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What If You Get A Task You Can’t Do?

At some point, you’ll be assigned a task you simply don’t know how to do. Maybe it will be something you’ve never done before. Maybe you won’t even know where to begin.

And that can be frustrating, even scary. But luckily, there are steps you can take that will help you knock it out of the park.

In fact, I’m going to give you the exact scripts to use the next time you get one of these tasks.

Nobody Wants To Hold Your Hand

When we receive a task we feel we can’t do, the natural inclination is to tell the task giver we can’t do it.

But pushing back is the absolute worst thing you can do. So, you’ve got to fight that inclination.

If someone gives you a task, they either:

  1. Know you can do it.
  2. Expect you to figure out how to do it.

Nine times out of ten, the task giver does not want to hold your hand and work through it together with you. They are looking to delegate it so they can focus on higher level tasks.

So, what do you do?

The New Task Scripts

There are three things you need to do when faced with a seemingly impossible task.

  1. Acknowledge the task
  2. Research the task
  3. Provide your approach

Acknowledge The Task

The first thing you need to do is confirm you know what’s being asked of you.

Here’s what you need to say:

”Here’s what I heard. You want me to [describe the task, deliverable, and deadline]. Is that correct?”

At this point, the task giver will either confirm your understanding or correct you. Either way, it’s a win for you.

Now you have a clear understanding of what’s being asked of you. But you probably still don’t have the foggiest idea of how to do it.

That’s OK. The next step is research.

But before you start researching, you’ve got to get out of that person’s office.

Here’s what to say:

”Since this is new to me, I’m going to look at this and come back with some thoughts on how I’ll approach it. When would be a good time to come back?”

Saying this accomplishes a few things. First, you’re indicating that although this task is new to you, you’re going to give it a go. Second, it sets expectations for the next step. Lastly, you acknowledge the task givers’ time considerations.

Research The Task

Try to complete this next step within 20 minutes. What we’re going to do is research and jot down notes about how you’ll approach the task.

Once you get back to your seat, you’ve got two resources available to you.

  1. Whatever was provided to you
  2. Google

There will be at least a few instances where the task giver provides you with all the information you need to come up with an approach. Do not fail to thoroughly review all documents you have been provided. If your approach does not take into account the directions provided to you, you’ll end up looking bad.

The rest of the time, Google is your friend.

For example, let’s say someone gives you an Excel spreadsheet and says, ”Turn this into a pivot table.” For someone who has never opened Microsoft Excel, that’s going to seem like an impossible task. Luckily for you, directions for most tasks are just a Google search away.

For example, you could search “Excel pivot table tutorial” or “how to create pivot table in Microsoft Excel” in Google. In those search results, you’ll find step-by-step instructions and videos showing you how to create your pivot table.

Even if the task giver asks you to “perform brain surgery,” there are Google results that will help you piece together your approach.

Provide Your Approach

On a piece of paper, jot down the steps of how you’ll approach it. What we’re looking for is how you will do it and why you will do it that way. Keep it under a page.

At the designated time, take your notes to the task giver and use this script:

“I went through what you gave me and did a little research. Here’s how I plan to approach this task.”

Then recite what you wrote down. It’s Ok to use notes. This is not a speech contest.

Once you are done, ask, “Is that how you would approach it?”

The task giver will either be super impressed by your thoughtfulness and go-getter attitude…or realize they made a horrible mistake. If it’s clear, after hearing your approach, that the task is beyond your skill set…you’ve just made a commendable effort. And you can hold your head up high.

If they agree with your approach, you now know exactly how to complete the task. There is no more guesswork. So, just go do it.


Here are a few extra considerations for completing these tasks.

Triple Check Your Work

One of the biggest annoyances when giving out a task is when the person you trusted doesn’t take the time to double-check their work. The last thing anyone wants is a work product riddled with errors.

Don’t just double check your work…triple check it. Spend the appropriate amount of time checking the quality of your work.

Finishing a task and immediately handing it over is a rookie mistake. Triple check your work.

Use The Scripts In Person

I don’t care how busy the task giver is. These scripts should be used in person or over the phone.

You should only use these via email if you are working remote and all phone lines are down.

Now Its Your Turn

What were some of the most challenging tasks assigned to you? Share with us in the comments.

Proposal Writing Training – Which Course Is Right For You?

So you need to write your first proposal or learn to write better proposals. And now you’re looking for proposal writing training. Don’t worry, this post will give you everything you need to determine which training option is best for you.

