I was flying down to San Antonio recently for the holidays. It is about a three and a half hour flight from DC to San Antonio, so my intention was to get on the plane wifi and work the duration of the flight. I would answer some emails, review some work from other team members, and get started on a new business proposal I had due in a few days.

As we were about to take off, that plan went out the window. The plane wifi was broken. After participating briefly in the mini riot that broke out, I decided to work on the proposal since that was the only task that wasn’t completely reliant on Internet access. As I got started, it became clear that the lack of connectivity would dramatically change my writing process.

In my twenty year digital career, I would estimate I’ve written around 500 proposals. I’ve got most of them saved in Google Drive for easy reference.

Normally when writing a new business proposal, I’ll cannibalize at least 50% of the language from something I’ve written before. I’ll copy entire sections outright, I’ll reuse a paragraph here and there, and will copy boilerplate stuff like biographies. I’m the type that will spend 15 minutes searching for an old paragraph instead of five minutes just writing it from scratch.

No wifi meant no Google Drive, so I was stuck staring at a blank page with no old proposals to borrow from. So I just started thinking about the client problem and writing what I thought they should do.

The proposal turned out really well. It was about three and a half pages of completely original content (our normal proposals run between 5-10 pages). Frankly, my writing was better than it usually is, likely due to the lack of distractions. And there was no fluff. No paragraphs I copied just because I could. No boilerplate language about who we are and what we do. Just my thoughts on the project, clearly conveyed.

We ended up winning the project.

Since this experience, I’ve made a conscious effort to try to write most of my proposals using this same process. Start from a blank page and try to explain simply and clearly how we would execute the project. Keep proposals short, and cut out all the fluff no one is likely to read anyway.

Obviously this process isn’t always possible. Some bigger RFPs require boilerplate language. But I still try to write the recommendations section of all proposals from scratch.

This new process takes a little longer. However, I think the original thinking comes across in the end product. Clients are smart, and can tell the difference between a proposal that is thoughtfully produced and one that is clearly a mashup of twenty other proposals. Ultimately, by writing original content we are much more likely to win the project.

About the Author
Todd Zeigler
Todd Zeigler serves as the Brick Factory’s chief strategist and oversees the operations of the firm. In his sixteen year career in digital, he has planned and implemented campaigns for clients including the Pickens Plan, International Youth Foundation, Panthera, Edison Electric Institute, and the American Chemistry Council. Todd develops ambitious online advocacy programs, manages crises, implements online marketing strategies, and develops custom applications and software. He is bad at golf though.