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Episode: 183: Crafting Effective RFP Responses for You and Your Clients—with Responses Dan Freeman

Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So on this podcast, we are going to talk about responding to requests for proposals. And this is twofold. Either you're responding on behalf of a client and they're paying you to do it, which is a fabulous source of revenue, or you're responding to an RFP in order to get some business, which is another fabulous way to get some revenue. And I brought on Dan Freeman, who is an expert at RFP responses, and he and I are going to have a back-and-forth conversation about what we've learned makes a winning proposal actually get you the business you want or gets your client the business that they want, and what actual pain and gain points a client might have that they would want to bring somebody in to help them. So, this is just chock full of information. Let's get started.

Hi, I want to welcome to my show today Dan Freeman. Dan, welcome to the show.

Dan Freeman: Hey Deb, thanks for having me.

Deb Zahn: You bet. So let's start off, tell my listeners what you do.

Dan Freeman: So the bread and butter of what I do is I help consultants and people in the building industry respond to RFP proposals, and I usually represent the owners of the businesses because they don't have the time or the expertise to do it, and they figure that if their hourly rate is greater than mine, then it's a no-brainer, so.

Deb Zahn: That's a great way to say that. I love that. And by the way, you have one of the best websites that I've seen. I've actually shared it with people in my membership because your value and how you're describing value in a way that matters to who you want to work with is so beautiful. It's so crystal clear. So, anybody listening to this should go check it out because it's extraordinarily well done.

But we thought we would talk today about RFPs and sort of how to respond to them and how to win them. They're good for consultants because consulting firms and others can apply to them, but they can also be a source of revenue if you do them on behalf of a business or you do it on behalf of an organization, or I've had this experience where sometimes I've helped someone reply to an RFP that was a really high stakes RFP, and through that process, client got to know me and then was like, "Wait a minute, you know your stuff. Come do more stuff for us." So it was an entry also into the work, which is why this is such a great topic.

So let's start off, and you hinted on this a little bit of why somebody might bring in talent to help them with this, but what are some of those pains and gains that you see that businesses, or in my case, organizations have that would help them say, "You know what, I should really bring somebody in to help me craft and design this thing"?

Dan Freeman: Yeah, good question. Well, the stakes are high for these documents and there's a lot of competition, and most people that are responding to them don't know design and they don't know copywriting. And those are, I would say, the two fundamental skills in proposal responses. And if you're not exemplary in those two areas, then you're kind of operating from a disadvantage, unless you have really strong relationships with the prospective client already. But yeah, design and writing I would say are the big two factors, and if you don't have those, then it might be worth it to seek help.

Deb Zahn: And I love that you said exemplary because it's not, "Can you write a decent sentence?" It's really, "Can you craft a response that is going to get someone's attention and want them to pick you over whoever else you're potentially competing with?" So it's not like, "Oh, well, I remember some of my grammar from high school." It's, "Can you really knock it out of the park?" And if it's high stakes and you can't really knock it out of the park, then that's when I would definitely bring someone in.

You and I are going to have a little back and forth on this because I love this topic. I have helped lots of clients get money in the door to do really important beautiful things. I've also responded to RFPs on behalf of me or the firm I was working with that not only were quite lucrative, but we also ended up get getting to do things that we really love to do. And if the gate was an RFP, then we wanted to make sure we had the right key to unlock it, and that's kind of how we looked at it.

So, when you are talking with someone who's sort of debating whether or not to hire you or go it alone, what are some of the things that help convince them that bringing in a specialist is really the right thing to do?

Dan Freeman: Well, the big factor is always time. Some of these responses take 20, 30, 40, like 80 hours. And if you're running a single person shop or running a team, then your time isn't best allocated agonizing over RFP responses. A lot of it's tedious. A lot of it's very monotonous, and likely your time's better spent elsewhere.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Instead of saying, "Wait a minute, on page 14 we said this, so on page 82 we need to say the same thing," which is not what somebody who's at the top should do. Yeah.

The other way that we do it, and I know you talk about this on your website, is also, what's your win rate been up until this point? And often, I'll hear a number that is lower than any win rate I or the other people who are helping them have. So my win rate is in the 90s, and I often hear win rates that are in the 10s or 20s or maybe 30s, and so that's usually one of the ways that we help them convince them is, yeah, we have a track record of doing this. We only work on ones that we think are truly winnable because they're competitive, but when we work on them, we're going to knock it out of the park.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, absolutely.

