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The Shortlist Episode 53: Efficiencies in Proposal Development

We've all been there; wishing we had an extra 48 hours to hone a proposal's case studies, graphics, and messaging from "great" to "exceptional".  But there are ways to tighten up your existing proposal process to give your team as much time as possible to craft impactful content. That often means beginning before the RFP hits the streets, knowing when to put pencils down, and using software and technology in smart ways. In Episode 53 of The Shortlist, seasoned proposal experts, Grace Takehara and Becky Ellison, share their real world experience and tips to maximize the proposal process. 


CPSM CEU Credits: 0.5 | Domain: 4

Podcast Transcript

Quick note before we get started, just wanted to let you all know that we had a little tech problem with our recording, and my audio is slightly downgraded.

We listened, we still thought it was a good conversation and worth keeping.

Hope you'll enjoy the podcast and just excuse me on this one episode as my audio is a little bit different than normal.

Welcome to The Shortlist.

We're exploring all things AEC marketing to help your firm win The Shortlist.

I'm your host, Wendy Simmons, and each episode, I'll be joined by some of my team members from Middle of Six to answer your questions.

Today, we're chatting with Becky Ellison and Grace Takehara to discuss efficiencies in proposal development.

Hey, Becky, hey, Grace.

Thank you for being here, and thank you for teeing up this topic.

We work in proposals all the time at Middle of Six.

We completed 115 in 2023.

That felt like a lot.


Is that a lot?

I don't know.

Well, I mean, it's appropriate for the size of group we have.

I think that's all.

It's always relative.

When I was working in-house, I think we were around more of like the 50 proposal rate, but it all depends again on like how large is your company, how big is your marketing team.

So depends.

So before we get started, I would love to ask you a question.

It's not going to be one of the questions I've already asked you in other podcasts.

I'm going to ask you, tell me about a favorite proposal pursuit you were part of.

What made it special?

What comes to mind?

The proposals and pursuits that stand out to me as some of my favorite or maybe the Hall of Fame pursuits are the ones where there was a lot of collaboration with the team and also community outreach throughout the process and really finding those key partners in the pursuit.

So what comes to mind is there was this pursuit for Tacoma Green School Yards and the client was kind of multifaceted.

So it involved Tacoma Public Schools, it involved Trust for Public Lands, and it was really a community-rooted project.

And we, as a pursuit team, knew that being Tacoma, Tacoma-based was important, but also having those connections to the community early on and proposing with those key partners already identified was really key for our pursuit and our strategy.

And so it was really fun to be able to reach out to artists in Tacoma, these community organizations, and it really felt like there was a true effort to be responsible with those key partners, and again, just help tell their story and their value to the team.

And I think that we authentically did that.

And those pursuits where you're just, the team is all in and you're pulling the group's thoughts and partners together, I think that those are just like the most fun because there's a real story to tell there.

And there's a lot of passion behind those pursuits.

So that's a hall of fame, one of my personal favorite.

All right, Becky, what do you think?

What sticks out in your mind?

So as someone who is graphic designer by trade, I'm a creative person, I'm an artist, you know, I like to have a little fun.

My favorite proposals are the ones where we can really think about how can we stand out to the client and really speak to them and their projects and do that in kind of a fun, creative way.

So for example, we have a client that I've worked with several times that I really, really love, because they are so open to these kind of like creative ideas that they think, you know, what can we do to really make our proposal just sing to the client?

So for example, we did one for Dick's Drive-In, which is a Washington, you know, burger and fries kind of, it's, I mean, it's sort of an icon.

It's sort of Northwest famous.

I thought, you know, like this is a great opportunity to really brand the proposal to the client.

Can we just, and this was a little bit, you know, hear me out, stay with me guys kind of thing.

But what we ended up doing was we made the proposal kind of look like a menu from Dick's Drive-In, and we used, we had little hamburgers and fries and shakes, and we had, you know, the imagery from their restaurants, and we used their language, and we really had a lot of fun with it while also using words that they would recognize.

I think we described the superintendent as like 100% fresh, never frozen or something, because that was something that worked with them.

And, you know, with this client, we also did a response for a gaming company that does stuff like, you know, similar to like Dungeons and Dragons type stuff.

So we really themed the proposal to that.

We had the different people on the team with their different, what their strengths would be in Dungeons and Dragons, and like we just, those kinds of things.

I think clients might hear something like that and go, oh, that's way too weird for us.

But I don't know, I'd take a second look because I believe with all of those creative efforts that we did, one of them was like kind of grunge, like 90s rock themed because the school that we were proposing on was really into that.

