Your proposal’s overall professional look and feel has a lot to do with presenting you as a credible and reliable company to your prospective customers. Even the best possible solution, presented it in a sloppy manner, may plant the seeds of doubt in your evaluators’ minds.
The first rule for all proposals is to eliminate grammatical and spelling errors. This means editing your proposal multiple times, in every possible way: electronically, in hard copy, on the screen using a projector, and by reading it out loud. Errors will undermine your credibility even if you have a perfectly competitive solution. Scrub, scrub, scrub—and when you are absolutely done scrubbing, scrub some more. This is why it is a best practice to hold a read-out-loud session at the end of your proposal.
You also want to be consistent in the appearance of your graphics: All your proposal visuals have to have the same palette, shapes, and fonts. Consistency breeds trust, and you want your evaluators to trust you implicitly.
You also should spend some effort on a proposal cover to make it attractive so that your customer wants to read your proposal. The images on the cover should be reflective of your customer, rather than your brand. When you are just starting out, it is fine to have generic covers and not spend much money on developing a custom cover for each proposal. When you grow, however, you should invest in having a graphic artist develop a nice cover for each large and highly contested pursuit—just as your competitors, no doubt, will do.
Take the time to lay out your proposal properly. Research shows that double-column and single-column layouts are equally readable if there are graphics, so if your customer hasn’t indicated a preference, it will make your life easier to use a single-column format. If you have a complex layout with multiple sections and double-sided pages, you might want to get a professional desktop publisher to help you with production. Government contractors rely on consultants or even have in-house desktop publishers to make documents attractive.
Remember: The competition for government contracts is steep. Winning requires pulling out all the stops and doing everything within your power to make your offer more compelling.