When I first interviewed for my job, the Director of Marketing at the time told me one of her biggest frustrations was mistakes in proposals. She wanted mistake-free proposals. And I was on board with that idea.
Over the next 5 years, we spent countless hours combing for, finding, and correcting mistakes in our proposals.
Boy, was I dumb.
Why? Because I was spending all this time on something that didn’t matter. Let me explain.
Around this time, I started getting my hands on competitor’s proposal. And guess what the ones that beat us had in common. They were littered with mistakes. Our competitors were beating us with proposals that were filled with embarrassing errors. And here, I’m slaving away trying to find every single error and then debating with my team whether to use a comma or semicolon in the sentence.
What a stupid use of time!
Listen, I’m not saying you should submit proposals written with crayons by a bunch of toddlers. I’m saying your proposal doesn’t have to compare to the editorial standards of the New York Times. And just like every book I’ve read (or written) and every proposal I’ve seen, every issue of the New York Times has mistakes.
Architects and engineers think spelling, grammar, and usage are important. They’ve been taught that details matter and clients won’t hire you if you are missing a comma. In addition, many marketers (including me) had English minors or majors in college. We were trained in the critical nature of correct English.
What we fail to realize is we’ll give our clients 200-page documents and we’re lucky if they spend even ten minutes reading them.
You can’t read 200 pages in 10 minutes. And you certainly can’t read it AND scour it for errors.
As you know, I’ve been doing brutally honest proposal critiques over the last few months. During my critiques, I rarely commented on errors. But with one, I just had to say something in my critique.
This proposal was for a $31M contract. Not only was it littered with mistakes, the mistakes were in very unfortunate places (like the first page of the cover letter and pull out boxes in resumes).
And guess what…out of all the proposals I critiqued, this proposal was, by far, THE BEST. In fact, the team had won.
Now, how is that possible?
How is it possible for a proposal littered with mistakes to not only be the best proposal I critiqued, but also win a $31M contract?
Because the message was so compelling that the proposal evaluators would have been insane not to shortlist them! More on this later.
Whether you are a contractor, architect, or engineer…the extent to which you have mastered English is completely irrelevant.
Bottom Line: Nobody cares how you use commas. What they care about is your offering in architecture, engineering, or construction.
Autocorrect in Your Brain
In addition, our brain is a prediction machine. As we read, our brain predicts what comes next. That’s why we miss blatant errors while reading.
Last week, I had a reader send me an email about my use of “it’s” in my last post. It was a good catch from someone who has great pride in her editing ability. However, what she (and I) failed to catch was this:
“…built-in email client to receive and manager your email.”
Built-in email client to manager your email? What am I, a hillbilly?
Yes, I read the post a couple times before publishing it. But my brain was predicting it would say “manage.” So, I literally saw the word manage. And the same thing happened to the woman who emailed me about my use of “it’s.”
Our brain has autocorrect. It’s only when that autocorrect fails that you see an error. That’s why I say to always have a fresh set of eyes look at your work before it goes out. You’ll never catch all your own errors because your ability to predict your own writing is so good.
What Does Matter
By this point you’re saying, “Ok, Matt. If my client is looking for a reason to throw out my proposal and it has a mistake, I just lost.” You are right. And that’s the problem.
If your proposal is going to lose because of your use of English…proofreading isn’t your problem. The problem is YOUR PROPOSAL SUCKS!
- Truly understood the client’s challenges
- Provided a compelling offering they would be crazy to pass up
- Had a history of doing great work for the client
…then no amount of mistakes in your proposal would lose you the job. It’s that simple.
Mistakes only matter when your proposal SUCKS!
And that’s why the firm won that $31M contract. Their proposal was compelling. So, the numerous mistakes would not deter anybody from shortlisting them. In fact, it would have been foolish not to shortlist them.
What I’m Getting At
Let’s be honest. How much time do you personally spend editing the mistakes out of your proposals? Is it more time than you spend making sure you have an absolutely mind-blowing offering that they would be crazy to pass up? Is it more time than you spend making sure that the relevance of every project you listed slaps the reader in the face? Is it more time than you spend making sure that every resume is customized to show only the experience that is truly relevant to this project? Is it more time then you spend trying to put yourself in the shoes of your client?
Why would you spend a single minute scouring your proposal to find mistakes until you’ve made sure all those other things were done?
YOU ARE MISSING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES.
Forward this post to every architect, engineer, or contractor you know. Let’s get this discussion out in the open.
Do you disagree? Can you prove me wrong? Leave a comment.
And don’t forget to register for the exclusive free webinar next Tuesday and Thursday by clicking on the banner below.