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Persuasive Consultancy Proposal Writing

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by John Evans
Career Coach

Global job market change 


Increasing use of contractors

The increasing use of contractors and freelancers is but one aspect of the industry's response to this squeeze on income. Those interviewed for the Bioforce study (2020) estimated that nearly 60% of all employment contracts for humanitarian work were short-term (for less than 6 months) or consultant contracts. 

Impactpool Labs’ data shows that between 15% to 21% of all vacancies advertised through their online database for consultants, freelancers and/or contractors. 

All the indicators suggest that the self-employed sector of this international market will continue to grow. For employers, of course, replacing an employed role with a freelancer or self-employed contractor shifts some of the obligations and risks to the supplier. Managing these risks is increasingly vital in the depressed employment market that is a feature of the INGO sector today.


Consequences for individuals

Although the terms ‘employee’ and ‘contractor’, ‘consultant’ and ‘freelance’ are used inconsistently, a consequence of the ongoing market changes is that individuals are increasingly likely to find that, rather than being asked to complete a traditional application for employment, they will be required to complete a business/service (or a contractors) proposal. 

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The 7 most common consultancies at International Organizations

Writing your proposal

Don't be afraid to engage your team or associates in the writing process. Consider employing a skilled proposal writer for large bids or check your writing using Grammarly if needs be. 

Here are seven principles that, employed carefully, will help you write a compelling business proposal:

  1. If a form or format is specified: never replace it with your own.
  2. Outline your offer, describe your offer, and explain how your offer will exceed - not just meet - their requirements.
  3. Focus on their needs. 
  4. Sell the benefits your offer will afford them.
  5. Be highly specific
  6. Keep it as brief, but not briefer, than possible.
  7. Focus on the action.


Let's look at each of these principles in a bit more detail.


  1. The form or format will have been created so that, when evaluating the proposals, direct comparisons between bids can clearly be seen. If you replace their format with your own your bid will most likely be ignored.
  2. In teaching and training, there is a tried and tested rule that the educator should tell the learner what you are going to tell them. Then actually tell the learner. Then remind them what you have told them. The rule has lasted because it does work!
  3. Write about them and how they can benefit from your resources, experience, and approach. Start and finish with their needs: don't copy and paste generalities from your brochure because it is all about them, not you! Show that your planning process will be participatory and will take into consideration the opinions of the stakeholders and/or the target group. 
  4. Make sure your writing ‘sells the benefit’ by using the ‘So What? Test.’ This will keep you focused on telling your reader how the choice you are advocating will benefit them. When selling the benefit of your proposal, never use language that could be perceived as an attack on any other organisation or institution.
  5. Tell them exactly what you are going to do for them. Don't hint at it. Quantify what they expect from you (or your team), when, where and how.
  6. There is a real skill here because prospective clients often ask for a large amount of information. This needs to be supplied but you should use as many of the following tools to keep the word count under control and provide the information they asked for briefly or (better) visually wherever possible: Bulleted lists; graphs and charts and relevant pictures. 
  7. To make your proposal content strong, it is important to focus on the action. At all costs avoid the passive voice2. 

Being persuasive

Just as, when writing a traditional job application there is a strong element of persuasion involved so too, when writing a proposal, the aim is to persuade the reader that you are the best choice to serve that particular client. Tailoring is an instructive image to think about here. A suit can, typically, be ‘off the peg’ or ‘bespoke’. An off the peg suit will be designed to match and meet the typical requirements of people with fairly standard measurements. A bespoke suit is made to fit one person’s measurements. The word ‘bespoke’ is an adjective version of the word ‘bespeak’ and refers to a client’s custom suit order that couldn’t be ordered by anyone else: it had ‘been spoken for.’ Bespoke tailoring originated when most tailors carried very limited quantities of cloth and it would be unlikely that they’d have enough to make more than one suit out of any roll of fabric in particular. Just as a master tailor sizes up the client taking detailed measurements and seeking to understand their preferences and aversions, the accomplished business proposal writer will take time to fully understand who will read and decide on their proposal.



Where does persuasion starts?

Initial research

To ensure your proposal is as effective as possible, it is critical to prepare, plan, write, and review with your readership in mind. Time spent understanding the reader will save time during the later proposal development stages. Ideally, this process begins by undertaking as much research as possible about the circumstances that have led to the organisation seeking proposals. Much of this can be done using the internet and by tapping into your network of colleagues in the sector. This initial research may well turn up questions. If at all possible, the next stage in the process involves directly engaging with the prospective client in a thoughtful and strategic conversation to understand their needs. Through discussion, you can obtain answers to these initial questions and collect information on the client’s current problems, goals, and potential solutions. This critical intelligence is collected through targeted questions asked with an open mind. You may have an established relationship with the client or it may require thoughtful outreach to a new potential client. If you have a trusted relationship you have the advantage: if you don't you will need to do more research and have to work harder to get into an exploratory discussion. LinkedIn can be a useful tool here, potentially enabling you to reach people known to your contacts who can introduce you.


Current Consultancy Opportunities on Impactpool


About Career Coach John Evans:

John has over twenty years of experience working as an executive and leadership coach. He discovered four phases of career development which provide a framework that many people have found helpful.

John has been coaching for more than 20 years. He recently co-designed the coaching and mentoring education programme for the global Humanitarian Leadership Academy. John was formerly Global Practice Leader at World Vision International where he pioneered the charities’ global leader orientation, talent and succession management, and education processes, leadership assessment and leadership coaching services. Previously, as Global Consulting Development Leader for Hewitt Associates (now Aon) John led the global consulting focused “Hewitt University” and European organizational development consulting practice. He has worked with clients including The CHS Alliance, Vision Fund International, World Vision International, numerous INGOs, UK and foreign governments and in partnership with Development Decisions International, Cranfield and Ashridge Business Schools.

John has a Master’s degree in Management Development; post-graduate Diplomas in Management and Career Guidance; holds a Certificate in (Cognitive Behavioural) Coaching and is an accredited and experienced MBTI, Life Styles Inventory and Insights Discovery practitioner. John has considerable international experience gained in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.


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