I believe we got shortlisted on all of those projects and we for sure won one of them.

So don't, never count out a wacky, fun, creative idea.

Yeah, and if you can create that in the beginning and get some traction on it, then it can flow into the interview.

You can pick that up in other things that you're doing.

And I mean, potentially as you're working on the project, then it becomes this like team building element.

You know, you're more connected to the client.

Now there are some times when clients feel like things are a little bit of a gimmick.

So you have to know your client.

You have to know your client all the time.

So, you know, that's just, that's the baseline for sure.

So think about that.

But I know that on that Dick's drive-in proposal, their feedback was like, wow, this is so great and so cool to see our business reflected in your proposal.

That client had won lots of work before with that company and did it in a more traditional way, but they thought that maybe they needed to like refresh it and the client was receptive.

So great job on those.

And I'm so glad that it gives you positive energy to like do, continue doing great work and pushing yourself to do that.

It's not an easy effort to be really creative and, you know, proposals are already hard enough and not tight enough deadline without that extra effort.

So good job.

That's why you need to have a little fun.

You gotta have fun.

And PS Kyle, feel free to sample a little Sir Mix a lot in there.

You can drop that in.

I have studied that our sampling is legitimate because we're using it for educational purposes.


That's true.

This is what we do.

Okay, so great starting point.

Thanks for getting our heads into the space of our favorite proposals.

I'm gonna give you all a little bit of trivia here, or trivia question that we will answer at the end of the episode.

But I am just curious what you think that the average length of an RFP response time is.

How many days, we're talking in business days, does the average RFP give you to respond?

And Becky and Grace, if you wanna just throw out some ideas out there for fun, we'll answer it at the end.

I think 10 business days.

10, mm-hmm.

Yeah, that was gonna be my guess.

Anywhere between 10 and 15 business days.

Right, okay, that sounds good.

And hopefully one of those is not a Monday holiday and that someone was on vacation for three of them because that also happens.

All right, well, moving on.

I will let one of you, whoever wants to start, tell me why, tell our listeners why you wanted to tee up this conversation.

Just as a reminder, we're talking about efficiencies in proposal development.

Where's your mind at with this?

My mind is, you get these extensive RFP, RFQ documents that you want to ultimately develop a compliant SOQ proposal to those requirements, but we all know that competition is just rising and rising with the change in the market.

Perseids are becoming more competitive and just having a compliant SOQ isn't enough, you know, to get you to that shortlist.

It's great.

It doesn't get you thrown out of the competition, but having an efficient process allows you to get to the good stuff, the differentiators more quickly, and ultimately helps you increase your chances, your odds of getting to the shortlist and being successful in getting that win.

So that's where kind of my passion is, is how do we get to the good stuff, the stuff that you want to talk about, the reasons why you're passionate about this project, why these people are the best technical providers for the clients.

So I think that having an efficient proposal process gets you to those key conversations a bit more quickly.

And I want to help and empower the in-house marketing people who are doing the hands-on proposal work with some tips and just some validation that you're doing the right thing and just some efficiencies so that the more efficient of a system you have in place, the easier it's going to be for you to focus on those things like creativity, those things that really should be your job to find the ways to stand out so that you're not pulling your hair out, running around on fire every time you do a proposal.

I was wondering if you were going to mention something about that, Becky, because I used to have more of a design role in my past life too.

And sometimes the proposal would be written and come to me in like the last minute to make it beautiful and that is such a stressful situation to be in.

So I wasn't sure if this was a little self-serving for you and just like, let's figure out how to make this more efficient so we can get to some great design work.

And then I guess to Grace's point, you know, get to the good stuff sooner.

So you actually have time to build it out.

That's great.

So where would you start?

You know, is it before the RFP lands?

Do you have any tips for the efficiencies there?


So I'm taking this from my dad.

He reiterated this throughout my childhood and growing up, but separation is in the preparation.

And so I think to have an efficient proposal process, I think that it starts ideally well before the RFQ RFP hits the street.

And what some of those items look like for like increasing efficiency around the team is, do you have clear processes in place that your technical team knows is trained to, to help walk them through the process, both the expectations for them as being the technical experts, but then also as the proposal or marketing team, what are the expectations for you and your needs as a team, you know, to produce a document, a submission that is of the quality and has the strategy behind it, to get to that short list at a higher probability.

So again, I think that there's processes that in training that needs to be put in place while ahead of the RFQ, RFP to really make sure that your team is ready to hit the ground running when you only have that 10 to 15 business days to put something really compelling together.

