Writing Career Spotlight: What Is Proposal Writing?


So what do you do for a living?

I do proposal writing for a local government contractor!

Cool! So what does that entail?

Uh…well it’s kind of hard to explain…

This is usually how every conversation I have about my job starts out. I’m pretty sure that even my friends, family, and husband have no idea WTF my job actually consists of on a daily basis. In fact, I’d say most of the people outside of the business development department at my company don’t really know either. And I totally get it! I had no idea about proposal writing or the world of government contracting until I worked here either. It’s not a writing job that gets talked about very often. Let’s be real, it doesn’t sound as impressive as saying you’re an author (which I also am!), but proposal writing is a reliable and financially rewarding career path – which is something many writing jobs can’t claim. Writing majors get flack for not picking something that’s stable (insert eye rolls here), but proposal writing is one huge area that IS.

There are all kinds of contractors that need solid proposal writers on their team. In my case, I work for a government contractor that specializes in training development, information technology, equipment repair/maintenance, and professional support services. The first thing I was worried about when I interviewed here was if I had to have specialized knowledge in these areas or at least be familiar with government processes. Luckily, it wasn’t necessary! That won’t be the case with every company, but it’s worth applying for these types of jobs even if you don’t have the exact experience. As long as you’re a strong writer with a willingness to learn, you’ll do just fine!

So, what do I do all day?

The great thing about proposal writing is that you’re always working on different opportunities. Some days we have no active proposals that we’re working on and sometimes we have 3 or more going on at the same time. With the government, it just depends on the time of year! They love to release efforts for companies to bid on during the end of the fiscal year especially. Summer = insanity around here, whereas it’s usually more tame in winter/spring. Anyway, for someone who has no idea what proposals even are, I like to think of them as essays. The government will release an RFP (request for proposal), which is like a giant rubric explaining what they want and how they’re going to evaluate you. It’s basically like writing essays but instead of getting just a grade, your company could win a million dollar contract to do the work they want. Most of the time, proposals consist of technical (how are you going to do the work), past performance (what work have you done that proves you can do this), and price volumes (how much can you do the work for).

At my company I’ve become the past performance guru. I manage and write all of our past performance volumes for proposals and update all of our master citations for contracts that we have (these are what I pull from to write my volume). Basically I talk about how great we are, why our customers love us, and how our past efforts are relevant to the effort we’re trying to win. I really enjoy working on these volumes!

I’ve also become the “task order” person when it comes to distributed learning efforts. There are certain contracts that companies can win seats on (so to speak) and then the government will issue what are called task orders under the overall contract. So just because a company won a seat on that overall contract, doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed any work. You have to win the task orders too. Task orders are basically like proposals, only they’re usually smaller and less involved. The ones I do are more technical with minimal past performance. Do I always know what I’m talking about in them? No! But have I been here long enough to know if it will make sense to evaluators? Yes.

With proposal writing, you’re exposed to so much technical material that you start understanding some of it, but never know enough to be specialized. Guess what? That’s okay! This is why companies have subject matter experts and experienced program managers who you can ask for help. In the world of proposal writing, all sorts of experienced people will review your writing and give you feedback before the final product goes in. Plus, companies have a billion past proposals that you can pull material from to help you get started. If you’re with an established company, you will (almost) never completely write something from scratch.

I also help us respond to RFIs (requests for information). These are like little mini essays about who we are and what we’ve done that is relevant to a potential effort. The government likes to release these before RFPs to gauge interest and see what companies are out there. RFIs are fun and easy to do!

As to be expected as a writer, I edit everything! I also help write marketing materials sometimes and help my boss update our master pipeline every week (this is where we track all of the efforts we’re interested in). Since my company creates so much courseware, I’ve also been a model several times! So if you’re ever taking an online course for the Army and see someone who looks like me, it probably IS me…just hanging out, pretending to be an Army officer, and trying not to laugh at my other coworker/model friends. NBD. The modeling doesn’t happen very often, but it’s one of the super fun parts of government contracting that no one really thinks about.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a better idea of what proposal writers do all day! If you’re someone who loved writing essays in school, you’ll most likely enjoy this type of work. That cash money isn’t bad either. ;)



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