert: A great way to save time and ensure you have effective, persuasive proposals is by hiring a professional writer, editor, or trainer. You know, like the ones at Freestyle Editorial Services. Visit our website and contact us today to discuss how we can make your company stand apart from the competition.

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