The Six Deadly Words to Avoid in Proposals

Years ago the comedian George Carlin got into some serious trouble with a routine of his called “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV.” Well, here are six words you’d better avoid in your proposals.

1. Best Efforts. Courts have interpreted “best efforts” to impose a very strict legal obligation, one that goes well beyond a company’s normal duty to a client.

Alternative: “Reasonable efforts.”

2. Ensure. This word may create a binding legal obligation that a client can enforce in court. This word can be particularly dangerous in a T&M project, since it may imply that you are committing to a fixed-price/fixed-time obligation.

Alternatives: “Will assist in” or “will use reasonable efforts to.”

3. Guarantee. Using this word essentially amounts to a warranty, and you could be held accountable for it.

Alternative: See No. 2.

4. Partner/Partnership. The word “partnership” is a legal term meaning, among other things, a relationship in which two parties are liable for each other’s acts, omissions and debts.

Alternatives: “Ally,” “alliance,” or “relationship.”

5. Will meet your needs/requirements. A client’s requirements change during the course of a project. For this reason, you should avoid promising that you will meet the client’s needs. Courts have held companies liable based on just such promises.

Alternative: “Our approach addresses your requirements.” Then go on to show how it does.

6. Joint/Jointly. These terms may legally imply that a deliverable is a “joint” work under law, meaning ownership is shared by both parties.

Alternative: “Cooperative” effort, or “cooperatively.”