Speaking to again, the marketing people who are doing the hands on work, a lot of the time you probably won't be the first person to read through the RFP or RFQ document, but you will for sure have the most important responsibility to read through that document.

So we're jumping ahead a little bit in time here, but once you have the RFP or RFQ document in your hands, read through the entire document, even if you have read a million of them, even if you've read a million of them from the same client, and they always look exactly the same, and they always paste the same thing.

There have been times that I have caught little tiny changes and details that would have been missed.

Otherwise, so like it is better to be overly thorough than to miss something that could cost you the job.

And if somebody at your company complains about you being too thorough and too detail focused when it comes to following RFP instructions, they are in the wrong line of work, because multi-million dollar jobs have absolutely been lost because of tiny details like font size, missing signatures, exceeded page limits, other tiny things that can get you disqualified.

This is a hot tip that a lot of people won't tell you.

I don't know why they wouldn't tell you, but sometimes an RFP will ask for some tiny little question or they'll require a signature somewhere that is buried in the RFP, nowhere near the main question.

So somebody else might gloss over and say, okay, well, that's not there.

You got to read into that fine print, and you'll be the one to find that requirement.

So as the marketing person, there is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to making sure that you do not get disqualified.

So I would say also, if you're maybe not the hands-on person, but you supervise marketing people, please, please, please empower those people to be overly analytical when it comes to the RFPs and tell anybody who has a problem with that to zip it, because that could be the difference between being disqualified or not, and that could be millions of dollars for your company.

And interpreting it, you know, those commas make a big difference on, you know, what's the, is that bonding letter required now or later?

I don't know, but yeah, you're going to probably find that most marketing people are going to be overly conservative about making sure they're following the rules.

I think all the time we're advising to in a proposal kickoff or we're interpreting it, we are going to lean on the conservative side of that.

We say, this is how we're interpreting it.

We do the belt and suspenders way of making sure that's addressed.

And then the team can decide on their own if they want to break the rules.

And rules have been broken, and sometimes it doesn't mean disqualification.

It doesn't always mean that, but it's marketing's job to make sure we're at least advising on the rules.

I want to go back to Grace's point about this pre-RFP stage and thinking about what are some of the tools and steps you use to get that preparation in place.

Yeah, I think that points that continues to iterate throughout the proposal development stage, that it kind of feels like a stumbling block that could be maybe ironed out in that pre-RFP stage is just roughing out an org chart.

And what I mean by that is, you know, I know that there's RFQs, RFPs that have specific requirements where we want to see these specific type of people, roles on your team.

But I think that challenging your technical team and especially your technical team PM and principal to start thinking about what is the hierarchy of this project that we have a little bit of information or lead on, who are the key players, and developing these subconsultant strategic conversations early on ahead of the RFQ to really get the ball rolling on the structure of this team, the key people that need to be involved.

Just roughing out an org chart, I think can really be helpful to prepare the team for that proposal kickoff, where you don't have to spend time spinning your wheels about, oh, who's the PIC, who's the PM, who's the real technical lead expert on this subject.

You already come into that conversation having the key players in the room, and can really start to build off of the strategy and articulating why they're there.

So I would challenge your team to, even if it's, you know, a blue beam, not a beautiful org chart, just start developing a hierarchy of this team so that you can really hit the ground running when you have more of the specifics of the RFP, RFQ in front of you.

And give those people a heads up, you know?

I mean, make sure that the people, even if you just think they're going to be on the team and they might be contributing to the proposal, let them know so that they can look ahead and block out their schedule because they're running jobs, they're doing other things.

The more you can make sure those people know that they're going to be in the process before they get surprised with a kickoff meeting invite, the smoother you're going to get in terms of content coming in on time, people being prepared.

They have a heads up so then they can contribute.

Grace, when you said, talked about the org chart as being a place that you could provide efficiencies of, of course, that makes a ton of sense because actually we often look at it the opposite way.

Org charts can be the biggest inefficient process in creating a proposal.

Becky, how many org chart designs have you made in your life?

And you've gone round and round and round.

Round is the word, Wendy, because circular org charts were such a fad that just blew up and exploded and have fortunately been going away a little bit.

But yeah, especially with those design build proposals when you get different kinds of firms coming together, it is just those org chart meetings can just suck up so much time from the process that content's not being written.

So yeah, the sooner you can hammer out that org chart, you don't got to be fancy with it.

Don't think you need to paint a Picasso.

This just has to be, just show who's doing what, who reports to who, just show the structure.

Don't try to make something beautiful.

Just keep it logical.

Yeah, people need to be able to follow it.

