Using Proposal Boilerplates: The Do's and Don'ts

Proposals take so much time to write-and time is often so short-that you are always sorely tempted to pull sections out of other proposals (ones that won and ones that didn’t), tweak them a bit and plug them into the current document. If you give in to this temptation, follow this advice:

Be careful!

Using boilerplate is a quick fix that more often than not will fail. It will fail in great part because the client will notice that you are presenting boilerplate, and that sends a clear message:

Dear Client, your project is not important enough for us write a proposal that is specifically tailored to meet your needs. But please select us for the job anyway.

All you have to do is think of the direct mail you get at home with your name plugged in to understand how the client will feel once he sees your proposal is a collection of past sections stitched together.

What boilerplate you can use. Does that mean that you can have no boilerplated sections? Not at all. Some sections will be the same from proposal to proposal. The following is a very short list:

  • Standard contract language
  • Rate sheets
  • Proprietary and non-disclosure statements

That’s about it. Everything else should be tailored to meet the requirements of this specific proposal.

“Reusable” Materials. Now, there are some materials that you will use over and over again. Aside from the contract language, which usually doesn’t change much, you can reuse the following materials:

  • Resumes
  • Past performance/relevant experience descriptions
  • Management sections

In upcoming articles we’ll address each of these in detail. But for now, here are a few words on each.

Tailor the resumes for each project. This means going in and selecting which elements of a person’s past experience has direct and immediate impact on this project. After all, the client is asking for qualified people, and you are able to supply qualified people. Show exactly how they are qualified for this specific project.

Tailor the past performance/related experience sections to show a direct relationship to this project. You did lots of work on past projects X, Y and Z. And sure, a lot of the work will be the same on this project. But if want the client to walk away with a warm feeling that you really know how to do this job, cite specific instances of past projects that look a lot like this project. In other words, make it obvious to the client; don’t expect him to figure it out for himself. He may not take the time. Would you?

Tailor the management sections to show how you will apply your management expertise to make this project a success. Clients can smell boilerplate management sections a mile away. Be specific; show you understand the issues involved in managing this project by citing them, and showing how you will resolve them.

Sure, you can use “boilerplate. The key is to tailor, tailor, and tailor some more. And by the time you finish tailoring, it probably won’t look much like boilerplate anymore.

And that’s a good thing.