What’s in this guide:
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is sent by a salesperson or account manager to a prospective client in order to pitch a product or service. A great proposal should include an executive summary or cover letter, details on the project timelines and deliverables, what makes the company the right choice for the job, and pricing and payment details.
Business proposals are typically sent from one business to another for all sorts of different services, such as enterprise software subscriptions, interior design, accounting, marketing, event catering, etc.
The purpose of a business proposal is to:
Sell your product or service with details, client results, testimonials, etc.
Clarify what is and isn’t included in the proposal to accurately manage expectations
Layout terms and conditions to protect both parties
Lock in the deal right away with esignatures built into the proposal
Large corporations and government agencies will typically send out a request for proposal to competing companies and then choose the best (or cheapest) one.
A business proposal is very different from a business plan, because it is typically written to clarify a paid engagement between two companies. This might be a short project or a long contract. A business plan, on the other hand, is typically an internal document crafted to chart a businesses path forward towards goals, such as market expansion, revenue growth, new product lines, etc.
Types of business proposals
There are many different types of business proposals. They are typically broken down by industry.
Here are some common types of business proposals, by industry:
Real estate and construction
Proposals can also be categorized based on the type of offering:
Later on in this guide, we include a variety of proposal templates. Depending on what you selling, you might find it easier to begin with a template designed for your industry or for the type of offer you’re selling (such as a one-off project). So be sure to peruse through the previews of each proposal so that you can see which template will save you the most time.
Business proposal example
An excellent business proposal addresses the client’s pain points and showcases the proposed solution.
Here’s an example business proposal to inspire you. The accounting proposal kicks things off with an attractive cover page.
All in all, it includes the cover page, an executive summary letter, an about us section, team photos and bios, a project summary, a breakdown of the proposed services, a pricing section, onboarding steps, and a contract with esignatures.
The services breakdown offers a great example of how to categorize your services and provide hourly estimates.
Basic proposal format
After researching over 1 million proposals, we found that winning proposals are most likely to include all of the following.
Here’s the idea proposal structure:
1. Cover page
The cover page, also called a title page, should be kept simple. It prominently features a photograph or graphic design that is on-brand, you can use graphic design templates as a starting point. It also usually includes the project name, or the client name, as well as your company name. Some companies might include contact information on the cover page, while others will save that for a separate page.
Check out this cover page, which is bright, bold, and on-brand.
2. Executive summary
The executive summary is essentially your pitch.
It’s your shot at capturing the client’s attention and showing them that you have an approach that will exceed their expectations.
It’s typically written in paragraph form (1 to 3 paragraphs) but can also include a bulleted list for a more skimmable style.
Make sure that your executive summary includes:
A quick description of the client’s problem or starting point
How your company will serve the client and why you’re suggesting this unique approach
Why your company is the best choice (average results, unique selling propositions, differentiators, awards, etc.)
This content marketing proposal offers an excellent example of an executive summary. Though in this proposal, the section is instead titled “Focus and Objectives.” What makes it great is that it’s on brand, goal-oriented, personable, and skimmable.
3. Approach or solution
In this section, you write about your process and why you approach things the way you do. For example, a Facebook marketing agency might say that they believe that creative work is essential to advertising success, and that’s why they devote 90% of their time to developing videos, images, and copy.
Some companies will craft a custom approach section for each client, while others will re-use the section again and again. It all comes down to the number of services you offer and how much or how little you customize your work.
In corporate training, it’s essential to clarify your approach so the client knows why your system will be effective. In this training template example, their process shows the essential steps in their proprietary approach.
4. About the company
This is your chance to brag. In your company bio, be sure to mention all of the important things that set your company apart. That might include your management style, the talent you have on your team, your average client retention rate or contract length, and any accolades.
With their location, awards, and team structure, this About Us page is an excellent example of how to sell yourself with authority.
Use the deliverables section to summarize exactly what the client will receive from the engagement.
A TikTok ads management firm might include 15 ad creatives per month in their deliverables, for example. While an accounting firm might list the reports that will be sent weekly or monthly, along with the bookkeeping service.
