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How to write better proposals with Rick Harris

How to write better proposals with Rick Harris

Welcome to the business insight lab where we bring you interviews with leaders in their fields to deliver valuable information for your business. I’m your host, Adam Lowe, and this is episode number 13.

This week’s guest is Rick Harris. Rick is the executive director of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, the APMP. I had to practice saying that about 10 times before I got it right. They are an association for professionals who pursue business through proposals, bids, tenders, and presentations. He and his members advanced the arts, science, and technologies of winning business in virtually every major industry such as IT, telecom, software, healthcare, consulting, finance, and the federal government. They keep business in business.

In today’s business environment, whether you’re a small business, we’re a fortune 500 company. Knowing how to write a winning proposal is the key to expanding your business, but what are the crucial elements to consider when responding to an RFP and writing a winning proposal as the head of the association that’s dedicated to helping companies navigate this world. Rick is going to unlock the mystery behind proposal writing, and offer practical advice that will resonate with any business leader. He’ll share proven tactics from all aspects of the proposal development process, including the role of creativity and writing play.

And this frankly is really timely for me because I was sitting here before, uh, before we started recording, just trying to write a proposal. So I’m really glad to have you on the podcast today, Rick.

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rfp request for proposal paper document

Rick Harris:                          Thank you, and what we find at any given time in someone’s life, they’re writing proposals, so we’re happy to be here to help. Thank you for inviting us on your program.

Adam Lowe:                       Oh, great. So can you tell me just a little bit about you and your history and what got you into this particular business?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, actually I have the tale of two careers. So I started out as a radio disc jockey down in Florida and I did that for about 18 years. So I have a long and storied career in radio.

Adam Lowe:                       What radio station you were on?

Rick Harris:                          Well, really every market in Florida except for, except for the Miami market. So I worked at WAPE in Jacksonville. I worked or WGLF in Tallahassee Y106 in Orlando, so  the list just goes on and on and on.

Adam Lowe:                    I used to live in winter park. That’s why I asked,

Rick Harris:                          So you know Y106

Adam Lowe:                       I certainly do.

Rick Harris:                          Yep. So, uh, so it’s a tale of two careers and you know, that gave me a chance to meet people, to talk to people in a way that it’s helped me in my second career and I moved up to Washington DC  a number of years ago actually. It was about 30 years ago now and was looking for something, do fell in with a met somebody who worked for an association. They said, hey, you’d be pretty good at marketing. Went into the association business and found that I absolutely loved it. It was a brand new world that came at you every day. It’s moving people in a direction to help them do better in a single subject. And in this case, uh, what we’re here to talk about today is writing a proposal that helps you win and to generate new revenue for your company, for Your Business or for you personally and individually. So it’s very gratifying work. And I’ve been doing this, as I said, for about, or two years now.

Adam Lowe:                       Can you tell me a little bit about some of the industries that you mentioned?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, I have a, a lot of experience in technology and I started out with, I’ve worked with the National Association of broadcasters of work with the National Association of homebuilders, but I do have a funny story. It was my work at the National Association brick distributors. So there really truly is an association for everything. And I worked there for about three years and then I got a call from the home builders who said, hey, we love what you’ve done with them. Why don’t you come do it with all of the, uh, the different building materials. So I worked there for about eight years, but what I specialized in was marketing programs. And also, um, the tradeshows, uh, I found that was where the energy and the money and uh, uh, all of the innovation. So, uh, I would always gravitate toward the trade show component of these associations. I worked for the cell tower industry, uh, back when a cell towers were. Nobody likes it, some I think people are used to them and they’re a lot smaller now, so, uh, they’re not as controversial as they once were. Okay. And just lately in, in all of this work proposals have been a major part of the associations that I’ve worked with, both in terms of associations writing proposals and our members meeting to write them. So when this opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance to lead and I’ve been here now for about seven years.

Adam Lowe:                       I think everybody has to write proposals of some sort or another to get jobs, especially, especially here in the DC area where there’s so many federal, federal and government jobs that, uh, you know, they send out these ridiculous rfps. Um, so there’s, there’s definitely an art and a science to writing these things to be able to get the business. Um, so I definitely the importance of being here in DC, but, you know, aside from, from government contracts, can you tell me what other types of proposals, um, you help people. Right. And you know, just why it’s important to have those good proposal writing skills. Okay.

