How to Structure a Proposal | Proposify
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How to Structure a Proposal

Starting a new proposal, especially when you want to deliver it to your hot lead as soon as possible, can feel like a daunting task. What should I include? How long should it be? Where do I even start? I need more coffee. However, if you break your proposal writing process down into sections, it makes it less overwhelming.

8 min. read

To help get you rolling, here’s a general outline on how to structure your proposal.

So pour your coffee, take a deep breath, and tackle it one section at a time:

Proposal cover

The cover of your proposal is the first thing that your sales lead will see, so it needs to make a good impression. It doesn’t have to be flashy, simple is usually better, but it must be well-designed.

The proposal cover should include all the pertinent information like:

  • Name of the project
  • Any project reference numbers
  • Name of the client and contact to whom you’re submitting
  • Name of your company and contact info
  • Date proposal was submitted

Make sure that any logos you use on the cover page, whether yours or your client’s, are high-quality, high-res versions and they look sharp in the context of your cover. It’s a bad start to the proposal process when the first thing a client sees is a fuzzy version of their logo in a white box that looks like an amateur cut-and-paste hack. Here are more tips on how to design your proposal.

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Executive summary

Contrary to popular belief, the executive summary isn’t a summary of your whole proposal. It’s a summary of why your solution is the right one. It needs to outline why your prospective client should choose your company over the competition.

The executive summary needs to be persuasive and focused on the benefits of your company/product/service, rather than descriptive and focused on the features. You’ll have an opportunity to outline features later in the body of the proposal.

The executive summary should cover the following points:

Intro

Your introduction needs to be compelling enough to grab the reader’s attention right away and make them want to keep reading. This is the time to focus on the client, their issue, and the results they’re looking for; this isn’t the place to spotlight your company.

The challenge

You can’t solve a problem that you don’t understand, and people won’t hire you if they think you don’t get it. Demonstrate your grasp of the situation; include some research or refer to related experience your company has had with a similar project. The focus here is on the client and their challenge, not your team.

The solution

This is where you highlight the solution your team has designed to overcome the client’s business challenges. Outline how it will work and the benefits the client can expect.

Keep this section fairly high level - they can read the specifics in the proposal - but provide enough detail to give your clients a sense of relief and get them excited about the results to come.

The proof

Explain why your company, your team, or your product is the right choice for this situation; why you’re uniquely qualified to do this work.

Maybe you have lots of experience helping other companies with a similar issue; maybe it’s a special skill your team possesses, technology you’ve built, or approach you’ve adopted. Talk about why your company specifically can make this a successful project and deliver the most favourable results.

Call to action

Since the executive summary’s purpose is to sell, now’s the time to close the deal before the reader even gets to page two.

This section is your chance to convince your prospect that their only chance for success is to hire your company. Remind them what differentiates you from the competition and reinforce the idea that your solution is the only one that will deliver results.

And finally, a little flattery goes a long way. Talk about why you and your team are excited to work with them on this project.

Some people suggest the executive summary be 10% of your entire proposal, but we recommend keeping it to one page. If you’re working on an RFP there may be a set length you have to adhere to, so be sure to check out the guidelines.

Approach/solution

The next section of your proposal outlines, in detail, your approach to solving the client’s business challenges and the process involved. It’s important to be as specific as possible to this particular client and project. You don’t want them to think you sent a generic boilerplate proposal and just swapped out an another client’s name for theirs. Even if this solution is one you sell to most of your clients, make the context of the proposal feel customized.


Project deliverables

Describe exactly what’s included in the proposal and what the client can expect to receive from you. For example:

  • Social media audit
  • Competitive analysis
  • Content strategy

It’s important that you have detailed descriptions for each deliverable. Don’t assume the reader already knows the scope of each one, or even what they mean. Providing detail and being clear will help avoid any misunderstandings about expectations later.

Project milestones

Break the project into phases. Outline the events and deliverables involved with each one, how long it will take, who is responsible for what, and what will be accomplished at the completion of each milestone.

Budget

This section is mostly made up of your project fees and descriptions.

Here at Proposify, we looked at more than 20,000 proposals to see how many pricing fees most proposals contained and discovered that the average proposal contained eight fees.

But, out of all the winning proposals – the ones that closed – those proposals only included two fees. In your proposal, only include a couple of pricing options; too much choice is just as bad as not enough. Looking for help on how to price a proposal?

One way to present your project budget is to tell your sales lead up front that you’re giving them three pricing options:

  1. What can be achieved as a minimal solution to their problem.
  2. What can be done with their available budget.
  3. What can be done for more than their budget, to knock their socks off.

You can present each of these options easily and clearly in Proposify by including optional fee tables, which allows your client to select which fee they would like to opt into.

(How to create an optional fee table in Proposify.)

About Us/team

Explain who you are as a company. What you do, why you exist, your expertise, and your unique selling proposition. Touch on all the various services or products you offer, not just the ones relevant to this proposal. It may be a chance to cross-sell your clients, or at least plant the seed in their minds of your range of abilities.

Don’t forget to show off your greatest resource - your team! Make your potential new client feel confident that they’re hiring the best by highlighting the experience and strength of your team members. Include pictures and bios of the key people who will be working on the project.

Your prospect doesn’t just want to see that you can complete their project successfully; they also want to know your company’s values so they can see for themselves that you’re reliable and will be someone they can work with for an extended period.

Case Studies/testimonials

Case studies and testimonials put the walk in the talk of your business proposals. Include examples of past projects with a written description of the problem you solved, and what the client thought of the results.

Use these four elements as a guideline for formatting your case study:

Background

Provide context for the reader by briefly introducing the client company, what they do, and their industry.

The challenge

Why did the client come to you? What problem did they need solved? Why did they choose your company to help them?

The approach

What did your team do to address the client’s problem? What was your process to develop a solution? Why did you decide that solution was the right one?

The result

Explain the results your solution delivered to the client, ideally with hard numbers, but otherwise anecdotally. Describe how your team improved their situation, how it helped them achieve their goals, and how they are now positioned for a successful future. RESULTS ARE CRITICAL. If you can’t demonstrate positive results, don’t include the case study.

Clients/references

This section is optional, but you may decide to include a client list, or just one or two phone numbers/email addresses of people your prospect can contact for a reference on what it’s like to work with your business. Remember to check with your existing clients first before giving out their names or contact information.

Terms/conditions/next steps

Show your client how to proceed to close the sale. It could be a statement of work, contract for sign off, or even just a name and phone number to call.

It’s usually a good idea to get a lawyer to help with the terms and conditions to make sure both you and your client are protected if this project goes awry.

Conclusion

While every business proposal is different, most follow a similar structure and flow. You may have to write a proposal from scratch the first time, but once you develop a process you can reuse some of the content to help save time and still deliver a persuasive pitch.

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