In a construction project, on the other hand, the company might showcase the different milestones that the project will hit, and when these milestones are expected to be completed.
In this proposal, the Deliverables section is titled “Scope of Services,” and it includes a list of all of the services that the prospective client will receive. Deliverables are mentioned within the scope, including a logo, brand colors, business cards, and brand guidelines.
6. Social proof or work samples
No matter what you sell, prospective clients will want to know that you have the right experience for the job.
Social proof can come in the form of written testimonials and case studies, video testimonials and case studies, portfolio photographs, G2 and Capterra badges, and rating averages from Google, Trustpilot, or other review sites.
For an architecture firm, construction company, or website designer, work examples can prove more powerful than testimonials. Prospects want to see what you can do. This architecture proposal showcases the company’s work on a rehabilitation project.
The pricing section is of course the one that your clients will read again and again and deliberate over. That’s why it’s so important to make it clear, simple, and well-formatted.
Tables are a great way to showcase what’s included in the total project cost or to provide package options.
Similar to interior design and construction services, event planning typically includes both hourly costs and hard costs (for products and venues). Here’s an example of an event management proposal that includes a breakdown of the hourly work and the hard costs.
8. Terms and conditions
When you use modern proposal software, you can build a contract right into your proposal, eliminating the need for separate contract software.
Your proposal should include legal jargon that can protect both you and your client. You might have a statement of work and a master service agreement or terms and conditions.
In this website design proposal, there are 6 pages in total for the contract section. The potential client can easily click around to view all of these pages and share the proposal with their legal team if needed.
For proposals that are longer than 8 pages, it’s wise to include a table of contents. If you use Proposify as your proposal software, then every proposal will automatically have the table of contents on the left-hand side, making it easier for the potential client to click around and review important sections multiple times.
What to prepare before writing a business proposal
A lot goes into writing a proposal. Before you can get to the writing part, you need to prepare.
This means talking with the client to figure out their needs, using your experience to pitch the best project, and talking with colleagues who will be involved in the project to see if they agree on the services you plan to propose.
You might also need to talk with your legal department and ask them for a contract template that you can include at the end of the proposal so that when the client signs off, it's legally binding.
Everything you need to prepare to write a business proposal:
An understanding of the client's needs
Your determination of the best approach
Details that will get the client to say yes
Agreement with internal colleagues
The pricing options you want to offer
Knowledge of who needs to sign off
Legal contract language or templates
How to write a business proposal in 7 steps
To be a good writer, you must be concise, specific, and detailed. It really is that simple. The more examples and details you provide, the better.
That said, it does help to follow a process so that you can be sure you’re providing everything that the decision-makers expect and more.
Here are the 7 essential steps for writing a business proposal:
Step 1. Determine the client’s needs
The first step is to figure out what your client needs.
As mentioned in our section on preparation above, you’ll need to speak with your client. If this is a new client, it might take two to five sales calls to collect all of the information you need. For an existing client, you can probably figure out what to include in their renewal proposal with just one call.
But of course, asking your client what they need isn’t enough. You need to use your expertise to choose the best solution for them, even if it’s not what they want or expect.
Step 2. Kick off your proposal with a template
Once you’ve done your due diligence, the next step is to choose a proposal template so you’ll save time on both writing and designing.
You can use a template that matches your specific business or click around to find one with all the sections and a design style you like. Even if it’s not created for your specific industry, it’ll be easy to update the content to match your service or product.
Step 3. Write the evergreen messaging about your company
It’s always smart to tackle writing section by section. This way, you don’t get overwhelmed.
We recommend starting with the sections that are relevant to your business and that can be reused again and again. Your value propositions should guide the content.
Tackle these sections:
The cover page
The approach section
The about us page and team bios
The social proof or portfolio pieces
By starting off with what makes your company special, you’ll break the ice during your writing process and also create your own custom template that you can use for further proposal writing.
Step 4. Craft the meat of the proposal (executive summary, approach, deliverables, etc.)
