Looking for a solution to help you write business proposals contracts, RFPs or grant applications? There are three main types of proposal writing systems available on the market:
- Desktop software and template-based for PCs and Macs
- Monthly paid subscription web-based services
- Expensive enterprise class solutions
The prices of the various products vary; so do their features and how many add-on services you may have to purchase to make use of the system. How do you know which system is right for you? Here are basic descriptions and pros and cons of each system to help you decide.
Template-based products generally contain a variety of Microsoft Word documents that will work in many platforms and word processors, along with instructions, samples, and sometimes additional software to help manage the assembly or other processing of documents into a final polished proposal. To use a template-based proposal writing product, you simply download the product to your personal computer, and then use the templates with your word processing program to put together a proposal and print it or save it as a PDF for electronic delivery by uploading to a web site or sending via e-mail.
Template-based products are generally the easiest solutions to get started with, because most people already know how to use their word processing software. If you work remotely or while traveling, you can use a template-based product on any laptop or tablet with a word processor, regardless of whether you have an Internet connection at the time.
The license fee for a template-based product is a one-time license fee, and you can use the product as many times as you like, and as often or intermittently as you like without incurring additional costs. There are no ongoing subscription fees to contend with (which will substantially increase your total costs beyond the costs of template-based products within a couple months); you have complete control over the product material and you manage your proposal content (when you deal with trade secrets and confidential data you don’t want to be giving access to all of that material to an unknown entity that may not be able to keep your information secure).
The main issue to consider in template-based products is that the different offerings vary widely in quality, so carefully compare the actual contents of packages to be sure you’re getting the best value and a quality product. Look at packages carefully to avoid the low-quality knock-offs and don’t be afraid to ask questions and review demos.
Web-based proposal writing systems are exactly what they sound like: you type your proposal information into a web site to create your proposal online and your potential clients look at your web based proposal online. Advantages of using a web-based system are that it usually has a low starting cost (but those monthly fees add up quickly and quickly surpass the cost of a PC/Mac template package) and you don’t have to download and install a program to your personal computer, so it may initially seem cheaper and faster to use. Also, after your proposal is posted, you may have access to some analytics, such as the ability to track how many people view your proposal. However it is typically better to simply reach out to your prospects with the personal touch of a phone call or e-mail and you will gather more-or-less the same information.
A big disadvantage to using a web-based system is that the proposal software and your business information are stored on the web. A web-based system is potentially more at risk from hackers, because the data from thousands of businesses presents a high-value target for hackers seeking confidential business information. Also, a web-based solution may not be available when you need it, like those times you can’t log in when you are flying or on the road. You should also consider whether or not you can easily extract your proposal data from a web-based system for use elsewhere. Most web-based solutions are new business ventures without proven track records – and if you read some of their support blogs you will find out which ones have frequent web site outages.
Web-based programs generally offer users less guidance and formatting and styling options than template-based packages. Web programs typically favor more of a “blank slate” approach and are usually much more limited in the amount of actual proposal writing content (templates, samples, etc.) than a template-based package. Current web-based solutions do not offer many basic features or the layout, design, and graphics capabilities of word processing systems available on PCs, Macs, and tablets. You may be very restricted in how you can create, format, and lay out your proposal, so you might not end up with the most polished looking proposal when you use a web-based system (or even a web-based word processor).
Web-based systems are not very well designed for responding to RFP’s or grant requests. Most of the time you have to follow strict guidelines for how proposals are to be written, formatted and submitted that cannot be done with web-based subscription services. While it may seem they offer something “new” in a web-based interface they are typically 10 years or more behind the curve in creating proposal writing content and polished professional proposals versus other solutions.
While a web-based solution may initially seem like the lowest cost product, keep in mind that a web-based business model depends on extracting monthly fees from customers, using a subscription payment plan. Over the course of just two or three months, a web-based solution will generally cost more than a downloaded product – and the costs will keep rising.
Now for the third category: enterprise class proposal solutions. These products are targeted for the use of big businesses. Often you cannot find a price or place an order online to download an enterprise product; you typically have to schedule a talk with a salesperson to get started. Plan on spending thousands of dollars or even tens of thousands of dollars on an enterprise solution, plan on significant setup time, and plan on bringing in consultants to set up and teach your employees how to use the system.
Enterprise proposal systems may be the best solution for large corporations that need widespread collaboration for their proposal projects and large sales teams, but enterprise systems are not designed (or priced) for individuals or small businesses. Even within large corporations, an enterprise proposal system is sometimes not the most efficient choice for doing a quick custom proposal or a small team project. Low-cost template-based solutions are frequently used by individuals or small teams within a large organization for one-off project proposals or to prototype a very complex proposal.
The three types of proposal software systems are not necessarily mutually exclusive; they can also work well together. You may want to pick multiple solutions to cover a wide array of situations and needs. Many users consider a downloaded template-based package a low-risk investment and a great addition to their basic business toolkits.
Most large corporations use template-based solutions alongside other systems for quick one-off proposals and prototyping. A template-based system allows users to work anywhere, view more samples and get more writing assistance, and use formatting tools to create a polished proposal that can be delivered in print or PDF format.
Template-based proposal kit systems are generally more efficient for smaller projects. And the information from these proposal kit template-based systems can often be uploaded to an enterprise system or to a web-based system when you want to use the extra analytics and other tools they offer.