Rick Harris:                          There really are two types of proposals, one that you mentioned, which are the government federal contract proposals were, were large defense contractors generally are responding to RFPS, ease and. No Sir, excuse me, those are proposals that have a set of guidelines and a set of rules that need to be followed. So, and they’re governed by the far, which is the federal acquisition requirements for proposal bid proposal managers and they need to follow those rules

Rick Harris:                          by far concentrated a vc area, California based, some in the Massachusetts area, anywhere where you find a, not of the military, that’s where you’ll find the government proposal, but the most amount of proposal and proposal writing is really in the business or the commercial space. So it’s when you get outside of the beltway, when you get outside of areas where there are large agencies or base a military base is, that’s where you find the commercial opportunities and it can be anything from, um, really small proposals of where we would like for you to, um, we’re putting our accompany. We’ll put out an RFP for video service or an individual will put out an RFP p for to help them up market their business. That was a very small, but even the business and commercial side, those proposals can generate as much as a million to $10,000,000 for companies. And examples of that would be,

Rick Harris:                          uh, just just say mastercard wants to change to a new plastic and it’s putting out an RFP, pay for plastic manufacturers too. Uh, help them design a better cart. And certainly you saw it in play when the chips, gay man. So somebody who’s got, you know, they have the idea to make the change, but somebody has got to actually build the card. So, um, so you see those ps four about products and services. And what I would tell you is that although the stakes are a lot higher on the government side, the, uh, the federal bids and proposals, um, sometimes as much as, you know, $10,000,000,000 for a jet fighter, um, or a, um, you know, I’m new munitions, something like that. The more plentiful and more robust proposal writing is done on the business and commercial side, it’s much more frequently and the rules are completely relaxed

Adam Lowe:                       given that I deal with a lot of professional services companies, almost every job that I do, I have to deliver some sort of proposal. Um, and for me, you know, a lot of it’s very boiler plate, just changing a little bit of scope of work. Um, but I, you know, I’m sure like you mentioned, there are the larger ones out there that really requires some, some in depth thought and uh, you know, responding to actual rfps. So can you tell me a little bit about, uh, you know, just, just start with the basics, you know, how to people find out about the RFPS, how do people, um, you know, find those, uh, those, those things to respond to.

Rick Harris:                          Is it on the federal side? There are a couple of tried and true places. Bloomberg government runs a, a depository of where all of the government contracts with. Another one is which is operated by Delta Fed Biz ops has. So there are places where people can go and they monitor daily to look at that. If it’s more on the business and commercial side of the industry, it’s the connections you make, the contacts. So are you, do you have your ear on the ground, on the ground at professional associations like ours and you’re hearing about opportunities, are you part of your chamber of Commerce? Are you part of your local regional associations and are you looking and anticipating what accompany wants or needs six months to a year from now? So really it comes down to from the business and commercial side, much less of where you go to look for it, although they do release rfp fees generally at their industry trade shows as where you are in and you talk about it, but it’s no. And the contacts you’ve made and the networks that you’ve formed that, that the, uh, government side is so much more the federal proposal, it’s so much more structure and how you find it.

Rick Harris:                          It’s very transparent, open to all. And the business and government side is more networking and how good you are at identifying it.

Adam Lowe:                       Gotcha. You mentioned that, uh, the APMT has offered some sort of assistance there. Did I catch that correctly?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, we do. We have a number of our members have those, have those sites that we talked about, particularly on the federal side and what apmt does that, that’s not where we focus, we focus on is showing members through education and networking, showing them how to write a better proposal and providing them resources for, to be able to accomplish that. And it’s taking a look at every part of a proposal and saying, is this the best proposal that you have? Is this the best proposal you could put out? And how do you not make it a cookie cutter, but habits to the audience that you have. Now we all run the Brits of what we do, what we call a at AP and p. it’s just cut and paste proposal because of the time factor. Sure. But what we teach all of our members and the more you can gear that proposal to that particular customer and tell them how you’re going to meet their needs, it sounds obvious, but there are ways to do that. Uh, and changing just a little bit of your text and your presentation that’ll directly speak to what problem or what need they have and that’s what we focus on is teaching our members how to, how to get in there and respond to an RFP. Yep. So that they can win. And that’s the differentiator. Not just putting out a proposal but winning it

Adam Lowe:                       just in written form.

Rick Harris:                          It does. It does. You know, I was Kinda like you when, when I was in association, I had been writing proposals for years for associations that I’ve worked mainly on the side of sponsorship. We put out an opportunity and some company would be interested in what was a proposal, but I would letter or a Martin would be three, four page proposal with graphics that focused in on how I could help them. It just goes on every day. It is sales 101, but it’s that repetition of best practice that will lead you to the wind.

Adam Lowe:                       We want to say that

Rick Harris:                          I’m sorry, we, we like to say that we’re, we are the economic engine to many companies to almost all companies. We put cars in the parking lot. It is the work our members do that drive the revenue into the businesses that they, who they work for. And uh, so they’re often unheralded folks who are true winners for their company.

Adam Lowe:                       So can you tell me a little bit about the proposal writing process? Where would you start? Are some of the things that you want to consider when you’re writing that proposal?

