I had the occasion recently to spend some time talking with a few folks who only knew the proposal world peripherally. They were particularly interested in understanding how we use previously written proposal material when we’re developing a new proposal.

Imagine the usual scenario: you’re assigned to write a proposal section, and the timeline is tight. You know it’s a silly waste of time to open a blank document and start making stuff up from scratch. And out of the corner of your eye, you spy a previously submitted proposal that may have some content that’s similar to what you need to write. To the copy-and-paste machine, Batman!

Not so fast.

While I think it’s entirely appropriate to take advantage of previously written proposal content, you should think at the paragraph level, not at the section level. Let’s walk through a “best practice” approach (if you’ll pardon the horrible cliché).

6 Steps to Recycle Your Proposal Content

When you’re assigned to write a proposal section, there are a few steps you need to take before adding in prior proposal content:

1. Start with an analysis of the solicitation requirements.

Build an outline of your section to address directly each of the requirements in your part of the solicitation. This may mean one subsection per paragraph, sentence, or even sentence fragment of a proposal instruction.

2. Define page limits.

Determine how much of the total page limit you want to allocate to each section and subsection of your outline. Open the proposal template and type in your section sub-headings, with some space in between; indicate in the subsection titles how much page count you’re giving yourself for each subsection.

3. Determine win themes.

Review the team’s win themes, intended strengths, and capture strategy, and insert notes in each subsection that identify the themes and strengths you should highlight in the subsection.

4. Determine content needed for compliance.

In each subsection, type up some bullets of content you need to add for compliance and to present the solution.

5. Don’t forget about graphics!

Add notes on any graphics you might want to use.

[NOTE: At this point, many teams will do some form of proposal review with sections that have all of these bullets and notes, but no complete sentences; some will call it a “storyboard,” some call it an “annotated mockup,” but whatever it’s called and however it’s done, a review, at this point, is a good idea.]

6. Review prior proposal content.

Now, it’s finally time to see if there is some prior proposal content that meets the solicitation requirements of this proposal, addresses the proposed solution for this proposal, and describes the themes and strengths intended for this proposal. This means you’re probably looking at bite-sized chunks of reusable content, likely a paragraph at a time.

Final Thoughts

If you start with an entire section from another proposal and hope to tailor it for your new proposal, you’re setting yourself up for a monumental challenge. It will be a struggle to make sure your section is compliant and score well with easy-to-identify strengths. It will be harder to stay within your page limit and it will take longer!

Stick with the incremental building approach to proposal section writing and limit your desire to reuse previous proposal content. Then we’ll all be happy!

This post was written by Jeff Leitner, Red Team’s Vice President of Consulting.