California Surveyor Magazine Article – “Better Writing for Increased Profits”

How Digital Is Changing Proposal Writing

For land surveying projects, the proposal writing process can be daunting, time consuming and inefficient. However, there is an upside: The more proposals you submit, the more work you get!

Obviously, each proposal needs to be thoroughly researched and well written. But often, clunky spreadsheets and word document software are used to create and revise proposals. Then revisions are made by e-mailing versions to various team members to check or add information. Does this sound like you? This approach can lead to a lot of confusion because multiple versions ensue and the ‘master’ version can get lost or fail to reach the client.

As partial solution, consider moving your proposal building and editing online, using free tools like Google Docs or relatively inexpensive ones like Microsoft OneDrive. You could also consider Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software or preferably an industry specific software like Qfactor. Each of these software programs allow you to create, edit and store your proposals (and other documents) online. They also allow for ‘version control’ or the ability to track changes, so everyone involved can jointly access and collaborate. This allows for greater flexibility, while eliminating the time consuming tasks of using multiple separate programs, confused e-mail

threads and duplicated information across software programs. Plus, everyone in your organization always has immediate access to the latest documents without tracking down e-mail attachments.

The Right Software Saves Time

While it takes time to prepare a solid proposal, you happily invest that time because it prevents headaches down the line. A clear thoughtful proposal means later clarity on what you and your client have agreed to.

Some companies invest in stand-alone proposal software or an ERP system that has add-on quote and proposal features. The beauty of this type of software is seen in its ability to reuse content that you’ve already created somewhere else, streamlining the process.

Something to consider if you think an ERP software is for you, is that ERP implementation usually takes a significant amount of time and resources. If you’re considering this route, then it’s best to select an experienced consultant team to research your needs, issue a request for proposal and qualify up to three companies for consideration. Once a software is selected, expect that most of your company personnel will be involved in implementing it enterprise wide. This process can take months, if not a year or more and will require significant capital investment.

Or, if you want to improve without making the leap into an ERP, you can use either Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive. In these software programs you can save templates for future reuse, share templates and documents across your organization, revise and control your proposals, and save and archive all of your documents. This is a big improvement over desktop software and paper files.

More and more surveyors are turning to industry specific software programs such as Qfactor for Land Surveyors. Industry specific software offers the advantage of being designed with your business in mind, similar to how AutoCAD software is designed around drafters.

Taking the time to research, test, and decide on which software to use, and then training your employees on how to use it can seem like a bigger headache than soldiering on with manual entry. But, sooner or later the benefits of making a change outweigh the difficulties. So, no matter when you make that decision, make sure when it happens that you incorporate these minimums:

  • Make sure you select 1 to 3 software programs that can handle your scope of services, deliverables and cost estimates.
  • Make sure the software programs can ‘talk’ or integrate to one another, so you can reuse information and not have to duplicate it over and
  • Make sure the software can save to a central repository that others in your company can

Scope of Services

A key part of any proposal writing template is the scope of services. The scope of services is critical because it is where you spell out exactly what work you are going to do and, in some cases, what you aren’t going to do. Without these inclusions and exclusions saved in a template, these are often left as verbal discussions with a client and don’t make their way into the final proposal.

It’s helpful to keep a list of all of them handy so you can copy and paste (or click and include) as needed. It’s important to include minor details that may seem obvious to you because they help clients understand the costs of the project. For example, it’s second nature to you to start with a title search, but a client might not necessarily be aware that that is an important prerequisite of a land surveying project.

Recalling and saving details like this can be time consuming. But, if you are able to incrementally add these into your proposal building software, you’ll receive all the benefits without investing any single large amount of time.

Deliverables

Deliverables are another example of what is often left out of proposals. For example, will there be stakes marking their property; a copy of the title documents you collected; do they get CAD digital files, hard copies, or both?

These are important to specify up front and in writing because costs add up when a client wants more printouts of the title history than you anticipated. This type of detail also helps when the client wants something more or different because you can point back to the proposal and explain what and why there are additional costs.

Cost Estimating Can Be Time Consuming

Once the project description and deliverables are added to your document templates, then the estimating starts. This can be a very time-consuming part of the process because you want accurate numbers, not approximations that vary depending on who in the company is making the estimate.

But, once you’ve invested the time to properly estimate deliverables, it is helpful to have software that can save your processes to use on the next project. If you’re using proposal building software or industry specific software, then check what specific tools are available for capturing this type of information.