Deb Zahn: So, you also talk about three things in which I loved how you put this, and then obviously this is why you're so good at language, three things to creating a winning proposal, and you talked about persuasive language, elegant design, and then having winning processes. And I thought it'd be helpful to just dive into those three a little bit more so people understand what they mean, and if they're a consultant considering doing this work or they're working with somebody, how they should be approaching these.

So, persuasive language, which is different than, just say what you do. So describe how you approach creating language that is truly persuading. Who's it persuading? Who do you have in mind when you're writing it? Sort of those things that go on behind the scenes and in your head.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. You brought up an interesting point in most people respond saying, "Here's what I do. Here's what I do, here's how I solve it, here's why I'm so great." And everyone does it. And a way you can really differentiate yourself is with empathy. Put yourself in the prospective client's shoes and spend a lot of time to really understand their problem, and then just say it back to them.

So, a huge differentiator for you would be just spending a lot of time articulating their problem. So rather than jumping into like, "Hey, I'm Dan and I'm really awesome at proposals," start the copy by writing all the problems they're likely facing and why it's significant to them. And then immediately, from that point, they feel understood, so anything you say after that is going to be so much more persuasive. That's the lowest hanging fruit, I would say. People just don't spend enough time articulating the problem that the person who's issuing the RFP has.

Deb Zahn: That's right. They make it about them instead of about the people who have to say yes. And it's funny because I've actually edited language like that I've gotten from clients, where they're handing me something saying, "Here, here's all the fabulous things we do." And assuming that I can understand it because inelegant marketers didn't get their hands on it at some point and turn it into gobbledygook, I will switch it in the exact way that you're talking about where it's from, ultimately, who you want to buy this thing that the RFP is about, what they care about, and I've heard before, "But that says the same thing."

And I said, "It doesn't say the same thing." You're now able to talk about how you can respond to this problem. Now you've gotten their attention, now you've told them, "Yeah, I get you." You've shown off your depth of understanding about what the implications of these problems are. You've now taken this little bit of me, me, me, you've turned it into a you, you, you, and now when you talk about your solutions, your solutions now have a context that they're going to care about because otherwise it's blah, blah, blah, and you said the same thing the last person just said. Everybody does that. Everybody has that process. Why are you special?

Dan Freeman: Yeah. You brought up something really important, the implications of the problem they're trying to solve, and so what are the consequences of not solving it? So for example, say you are an engineer going for a government contract to help civil design some roadways. And if you can speak to the consequence of hiring a poor engineer, that will really resonate with them because a huge part of any, especially with government, they're really trying to prevent headaches. And so if you can tell them how you're not going to give them pain, that supersedes any kind of advantageous way of writing about who you are. Just tell them that you're not going to give them headaches.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because people want to avoid pain actually more than they want to gain something. One of the reasons I think language like that is so important is they've probably had that pain before. They've had those headaches before. So they probably are thinking, “This person gets that. And they just told me how I'm not going to have that happen to me yet again." I respond in the healthcare market, and I know that a lot of implementations fail. I know why they fail. I know it's frustrating to the folks that are paying yet again to have something important happen and to have it not actually succeed, to have no really clear metrics being suggested of how it's going to be a success. So, I actually say what those problems are, and then here's essentially how we're going to solve some of those, right down to some of the details that somebody else might not think to put in. But I know that that solves something that typically is a failure point.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, that's exactly it. And so you come in with this knowledge, and so somebody who doesn't have that knowledge, you would do well to try to get any sort of face time with the evaluators beforehand. And so a lot of times they'll have a pre-proposal meeting, or they won't necessarily have explicit guidelines, and I always suggest to my clients, try to get a meeting with somebody and just talk to them about their problem and you'll learn so much about their pains, and then you can speak to them so much better than anybody else would.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And that's where I would also, just like when you're trying to get consulting clients, I would also look for the emotional language or anything that elicits an emotional response because that's going to tell you something that they actually truly care about that they might not write down in guidelines on a piece of paper. And I had luck with doing that once. Usually if it's a, in my case, if it's a federal grant, they play it really close to the chest. They've got defined answers to any questions that you ask, and sometimes they're helpful and sometimes they're not. But if you're on something where you can ask something live, and they laugh right before they give that defined answer, I know, and I've had that happen once, but I'm like, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, that was your tell. That was tell of something that you actually care about, and now I know that we have to go back to the proposal and put something in there that's going to be soothing.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, absolutely.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. And that brings up on an interesting point too. If you have any opportunity to get some face time, like you got it. Say you're issuing an RFP, and you get five responses back. You've worked with two of the proposers before and you've never worked with the other three. And if you're one of the other three trying to compete against people that have relationships already, it's going to be such an uphill battle. And so just try to kick and claw your way to get some face time because people do business with people they like, and you can't convey your likeness with a document when they're comparing it to real relationships.