And we've mentioned it other podcasts where show it to other people on the team.

If they can't follow the logic there, the org chart is not working.

And you may have to have a different graphic to show teaming relationships or something, but an org chart has a certain purpose.

And then let's not spend half of our time working on this.

There are other things.

Got to get to the good stuff, right, Grace?

Another thing to add, I know there's always kind of these reoccurring content buckets that get asked in many RFQ, RFPs.

And so I think that as a marketer that's experienced a lot of different pursuit types, I think that you can kind of anticipate that there are going to be resumes asked for, there are going to be project examples asked for, there's likely going to be some sort of executive summary or firm information page, intro page.

And so I think that building out framework that sets your team up for success, for building off of and tailoring to that specific pursuit is a great pre-work type of exercise that your marketing team can do to maintain your marketing assets, to have great jumping off points that you can hone to those specific pursuits and specific needs of those clients.

So I would encourage folks that are listening to kind of take a look at what you have for existing assets and kind of see, do we have a regular cadence for like at the beginning of every year, we go through and update master resumes for folks so that you have a really strong base that you know is up to date and you're not getting stuck with kind of that the information that you see time and time again, having to spin your wheels and work on resumes for, you know, a good chunk of the pursuit where you could be working on the approach and the strategy where you tend to win.

The first thing you want to do is read through the RFP document and then outline everything in it.

Pull out all of the instructions like, you know, the page size and the font size and all those things.

You know, when is it due by?

What exact time?

Who are you delivering it to?

Make sure that you know what those details are.

And then also kind of that gives you a sense of what did they maybe not tell us.

If they told you it's due on whatever day, but they didn't give a time, that's something you want to ask a question about.

So you make this outline document with all of those instructions so that you have them fresh in mind and ready at hand.

And then pull out the questions from the RFP document into a Word file or an Excel sheet, whatever makes sense to you.

And then that way you can go through and assign content to whoever is going to be working on the response.

You can make notes of what do we want to put for each of these questions, which projects do we want to show, that kind of thing.

That's a really important document that lives and grows and goes with you through the whole process that can be shared among the team to make sure everybody knows what's going on.

Yeah, that's all great.

Being really organized, like you started at the beginning with reading this so well that you know all of the potential pitfalls and booby traps that are woven in there and then outlining it so that it's really easy to communicate and ping people.

And there is efficiency in everyone on the team who's creating content to know what is my assignment and when is it due by, and not having it waiting for it to come too late in the process.

Grace, what would you add to that?

Yeah, I think that building off of that, which it's great, Becky.

I think that, you know, being well-versed and setting expectations early on and documenting that is just key because there's just so many moving pieces in a proposal and people.

I do think that it's really key for efficiency sake to articulate and define these key milestones in the proposal development.

And what I mean by that is, you know, at Middle of Six, for example, we have about four different stages of proposal development.

So that includes kickoff and storyboard.

And for those that aren't too familiar with storyboarding, this is a really high level, just like visual outline of what the SOQ document can look like and page allocation.

You probably have worked in a Word document where you're saying, oh, two pages for the project approach section, but really starting to visualize what this looks like, potential call outs for the team, I think that we're all pretty visual and we can really start to get a sense of getting into the mindset of a proposal.

So that is a key stage early on to really help set up the amount of content we need, all of that.

We have a red team stage, which we like to think of that as the 60% completion document.

And that's really a stage where you can look at the team and identify any holes of key content that's missing early on and really continue to progress a document to a compliant and also compelling statement of qualifications.

So as you're setting up the file, you want to go back through those instructions and make sure you know about all the font size and page limits and all that when you're setting it up.

And then set it up in InDesign, which is hopefully what you were using.

And then what you want to do is pop in your section headers.

And then one of the best tips I feel like I can give you as someone who has done a bazillion proposals is to actually copy and paste the question text from the RFP document into your InDesign file as placeholders for those questions.

And then use that in your response.

You don't have to paste the entire million long paragraph, but as long as you're summarizing at least what the question was that they asked, that makes it so easy for the reviewer to go through and make sure that you are answering all of their questions.

They can flip right to the content that they need because these people are reading anywhere from like four to like 20 responses.

They're not going to read through all of your paragraphs and decide whether you've answered the question.

So the easier you can make it for them, the better.

So like right from that beginning, set it up with, you know, here's the question text, make a little space for, you know, whatever content is going to go in there and move on.

And that's a great visual outline as well to show which questions have we answered, which ones have we not answered by putting in little, you know, arrows with somebody's name in it, you know, flags like that.

