The Bridge on October 15th – Jim McCarthy Discusses Best Practices in Writing Proposals

On October 15th Jim McCarthy host of The Bridge sat down with Sara Freeman and Colleen McCarthy Huckabee, of AOC Key Solutions in a fast-paced question and answer, probing the best practices used during the proposal process.

Jim McCarthy: [Fill in the blank segment} “The Number one reason proposals fail is ____”

Colleen McCarthy: Not demonstrating that you understand the government’s mission and not addressing how you’re going to solve the challenges.

Sara Freeman: Most fail because there is no clear win strategy.

Jim McCarthy: From now on when I get face time with the government I’ll be sure to ___?     

Colleen McCarthy: I wouldn’t say the challenge is when it’s if. When you get face time with the government customer you don’t want to monopolize the time. You want to come with questions prepared, and definitely, don’t want to come with a 30 slide powerpoint. You wanna listen more.

Sara Freeman: That’s the key word, you’ve got to listen, they will hopefully tell you what they want.

Jim McCarthy: From now on when writing an executive summary I’ll be sure it __?  

Sara Freeman: I would say to write it first, it’s a guideline for other writers because in the executive summary I’d hope you’d have your win themes and discriminators, so the other writers can look to that as a guide to know what they’re writing about within their sections.

Colleen McCarthy: I like to do it last because as the proposal progresses the win themes the discriminators mature, they change. If you write the executive summary last by that point they’ve been ironed out and there’ll be fewer revisions.

Jim McCarthy: Colleen, is there something the government could do to make proposals easier? In other words, not multi-week multi-month activities, what could help expedite that process?

Colleen McCarthy: I would like to challenge the government to make a compliance matrix on their end. It would highlight deficiencies between the L, M, and C (Instructions, Evaluation Criteria, Statement of work) They often ask us for one, but I’d like to see if they made one. It’d really highlight deficiencies off the bat.

Jim McCarthy: Sara, what would be the key to overcoming the misplaced confidence that’s often exhibited by incumbents?

Sara Freeman: Honestly, just tell them the fact that up to 40% of the time that incumbents don’t win, Right there is enough to scare anyone into really focusing on that particular proposal, and how it’s going to be different each time around, the requirements aren’t always going to be the same.

For more information about The Bridge, check: or stream the episode here (

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