Deb Zahn: That's right. And in lots of settings you can do that. In federal grants, the only thing you get are the webinars that they'll do. And they won't actually let you talk to anybody. Federal and state grants are that way, but a lot of ones they will. If you're a consultant and you're responding to an RFP to get some business, often you can get some face time. And I've had CEOs tell me, "The only reason that other people didn't get it is because they didn't ask." And my response back was, "Well, I'm this diligent for my clients too," which she loved that answer.

But yeah, I would agree with that because you're going to not just create hopefully a warm connection, so now when they're looking at their proposal, they're picturing you and your face and they think something good about you, but you'll also pick up on things that aren't going to be on a piece of paper that ... and you'll be able to ask them hopefully probing questions that were perhaps things they didn't even think about when they were putting the proposal together. And even asking it will help set you apart because you were wise enough to ask that question.

Dan Freeman: Absolutely. Yeah. If you can be thoughtful and inquisitive, I mean, that's going to set you apart for sure.

Deb Zahn: Love it. Well, let's get onto one of my favorite ones, which is the elegant design. So, talk about what that means. So, if you had to describe to someone, "Here's what we mean by elegant design," what would you say?

Dan Freeman: Well, so a story comes to mind. I was talking to a consultant, and he used to evaluate proposals for the government. And he said, "If I had five proposals in front of me, there would be varying levels of professionalism and design." And he said he would, before even reading anything, he would already prematurely come up with all these judgments about their competencies just by looking at the document.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Dan Freeman: And even further than that, he would kind of psychologically rank them in his mind from most professional to least, and then when those five people came in for an interview, he would be able to almost match the document to the person. He's like, the professionalism that you see in person is kind of like the professionalism you see on the page. And so if you can demonstrate that professionalism on the page, you're already, you're at an advantage.

Deb Zahn: Right. And that doesn't mean not creative or not interesting, but just not sloppy. I've seen a lot of sloppy and unpolished where it looks like this was your first draft.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. And ideally you'd be using professional design software. It should look like a trade publication.

Deb Zahn: Right.

Dan Freeman: I mean, when somebody picks up an iPhone, before they even turn it on, they're already making so many value judgments about how awesome this product is. Like, it's beautiful, it's elegant, it looks amazing. And Apple operates design first. They want to make sure it looks amazing, and then they figure out the innards, the components afterwards. And they do that because design sells, and you've already made, as soon as you pick up that phone, you've made all these value judgements about how awesome it is before even turning the screen on, and the same with the proposal. You pick it up, you've already made all these value judgments, and before you even read a page.

Deb Zahn: Yup. Yup. And I've also been a reviewer for federal grants, I've been a reviewer for consulting grants, I've been a reviewer for foundation grants, and so I have some of the same experience, but I also come at it from the perspective of don't make your reviewer's life difficult because they won't be able to get past that. You know? They haven't been necessarily meditating for 60 years and can get past the fact that you just pissed them off because they're looking at something that is difficult to read and difficult to score.

So, when I think of elegant design, I also think, make it easy for me. I want to see some white space. Don't strain my eyes because I'm looking at a tiny little font because you thought it was way more important to squeeze in as much information as possible than letting me look at something that is actually a pleasure to look at.