And then also creating spaces for bigger graphics like a site logistics plan or a big schedule, something that's going to take time to develop.

Now, we maybe have nothing there, but in that storyboard, those early phases, when we're just getting the parts and pieces together to make a spot for it and then potentially in the kickoff meeting or right following the kickoff meeting, then we can confirm that this is happening.

It's been assigned to someone that we need to find more space for it.

It needs multiple pages, whatever it might be.

So that storyboard stage is really important to get going faster and then also communicate and let other people visualize what this is going to look like in the end.

So then in the Red Team review stage, which we think is like maybe 60% complete, although it could be less and that would be fine.

You've pulled in all the available content there at that stage.

It's very rough and things are going to get thrown out and moved around.

And there's that part, but Becky, I'm just curious at that stage, that kind of ugly middle part from a design perspective.

Do you have any tips to help make sure you're being efficient getting things dialed in when stuff is really moving around a lot?

First of all, proposal people who are designers, I just want to send my heart out to you and give you a little bit of validation that like this will happen so many times in your career.

You will put together something with placeholders, you know, little gray boxes where an image should be something won't be quite finished yet.

And every single time somebody will be like, why isn't this here?

What's with the gray boxes?

Like you are not alone.

This happens to everyone.

But if you can kind of mark up those things that are kind of forthcoming, not quite here yet.

And then if you can save space and show, you know, hey, we've got, you know, whatever page limits going on and you want to have this graphic, we're going to need to cut down some text to make room for that.

The more you can kind of provide the team with, here's how many words of text we need to have on this page in order to fit this graphic.

That kind of stuff is going to keep it easier for them because they they you're probably working with math people.

They think about content numbers and whatever math people think about.

So you got to make it super obvious for them.

How much space do you need?

How much content needs to be cut?

That sort of thing.

That way you're not trying to design around constantly changing, you know, complete question marks in terms of the content.

Yeah, so gold, we're getting closer to the finish line.

Content is more set.

This is probably closer to like an 80 to 90 percent complete document.

At this stage, you're really just dialing content and messaging.

There really isn't ideally at this stage a huge chunk of the approach missing.

It's really, you know, going through making sure that the key strategies that were identified and the kickoff are clear, articulated throughout.

It's the place that you are like, it's coming together.

I'm feeling good.

I think that it's important as you're moving through these stages and milestones of the proposal process to really build in the efficiencies of QC, you know, throughout identifying who's writing which content and making sure that content is not being like redone or redundant.

So I think that identifying those roles among the technical team and the marketing team is really key throughout this process, as well as continuing to iterate throughout these different drafts, making sure that your QC team and your review team starts to get a little bit more dialed in smaller throughout the process really helps for again, that ideation is great, but continuing to get hung up on the same detail over and over again can be frustrating for all those involved.

So really, you want, you know, more general group towards the beginning of your proposal development.

But again, as you're getting closer to gold and the final page turn, really having those key players that understand the strategy, having those people in the room tends to reduce the amount of comments and then redundancies as well.

So I think that that's a key thing to point out.

If you have time and the resources to have someone take a look at your draft, who's not even on the team, even if it's just like someone who works like at the front desk at your company, if you can have somebody take a quick look, just flip through, that is a lot of times a very good idea, because what will happen is the people who are on the team have been looking at this content forever.

And over and over again, they've been writing it, they've been seeing it, you've been designing it.

I mean, like there's so many times that obvious things can get missed because you've just been so absorbed in looking at these pages, you know, over and over again every day.

So if you can get somebody with a fresh set of eyes to just not like comb through with a red pen, but just take a quick look, that can sometimes find some things that you might have missed otherwise.

Yeah, so what I heard from both of you there is that when we're getting to the gold stage, where our review group is in some ways getting smaller, so we're not having the whole technical team advise again and reword and rewrite their resume bio for the third time.

That is not efficient.

And sometimes marketing can be the kind, gentle advisor that, you know, this is good, really good.

You know, we'll inject the part that might be really important, but otherwise we're moving on.

And then Becky, kind of on the flip side there, is getting someone with fresh eyes, totally different, you know, that probably knows about your company, but even sometimes you can find a partner out there that isn't as familiar just to have fresher eyes and get to the parts that need refinement faster than the rest of your team who's just seen it so many times and you're not getting anything out of them.

You can save your bigger team some time and mental space.

They can be thinking about other things than just reworking at the gold stage.

So yeah, there's a little bit of art with that, right, and figuring out who should be reviewing when.

All right, well, then we're getting to the home stretch, and the proposal deadline is closely approaching, and now we want every single second we can get.