By now, you should have chosen a template and written your core company messaging.
Now it’s time to write the meat of the proposal.
In this step, you’ll be catering your proposal to the new client. A startup will require a different proposal than a small business, and the same goes for an enterprise.
Here are some of the things you might need to write:
The unique methodology or approach you’ll offer this client (if it changes per client)
The problem statement or executive summary
The client’s goals
The scope of work
The project process and timelines
You can fill in your template’s sections and take a peek at other templates to get inspiration and see if there are any additional sections or details you should add.
Step 5. Add in the project total or pricing options
Next, you should calculate your fees.
Depending on your business, you might add up flat rates, product costs, or hourly estimates to come up with a fixed project total. Or, you might present a price range that the project will likely fall between (making it clear that additional hourly costs could arise. Or perhaps, you’ll offer a pricing table with different options to choose from.
Step 6. Add legal terms and conditions and esignatures
When you use proposal software (instead of just a PDF or Google slides), you can add a contract directly to your proposal.
If you already have approved contract language from your legal department, you can simply add it to the contract section of your proposal in Proposify. If not, you’ll need to chat with your legal team or business lawyer to ensure you’re adding all the right stipulations.
Proposals with esignatures close 35% faster and are 426% more likely to be accepted. So be sure to assign an esignature both to yourself and your client.
Step 7. Finalize the design and review all of the content before sending
Now it’s time to review and finalize your proposal. Check for errors, places in the template you forgot to fill out, and wording that can be improved.
Make sure the graphic design is on point too. Switch out the template with your own brand colors and fonts. You can have a designer on your team handle this, or handle style customization yourself (with no design experience necessary).
8 business proposal templates
The best way to write a business proposal? With a template of course.
We’ve rounded up 10 of the best templates for different types of businesses. And for each, we show you the proposal sections included to help you pick the right one for you.
Keep in mind that with any of these proposals, you can add and remove sections and also customize any page with text, headlines, images, videos, fee tables, and more.
1. Business consulting proposal template
This consulting proposal template can be used by any type of consulting firm.
2. Advertising Proposal Template
With this advertising proposal template, you can showcase your digital or traditional advertising services. The template includes TV, web, radio, and magazine, but you can update it to reflect your pitch.
Who Are We?
Your Advertising Media Mix
3. Branding Proposal Template
Perfect for branding consultants, logo designers, and messaging strategists, this branding proposal template includes the project scope and timeline to help you clarify your process to potential clients.
Overview & Goals
Scope of Services
Sample Case Study
4. Commercial Lease Proposal Template
This commercial lease proposal template can be used for leasing office buildings, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and event spaces.
Meet Our Team
Terms and Conditions
5. Construction Bid Template
Use this construction bid template for new construction projects or renovations. It includes a detailed cost estimate table and a required deposit.
Terms and Conditions
6. Catering Proposal Template
This catering proposal template is perfect for corporate projects but can work for weddings or personal events as well. You can use it for conferences, luncheons, retreats, or any other type of event.
7. Corporate Photography Proposal Template
With a beautifully designed portfolio section and a very detailed pricing table and print options, this is the perfect template for corporate photography. It also includes tips for success, so clients know how to make the most of their photoshoot time.
What We Offer
Tips for Success
8. Financial Services Proposal Template
You can use this financial services proposal template to pitch financial services like risk management, budgeting, and investment management.
Meet Our Team
Services and Fees
5 ideas to take your business proposal to the next level
Looking to kick up your proposals a notch?
Try one of these smart ideas:
1. Make your pricing dynamic
Dynamic pricing means that clients can choose what they want and that will automatically change the project total that they sign off on.
Proposals with options and add-ons have a 35.8% higher closing rate. Try giving package options and including add-ons such as ancillary services or maintenance work.
2. Create graphic designs for timelines and processes
Winning business proposals often include informative visuals to help clients understand your process at a glance.
You could create a graphic for project phases, milestones, or big deliverables.
3. Get creative with your social proof
Client testimonials are an easy starting point when it comes to social proof.