And I do federal grants that will tell you, "Here's the font, here's the font size, here's the margins," and they don't really let you do that much, but where you can make it look, make it look polished. But I've also seen ones where there haven't been any guidelines and they have no margins, the text goes all the way out to the edge, all the way up to the top, all the way out to the bottom. It's single spaced, things are smushed together, it looks like a serial killer manifesto. I'm just going to say it. That's what it looks like. I expect the next page to be covered in blood.

And it's painful to read that as a reviewer, as opposed to make it easy on the eyes for me because I'm tired. This isn't my job. I'm doing this likely as a favor to someone else, I'm probably not even getting paid for it, and I got a stack of them in front of me, and the same way your friend said, the judgments help me get through that stack.

Dan Freeman: A hundred percent.

Deb Zahn: And yeah, so make it easy and make me happy when I'm reading it.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Yeah. And imagine having 15 proposals in front of you, and they're all Microsoft Word documents that are just full of full line…

Deb Zahn: Oh, my gosh.

Dan Freeman: ...all text, and you're not going to read it all. It's just, you're not going to read it all, and so-

Deb Zahn: Yeah, dude, I don't have to imagine it. I've been there, but I wish it were only 15.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. And yeah, make it easy. Every evaluator I've talked to said they basically don't read them cover to cover. And so use a lot of visuals. If you have a cool process, make an infographic about it. So I always do mine two columns.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Yeah. Nice and easy.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Every page should be like, max, 70% text. But even just throw a stock photo if you got nothing else. But any sort of visuals to help them out, to help the evaluator out.

One little trick I use is in the cover letter, I will say, "Hey, if you want to learn everything you can about this entire project, turn to page 12." And on page 12 is like a tabloid full fold out where they have, if they've only read one page, they would find out everything they need to know. So, how you understand the problem, who you are, who's going to be carrying out the project. Here are some other example projects I've done in the same realm. Here's the photo of what your project could look like, if there's something visual, and here are the ways we're going to save you money and here are the most important aspects of your project.

And if they have that all in one page, they're like, "Wow, OK, this person gets me," and you're just doing them a huge favor, and they're just simply not going to, unless it's a short proposal, they're just simply not going to read the whole document. So, if you give it to them all on a silver platter, I mean, that's one of the coolest differentiators I've brought my clients.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Because then they're going to respond the same way I did. "Nice. Thank you for doing that for me." Yeah. I did something in a proposal one, it was actually a federal one where it was very complex what we were talking about, and you really couldn't feel the heart in it. And we knew we needed the reviewers to feel some warm and fuzzy when they were reading this, so this was a combination of the persuasive language and the design.

So we did a story. We invented a character, Anton. And we basically told the story of before and after. What's his life like now? What will his life be like after this? And we had some visuals to go with it so that it wasn't boring to read. So we had a stock photo, some random dude that you would look at and say, "Yeah, he looks like an Anton." And it broke up what was otherwise a pretty technical document that didn't really have any heart to it, and they ended up winning it, and it was actually worth quite a bit.

But in the reviewer comments back, that was one of the things people talked about that they really liked because then they could also put all the pieces together and say, "Oh, this is what it's going to mean for the people we serve. And that's ultimately what we cared about in this proposal." So, that's where we brought the two together in a way that was fun, and I remember my client was like, "Who's Anton?" I'm like, "I made him up." And he's like, "He sounded real." I'm like, "That's the whole point." But we're saying fictional, we're not lying, but we're trying to bring some heart to it.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. So you did a lot of amazing things in that example. You visualized the before and after, the transformation that your client is going to provide. You made it into an easy infographic, and you told a story. I mean, that's like, it doesn't get any better than that. I mean, the best communicators on YouTube and anywhere else, that's what they're doing. And they're so popular because it's entertaining, easy to digest, and it just speeds up learning.

Deb Zahn: It does. And it was funny. So I appreciate the compliment, high praise from someone who knows this stuff, but I remember actually telling the client, "I wrote this and I'm bored. So if I wrote it and I find it boring, then we got to figure out a way to bring some heart into this." And storytelling I know is one of the best ways to do it, and the best stories have visuals. We're wired for that, obviously, which is why we watch streaming services all the time.