But first, there’s something you need to understand.

Nobody Is Born A Great Proposal Writer

Regardless of the type of proposal you’ll be writing, you need to understand that nobody is born a great proposal writer. Proposal writing is a practice. It’s a skill that you’ll develop and nurture over time.

If you ever meet someone who claims to be a natural proposal writer, there is one of two things going on. Either they are lying or they don’t realize how bad they are.

I’ve been writing proposals for almost 20 years and I’ve submitted over 1,000 proposals. I can tell you I’m still learning.

Continuous learning and training is the cornerstone of any proposal writing practice. But what that training looks like is going to depend on which type of proposal you’ll be writing.

Which Type Of Proposal Are You Writing?

As someone who is passionate and has published a lot about proposal writing, I get people from all over the world emailing me. I’ve had to turn down a lot of people asking me for wedding advice or advice on how to convince the Governor to buy someone’s nephew a car.

You see, my area of expertise is helping people write proposals to win business contracts. But there are other types of proposals out there.

The type of training you need will depend on the type of proposal you intend to write. There are four types of proposals people write and they couldn’t be more different.

Business Proposals

People looking for business proposal writing training often work with a firm that is seeking to win a contract to perform services.

Grant Proposals

If you are looking for funding from an organization or government, you’ll be writing a grant proposal. Writing a proposal for a grant is different than writing a proposal for a service contract.

Education Proposals

If you’re writing a proposal to get your school to accept your thesis, that’s completely different than writing a grant or business proposal.

Marriage Proposal

Of course, there are people looking to get down on one knee and propose to their future spouse. Frankly, you don’t need any training for this. And if you are on Google searching for what to say in a marriage proposal…maybe you haven’t chosen the right partner.

For those first three proposals, my advice is to seek out training that’s laser-focused on the type of proposal you will be writing. And make sure the instructor has success writing proposals of that type.

Also keep in mind there may be terminology differences within each of these types. For example, outside the United States a proposal to provide services is called a tender.

The Different Types of Proposal Writing Training

Once you’ve determined which type of proposal you’ll be writing and identified a few training options that correspond with that, you need to determine the training delivery that’s best for you.

In-Person Training

The most common form of training delivery you’ll find is the one or more day in-person seminar. A one-hour webinar or seminar will likely not be able to deliver the depth of training you’ll need. That’s why single-day or multi-day seminars are common.

The biggest challenge with in-person training is that once you walk out of that door, you no longer have access to that training. And in even a day, you’ll cover a lot of information. You may walk away with a handout. But ultimately, the end product is whatever insight you retain in your memory.

And if you’re anything like me, you don’t remember as much as you used to.

In addition, once you take into account travel and registration costs, in-person training can be far more expensive than it first appears.

Further, due to the costs of putting on in-person seminars, it’s difficult for instructors to offer you a money-back guarantee.

On a more positive note, you may experience a greater level of personal interaction with the instructor during in-person seminars. Also, you’ll meet other people who write proposals.

I’m not saying to avoid this type of training. I attended Nancy Usrey’s day-long training on writing SF330 proposals many years ago. And I would do it again.

Online Training

Then there is online training. Online training can have advantages over in-person training if done right. In fact, all the courses I take these days are online.

I even developed my Win Writing and Proposal Management Mastery programs as online alternatives that don’t include the inherent problems I saw with in-person proposal training seminars.

The drawback of online training is there are hucksters out there who will develop and sell a course to make a quick buck. So, you’ll have to do more homework before you select an online training course.

When considering online training, you should look for these things:

  1. An instructor with proven success with the type of proposals you write.
  2. A comprehensive program that covers what you need (which we’ll get to)
  3. Lifetime access to all materials
  4. A solid money-back guarantee

Proposal Writing Certification

Another form of training is a long-term certification process.

There are only two proposal writing certifications that I’m aware of. The first is through my Win Writing course. The second, and most common proposal writing certification is through the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP).

APMP’s certification requires membership and jumping through certain hoops before you are eligible. But if you are pursuing a career path in proposals, it is probably worth checking out.

APMP’s certification is based on materials developed by Shipley, the consulting firm that founded APMP.

Shipley’s proposal process is seen by some as overly complex. But there are certainly people out there who have experienced great success using their process.

