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How to Write a Business Proposal

How to Write a Business Proposal
While the end of a business proposal can result in money, starting a business proposal can be downright daunting. But once you understand what to put it a proposal, the whole process is a lot less scary, and a lot more effective. Here’s an overview of how to start creating a proposal that you can use for every new sales opportunity.

Before we get started, one thing we need to establish is that the business proposal deserves a little more respect and a little more love than what a lot of companies give it. A proposal represents your company, your team, your expertise, your reputation. Do you really feel a boring one-page Word doc mostly dominated by a fee table is an accurate portrayal of all you are and all that you can offer?

And what about your potential clients? How do you think they feel when they get a plain text document with the price at the bottom versus a beautifully-designed, persuasively-written proposal that gets them excited to work with your company?

proposal software
When you want to say, “We don’t care about your business”

A good proposal communicates to your potential client that they’re worth the work, that you value their business enough to create a fabulous document just for them.

So let’s agree that putting a little more effort into your proposal can benefit everyone involved. Maybe there’s even a hashtag in there... #proposallove? #loveyourproposal? #respecttheproposal? I’m open to suggestions. Let’s start a movement.

Does this lead even deserve a proposal?

So while we’ve established we need to respect the proposal, that includes not trotting one out for just anyone who comes along. Your proposals and, more importantly, your time, are precious; you don’t want to waste the effort on someone who has no intention of actually doing business with you, even if they seem well-intentioned.  

So before you start rushing around and spending a whole lot of blood, sweat, and not-so-virtual tears trying to pull together your next proposal, stop and ask yourself this:

Does this sales lead even DESERVE a proposal?

Because sometimes the answer is a big, fat, NO. And if you want to be more profitable, you need to know when the answer's a no and when it’s a yes.

To help you qualify a lead, check out our post for five questions to ask yourself to see if they’re proposal-worthy:

How to Qualify a Lead Before Sending a Proposal or RFP Response

Or, watch the video:

Proposal structure

Starting a proposal can feel overwhelming. However, if you break your proposal writing process down into sections, it makes it less overwhelming. Then you can tackle each section at a time and in the end, you’ll probably be left with some great content you can reuse for future proposals.

Here’s the basic proposal structure:

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

The designers here at Proposify wrote a great post about proposal design that can help you make the cover and the rest of your proposal look like a million bucks:

Winning Proposal Design and Layout Tips (With Examples from Real Proposify Customers)

Or, watch the video:

Executive summary

One of the biggest misconceptions about proposals is that the executive summary is a  summary of your whole proposal. It’s not; its actual purpose is to sell. It’s a summary of why your solution is the right one. It outlines why your prospective client should choose your company over the competition.

It should be persuasive and focused on the benefits of your company/product/service, rather than descriptive and focused on the features.

Here’s a more in-depth guide to writing an executive summary that will help set the stage for a big, fat, YES:

How to Write an Executive Summary for Your Proposal

Approach/solution

Describe the approach your team recommends to solve the client’s business challenges, along with the process involved. Be as specific as possible to this client and this project. You don’t want to give them the impression that you sent a boilerplate proposal and simply swapped out an another client’s name for theirs. Even if this service is one you sell to most of your clients, make the context of the proposal feel customized.

Project deliverables

Specify what’s included in the proposal and what the client can expect to receive from you. It’s important that you have detailed descriptions for each deliverable. Don’t assume your client already knows the scope of each service, or even what it means. 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 for each, including how long it will take, who is responsible for what, and what will be accomplished at the completion of each milestone.

Budget

Pricing a proposal is always a bit tricky, but whatever you do, don’t sell yourself short.

Between building trust with your new client, getting them to open up about their real budget, convincing them of the value you’ll deliver, and trying to make it all profitable, it can feel like an uphill battle.

Find the pricing method that works best for you and focus on your own profitability. You don’t want to be known as the lowest-priced business in your industry. Clients who chase the lowest price rarely turn into valuable long-term relationships - they’re too busy jumping from supplier to supplier, seeing you as disposable as soon as they find a cheaper deal.

Here are two articles that will help you price your proposal:

“What’s Your Budget?” – What to Ask Clients Before Writing a Proposal

How to Price a Business Proposal

About Us/team

Explain who you are as a company; what you do, why you exist, your expertise, and your unique selling proposition. Outline all the 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 the team members who will be working on their 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 comfortably work with.

Case studies/testimonials

No matter how many times you claim that your company has “extensive experience”, without a case study to back it up those words can be meaningless and risky to a new prospect.

While proposals outline what you’re going to do for a client, case studies prove you can do it.  

Businesses are often hesitant to include case studies with their proposals because it’s more work to create them on top of everything else, especially when you’re in the time-sensitive throes of preparing a proposal.

The key is to stop seeing case studies as optional and instead view them as an essential selling tool; the tool that just might be the tipping point between you and competition.

Here’s an easy guide to creating case studies:

9 Tips to Win More Proposals with Case Studies

Proposal writing

Writing a proposal is arguably the most challenging part of the process, and it can be easy to get bogged down in not just what to say, but how to say it.

How you express yourself in your proposal reflects on the credibility of your company, your expertise, and your working style. You need to write clearly, persuasively, and efficiently -  the future of your next deal depends on it.

Check out this article on writing proposals that might be helpful to your process:

Tips for Writing Better Business Proposals: Language, Tone, and Style

Or, watch the video:

Streamline your proposal process

The biggest complaint we hear at Proposify about creating a business proposal is how time-consuming it can be. If you want to make it easier to get proposals out faster, the only solution is to automate your process. And the only way to do that is with online proposal software.

Online proposal software is designed to streamline your entire proposal process. From writing, to design, to sending and tracking, online proposal software unites all your separate tools and steps under one efficient roof.

This article outlines how you can streamline your process so starting a proposal is a lot easier.

How to create business proposals faster

Need more help creating a business proposal?

Download our free ebook: The Closer’s Guide to Winning Proposals

proposal writing guide

It’s full of actionable advice to improve your very next proposal. From creation to close and every deal-making moment in between, you’ll discover better ways to create killer proposals that close faster.

And remember, #respecttheproposal.

Struggling to write a proposal? Fast forward to send.

Our gallery of free proposal templates can kick-start your sales process.

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Free Proposal Templates

Your mission? Close the deal. Your secret weapon? Our proposal templates.

Our free, professionally written and designed proposal templates can help you win the battle for better business.

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