What’s in this guide:
A proposal is a document that outlines a project or service to clarify the details and get agreement from all parties involved. Proposals typically include the overall service approach, important timelines, and key deliverables.
For best results, use proposal software instead of a PDF. This way, you’ll get important features for sales like e-signatures, brand and content control, and full visibility into the client’s viewing activity.
The 9 Important parts of a proposal
Terms and Conditions
Case Studies (or Social Proof)
Each proposal might name these key sections differently, or put them in a different order.
No matter the sections you choose, make sure you include a table of contents. If you use Proposify, the table of contents is automatically shown on the left-hand side, so clients can easily click around to review different sections again. As you might imagine, the pricing section is often viewed a few times before a decision is made.
Proposals vs reports
While a proposal is used to pitch a new project or service (either to a client or internally to your boss), a report is designed to share details on a project that’s already taken place. Use reports to audit business operations or share the success of a marketing campaign.
Follow along with our step-by-step process, as we use our advertising proposal template. While the content of the examples is specific to advertising, this template can easily be adjusted to fit any industry or project type.
Step 1. Discover the needs and requirements
You can’t write a great proposal without a great pitch.
Take the time to understand what your client needs, what their goals are, what they’re concerned about, and what results they care about most.
If you’re pitching a project internally, be sure to talk with different stakeholders and members of your team.
Tips for discovery:
During discovery sessions, ask the appropriate questions to find out if the client is worth your time. Do they fit your ideal client profile? Are they ready to implement your solution? Set criteria to determine if this prospect is ready to even receive a proposal for you. And make sure to update your criteria over time as you learn more about your ideal client.
Proactively discover and handle objections. Ask the client about any concerns, hesitations, or times they’ve been burned by service providers before. This way, you know exactly what points to cover in your proposal.
Get verbal agreement from the client on your pitch and approach before putting it in writing with a proposal.
Step 2. Create the cover page
Kick off your proposal writing with a compelling cover page (also known as the title page). The visuals and style take center stage here—it’s your first impression after all. As for the text, you just need a proposal title and key details such as your company’s name, the client’s name, the date, and your contact information.
Our proposal example features a bright, bold design and all of the details you need. There’s no “one way” to do this right, as long as you’re following your brand guidelines.
Tips for creating cover pages:
Give your project a results-driven title that will immediately put the entire pitch and investment into perspective.
Make sure to choose a proposal template that matches the style of your brand, as it will be easy to change the colors and text later.
Step 3. Write the cover letter
Now it’s time to write your cover letter. This is one of the most challenging proposal sections to write because it really sets the tone for the rest of your pitch.
The cover letter (also known as the executive summary) should do more than just provide an overview. This section must be persuasive enough to convince your client to read the rest of the proposal.
Appeal to their desires, hit their key pain points, and get them excited about the transformation you can provide. Make sure you’re crafting compelling, relevant messaging specifically for each individual buyer.
Tips for writing cover letters:
Make sure the copy is on brand. That might mean funny and irreverent or serious and formal.
Put the focus on the outcome of the service, whether that’s customer acquisition, improved facility safety, or a memorable event.
Step 4. Create a company bio
Before you move on to the project approach and pricing, it’s smart to tell the potential client a bit about your company.
This section could include basic information such as your founding date and the niche you focus on, as well as small business bragging rights, such as awards, average results, or audience reach.
If this is an internal pitch, you can write about your team instead of the entire company.
In our example proposal, there’s one page for a company bio and one page for company statistics that matter to the potential client.
Tips for writing company bios:
Even though this section is about you, find ways to make it about your prospective client. Include the company details that show that you can get them the results they’re looking for.
Get creative. Instead of just a wall of text, can you use icons or statistics to show who you are?
Make sure to save this section as a template to re-use it for future proposals. You don’t have to modify this for each client, but you might want to create slightly different company bios for different services (if you offer very different services).
Step 5. Add social proof
We recommend that you include social proof immediately after your company bio section. This way, you use the words of your previous clients to back up the nice things you just said about yourself.
Social proof can be testimonials, mini case studies, reviews, and star rating averages.
If you’re doing creative or construction work, you might also want to include a couple of portfolio samples.
Tips for using social proof:
Match the testimonial or review to the pitch. Have a bank of testimonials to choose from so you can always pick the most relevant ones.
Be concise. You may want to trim or edit long testimonials so each one is under 50 words. Otherwise, prospective clients might not read them.
Continue to proactively collect social proof. Ask happy clients to write a testimonial or review you online
Step 6. Outline the core approach
Now it’s time to sell your services. Create an approach section to showcase what you want you plan to offer the client.
There are so many different ways to write this section, as it really depends on what you’re pitching. You might break the work down into categories with bullet points or descriptions for each category. Or, you might write a few paragraphs describing your proposed solution and why you believe it’s the best fit for the client.
Tips for writing approach sections:
Consider giving this section a unique name, such as The Project Path, Our Plan, or Let’s Get to Work.
