The biggest thing on my desk the past few months has been… moving boxes!
Our apartment suffered some major water damage in August. As repairs dragged on for weeks, and then months, we decided it was a good time to move into a free-standing house. It’s a cute and classic Craftsman bungalow that already feels like home.
Moving isn’t easy! But now the hardest part is over, and my desk is clear for business.
On the project side, I’d like to share some writing I’ve been doing for the Cleveland Institute of Art:
- Incoming CIA freshman receives mayor’s proclamation [web story]
- Student’s illustrations featured in solo show [web story]
- CIA bestows its most prestigious awards [page 10 of annual report PDF]
I’m also excited for a few upcoming projects, and hoping to get a lot done during these last few peaceful weeks before the holiday season kicks into full swing.
Thanks to several big freelance projects, two rounds of houseguests, and a quick vacation, July flew by fast!
At the beginning of the month I met with a graphic designer who’s going to help upgrade my branding — mostly a new logo for my website, business cards, and invoices. I’m excited to move beyond my current plain text logo.
My Elance account has been good to me so far. I finished the projects I mentioned last month, including writing a wedding photographer’s new website. And then I jumped right into another website copywriting project for a web design firm — a repeat client!
A trip to my home state let me reconnect with a few friends and colleagues who I used to work with in person. One of them has given me a new assignment (the first of many, I hope).
I also took time to soak in the best parts of summer in Ohio: The feel of hot sun on the longest days of the year. The sound of cicadas buzzing in leafy trees. The sight of fireflies winking at dusk. The smell of fresh-cut grass. The taste of buttered sweet corn.
This has been an incredibly busy summer — both fun and productive. I can’t wait to see what August will bring.
Last week I got some good news: one of my proposals helped win a big contract! In the architecture industry, the proposal lands you on the interview shortlist, and a well-done interview gets you the job. The interview team did such a great job that the client called to award the project as soon as they got back to the office.
As we celebrated this win, I realized how much I’ve learned this past year about responding to RFPs and RFQs. Each proposal, statement of qualifications, or brochure is different — but they all share some common keys to success.
Create a theme
Figure out what sets you apart from your competition, and hammer it home! State the theme in your cover letter, and then use the proposal to prove it. Address it in every answer you write. Illustrate it with every example you feature. Having a theme helps you focus your responses so that your value proposition comes through loud and clear.
Stick to the format
The clients who wrote the RFP will be sorting through a mountain of proposals. To help them compare apples to apples, make sure yours follows their requested format precisely. Do this even if the outline doesn’t quite make sense! When busy clients flip through your document looking for the answer to question 4C, you want to make sure they can find it right where they expect.
Pay attention to design
Though I’m primarily a writer, I’m a true believer in the communication powers of design. Structured and differentiated headings, ample white space, and organized section/page numbering all help your readers digest information. Graphic elements like images and tables help the eye move across the page, while highlighting what’s important.
Focus on your client
Remember that clients want to know how you’ll solve their problems — their RFP is a call for help. So craft your language around how you can help them. Framing your qualifications in this context helps clients see why you’re perfect for the job. Along the same line, keep in mind that most people don’t look forward to reading proposals. You can hold readers’ interest by writing more like you speak, avoiding overly lengthy and jargon-packed sentences.
Enjoy the process
It might sound strange, but I love writing proposals. It’s almost like a writer’s sudoku — you’ve got to figure out how each piece fits together to make a logical sum. When you think of proposals as a good part of your job, rather than an arduous task on the way to your “real” work, you’re much more likely to write a proposal that makes clients choose you.
This past month has been a busy one! On the business side, I made some major updates to this website. Check out my new about page and list of services, if you haven’t already. And I added some new work samples to the portfolio section.
In June I also started marketing my services through Elance for the first time. It’s already yielded a few high-quality website writing projects! I hope to be able to share the results with you later this summer.
On the project side, it was an education-themed month as I edited two 100-page academic papers for grad students in materials science (PhD) and graphic design (MFA). I also edited the PhD candidate’s resume and cover letters for her post-graduation job search. As a freelancer, I love learning about such a wide variety of clients’ ideas — from fatigue testing and lasers to product packaging and social norms.
I hope to drop in with updates like this every month or so. Time flies so quickly, so it will be great to look back and see what happened in my business each month.
Recently I read a New York Times article that explained one author’s technique for waiting until after his first draft to create an outline. This was the first time I’d seen anyone put into words my own methods for structuring my work. It was both startling and comforting to see that other writers work backward like I do!
Starting in middle school, we were taught to outline before writing. Like disciplined Renaissance painters, we were to draft a grid, sketch the composition, and then paint the details. But I always “cheated” by writing the paper first, and then creating an outline to match. I felt I couldn’t create a map for my thoughts until I had first explored them on foot.
Over time I admitted there’s merit to at least considering key points for your work before you begin. Now I start by dumping a stream of consciousness onto a blank document and then eliminating the ideas that don’t contribute or flow. The outline still doesn’t come first, though. Sometimes I get far into a document before I reach a point where enough pieces are present to organize it and pare it down to its essential message. At this point I usually do find a rough outline helpful (at least for lengthy work) to refine the logic and flow of my arguments, and to spot any missing links.
I took an art history class during college where the professor explained Michelangelo’s method for sculpting marble figures. Michelangelo claimed he didn’t create the figures — rather, they were already within the stone and he chipped away until they were revealed. So if middle schoolers are taught to write like painters, I write like a sculptor instead.