So, let's talk about the winning processes because that is definitely a mistake I see a lot of places make when they're trying to win an RFP, is they don't really have a process for doing it in a step by step fashion that actually gets them a proposal that's going to win. So, talk about what a winning process would look like for folks who might reply to RFPs on a regular basis.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Well, what we do is we start at the evaluation criteria, and they're going to tell you which sections are the most explicit, or which sections are going to be worth the most. And the strategy, if you can spend a few hours with your team or whoever you're working with on strategy…

Deb Zahn: Yes.

Dan Freeman: I mean, a lot of people just hand this proposal off to their intern and say, "OK, start writing away," and with no strategy. And when you take the time to work together, like you bounce ideas off each other and your responses, you come up with different narratives and kind of like a centralized strategy, and it just makes your response so much stronger. So the first thing I do is just don't just hit pen to paper and start going at it. Take the time, meet with people, and figure out what you think they want to hear.

Deb Zahn: Yep. Yeah, I'm so happy you said strategy because I've seen the same thing where it's like, "I guess we got to write this. Here, you have time, you do it." So aside from the other things that we've talked about that they may not have, but you want to think about the strategy for winning. And the strategy for winning isn't necessarily just blurt out everything fabulous about yourself and use marketing language. The strategy for winning is, what's the narrative, the story, that will get us from where we are today to crawling into the client's heart so that we're irresistible to say yes to? And that takes time to actually think that through.

I see when I've been in groups that are talking about strategy or talking about win themes, those themes that you think are going to get you to win the contract, is they have a really difficult time getting out of the stories about themselves that they're really attached to, the things that they think make them fabulous and their history. Oh, my gosh. They get so attached to their history.

Dan Freeman: Oh, yeah. As if anybody cares.

Deb Zahn: I know you know what I mean. And so how do you help people get out of that, other than saying, "No one cares"?

Dan Freeman: That's usually all I have to say.

Deb Zahn: Yeah.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. I mean, it's very common for people to say, "You know, we've been around since 1972 and we live by our company values of integrity and honesty and hard work." And yeah, it's just not compelling in any way. So, in those strategy sessions, I always try to direct it to where we were talking at the beginning. What is the problems that they have, and how can we ... One of my favorite sales people always says, if you're going to train a sales team, and you could train them on the problem that your company's solving or the solution that you're providing, train them on the problem. And so in strategy sessions, I always try to direct it to be about the problem, and then we can get into case studies, and then you can tell your story. And case studies are, I'm sure you know, very critical.

Deb Zahn: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So I also say the, "No one cares, folks, I hate to tell you this," but I also use the example of like, the hard work and integrity, it's not like your competitors are like, "Look, we work hard. Integrity, eh, not so much." Nobody else is saying that. They're all grabbing their thesaurus that they picked up when they started their business and they've got their adjective that describes what they do, and none of that means anything, and that's just telling you that you're going to have a chance to show why it is you're uniquely suited to this, but it's not because you picked a cooler adjective.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. That was a good point. Like, yeah, we operate with integrity and honesty. We're not that hard working.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I mean, you know, we get it done eventually, I guess. We'll see. Yeah, no one's saying that. So this is great. Now, any other thing that you would say about differentiating that you think consultants who are helping folks with this stuff, or if they're replying to RFPs, that they really need to think about?

Dan Freeman: Well one, this is just a minor thing, but, and maybe perhaps it's just a pet peeve of mine, but don't use acronyms.

Deb Zahn: Oh, please don't use acronyms.

Dan Freeman: I mean, proposals are so littered with acronyms all the time, and if you're reading this and you come across an acronym and you don't know what it is, either you have two choices: to either skip over it and pretend you didn't read it or turn back somewhere and go searching for the acronym. Both scenarios are awful. You're either annoying your evaluator or they're not understanding what you're saying.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Dan Freeman: So, that's a minor one. Case studies are big. So, if you want to differentiate yourself, create a really nice one-page case study for whichever project you want to talk about. And ideally, they would do what you did and tell a visual story. And so you could tell the story from one of your clients, like what problem did they have? How did we attempt to solve it? What challenges came up as we tried to solve it? And relate those challenges to the challenges that are top of mind for the evaluators. And so let's say if you've determined in your strategy session that the evaluator is going to have challenge A, B, and C, then in your case study you can write your case study saying like, "Oh, here's how we solved the problem very similar to A, B, and then C, and here's the final result." And it's very much in a storytelling format, like here's the protagonist, starts out with this problem, he or she goes on her journey, faces challenge, challenge, challenge, and then we get this beautiful result.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Dan Freeman: The more of a narrative you can form rather than just blocks. Like, the more of a story you can tell rather than the objective facts about what you did, the better it's going to be received.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, and I love that. I've obviously had good luck with it. So mine would be acronyms for sure. I would've picked that one. Use plain language, skip the jargon.