Rick Harris:                          The first thing is the customer and what their wants and needs are and again, that sounds very obvious, but understanding what the issue is and going deeper into that. And that’s what I would say is the characteristic of the best proposal is not only understanding but going deeper and offering more telling out you can help. And one of the things that we see is to take a look at the RFP and not glance it and, and start writing it, but read it several times and understand, note tate on the RFP what, uh, what the customer is looking for and how you can efficiently and cost effectively help them. Because those are really the two main areas. And writing a proposal cost will always play a factor, however, there are many times that customers will, uh, will award a bid. It’s more expensive because you made life easier for them and you’ve shown them in detail how you’ve made life easier and you can predict for them, uh, through research or through your marketing, how you can make life easier and deliver as a product or service they want at a certainly faster and in some cases more expensive.

Rick Harris:                          They’re looking for that speed, speed to market. So it’s understanding the first thing is understanding what your customer wants more than just the proposal three, four times. Truly walk around it and see how you can help in all five. Not just that simple. Ask what, what other value do you bring to it? So that is the, that I think is the number one thing that people don’t. Do you know how, how we all do holidays? We receive a present. We opened it up, we never read the directions, we just started to use it. People do that with proposals a lot in our fees. They’ll look at those first two or three sentences and the RFA and go, I got it. Furniture. It didn’t end well, it never. That is Ikea furniture, at least for me. Um, but you got to be organized so that the second character I would say is proposal writers, Proposal Managers, folks who startup proposal and finish it or highly organized people.

Rick Harris:                          And you know, when I, I’m not sure about you adam, but I wouldn’t have considered myself certainly 30 years ago or even 20 years ago, a highly organized person. But when it comes to proposal writing, I am [inaudible]. I work okay the process, go through the checklist of things that I need to do to put me in line for a win. There’s no sense in me sitting down and writing a proposal that may or may not win. Put yourself when you, when you sit down to do it, put yourself in the best position to win. So high lit high organization is a key characteristic and that can be taught to anyone. And the best, uh, underlying on that is when you win, there’s a euphoria. And I talked to proposal writers, editors, managers, they do it because the, the actual high is getting that victory. So even though you can’t compare proposal writing to athletics at all, you can compare a getting the win that’s. And, and I remember my first win, I wanted to write another proposal the next day because I thought, wow, that is, this is good stuff. We just brought in 30, $40,000, new dollars. What if I put out another one and to bring in another, a chunk of money. Like, so,

Rick Harris:                          uh, those are two main characteristics. It’s knowing what, researching what you’re going to write about being familiar with it and being highly organized in your process.

Adam Lowe:                       Just dive into that a little bit more because you mentioned reading and rereading the RFP. Uh, you know, at least in my experience, a lot of times I’m not even getting an RFP. Uh, you know, I have a company that comes to me and they say they have a problem and it’s sort of up to me to dig in and ask all those questions to figure out what it is that they, that they truly need and not just what they’re asking for. So do you have any tips on, on that? So that’s question number one and then somewhat related. Question number two is, you know, what about, um, you know, when you, when you find that you or your business isn’t a good fit for a particular RFP or for, for 50, for a particular job,

Rick Harris:                          first part first, most of the, uh, most of the offerings in a business or commercial setting where a lot of them you’d come word of mouth, particularly on what we would call service type proposals. Some that don’t have the dollar bills. And one common mistake we see is over oversampling or over questioning. I’m the person who’s on the other end of delivering that business. What they expect from you is for you to hear the offer and go out and get the basic information. And most every company will put out a page or two at least of what they’re looking for and give you that 15 to 30 minutes of time to ask those questions. But it’s that laborious, what I call a police interview where you’re getting every nuance, they’re not looking for that, that’s more of a turn off to them. So what they want you to do is to understand product or service that they’re looking for and then go research their company and get a feel from them from either their web or their collateral they’re doing so that you can provide a better solution or come up with. And that’s the magic in writing the proposal. And what I like to say is characteristic of a really good proposal person. It’s looking for asking the questions, Adam, that’s great. Don’t over ask the questions, bring something to them as if you were a marketing firm. Bring something and say, here’s your product. Here’s your two or three ideas that I think we could do to help you either expand your foot back, Brent, were our revenues or, um, help you be more successful in whatever it is she did.

Adam Lowe:                       It’s the research. So I imagine there’s a fine line there between writing a good proposal that that’s going to win you the business and uh, you know, doing what I call free consulting. Um, you know, were you spending a lot of time and energy, you know, writing this thing that gives them a bunch of ideas that they just go and shop around.