Proposal Writing Books

Reading the right book might be all the training you’ll need. So don’t knock books as one of the options you should consider. Often, books on proposal writing cover as much, if not more, than training courses.

The proposal writing book I often recommend is The Magic Of Winning Proposals by Laura Ricci. Laura, who is now retired, used it as a proposal writing training manual for her clients. It’s the perfect book for anyone writing a business-related proposal.

proposal writing training book

But there may be other books that focus directly on the type of proposal you are writing. Just make sure you read the table of contents and reviews before selecting the right book for you.

Proposal Writing Vs. Proposal Management

The training you receive should also correspond with what part of the proposal development process you’ll be involved in.

Let me give you an example. Developing proposals can be a team effort. One of the biggest frustrations of people who work with proposals is not receiving information from their teammates in a timely manner.

That’s a proposal management issue that requires training in proposal management, not writing.

If you need training in proposal management, don’t accept training that does not focus directly on that topic. Many proposal writing courses touch on management topics. But in my opinion, they don’t do an adequate job of giving people the proposal management strategies and skills they need.

Again, you need to consider the type of proposal first. You may be working on a proposal effort that requires no management whatsoever. In those cases, proposal management training would be a waste.

What To Look For In A Proposal Writing Training Course Outline

Unfortunately, proposal writing training courses rarely provide you with samples of the course. But they often provide you with a course outline or syllabus before you purchase.

Make sure you thoroughly review the course outline (i.e. the topics that will be addressed in the course). Again, make sure the topics match up to what you need to learn.

At the very least any proposal writing course should touch on these topics.

The typical proposal writing training course outline will likely address these topics:

  • Getting selection committees or decision makers to choose your proposal
  • Gathering information about what the decision makers really want
  • Planning out the proposal effort
  • Writing the different sections of the proposal

Those elements are pretty standard among different proposal types. Understanding what the decision makers want and how they decide is critical whether it’s a business, grant, or education proposal.

But remember, any training option you pick MUST be tailored to the type of proposal you are writing. So, you’ll need additional topics covered that are relevant to your proposal type.

Here’s the course outline for my Win Writing program, which is focused on writing proposals for service contracts:

How Top Firms Use Proposal Writing To Generate Millions Of Dollars

  • What Better Proposal Writing Can Do For Your Business
  • Proposal Writing Mindsets: Why The Top Proposal Writers Think This Way
  • How To Track Your Proposal Efforts The Right Way

The Unspoken Psychology Of Proposal Selection

  • The Prediction Machine: The Unspoken Truth About Emotions And Client Decisions (It’s Not What You Think)
  • Fixed Action Patterns: The Security Flaw In Our Decision-Making Process
  • The Six Scientifically Proven Weapons Of Influence You Can Use To Get Your Clients To Say Yes — Ignore These At Your Own Risk

Securing The Advantage

  • How To Read Your Client’s Mind (Even If You’ve Never Met Them Before)
  • How To Get Meetings With The Unreachable: The Actual Word-For-Word Scripts I Use To Get Meetings With Extremely Busy People
  • Client Capture Scripts: The Exact Questions I Ask Clients To Find Out What They Really Want

Foolproof Planning

  • Go/No Go: How To Determine What To Go After (And What To Pass On)
  • RFP Translation: Decipher The Key Points You Really Need To Address For The RFP Or RFQ
  • Planning for Success: Never Stress Over A Deadline Again

Better…Faster…Stronger Proposal Writing

  • Proposal Math: What Do Clients Actually Do With Your Proposal?
  • The Hollywood Playbook: How To Drastically Speed Up Proposal Writing
  • The Pareto Writing Rules: 5 Simple Rules That Supercharge Readability (The Only Ones You’ll Ever Need)
  • Narratives: How To Build Resumes And Project Descriptions That Sell
  • The Four-Step Cover Letter: The Exact Formula I Use To Write Cover Letters That Set You Apart
  • How To Write A Technical Approach (Even If You Have No Technical Expertise)

Notice how specific that outline is to writing service proposals. This course would be overkill for anyone writing a thesis or grant proposal. But for business proposals, it hits all the bases.

The Bottom Line

I know we covered a lot in this post, so here are some simple questions to determine which course is right for you.

  • Which type of proposal am I writing?
  • Which training delivery method works best for my learning style?
  • Which parts of the proposal development process (writing or management) will I be involved in?
  • Do I need a certification?

Answering these questions will ensure you select the best proposal writing training for your specific needs.

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