But can you do better? Can you get more creative and stand out from other consulting firms?
Here are some ways to improve your social proof game:
Include visuals for your average ratings (for example 4 and a half stars filled in).
Add any badges or graphics available from review sites like G2 and Trustpilot.
Film professional case study videos and embed them in your proposal.
Create a screenshare video where you talk through your digital portfolio samples.
Include an informal video testimonial from your client.
Add a video showing your team at work (ie, on the job site, running a workshop, speaking, etc.)
Write mini case studies with before and after transformations, result data, etc.
4. Have an “excludes” section
Is there something that is definitely not included in your proposal? Do clients often assume it’s included or do they get confused?
If so, try adding a section that describes everything that isn’t included in the proposal. You could mention that you don’t offer these services, or state that they’re available at an additional fee (if you want to upsell them).
5. Include videos for introductions or complex concepts
When you add a video to your proposal, you increase its chances of closing by 41%.
Here are some video ideas to try:
Informal intros filmed with Loom
Professional videos of your team at work
Case study videos
Quick descriptions of complex deliverables, methodologies, etc.
What to do after you send a business proposal
You sent the proposal. Now what?
Here’s what to do next.
Sign it yourself
Make sure you sign the proposal right away (before your client opens it). This offers a more professional presentation and makes it more likely that your new client will add their signature too.
Be prepared to follow up
Project proposals don’t always close all by themselves. As any good salesperson knows, follow-up is essential.
With Proposify, you can set up automated reminders. When we analyzed over 1 million proposals sent with our software, we found that proposals with pre-scheduled reminders have a 35% higher closing rate than those without.
Make adjustments to the proposal to close the deal
It’s okay to make changes. In fact, proposals that get revised are actually more likely to close than ones that don’t. When a client asks for revisions, it means they’re interested.
You might need to adjust your proposal document for its scope, deliverables, timeframe, or payment schedules.
Save different proposal templates
After you’ve created one proposal, you should save it as a template and give it a name. You might also want to duplicate it and adjust it to create a new proposal template. For example, if you offer SEO services, you might want to have one proposal for an SEO audit and another one for your monthly SEO retainer.
Create email templates
You can also create and store email templates that will save you time in the long run.
Try creating different templates for sending, reminders, and thank yous. If you offer different types of services, you can craft a unique sending template for each one.
Get feedback from clients on both won and lost proposals
One of the best ways to improve is to take feedback. Whether you win or lose the proposal, find out why.
Here are some tips on how to do this:
Won - When you win a proposal, you might ask the client why they decided to move forward with you on their first strategy call. Or, have their account manager ask the same question and pass the info to you.
Lost - If a client doesn’t sign the proposal after 3 weeks, you can send a quick email with something like, “Just looking for some feedback. Can you let me know why you decided not to move forward? Thanks.”
Using analytics for business proposal insights
In today’s digital world, a business proposal should be more than a formal document.
When you use the right tool to create and send your proposal, you should be able to gather important insights and trends.
Viewing metrics for a specific client
With Proposify, you can see the activity for every proposal. Know when clients are opening and viewing proposals so you can follow up in a way that matches their activity.
Average viewing metrics
Proposify also offers average viewing metrics that help you benchmark your views:
Average time to view
Average length of viewing
Average views per proposal
This is great for gauging how a new client compares with past activity.
Average closing metrics
You can also check your average closing rate and track it over time.
Check these closing metrics:
Try setting goals for improving your closing rate and then check your progress each month.
Insights by proposal type
Segment viewing and closing metrics by workspace, client name, or stream. A stream is a custom category that you can use for different service types, client industries, etc.
And lastly, you can check your growth trends to find out how much you’re earning in new contracts and existing contracts. This is great for seeing your past revenue growth and for forecasting.
New won proposals (chart)
Active income (chart)
Start with a solid understanding of your client’s goals and needs. Use a template to save time creating messaging and tables that will seal the deal. Then, try advanced techniques like dynamic pricing and videos to improve your closing rates even further.