Rick Harris:                          There really is. And we all run the risk of that happening. Although I will tell you that the majority of folks who released a bid or an, uh, in my mind they’re with looking for a solution, not a collection of solutions from a number of years, April. So if you can make a good argument, they generally will hire you. So I don’t see a lot of tire kickers out there and the ones who are. And then you’ll know not to go back to them. Uh, we’ve all dealt with those folks in the past, but you know, not to go back to them, uh, so you know, it’s a reputational thing. Not only are you putting the best foot forward, but the person who’s submitting the RSP or the ask from, you also asked to do that as well. You did ask about what may or may not be a good fit and what you do and it’s really, it’s an age old question, the proposal industry to bid or not to bid, and what you have to do is to look to see if you’re in line as your mission as an organization. Does your want to win new work, overpower what your mission is with your organization. If it doesn’t align, step away, easy answer, look at it, you’ll know it’s not a good fit. What we see a lot of folks doing all over the world, what we call a scattershot approach. I’ll just been on everything hoping to get something and they also

Rick Harris:                          start, uh, achieve a reputation of being scattered shot proposal. So what we say is hone in. If it doesn’t make sense to you, won’t it won’t come through in the proposal and step away. I’ve done this many times. We coach our members to do this, be prudent and and what you take on the work that you take on because you want your, again, you’re doing it for the win. If you’re just picking up, yeah, you won’t win. Somebody else will because they, they were a better match or a better fit. It’s very much like looking. If you’re looking for a job and say you’re a, you know, you’re at a VP level or at a director’s level where you don’t really go for the CEO job. When you’re at a director’s level that’s a jumping out. You look for a VP level job, you looked for the next level. So it’s very much like that. Where’s the fit? Where do you see yourself into it? And do you have a solution? Those are a key and critical components to a successful proposal.

Adam Lowe:                       That’s great advice. I appreciate that. Um, so you had mentioned earlier that you might have a proven formula to winning business or our secret sauce to set you apart from the competition. Um, can you dive into that a bit?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah. Part of it is, you know, we talked, we touched a little bit on it, but I’ll go deep or a part of it is organization. Understanding what you want, creating an organizational path that must be done and that’ll lead you. You’re, you’re, you’re already out of the starting blocks so much faster than your competitor is. If you’re organized and you know what you want to do. The one thing that I see which is, which is really an issue and in a sort of marketing and sales is truly understanding what the customer wants and not thinking that you know, what the customer wants. Again, if you spend the time to understand you’re much closer to a win, then if you think you now and what is, how do you, how do you. Okay. Differentiate that. Reading the proposal deeper as we talked about, but it’s also knowing their business war, knowing it better, talking to customers that other customers they have and getting a feel for their culture.

Rick Harris:                          The other thing we tell folks is whether you’re small, medium, or large, the proposal is all about moving you closer to winning the business. It doesn’t matter what the size of the contract is for. It’s, it’s an opportunity and it’s being dropped in your lap. Whether it’s a verbal opportunity, Adam, whether someone’s calling you and saying, I’d like you to bid on these services, could provide to us and we’ll pay you a thousand dollars a month for 12 months. Well, that’s not a huge proposal, but it may mean the difference. All the difference in keeping the lights on in your company. So position yourself for the, when, as soon as, as soon as you can, and the proposal. Understand that the proposal is your key to winning your good luck charm, your, uh, your writing ability are all important, but it’s the words and the proposal and the promises that you made which will will help you.

Rick Harris:                          When that proposal, we talked about reading and responding to the RFP, this is a huge one. Follow the directions. I’ve seen people who, uh, and even if this is a verbal ask, here’s what we’d like for you to offer and here’s how we would, uh, here’s how we expect the work to love. It can be verbal or it can be written down. I’ve seen people send that’s great, but what you don’t know is this. And then they go and they, they create a proposal. It’s not about what the company asks for. You stand almost no chance of winning at that point. Understand, read what the proposal or the RFP is so that your proposal can respond to it directly. Don’t self edit. That’s a really important secret, secret sauce. Don’t self edit, don’t add to and layer. They’re looking for a solution, not your opinion about how to, uh, how to make their company bigger unless it relates directly to, uh, to the APP.

Rick Harris:                          The other key demonstrate past performance. It’s your reputation and past performance is huge in a winning bids and winning more. Uh, what we do say is try not to make them a large part of the proposal, but demonstrate that you had them have success in that line. So if somebody asks you to create a marketing campaign for a new product, show them what you’ve done with other products, but kill them with the numbers in the business. We increase this product by x percent and six months after it’s released and then we did more forming, crease that to another 20 percent. It’s hidden with the numbers and not just the soft stuff. People see salt stuff all the time. Uh, the other thing, and really this is the final, when it works, when you have your, your, uh, winning a bid, you’re renting a winning proposal, you know, you feel reasonably comfortable, standardize, standardize it in its look, standardize it in a language and its arrangement. So, you know, you can slot in the new a language, not cookie cutter, right? But standardize it. Make sure your logos on the same place, make sure the color scheme is the same.

Rick Harris:                          Um, make sure that it’s not Microsoft word all the time. Gap, something that looks Nice, it looks nice, you’ll leave better to and to standardize your proposal so that you’re putting your best foot forward and it leads you to the land.