So how do you get some efficiencies there?

This is wild, my hands are sweating, just listening to you say that.

Like, I feel like I'm in it.

And if you too want to feel the adrenaline rush of proposal deadline day, check out our podcast special that we recorded last year, Night of the Living Deadline, which is another episode of this wonderful podcast featuring our entire office, you know.

We've all been there.

It's deadline day, and as the saying goes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

I'm Amy, I'm the Marketing Coordinator here at Outlaw Construction.

I am putting together the proposal.

I'm Mike, also with Outlaw Construction, Superintendent.

Should we call me Senior Superintendent?

Or maybe General Soup?

Let's go with Project Superintendent.

You know what?

Nevermind, stick with Superintendent.


If you broke that coil, the next one is going through your ears.

Kenny, go to the door on the right.


The door on the right.

The appendix.

We need an appendix tab.

Oh dear God.

Lisa, we might actually miss this deadline.

Night of the Living Deadline.

So one thing, when you're getting close to that submission deadline, you want to have some things in place to make sure that there is not chaos.

And there's gonna be chaos.

There's always chaos.

That's how it happens, but, like, you can minimize chaos by setting things up.

And I have, I have three hot tips to make sure that you're not completely losing your mind when it gets to the deadline.

One, this goes back to the beginning, but when you go through that, that RFP document, make sure you also read through all of those forms that they always want you to sign.

Those fill in your address, sign here, check this, whatever.

Because sometimes, in fact, a lot of times, those will have extra instructions on them that require extra work.

And that might take some lead time.

So like the last thing you want is to think, oh, I can save the forms for last, and then find out you needed somebody to get something two weeks ago.

Two, if there is like an online submission platform portal that they're gonna be using, make sure that somebody knows that they're gonna be the submitter and that that person has access to that platform, can sign in, knows how to use it, and that they're gonna be ready to make the submission.

Make sure they block out their calendar.

That person cannot have anything going on the last few hours before the deadline.

Neither can you.

Always save time for who knows what.

And three, always submit before the deadline.

If it's an electronic submission, give it at least half an hour.

Shoot for an hour or more, though, so that you can make sure that they received the email and that you can get confirmation and that everybody can breathe and then communicate to the whole team, hey, it's been submitted, it's been received, and then everybody can breathe and go to sleep and go to lunch and whatever else you need to do with your life.

A half an hour?

I thought you were gonna say like a half a day.

I know, right?

Well, ideally, it's just like the reality is.

And in fact, I actually was part of a proposal submission, and I remember just sitting there in the marketing office, sweating and shaking and watching as the project manager was sitting there with his laptop and literally hit send at the exact time that the proposal was due.

We looked at the email, it said three o'clock exactly, which was the deadline.

And I just thought like, you've gotta be joking me, but we did get it in.

Well, we're talking about efficiencies, but we can also just talk about like mental health here, like if you set the deadline a little bit earlier.

You know what, and it's fair to say like, there can be the official deadline and there is our deadline as a team of professionals, right?

So, I mean, at Middle of Six, we actually shoot for 24 hours in advance because we are not physically in your office and we cannot chase people down the hall for a final signature.

So that's a survival technique for ourselves.

But even if you can chase people down for a signature, you don't want to, right?

You don't want to have to pass out after that three o'clock deadline.

So just set it for in the morning.

And I feel like most PMs and senior PMs and things that I talk to, they're like, oh, that's great.

I want to have that email drafted in my box at 8 a.m.

and then I can just hit send at like 10.

And they're hours ahead.

So let's try really hard not to give us all a heart attack at the end of the day.

Becky, you had three hot tips, but I feel like I was just waiting for you to say your fourth hot tip, which is about setting up the table of contents to automatically populate and to create your bookmarks in the PDF instantly.

Because I used to, 10 years ago, have to, oh, someone has a last minute change and I have to edit the proposal, re-export, and then edit the bookmarks no longer.

That is so true.

That is a great point.

And I'm just skipping around in time, like a Tarantino film.

Looks like me and Vincent called you boys at breakfast.

Sorry about that.



The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.

But basically, what you want to do is, as you're wrapping up the file, my process, what I do is the last few things that I do are to go back to the table of contents, which we have set up to be automatic, which means that you can update it, make sure all the page numbers are correct with just a couple of clicks.

And then, I mean, probably first, I would miss what's the page numbers.

If you have a document where certain pages count and other ones don't, you wanna go through and set up section breaks and whatever, and in design, start the page numbering from here and make sure the numbers are the correct numbers that they should be when you print and all of that sort of thing.