However you do it, saving a standard template and process for estimating will streamline your proposal writing. It also allows you to quickly pull those past jobs up for reuse. Just make sure at least annually to update the numbers in your template. If you’re not using a comprehensive software program, then as you build templates, consider adding folders that are dedicated to specific phases or organizing directories by project type.

Proposal Follow-up Call

Proposal writing will be more successful if you make a follow-up phone call after you submit it. Does the software program you use today to keep track of small reminders like this? Research has shown that success rates for business proposals increases by 20% with just one follow up call. Making calls can be tough, but remember, the call isn’t about selling anything, it’s about having a conversation and starting a relationship. While Google and Microsoft have calendars where you can schedule reminders, a better software solution will have this feature built in and sync with other features. Ideally, you would receive a task reminder with a link to the client contact information and the proposal you prepared and details on when it was sent and delivered. No more searching through files or shuffling papers during the call.

You Won the Project, Now What?

Better proposal writing = winning more contracts. But, that equates to managing more projects. This is where the real value of a ‘connected’ system pays off. I’ve explained the importance of using software that’s online and using software that avoids duplication. But now that the project changes staff from marketing and business development to project management – is your software still helpful?

Software programs in this transition, must be ‘talking’ to each other, they must be closely integrated. If not, staff will enter the same data over and over, eating up time and potentially introducing new errors to catch. This time and cost expense are compounded by the number of employees, clients and projects one has. Add in projects that are halted periodically and employee turnover and you have ample room for errors and cost overruns.

Connected software on the other hand will assist in the transitions and make data flow smoothly and more efficiently. Examples of benefits in well integrated software include tools that assign tasks, track hours, track resources, gather documents, and prepare billing.

For project management and tracking, land surveyors need to integrate time tracking, accounting, task assignment, and document organizing. The software should also migrate information you entered in the proposal stage into the accounting software and project management tools without anyone having to re-enter it.

Time tracking is an important process since time entry mistakes cost businesses significant revenue – especially in service industries like land surveying that track billable hours for multiple clients. Relying on paper time sheets and manual data entry is slow and unreliable and is unable to generate on the fly reports and projections on project budget or profitability.

There are a variety of time entry software applications available to allow a team to enter data from anywhere, even in the field. The key to accurate time tracking is to make it easy, convenient and habitual. Companies have devised all kinds of ways to get their employees to track time. Some use incentives like drawings with cash prizes while other resort to punitive measures like withholding paychecks. Research has shown however that the best way to get people to track their time is to make it easy and to remind them regularly. Investing in a time tracking app like eBility allows people to use their phones so they can track time while out in the field but also maintains the ability to integrate with other software used in project management. Other vendors with on-the-go apps include Quickbooks and Timecamp. Remember however, that whatever software solution is selected, it has to work together with all of the office software to provide a complete business solution. Just as ERP software and industry specific software tie together all the various aspects of proposal building, choosing the right software for project management will also tie together the various aspects of managing and billing for a project.

Project Close-out

Lastly, don’t overlook a methodical close-out process. If done thoughtfully, a completed project is an indispensable tool for future profitability. Past projects should be indexed in multiple ways including by project type and location. In this way, research can quickly look up information to support the next proposal writing task. Past projects are also great learning tools.

Was your client happy? Why or why not? Use unhappy client experiences to improve office processes or fill in training gaps. Was a project over budget? Use your financial software to identify where your money was made or lost and then integrate that information into your project planning and budgeting. Firms have a financial advantage if they know better than their competitors where their financial strengths lie. And don’t forget to share your knowledge. Have regular wrap up meetings to share your insights with staff so that they also understand where the business does well and where it needs improvement.

In Summary

Over the past generation, land surveying has become increasingly high tech with robots, remote sensing and satellite positioning. But, many of the business aspects of the land survey business languish in obsolete practices and procedures.

Tools like spreadsheets, or paper and pencil are good, but only as they integrate with a larger ecosystem of software and processes adding value or reducing risk to your business. Two key elements in the survey business are proposal writing and project management. Using software that’s accessible online will absolutely increase efficiencies and improve collaboration. And using software that’s connected and integrated with other software will improve business processes, save time and reduce human error. The task of selecting software may seem overwhelming, but whether you’re a large company or individual business owner, such an investment will result in happier employees, clients and owners. Investing in the right office software will ultimately allow you more time to do what you love: surveying land.


Fred Dyste is the founder of Biz Watt, LLC and the developer of Qfactor for Surveyors, a proposal writing and project management software developed for the land surveying industry. BizWatt is located in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Click here to download Issue #190 of the California Survey Magazine

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