Adam Lowe:                       On the other hand, don’t spend all your time getting a graphic designer involved in each proposal because that’s just a waste of time.

Rick Harris:                          It is, it is. And that’s what standardization will help you do it. If you’ve got a proposal, a template, it has served you well, ride that

Adam Lowe:                       template,

Rick Harris:                          you may tweak it, you may make it a, you know, the color a little brighter, but ride it all the way through. You do not need a different look on every proposal. However, there is one thing, uh, I know that a number of highly successful proposal folks do and understanding what the color scheme is of their customer and incorporating that very subtle. I’m saying that color scheme into their, into their proposal. Let them see themselves in your proposal. It’s subtle. Uh, but it often works. It’s something that I had picked up early,

Adam Lowe:                       many of our members then.

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, but if you’re, if you’re, the folks who are responding to their color scheme is, are blue and gold, blue and gold appears in your proposal. They see you connected a subliminal subliminally.

Adam Lowe:                       Yeah. That makes total sense. Um, so can you tell me a little bit about the trends in the proposal industry there? Anything thing that changes or anything new coming down the pipeline that we should know about?

Rick Harris:                          Well, the big joke is that proposals never changed. It’s just the people who write them. And what we say is that, so what we’re seeing is a big chef less so on the government side, more so on the commercial side and what we’re starting to say is videos, video clips into proposals and you know, there’s an old axiom and writing that says don’t tell Shell

Rick Harris:                          and uh, you know, and that we really thought about how you, how you use your words to show the reader something. So, but, but for proposals that can mean better graphics. And in this case videos. So if you’re gonna, if you’re going to respond to an RFP, see about how to build a better door for an automobile or how you have the engineering and the technology to build a better than shoot a video, show them, show them how that door will work and, and why it’s better. We’re starting to see that come in with more frequency and we think that an this age, where know if you, if you look over the last 10 or 15 years, video is just such an important part of our lives that, um, it helps describe things better than words. You always need the words. But what is your assistant going to be for a long time in this industry, which is graphics and now it’s turned in detailed graphics.

Rick Harris:                          Figure a figure big and your c shows you how something works. Now a lot of companies are starting to turn to, uh, turned to video. Another thing that I would tell you is that a, it’s, and this is at the, you’re really hearing the very start of it again, outside of the government proposal because the government has a much more rigid way of accepting their proposals, but for years proposal writing was, the delivery methods were paper, uh, in binders that were sent and then it got revolutionized two dvds that you put it on a DVD and you burn it, you send it over to you, it’s a little bit better and it was certainly not eating up so much paper. Now we’re starting to see things where people are creating proposals that our website. So, which is really fascinating because it’s an interesting delivery method.

Rick Harris:                          Everybody knows how a website works. So the tabs or the tabs to the proposal, you know a little bit about us who’s going to be working on this. If it is awarded cost tab a, a solutions tab and it lets the reader go through quickly and efficiently. And it’s. So the, uh, the customer has a chance to really drill down on the parts of that proposal that are important to them. And it can incorporate video in a way that you just can’t do with a paper proposal. You don’t send video on a DVD as support it actually embedded in there. So those are some of the new things that are happening in terms of technology with a proposal evolution. But again, we’re at the very beginning of a, of a new delivery method for proposals. Um, yeah, and the, that’s not likely to change on government proposals anytime soon. That’s really in the business and commercial space,

Adam Lowe:                       right? Yeah. I’ve been using the online proposals for several years now and you know, it’s interesting how even over the last few years it’s changed from just being almost a, just an electronic document with signatures at the end too, you know, what you said there, you know, a truly interactive experience where you can have multimedia and that rich formatting and something that, that, uh, you know, guides people through the proposal in a very interactive and storytelling way. Um, so there’s, you know, plenty of platforms out there that can do that, um, you know, or you know, create a, create a website to do that for you. So I think that’s great that you brought that up. I really appreciate that. I’m sure. So can you tell me a little bit about some of the lessons that you’ve learned from proposals that don’t win the business?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, they seem obvious but they’re glaring and I actually keep a cheat sheet, uh, next to my desk to constantly remind them me what doesn’t work. And there was one that I think we’ve talked about knowing your customer or thinking that you know, your customer that you don’t. So I don’t want to go over that too much. That’s super important. Know what they’re asking for. Don’t assume that, you know, the other one is writing too formal and this is something that we see just in writers in general. There’s a rhythm and a way of writing and communicating when your

Rick Harris:                          trying to convince someone to do something, whether it’s an a business letter, whether it’s a mess, cool. Or whether it’s a proposal. And I, uh, a lot of people, right? So formally that they lose the opportunity to condense or sell there potentially. And what we say is, think about how you talk and how if you were in a meeting, you would speak it and write it that way and that’s shorter sentences a loaded with detail. Uh, and certainly you give examples and a lot of folks don’t do that. They can take a, a single subject where it may only need two paragraphs and they can turn it into two and a half pages and nobody wants to read that. So focus in on what’s important. And if you asked me to explain to you how I was going to improve your business, I would probably spend less than a minute telling you our is going to do it.