Blank pages may not be numbered if you're printing again.

I mean, even with digital, just make sure you're paginated correctly.

That's a big word.

And then, yeah, go back to that table of contents.

You're gonna have that update automatically, which I believe the click process is to click on the table of contents text box, and then go up to layout, update table of contents.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

I hope this is right.

But then that will make sure that you have all of those automatically set.

Also, you can set a setting when you export to Interactive to create Adobe PDF bookmarks, so that when the person opens the PDF, they will go to their little bookmark panel and they can click on the table of contents and it will go right to the page that it says it will.

And I think we have all these tips probably written out on our website if you want to go check it out.

And then you just sort of, you want to export your file.

If you're exporting to PDF, one thing you can do is set up the file so that the initial view, when the person opens it, opens the way you want.

So to have the page set to like, you know, fit page or whatever.

Like what you would do is you would go into, I mean, you could set this ahead of time in InDesign, but if you just want to open up the PDF, you would hit like Control D or, you know, Apple D or whatever, open up the initial view properties, set the initial view to like fit page, and then you can set it to like two up cover page so that when they flip through it, it will look like a book.

You know what I mean?

It will open in spreads.

And of course the viewer can change that if they want, but that way when they first open it, that's how they'll see it to be good with.

So that's just a nice thing you can do to set up.

And you can set that initial view to show that bookmarks panel if you want to do that, just to kind of customize their view.

Yeah, and the nice thing is by setting that up in the early stages, that you do it once, set it and forget it, and then your final export, you're not having to redo that work.

So we just want to cut out steps, especially at that last minute when that clock is ticking and we're freaking out.

Grace, what other, do you have any other efficiencies related to that last step, QC, getting comments, coordinating all that business?

Yes, there is a technique term for when you're doing the final QC and getting ready to close out your document for submission.

And it's called a rolling closeout.

And so that is kind of a top to bottom closeout process per section.

So that as you're moving through, let's say your cover, your table contents, cover letter, you have key reviewers identified that are going through making sure that you're compliant.

There's not something glaringly wrong with the content.

And you're closing out those sections as you go.

So it's less of a beast and overwhelming to be like, I'm cuing this whole document.

You start to kind of check off, all right, sections one through whatever are good to go.

Like we're feeling good.

And just allows you to be a bit more organized and strategic and coordinated in that review process.

And I think that that's a strong recommendation as you're getting down to the wire.

We all know that it feels like deadlines and it feels like deadline day.

There's a lot of moving parts that day.

So anything that you can do to create order in that process and make sure that, yes, we had this rolling closeout process and we're feeling good, compliant, ready to go.

That's always great.

Another thing, Becky, you touched on it, but the actual submission, maybe draft that email that you're gonna be submitting to that client or the RFQ, RFP contact.

Maybe draft that email the week prior so then it's not a frantic, I've got typos in my email, it's looking unprofessional.

We even see an RFQ, RFP criteria that when there's an email submission, they want a specific subject line used with a solicitation number.

So just making sure that those compliant related submission requirements are checked off and that you're leaving a good impression when you submit and it's not totally non-compliant or disqualifies you or doesn't leave your company or your firm that you're representing with a positive, you know, like impression in that interaction.

So that's kind of low-hanging fruit that I think can make Deadline Day a little bit more smoother and efficient for your team.

Those are all really good tips.

I think that if we have the space, and I'm gonna like segue right over to how long do we have to do proposals are a trivia question, but if we have the space to do it, you can implement all of those ideas.

Because you come in with a clear mind, you know, you've got your past boilerplate, you've got a storyboard, you're setting things up well, because you have enough time to complete your response.

And then it's a whole other ball game when you have to turn something around next day and you scratch your head and wonder what the heck?

Why are we doing this?

You know, what's happening?

But it does happen.

And the more organized you are and the more systems you have in place, the more likely is you can respond in those super tight turnaround scenarios.

Okay, well, because everyone is just dying to know the answer to this Lupio survey that they did of something like 1,500 firms about the proposal process and their experience doing it.

The answer to the question that was, what is the average amount of time a firm has to respond to an RFP?

The largest response bucket was actually 11 to 20 business days.

That was 24%.

But right behind them was 6 to 10 business days with 21%.

So I'm going to say that, yes, Becky and Grace, you were right on.

And it probably depends on the markets you're in and the normal procurement time.

I mean, if you think about road and bridge infrastructure projects, those are much longer timelines.

So maybe that changes the average a little bit.

