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Top 7 Things NOT To Do in a Proposal / Presentation

Certainly this will not be the first time readers have seen the following points regarding professional presentations or proposals.  However, they bear repeating- as they still occur on a regular basis (in the AEC community and outside it).

I have probably written over 1,000 proposals and/or presentations in my life. Personally, at some point in my career, I have been guilty of most (if not all) of these violations.  Being aware and just simply being careful can make the difference between a proposal being well received and one that is scoffed at. Typical errors include:

  • Using Wikipedia as a source for any information or material/ research. This very popular site can be amended and edited by nearly anyone, at any time.  According to Wikipedia itself, Wikipedia is not a valid source for research:

“Wikipedia is not a reliable source for academic writing or research…..

….Citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not a reliable source.” 

  • Addressing your proposal to the wrong person and/or company. This is, of course, ridiculous, but it can happen- especially when a company is sending out many proposals.  It is due to lack of proofreading and using copy and paste between different documents.  When trying to land that big project, it doesn’t help when you start off the letter by getting the person’s name blatantly wrong.
  • Incorporating boilerplate/copied text, tables, or other information that has absolutely nothing to do with your specific presentation/ project. At best, this will simply make your prospect question your editing.  At worst, it could actually confuse your prospect, kill the deal, or bring about potential legal ramifications.
  • Relying solely on automated “Spellcheck”. This happens constantly in formal presentations and other professional or published documents (and on websites as well). Spellcheck will not know that you should have used “too” instead of “to”, or “there” instead of “their”, etc.  Some people may gloss over one or two such errors in a proposal, but if they see numerous grammatical problems, what does that say about your firm?
  • Pictures/graphics/tables/charts having the wrong title and/or caption. Again, this is proofreading not being done well, and it portrays your company in a bad light.
  • Not researching your prospect well prior to compiling your presentation. Putting your foot in your mouth in the 2nd or 3rd paragraph can easily happen if you have not put in some time in researching the most up to date information on your client.  Business happens very quick these days; don’t assume the information you knew of 6 months ago is still true today.
  • Not double-checking and triple-checking your price/ fee. Most prospects would admit that when they receive your proposal they look at the beginning and the title (etc), and they might go right to the end or the part where you are stating what the GMP or total fee is.  A typo or a missed decimal point there can prove troublesome and embarrassing.

 Winning business and contracts is hard enough.  Be sure to put your best foot forward by at a minimum doing the basics properly.




Ken is a Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute. Some of his writings have been featured in ARCHITECT magazine,, and for U.S. Building News. He can be reached at

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