Adam Lowe:                       Not Twenty. Simplicity really is key. And I think you alluded to this earlier, is that this is really a sales document. This isn’t a white paper.

Rick Harris:                          Exactly. The other thing is that adds to that. There’s a lot of folks don’t use any kind of graphic support. And I’m not talking about the clip art, I’m not talking about

Rick Harris:                          images that you take off of Google and plop down when I’m talking about is, is a graphic that shows how something works that leads a helps convince and help sell. But it breaks up all of that gray space. So we all know about using margins and white space, but it’s the graphics that really caused the break and are pleasing to the eye. And again, if you, if you have a proposal or two or three or four that you’ve found work, standardize those graphics show how, say, okay, I need a graphic here that shows this. And you know when, when you’re talking about a, my rule of thumb is I try to put, uh, something to break it up on every page, some graphic element on every page to break up. And I’d see that people, I see that people don’t do that. Another area where I see a swerve as people are convinced they’re going to win because somebody called them and told them, hey, you should put into this.

Rick Harris:                          So they think they’ve got it on lock down. And what we say is go into every opportunity and compete as if you’re going up against 100 people, put the same amount of effort and it is if you’re going up against 100 competitors and that will put you closer to the land. But once you relax someone, right, uh, you’re writing informally, you’re not informing and you’re not showing the customer what you can do, your trading on your a relationship and perhaps your past performance with them. Stay hungry. Big, big lesson. Every proposal is an opportunity to drive revenue to your business.

Adam Lowe:                       Yeah, they love that. Stay hungry because you know, I think every business needs to say he needs to stay hungry. Otherwise they’re just going to start slacking off and fade into obscurity.

Rick Harris:                          There’s one thing that I would add is that what you just said, the best businesses I think are always looking ahead. A year, year and a half, two years down the road. Do you do that? You read your trade publications for your industry. You attend your industry associations, but your looking to provide the value that your competitors aren’t even thinking about today. That doesn’t mean you have the crystal ball and your, the magician as, as far as coming up with new business theories and practices, it just means you have no more and you know more ahead of what your customer. I’m sorry, your competitor does and if you. The moment you relax. Okay moment. Yeah. You know, when all I need is just, you know, a $50,000 to make it through this year. You should be looking at what you’re doing a year, year and a half, two years down the line and where you want to be. It’s all about goal setting and your proposals are helping you reach those goals.

Adam Lowe:                       Wow. That’s impressive. Um, so last question that I have for you is, uh, you know, so I get a lot of very small businesses. They’re going to have, you know, one person doing multiple jobs, you know, might be the salesperson writing proposals, but for those medium sized and larger business that do have teams that focus on proposal writing, can you tell me a little bit about what makes up a good proposal writing team?

Rick Harris:                          Sure. You, you really have to have a proposal manager on a team and that’s the person that keeps the proposal on track and this is for companies that that may have five to seven people working on a proposal, so that’s a very important, but there’s also, yeah, we call it a proposal development life cycle. It’s what we call the capture or bd person. It’s the person who out scouting new opportunities. The best proposal teams will be working in concert with the capture or bd person who’s looking for work that may happen a couple of years down the line. Particularly

Rick Harris:                          I do business development, but in our world it’s called capture or opportunity management. It most people would know it as a business development or business development professional, but a capture and opportunity manager is testing the waters, listening, meeting, talking to a potential customers and trying to get that trend. It’s two years away trying to understand. It says that they’re a proposal team is ready to pounce on at the moment the RFP comes out. The other thing is having a network of subject matter experts proposal. People are not like fiction writers that they have characters in their head that they want to, uh, help flourish and grow the proposal writer or the proposal editor or the proposal manager may know very little about the subject. So it’s having a stable of subject matter experts and I would say that that is important

Adam Lowe:                       even

Rick Harris:                          if it’s a small company with one or two people have your subject matter experts on file have people you can call so you can learn more or test theory about the, uh, the proposal that you’re writing. Worse thing in the world is to put down information that’s just not accurate or that is a something that you think, but it’s unproven. So what we call smes are a big part of proposal development, life cycle editors for, for all the reasons and a large government proposal. Mistakes can get you knocked down, you didn’t follow directions. Those are cutting point. They may get several hundred competitors on any bid, uh, putting, uh, putting in several or putting in a proposal. The key is make sure that it’s right and that it’s accurate and that it’s well produced. Yeah, error free because that can get you in that. Okay. Right there. The overall, the most important thing is to have somebody on your team that will see it through from beginning to end. That may be you as the single user. If you’re using two people, you need to decide ahead of time who’s going to own this from the beginning to the end and the other person. They may jump in and help or if it’s for a 10 person team who’s going to organize the materials to get them, get this done, get this completed.

