When did you last spend time truly improving your proposals? I’m talking about reworking a section or changing up some design aspects, not just updating fields or fee structures.
When you’re working to get your proposals in front of clients fast, making changes to the overall design and content might be the last thing on your mind. But, you can’t let your proposals stagnate either. You want to stay ahead of your competition with proposals that look great, read like a dream, and are easy to say yes to.
Luckily, these tips for updating your proposals take minimal time, so you can improve your business documents in a flash and get back to closing deals with them.
6 free and easy ways to make your business proposals better
- Refresh your proposal with images
- Add or update your case studies
- Reorganize to follow the client journey
- Make sure your executive summary isn’t a book report
- Do a plain language audit
- Do a pricing choice review
1. Refresh your proposal with images
Your proposals don’t have to have images, but there are many benefits to breaking up your content with some sort of visual. Images grab people’s attention and convey your message in a way words may not always be able to. A picture is worth a thousand words is a cliche for a reason!
But, you can’t just throw in any old photo and call it a day. Using your own photos is ideal, but not always feasible. This makes stock photos a great option.
If you are using stock images, though, they should be fresh, contextual, and impactful. Nothing makes your proposal seem staler than months-old crackers like a cheesy stock photo.
Our designers here at Proposify recommend Unsplash for beautiful, free photos. Proposify even has a native Unsplash integration and photo editor that allows you to quickly find, add, and edit images in your proposal without leaving the editor.
We rounded up some Proposify proposal examples that use imagery in interesting and persuasive ways—get inspiration here.
2. Add or update your case studies
If your proposals don’t include social proof, like case studies or testimonials, what the heck are you waiting for?
Case studies are social proof. They’re your back-up, showing prospective clients that you can walk the talk. You know what you’re doing because you’ve done it before.
If you already include case studies in your proposals, it’s worth checking to see if any are outdated. If a case study subject talks about a process that you’ve since changed or removed, you might want to choose a different case study.
Take inventory of your existing case studies to see what’s missing. Do you have a good mix of clients represented in your case studies, including company size, project type and scope, and industry? If there are gaps in your case study line-up, make it a priority to reach out to good customers who can bridge those gaps and ask them to participate in a case study.
Make sure each case study is telling a good story. Good stories have a beginning (setting up the background of the company), a middle (their challenges), and a heroic ending (how you provided the solution). Keep them on the short side and give them an intriguing title.
The case study title “Company ABC increases production by 150% using Company XYZ’s widget solution” prompts readers to wonder how. A title like “Case Study: Company ABC” inspires zero curiosity.
To get good stories, ask your case study subjects open-ended questions. Asking, “How has our product improved your workflow?’ will get you a more interesting answer than, “Do you like our product?”
3. Reorganize to follow the client journey
Is your proposal taking prospects down a clear path to saying yes and signing on the e-signature line? Or is it leading them into the woods of confusion and uncertainty?
To achieve faster sign-offs, proposal sections should appear in the same order as they would in a sales pitch or demo.
Prospect Pain Points → Solution → Proof / Why Us → Signature and Terms
It can be tempting to move those sections that are all about you, your team, and your company up to the front of your proposal. Resist that urge.
Why? Because your clients want to read all about themselves and their challenges and how to solve them before they want to read anything about you. Draw them in by holding up a mirror to their pain points and then hit them with your beautiful work and stunning expertise.
After that, it should be an easy decision to sign on the dotted e-signature line.
4. Make sure your executive summary isn’t a proposal book report
As mentioned in tip 4, the first sections of your proposal should not be all about you. This includes your executive summary.
Executive summaries get a bad rap for being boring. Check yours. If it’s all about you, your clients will find them to be a snooze-fest.
Even though they have the word ‘summary’ in the name, that’s a trap. Don’t fall for it. Executive summaries shouldn’t ‘pre-hash’ all the things you’ll outline further on in the proposal.
Instead, it should be a spot for you to showcase how you understand your client’s pain points inside out and upside down and the benefits (for them, always for them) of working with you on a solution This is a prime opportunity to get persuasive right at the start of the proposal.
Check out this blog post for more tips and tactics on how to write a captivating executive summary for your proposal.
5. Do a plain language audit
We all like and gravitate toward what’s familiar. Case in point: you probably won’t be shocked to learn that America’s favourite ice cream flavours are chocolate and vanilla.
Jargon is the opposite of chocolate-and-vanilla familiarity—it’s the rum raisin ice cream of proposal content. Jargon and other hard-to-understand language is unappealing and can turn people off, which you don’t want your proposal to be or do.
Using lots of jargon in your proposals may seem like a good way to appear smart and knowledgeable to prospective clients. However, unless you operate in a highly technical field and all your customers are in the same industry, you end up coming off as confusing and unfamiliar, and therefore untrustworthy.
Consider these Weird Al Yankovic lyrics, from his business-jargon-satirizing song “Mission Statement”:
We must all efficiently
Operationalize our strategies
Invest in world-class technology
And leverage our core competencies
In order to holistically administrate
Would YOU trust a proposal that uses this kind of convoluted lingo? What is it even trying to say?
In other, smaller, words those lyrics might be: We need to put our plan into action using new technology and our collective strengths. And even this plainer-language version still isn’t as clear as it could be.
Here’s how to make sure you’re using plain language in your proposals:
- Use active voice, short sentences, and common, everyday words.
- Run your copy through a grammar- and plain language-checking app like Hemingway.
- Ask someone outside your team, company, or industry to read over your copy. Take out or rewrite anything they don’t easily understand.
6. Do a pricing choice review
Does your proposal pricing include too many packages, prices, fees, and add-ons? They could be causing client indecision.
When all the kerfuffle is around pricing, it could mean you’re leaving money on the table. Too many pricing options in your proposals can create confusion, which leads to more back and forth between your sales reps and your potential client, increasing the length of your sales cycle.
Too few pricing options (as in, one) makes your chances of winning the proposal 50/50—yes or no. You want to increase those odds.
Having three pricing options seems to be the sweet spot. When designing your three options, make sure there’s a clear distinction between each one, not only in price but also in value. People tend to gravitate towards the middle option, so make it clear what they’d be losing out on or gaining by going with the lower or higher tier options.
If your pricing structure relies upon line items and recurring fees, use online proposal software that lets you make your budget tables interactive. Clients can pick and choose the options that best suit their needs.
Instead of overwhelming, this level of customization engages the prospect and makes them feel like they’re getting a bespoke deal.
Bonus tip: Save and reuse your best stuff
Now that your proposal is all spiffed up, you’ll want to make it as functional and dynamic as possible. The best way to do this? Make it into a customizable template.
Think about templates as a compilation of your ‘greatest hits’—the sections of your proposal that stay the same every time you send one to a prospective client. Templates help you get your proposals ready to go quickly because you don’t have to start from scratch each time.
A faster proposal process that creates better proposals means more wins and more new business, with fewer headaches.