Dan Freeman: Yes.

Deb Zahn: Now, if there are terms that have precision that are necessary in order to explain what you're doing, then feel free to use those but skip the jargon. I have been a reviewer before, and I have read things, and I'm pretty well educated. I've read a lot of things. I know what words mean, and I knew what each of these words meant individually. I did not know what they meant together because there was so much gobbledygook jargon in it. And guess what? I'm a reviewer. I got a stack in front of me. It's not my job to figure it out. It was your job to say it to me plainly. You chose not to do that, and you've now made it more difficult for me to give you a high score. Not because I'm mad, but because I don't understand what you're saying. So, that would be my big one.

Dan Freeman: And also because you're mad. I mean, if I was the evaluator, I would be mad too.

Deb Zahn: I'm also mad, yeah. Yeah, especially if you're proposal 20 and I got 10 more to go and I haven't had dinner yet, yeah, that's not a good idea because now you got cranky Deb. Cranky Deb is not a high scorer. She just generally isn't.

Dan Freeman: Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: You want happy Deb.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Plain language is big. I mean, unless, I think you might have touched on this, unless your industry is big on jargon. There are some industries where, if you're in some really technical field, maybe some evaluators will want to see that you understand the jargon. But in my experience, a hundred percent of the time, speak in plain language. Speak at, what do they say, like a sixth-grade level.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Which sounds weird, but it's not because you also don't know who their reviewers are. I've told this story before where I was reviewing something for a big federal opportunity where everyone who knew anything about it really well was replying to it. And so they had to find reviewers that were adjacent to that topic, but didn't know it with the precision of the people who were applying, and so you better have used plain language because you should not have assumed that all of your reviewers that—no offense to me and the other reviewers—that they kind of had to scrounge to find and talk people into it. You better speak in plain language to us because if we don't understand you, we can't score you highly.

Dan Freeman: Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: Love it.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Another writing tip is use copywriting formulas. Hollywood sticks to very predictable scripts. Or various predictable frameworks, story frameworks. And they do this because it works. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Dan Freeman: And if you just spend maybe 30 minutes just looking up copywriting formulas, they're very simple. Problem, agitation, solution. Even, yeah, just something as simple as that, it can give you ... It does two things. Number one, you're going to be a more persuasive writer. And number two, it gets rid of writer's block. And so if you have a simple formula you can follow all the time, just do a quick Google for problem, agitation, solution, and that's really all you need to know.

Deb Zahn: That works for getting consulting gigs too, by the way.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. I mean, it works if you want to persuade your partner to rub your feet.

Deb Zahn: Totally. I've had a long hard day. Yeah, I get all that.

Dan Freeman: Yeah.

Deb Zahn: That's wonderful.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. Because a big part of these is staring at the blank screen, and any kind of relief from that is absolutely helpful. And then one awesome thing about learning about copywriting is that the skill reinforces itself. And so for example, in your daily life, you're constantly being bombarded by advertisements everywhere. And so you can start to critique marketing materials wherever you are, and in that, you're slowly building your copywriting chops, and in turn, your persuasive skills and your marketing skills. And so I think every single person in business would do themselves really great to spend a few hours thinking about copywriting.

Deb Zahn: That's right. Because they apply across your whole business. Well, one thing I want to say before we tell folks where they can find you is I really want to emphasize to any consultants out there to consider RFPs as part of your overall strategy. If you're a really good copywriter, and you got this stuff and you're really good at strategy, there's potential for getting business through this.

But I will say, in terms of having responded to RFPs myself, there was, when I worked at a consulting firm, there was a state, I won't say which state, that we had done very little business in. We didn't have an office there. No one knew who the heck we were, and we got into that state in two ways. We got into that state because someone from an adjacent state said to someone in that state, "Hey, these folks are great; you should work with them." So that gave us a bit of a foothold, and then at the same time we replied to an RFP, and it was a relatively modest RFP for doing some modest work with an organization we'd never worked with before. And we rocked it because we take all of that seriously.