Adam Lowe:                       It’s an awful lot to digest, but I, I feel like I need to go back and just throw away that proposal that I started this morning.

Rick Harris:                          You often feel like that, but again, take the ones that you’ve won and look at standardizing those that’ll often lead you to bigger and better proposals.

Adam Lowe:                       Anybody that knows me knows that I’m the biggest fan of standardization and systemization out there. So anything that I have to do more than once, I try to standardize in some way, shape or form. And, uh, you know, like you said, standardizing proposals is absolutely no different. Um, so why, why reinvent the wheel when you’re, you know, when you’re just have to change a little bit here and there. That’s right. That’s right. All right. Anything else you want to add before we start talking about some lightning round questions?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, just would say that if we do, for anybody out there who is a frustrated or wants a refresher on how to, how to write a proposal, a better business and bids proposals, we do have the book writing bids, uh, and proposals for dummies that’s out there. And if you contact us, we can help put you in touch with where to buy that book. But it is truly a great one. Oh one on all the things that you should do that are much deeper than what we talked about today, but all of the things that you should do that lead to a winning proposal.

Adam Lowe:                       No, I’ll definitely put a link to that in the show notes. Dieretic. So lightning round. Here we go. So if there’s one book that you could gift to everyone that you meet, what would it be?

Rick Harris:                          It would be the art of membership. It’s by Sherry Jacobs and it’s for people who do what I do. So I’d make sure that every association

Rick Harris:                          has this book because I’ve used that to grow membership in any association that I’ve been at. It’s a book that I found and I read and I applied. It has worked every place I’ve been, but it’s also a good sales book. It’s a good reminder for other business that you do tips, trends and techniques. The book or that I have is about seven years old and I have seen a sherry’s principals for a long time and it just is a fantastic book. Yeah, that’s for a professional and you want to hear the. You want to have a personal book that I would do or just the profession.

Adam Lowe:                       I’d love a personal book, but I just want to, you know, kind of comment on what you said there because I’m hearing this a lot and I really agree with it that, you know, so many people are bringing up these, these classic books, these classic business books that are 10, 20, 30 years old, you know, some, some, even older than that. Um, you know, Dale Carnegie, a Peter Drucker and I think these, these books stand the test of time, so it’s not always about the latest, greatest, uh, whatever wizbang methodologies out there. These classics are really worth reading and reading over and over again.

Rick Harris:                          It really is. I don’t, I don’t know, Sherry, I’ve seen her speak a couple of times, but have used the, the principles in this book to our, Our association 70 percent in the first two years using these principles. So very proud of that. And she certainly doesn’t know I’m doing this, but if I were to suggest a book to anyone who does what I do, it would be that one.

Adam Lowe:                       Great. So you said you had a personal book as well?

Rick Harris:                          Yeah, it’s a one that calm just kids and it was written by Patti Smith and her friendship with the artists, Robert Maple, and it was before it detailed their friendship and unlikely friendship and how they kind of scuffled around New York long before either one of them made it. But how that friendship really lead to success for both of them in very different ways. It’s a book that I think about often. It’s a few years old. I’ve read it uh, twice now because what it does is you never taught me is you never know who you’re in a league with now or who you have a business relationship or a friendship, how that’s going to turn our lights. And it’s something that I think about often and I think it’s life story books I’ve ever read and I would open it. Everybody an opportunity in a rig. It’s very well written.

Adam Lowe:                       Sounds great. And I’ve had similar experiences where somebody that I just happened to have a casual relationship with or casual friendship with, um, you know, years down the road turned into somebody that provided an amazing opportunity for me. Um, and it was just talking with a friend of mine last night who had a very similar experience, so I think he was telling me that, you know, it costs nothing to be nice to people and you never know what you’re going to get out of it

Rick Harris:                          to current tools that’ll never go in and style and that’s smiling and being nice and it’s something that people just don’t forget. And you know, when business we’re often, we often think about rough and tumble business people, uh, as the way to go. I always prefer to be nice, treat people fairly and smile a lot. People remember. Yeah.

Adam Lowe:                       One hundred percent agree. All right, so third question here. What is one tool that you feel like you can’t live without?

Rick Harris:                          Easy answer and it may be a little outdated, but it’s the ipad pro. It is. I think it’s the greatest invention ever because it number one, it’s bigger than a smart phone and I’m nearing sixty cents. That’s important to me, but it’s, you know, part email server,

Adam Lowe:                       part

Rick Harris:                          a word processor. You can certainly search the web and the Internet, or you can watch a video that somebody sends you television, watch the news all in one place at one time. There’s not a day and hardly a moment. And the, uh, during the business day that it’s not within arm’s length of May, it’s a tremendous tool, but it’s that ipad pro, that larger version that is the one that, uh, that I love the most.