Beef it up with additional details. You might include a list of deliverables, a more detailed breakdown of the scope of services, or a timeline illustration with important milestones.
If you don’t have package options and there’s only one price listed, then this section should be very detailed. If there are pricing and service options, then this section will be simpler, and the following section will have the service breakdowns (per package options).
Step 7. Create a pricing table
When writing proposals, make sure to give plenty of time and attention to the pricing section. All of the details and options you provide will help clients better understand what they’re getting.
We recommend naming this section "Your Investment" as it helps remind potential buyers of the investment they’re making in their business.
In our example below, you’ll see 3 package options on the first page of the pricing section. And then, the client can select their package choice on the second page. This will automatically update the total pricing of the proposal.
Tips for proposal pricing:
Use optional pricing when possible, such as packages, project lengths, or add-ons, because these methods are known to positively affect closing rates.
Make sure to clarify the different types of costs, such as hourly costs versus fixed costs for an event management pitch.
Step 8. Write bios for your team members
In Step 4, you created a bio for your company to sell your company’s expertise and prove that you have what it takes to succeed at the service you’re pitching.
Now it’s time to show your client the real humans they’ll be working with if they decide to work with you. Think of this as the “you’re in good hands” section.
Include the faces the client will interact with, making sure to specify your team’s unique talents and what they bring to the table.
Tips for writing team bios:
Only include bios for up to 6 people. You could write bios for the entire company (for a very small business), the executive team, or the people who will handle the account if the proposal is won.
Use this section to show off not only your credentials but your personality. Have fun with it, but as always, stay on brand. A formal proposal might skip the jokes and stick just to the accolades.
Step 9. Add your business contract
This section of the proposal should include the contractual details that will formalize the agreement. This way, you can send the business proposal, and you don’t have to also send a separate contract.
You might have multiple pages of legal clauses or a simple statement of work.
Tips for writing proposal contracts:
If the statement of work isn’t already clarified in the meat of the proposal, make sure to include it here.
Include a clause on refunds, cancellations, and project modifications.
Make sure to have your legal team help you craft the contract section so you know it satisfies your company’s requirements.
Step 10. Sign and send it for signature
And lastly, you need to write your e-signatures page and add an e-signature for yourself and one for your client.
As soon as a client has chosen their pricing options, they can sign the proposal to begin the project.
Tips for adding proposal e-signatures:
Write a message above the signature that helps to seal the deal. Talk about how excited you are to get started and clarify what the immediate next steps will be after the proposal is signed.
Always sign your proposals before you send them! Our research shows that a proposal is more likely to close if you’ve already signed it by the time the client opens it.
Review your proposal analytics to know how to follow up with clients. For example, if a client hasn’t opened the proposal yet, remind them to do so. But if they’ve opened it several times, ask if they have any questions or if they would like to modify the project.
Every industry has its own proposal writing best practices. Here are some tips to consider.
When writing a software proposal, ensure you include ample information on how you will help the client implement and utilize your software. That might look like staff training sessions, custom integrations, a pilot rollout, etc.
In the construction industry, you will likely receive a request for proposals (RFPs) from large corporations and government agencies. So make sure you check the details of the RFP so that your solicited proposal covers all required information.
You typically need to include a very detailed pricing and timeline breakdown, and you might need to showcase your adherence to state and county requirements, whether for certifications, environmental protections, etc.
Marketing is all about results. You should include a couple of different formats of social proof, such as statistics with client results and testimonials. Marketing also requires a lot of creativity regardless of the channel, so make sure you showcase your company’s creative side with unique proposal headings and imagery.
When you’re writing a proposal for event management, catering, or some other service, you need to keep a couple of things in mind. First, make sure that you source testimonials from event attendees, not just your direct clients. Also, your pricing section should include the fixed costs (such as a venue) and the variable costs (like your team’s hours decorating the event or the venue’s bar tab at the end of the night). For any variable costs, provide an estimate that’s 10% higher that what you actually expect.
Proposify offers dozens of proposal templates to guide your writing and help you win deals. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Construction job proposal template
Ready-made for the construction industry, this template includes previous projects to serve as portfolio pieces, a detailed project summary with items the client is expected to provide, and a project schedule.
2. Accounting proposal template
While this template was created for accounting services, it can be easily modified to fit various consulting services. The top sections include the introduction letter, about us page, project summary with goals and service breakdown, and a detailed pricing estimate.
3. Catering proposal template
With this event catering proposal template, you’ll get a short and sweet introduction page, a longer company bio, a food showcase, event details (great for proactively handling any confusion or mix-ups), a theme moodboard, and a menu sample.
This proposal could be adapted for other types of creative work, such as photography, retail store decorating, or makeup services.
To write an effective proposal, you must start with a solid understanding of the client’s needs. This way, you can put their desired results and transformation front and center. Write a cover letter, project summary, company bio, and pricing table to clarify what the client will receive while also selling your company as the best solutions provider.
You can easily write a proposal using our detailed, beautifully designed proposal templates.
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