How to be an outstanding proposal writer

Do you want to know how to be an outstanding proposal writer?


Well here is the secret.

It takes hard work, lots of time, and lots of effort.

It also isn’t really a secret that proposal writing is a collaborative effort and a leadership task. You need to lead people across cultural, language, political, industrial, and technical boundaries. And you have to manage competing objectives, goals, and resources to deliver on time.

You’ll be competing against hundreds if not thousands of others all trying to do the same. Here are the key areas that you’ll need to work on to be an outstanding proposal writer.


It all starts and ends with you, so ask yourself, are you the best person in the right place to do this task?

What are your strengths? What is your weakness? Do you have the right set of skills for your role?

Are you committed to personal development?

It took me some time to find this out, but having a growth mindset is one of the key aspects of being a good proposal writer. A “growth mindset,” thrives on challenge and learns from failure, taking these lessons forward to the next proposal.

When I started working as a proposal writer the profession wasn’t really well served with courses. Many courses taught and still teach the technical aspects, what to say and what to do, but not how to say it and how to act.

Now there is a range of education material on writing, personal development and leadership on the internet. Often you can access high-quality materials for free.

I’ve taken courses on Coursera where I studied The Michigan Model of Leadership,  I’ve also taken courses on coaching, on innovation and management.

But if you want results fast then the gold standard is getting a coach, which has many benefits.

My coach, Mark, is a coach focussed on helping creative people achieve their potential, you’ll need to choose the coach that best fits your needs and can appreciate your challenges.

Try a few out, many offer free sessions before you need to commit, take your time and find the best coach for you.

Can you write?

We all can write, but you’ll most likely need to write in English if you are applying for European funding. Gone are the days when heavy academic styles won the day. Proposals are shorter and need to be written in persuasive, compelling language.

I’m a big fan of using plain English and understanding how to be a good copyblogger as a core foundation, but I even tried a bit of poetry to improve my writing. If you are interested I’ve included a list of good books on writing at the end of this post.

Write with a purpose in mind

Simon Sinek says it best, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Understand your purpose and make sure it matches with the proposal that you are writing. Because if you want to write an inspiring proposal it is best to be inspired in the first place. No one wants to fund a mediocre proposal that delivers average results. They want to fund big ideas with the ability to change the way we live our lives.

Purpose has to be in everything, think about your purpose when you write. What is the purpose of your idea? Why will people want it? Why will they be inspired by it? Every word, sentence and paragraph has to have a purpose that leads the evaluator to take action and give you a high score.

Ask simple questions that require you to explain things clearly

Clear writing comes from clear thinking, the more simple you make a complex idea the easier it is to understand.

Break complex ideas into simpler parts.

When I interview a client I ask lots of questions, even if I know the answer. Because people will use complex language if you use complex language, thus you might miss something vital if you don’t ask simple questions.

“We make remote charge controllers for solar panels”

“What’s a charge controller?”

“It is a device for controlling, when and how long you charge a battery”

“Why is that important?”

“It’s important because we need to maximize the battery’s life, which improves efficiencies and saves money”

Don’t accept the first answer, ask lots of questions.

Think, talk, write, repeat

Think about what you want to write, talk about it with your team, write it down then repeat.

Talk about the impacts and goals you want to achieve, what success looks like, and how you are going to achieve it. Do this lots of times, ask questions of yourself and your team.

Use thinking tools and methods to help you challenge your ideas.

Make sure you develop a draft version, a refined version, and an optimised version. Commit to developing the proposal three times  to ensure it has the quality it needs to win.

Slow and steady wins the race

It isn’t a straight sprint to the deadline, rather  it is a destination and a journey. Along the way you are going to get bogged down, take a wrong turn and have to go back and start over again.

This takes time, more time than you realise, for an EU level proposal a minimum of three months if not six months even with a committed and talented team.

You’ll need to take action every day, you’ll need to write every day. You’ll need to ask questions every day.

You can’t go it alone

You can’t do this without a team around you, people will need to have different specializations and expert knowledge.

If the team has never worked together before, you’ll need to spend time building trust between team members. A good way to do this is, be clear about everyone’s role, their expectations, and get people working in small groups doing shared tasks before you get them working together.

If the team or your client isn’t committed to the process don’t accept to write the proposal, you’ll only end up doing all the work and more than likely the proposal will fail.

I’ve learnt this the hard way and more than once.

Your goal isn’t to win the funding

Winning is a consequence of excellence, you’re not going to increase your chances of winning if you don’t strive to develop the best proposal that you can.

Professional athletes don’t turn up on race day hoping they are good enough. They do the work, the training and prepare themselves so that on race day they give the best performance that they can.

Your goal isn’t to win, it is to develop the very best proposal that you can, that uses every strategy and tactic to convince the evaluator to give you a high score.

Every proposal is different, but the approach and mindset are the same, make sure you develop yours.

Books on writing

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