Hospitals and universities, they have some longer timelines, but usually probably in that 11 to 20 days.

So I can see that a lot of the work that we're doing, because there's private developers and others, that six to 10 business days makes a lot of sense too.

And on this survey, someone, the 4% of respondents said less than five hours.


I would not be the marketing person in that firm.

I feel like I would just be running around like wild.

Yeah, that's shorter than I've seen.

Maybe you have some other processes or it's more of like a quick, I don't know, request for qualifications or something where it's just, it's a different animal than what we're used to, but this was all AEC related data.

So kind of interesting.

What else can I say?

Well, you know what?

I won't even add any more to that.

I think that was interesting enough.

So we all-

It was.

This survey had so many details, so many aspects that you could look into.

I don't know, there were like 100 facts from their poll.

So maybe there's some other good ones that we'll pull out in other episodes, but yeah, there's that.

You've got a couple of weeks to pull this together to try to win a 2 million or $200 million project.

It really doesn't matter.

They're all about the same timeframe.

So hopefully it can be more efficient in that process.

Do either of you wanna wrap us up with your favorite tip or kind of like a summary of what we shared today?

Yeah, I feel like my departing note is, I think about the iceberg graphic that you see everywhere and applied to AEC marketing, it's you see the tip of the iceberg being the RFQ, RFP, the shortlist, the interview process, but there's so much more that goes into getting that win and setting your team up for success and building efficiencies.

And so I would encourage listeners to really think about what do we have in place that's proactive, sets our team up for success, both marketing and technical team members, and really dialing in that strategy if you can ahead of time because 10 day business days to pull together something compelling, that work needs to be happening earlier before that RFQ, RFP hits the street.

And I think that you can really think about your processes and build out some really effective strategies for your team to help manage them, help them shine and help your team resist the urge of burnout.

I think that there's a lot of work that you can do ahead of that sprint of a SOQ development process that makes you efficient, so.



Becky, any wise words to leave us on?

I would say in-house marketing people sit up and lean in because sometimes it can be very intimidating being the only person there who doesn't know how construction or architecture or engineering works.

And you sometimes feel like, oh, these people have so much more power in the situation than I do.

But you are so important.

As the person who's doing the hands-on proposal work, you can and should be the expert on that RFP document and all the requirements and the questions and what are they asking for and what are we doing, the schedule, the timing, the deadlines, who's doing what.

You absolutely deserve to and should take ownership of those things.

And if you are not feeling empowered in that situation, definitely talk to your supervisor, talk to somebody at your company and see what you can do about that because you have such an important job and it can be scary to sometimes feel like, oh, you're the lowest person on the process, no one cares what I think, they won't listen to me, they're gonna think that I'm whatever.

Like that can happen.

And you can sometimes feel kind of alone being the only person in the group who doesn't know all the details and the technical stuff.

But I'm just letting you know, there are a whole lot of us out here evolving through the same thing many, many times.

And the more you can practice that confident, letting people know, hey, this is what I read, this is what it says, I just want to make sure we're crossing all the T's, dotting all the I's, the more you do that, the more confident you will feel in doing that thing.

So let them know, you came to work, you know what you're doing, and you're making sure that they don't get disqualified.

That's very valuable.

So, I don't know, confidence, look in the mirror, stand straight and tall, you're doing it.

Do your Wonder Woman pose.

Yeah, power pose.

They will appreciate it.

Or at least I really hope they will.

I think that they've got a lot going on too, and they're in charge of providing technical content and thinking out how they're going to build it.

So yeah, you've got this part and own it and drive that schedule and keep it going.

So, well, thank you both for sharing your thoughts and tips on this.

I'm sure this can be really helpful for people, whether they're part of a huge team and have to coordinate all of that, or if they're just on their own and trying to figure out ways to do more with fewer resources, which is super common.

Thanks for being here and we'll see you on a future podcast.

Thanks for having us back.

Yeah, thank you.

This is my favorite podcast in the world.

See ya, bye bye.

There's so many E's, at least three.

The Shortlist is presented by Middle of Six and hosted by me, Wendy Simmons, Principal Marketing Strategist.

Our producer is Kyle Davis, with digital marketing and graphic design by the team at Middle of Six.

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Until next time, keep on hustling.


Good afternoon.

The Shortlist is a podcast that explores all things AEC marketing. Hosted by Middle of Six Principal, Wendy Simmons, each episode features members of the MOS team, where we take a deep dive on a wide range of topics related to AEC marketing including: proposal development, strategy, team building, business development, branding, digital marketing, and more. You can listen to our full archive of episodes here.


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