We now have, every single year, six- and seven-figures worth of business in that state. The firm does. The total of business that I participated in, and I was part of topped out well into the seven figures. The kernels were a really solid referral, and the other kernel was a relatively small RFP that then we leveraged to get all of this other business, and in a place where experience in that geography mattered.

So it's not a small thing, and it can lead to a lot of good things if you use it strategically. So I just want to make a plug for it because I think it's so important. So Dan, where can folks find you?

Dan Freeman: So if you go to that will redirect to my LinkedIn and send me a message there.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And definitely go look at your website, which we're going to have in the show notes because it is beautiful. But it really shows off persuasive language. It really shows off that you know who your client is, you know what they care about. It's one of the better ones I've ever seen.

Dan Freeman: That's great. That's really ... Yeah. That's great to hear. Thank you.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. So, let me ask you my last question. So where are you finding balance these days? However it is you define that.

Dan Freeman: Actually, I think, yeah, I told you when we had a quick intro call that I just moved to the country.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Dan Freeman: And I actually, one of the deciding factors was knowing that you did that.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. And so I've moved to the country, and I feel 50 pounds lighter psychologically. It's really, when I was living in the city, I didn't even realize it at the time, but I was living in this very competitive mindset that I needed to succeed and succeed and succeed. I would kind of mentally berate myself for not working as much as I should. Moving to the country absolved almost all of that.

Deb Zahn: Wow.

Dan Freeman: And so I feel a lot more work-life balance, and if you can work remotely, give it a shot. It's a game changer.

Deb Zahn: Why not? I love it. And you know, I used to read those books way before I did it where people would have books and they talk about, oh, they chucked everything and they moved to the country and they got some pigs and they had a farm, and whatever version of the story was. Mine would be different because I'm vegetarian, but when we finally did it, yeah, I felt like I could breathe. I had no idea living in a city, which was New York City, and living in a suburb in New Jersey, just how much you were absorbing. I was absorbing everything around me all the time. Well, partly because I'm an introvert, and now you're right, 50 pounds lighter's a great way to describe it. As soon as I moved to the country, I felt like I could breathe.

Dan Freeman: Yeah. It's wild. I don't know. What do you think that is?

Deb Zahn: Well, I think there is just, when you're surrounded by so many people. There just is a constant onslaught of energy and a constant onslaught of stimuli that we have to, for mere existence, tune it out. But we don't fully tune it out. And so bombardment of ads, bombardment of hearing conversations around us, bombardment of traffic, just all of the little things that you have to do. I didn't realize it until I actually, probably seven years after we moved, I went back to the town that I used to live in, in New Jersey, which was this quaint little commuter town, and I felt exhausted being there.

Dan Freeman: Wow.

Deb Zahn: Just because there were cars in front of me. I had to pay attention to this, and I had to hear this. I had to navigate a sidewalk. I didn't realize how exhausting it was until I went back. And going to New York City, last time my mom and I went, I thought we were going to cry. It was just like, "Oh, my gosh." And we're both introverts. We're like, "This is way too much." We have about seven and a half acres around us, and we can see our neighbors' houses, but they're not right next to us like they were in New Jersey. It just feels spacious. I have less stimuli coming at me, which is why we have binoculars. We're like, "Look, honey, there are turkey in our front yard" because we're not getting that much stimuli.

Dan Freeman: Yeah, definitely the simpler things kind of pop on your radar a lot easier and that's nice.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, I'm so glad you did it, and I get a chance to see what's behind you and it looks absolutely gorgeous. So wherever you picked, you picked a really good spot.

Dan Freeman: I don't want to tell people because it's a hidden gem.

Deb Zahn:  You're like, "Don't come here."

Dan Freeman: My secret.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Everybody came up here during the pandemic. Man, houses were selling for crazy amounts of money.

But Dan, thank you so much for joining me. Congratulations to your move to the good life. But thanks for coming on and talking with me about this. As you can tell, both of us dig this topic a lot.

Dan Freeman: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Deb.

Deb Zahn: You bet. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content, and I don't want you to miss anything.

But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So, as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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