Adam Lowe:                       This one right here and it frustrates my wife. She’s like, why just leave it at home? You have a phone like it. Hmm.

Rick Harris:                          You. And it’s larger than the screen that you have on your phone so you can get all your work done no matter where you live.

Adam Lowe:                       Well, you know, and it’s really funny because I’m pretty much inseparable from it, but when I had to ask myself the lightening questions, um, you know, my answer was that I don’t think I could live without sticky notes or a whiteboard. So it’s not always about technology.

Rick Harris:                          Yep. Yep. That’s true. That’s true. I love this invention and buy it.

Adam Lowe:                       It really is great. Um, all right, so if you could have with anybody dead or alive, who would it be and why

Rick Harris:                          would be Muhammad Ali and the reason that that is came up at a time where I would spell bound by this guy. Not only did he have a way of marketing himself, he could, he could market his fight against nobody to where you thought it was the most important boxing match of that year. And I remember as a very young man, I think I was 12 or 13 years old, I would actually take my bike and drive down to downtown Jacksonville to see him fight people on closed circuit TV, like Joe Buckner who kind of came and went and he made it seem like if I wasn’t there, I was missing something. That was fantastic. You had a way of moving people in a way that I don’t think anybody has. He was funny. He was engaging and then his life took that a very political turn. And I’m not a political person, but I watched with great interest because his values and beliefs often didn’t align with mine.

Rick Harris:                          But I recognized he was a man. Okay. Incredible conviction, uh, to give up his heavyweight title for three years while he was stripped of it in his prime, was amazing and then he came back and did something that nobody thought he would ever do in defeating George Foreman the way that he did. And it was pure strategy and mastery that he did. I mean, when you think about it, he had, he arranged a fight with a sitting world champion at 2:30 AM in the middle of a jungle and who can do that? So I would love to have a discussion with them and tell them what an impact he had for me and how I often will use his marketing to move people to do things quite a guy.

Adam Lowe:                       Yeah. That’s a great story. And the last but not least, what is a fun fact about yourself that people might not know?

Rick Harris:                          Well, actually this is the first telling of this fact, but I’ve been writing four punk rock and new music, alternative music magazines for about 25 years. I’ve met them all. I’ve seen them all. And there’s no place that I’m more comfortable than a in a mosh pit or write on the wall. So it’s, it’s amazing. I’ve interviewed from, you know, blondie to Akini kill to bow. Wow. Wow. And people in my professional life have no idea that, uh, that I do this or have I guess so. I guess some of them will know now, but it’s something that I love and I enjoy. And the, I have such a great feeling for me. I can’t sing, I can’t play any music, but I love to report about music that makes you feel something. And that always made me feel something.

Adam Lowe:                       I’m kind of speechless. I think that’s absolutely amazing. And I’m a huge punk rock band. I, I, I used to sing, I used to sing in a metal band back in the nineties. I’m know hearing somebody in a generation older than mine that into that and that does reporting. It has met some of these people that I idolized all my life. Uh, that’s, that’s pretty, that’s really wild.

Rick Harris:                          And you know, from being from DC, it was one of really, or have the most fertile, a punk rock scenes and the country. But I wasn’t always from here. I moved up from Florida, which almost had no scene. Okay. Um, I remember being in college and a grabbed a hold of me and I saw iggy pop play and a little club called Tommy’s and it was in the middle of December. He gets, he was just passing through and did somebody a favor. He played for nine people. I was one of them. And he put on a two and a half hour show, like it was a stadium show. And I’ll never forget that, that, and had a chance to tell them about that. And he did remember that. He remembered the show [inaudible]. He did something at that show, which I won’t say, but he did something at that show that he remembered.

Adam Lowe:                       Oh, that’s so cool. So how can people reach out to you to say thank you or if they want to work with you or learn more about your organization?

Rick Harris:                          If you want to learn about our organization, it’s easy. You can go to our website which is www dot [inaudible], That’s apple, Peter Married Paul Dot Org, where we have a lot of information about how to. You could join us. You could pick up some of the information, certainly read about us and read proposal. Okay. Uh, the other way is to just reach out to me directly, happy to talk to anyone and you can do that via email at Rick r I, C K Harris, h a r R I s at a pmp data work and uh, you can get to it either way, that way I’m happy to help and teach you how to write a better proposal.

Adam Lowe:                       Great. So I’ll make sure I put those links in the show notes as well, that people can get to them nice and easy. Thank you very much, Adam. Thank you. Okay, well let me wrap this up. All right, so I hope you enjoyed this week’s interview. To learn more about me and my business, you can visit me online at www dot Adam Lowe, If you enjoyed this podcast, I’d love it if you could subscribe and give us a five star rating on itunes, Google play or stitcher radio. Just search for the business insight lab or go to www dot [inaudible] dot com forward slash podcast, and click on the links. Have a great week and I’ll talk to you again soon.


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