I have been working in proposal development for well over a decade now. In my career, I have been fortunate enough to work in multiple positions at a wide range of Government contractors. Over my career I have been a proposal coordinator, proposal manager, Director of Proposal Development, and now I run my own small proposal and bid development consulting business. As I reflect on my career, there are three key things I wish I knew when I started out in this crazy field.
1. You Can Do This!
Few if any of us plan to go into proposal development consciously as a profession. Usually, our only prior experience is working in support of a bid. Therefore, it can be scary and overwhelming when you make the transition from contributor to proposal professional. It needn’t be. I quickly found that the skills from my humanities education fit perfectly into proposal development. The ability to communicate well, organize, prioritize, and analyze data, research information, and manage time effectively were all directly applicable to this new profession I was entering. Knowing you can do the job, especially one where you don’t have extensive, can make a lot of difference.
2. There is Support Out There!
Proposal development, especially when you are a one-person shop, can feel like an isolating experience. Few if any people in your company know or understand what you do, and many do not appreciate the value you bring to the organization. In addition, when you have a question you do not have a department full of colleagues to turn to or use as a sounding board.
In my career, I have found two key sources of support and information. The first is APMP and its chapter organizations. The webinars, publications, and conferences provide more than just spectacular information and insight. It’s also a great way to make friends and contracts in the field. I have made great professional relationships through APMP, and continue to meet amazing, inspiring people at every organizational event I attend.
Secondly, I developed a network of highly trusted individuals to help me in my career. This informal group is there for me when I need information, assistance, to bounce ideas off of, or a simple sanity check. Knowing I have friends in the field who I can talk to and who can provide me with support has been critical to my success in the field.
3. Take Time to Recharge
Solicitations seem to always drop at the most inopportune times. They always seem to be released either all on top of each other or just before holidays. It makes planning vacations and time away incredibly difficult, especially as a consultant and small business owner. For most proposal professionals, our first instinct is to cancel that time off and buckle down to get the proposal done.
Too often, however, that choice is short-sighted and counter-productive. One of my mentors once told me you need to take vacations when you schedule them, because proposals will always find a way of interfering in your life. It was very good advice. We all need time to take a breath, enjoy some downtime, and relax. For many proposal professionals, even just a couple of days away can prevent burnout and malaise. Therefore, make sure you budget some away time into your schedules. To quote a wise man, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” (thanks, Ferris).
Being a proposal professional has been an incredibly rewarding and enriching experience for me. I continue to love what I do. While I never planned on being in this career (who does?), it was definitely the best one I have found for my skills and abilities. Hopefully, these nuggets of advice can help you as your chart your own course in the field.