Proposals of every type are intimidating. You’re asking someone to choose you—or, in the case of business proposals, your company—and hoping that they understand why you’re the perfect fit.
Writing a business proposal requires that you convincingly articulate your understanding of the potential client’s problem, as well as the reasons your company is the best choice. Even the most well-crafted solutions can get rejected due to a sub-par proposal. Let’s take a look at how to write a business proposal that gets your potential clients to say ‘Yes.’
Writing a business proposal begins just like writing anything else—by gathering information.
If you’ve already crafted a custom solution to your potential client’s problem, you likely already have information about them on hand. Revisit it to remind yourself of the issue they’re trying to solve and trends in their industry (these can help you offer services they may not have even known they needed and paint you as an industry expert).
If you have sales tools like battle cards prepared, revisit these as well to find already-crafted language on what makes your company better than the competition. And of course, make sure you know the specifics of your proposal inside out.
Basic Structure of Your Business Proposal
Building a business proposal is like building a house. Just as the structure of a house varies based on location and the architect or homeowner’s preferences, business proposal components can vary based on industry, company size, and many other factors. In any case, there are certain elements that are always necessary. The following three things are what the recipient of your proposal will be looking to glean from it. Think of these as the roof, walls, and foundation of your business proposal:
- Information about your company: Who are you, what are your qualifications, and why would a potential client pick you over your competitors?
- Demonstrated knowledge of the problem: Show that you’ve listened and done your research. You know what the client needs.
- Pricing and methodology: How exactly are you going to solve the client’s problem, and how much is it going to cost?
The (somewhat) standard structure for this information goes a little something like this:
- Title page: This includes basic information like your company’s name and contact information, your company logo, your potential client’s name and contact information, the date, and a title. It makes the proposal look neat, organized, and well put together.
- A cover letter: You wouldn’t walk up to your potential client and dive into project specifics without introducing yourself, would you? A cover letter is that introduction. Include a one-liner about your company, brief background info about how your company came to be, and a short overview of what makes your company better than the rest. Make it friendly and encourage your reader to reach out with any questions. Close it with a thank you and a signature.
- Table of contents: Unless your proposal is very, very brief, include a table of contents in outline form. It helps the reader know what they can expect to find in the document. And by sending it electronically, you can create a clickable table of contents, so that your potential client can easily revisit sections without having to navigate through multiple pages.
- Executive summary: Essentially, it sets the scene for the proposal—why are you sending it, and why does the client want to read it? Tie mentions of your company’s offerings to your potential client’s problems to make it more relevant and engaging.
- Proposal: This section outlines the solution that you’re suggesting. Describe the anticipated outcome of the project and general timeframe. Also, address the potential client’s needs and let them know you’re the one for the job.
- Services/methodology: The proposal section is a general overview of the custom-made solution your company has devised for the potential client, and this section gets into the specifics. Anticipate their questions, and take them through the process so they know what they’re signing on for when they hire you. Describe exactly what deliverables they can expect, and when they can expect them. A timetable that pairs deliverables with their expected date makes your document more visually appealing, and makes this information more digestible.
- About us: You said hello with the cover letter, but the about us section is where you get to really show off what makes your company the best in the biz. Make it feel like your potential client is getting to know your organization by including brief bios and photos of the people they’ll be working with. Include information about your past successes, awards, and social proof in the form of client testimonials or short case studies.
- Pricing: This is the section where specifics are key. Create a pricing table that clearly identifies each product or service, and pair it with the most accurate pricing information you can provide—you don’t want to overestimate the cost and scare your potential client off with an estimate that’s too high, but you also don’t want to underestimate the cost and set your client up for unexpected pricing issues down the line. Responsive pricing tables let potential clients check off services that they think they need, and calculate the total cost for them, so that neither of you have to worry about errors when number crunching.
- Terms and conditions: This is where you specify the duration of the agreement, reiterate the overall timetable for completion, specify payment dates and types, when and how the proposal can be amended, etc. Essentially, it’s an overview of what you and the potential client are promising by agreeing to the proposal. This section will likely be standard among most of the proposals your company sends, so store it in a content library to simplify the process of dropping it into your future templates.
- Agreement and CTA: This is where the “by signing below you agree to” lingo comes in. What exactly does your potential client’s signature on this document mean? You can also include a friendly prompt, somewhat similar to what you included at the end of your cover letter (think language like “feel free to contact us with any questions and we look forward to working with you”). Add your signature boxes, and you’re done!
Does this structure seem like more than you anticipated? Business proposals are more complex than they appear at first glance, and doing them right means investing some time. However, if something really feels unnecessary or too repetitive, remove that element from your business proposal’s structure.
You can also use vetted, industry specific templates to take the guesswork out of what’s standard for your industry and cut down on formatting time. Reusing some of these assets (such as the about us and terms and conditions sections) in future proposals and customizing them as needed will also help you deliver polished proposals faster. And of course, if you’re responding to an RFP that outlines a specific structure for your proposal, follow it to the letter.
Quick Tips for Better Proposals
To create a proposal that engages your potential client and helps them easily find the information they’re looking for, try these quick tips:
- Go visual. Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Help your reader get to the good stuff quicker by including team member headshots in your About Us section, photos of your work, infographics, block quotes, bulleted lists, etc.
- Include quantitative data. Would you be more apt to hire a company based on the phrase “Our customers love us!” or “We’ve helped more than 700 companies increase their sales by 35 percent to-date.”? Figures catch the eye and help build trust.
- Embrace the digital age. Nobody likes getting thick envelopes in the mail. By sending your proposal electronically, you can include videos about your product or service (these are a great addition to your services section), easily annotate and edit, and give your potential clients the ability to sign electronically.
- Read and re-read. Your proposal introduces your potential client to the quality of work they can expect from your business. If it’s full of typos, spelling and grammatical errors, or just seems sloppy, you likely won’t get hired.
- Remember your brand. Again, business proposals are reflective of your company. Keep your audience in mind when you write your copy, but also remember your brand voice. If it’s a little quirky, find appropriate places to pepper some of that in. If it’s 100 percent buttoned-up, go that route. Your reader should get to know your company through your proposal.
After You Hit ‘Send’
Once you’ve sent your proposal, don’t forget to follow up and ask your potential client if they have any questions. Document analytics function like hyper-intelligent read receipts, and take the guesswork out of when to follow up. Using them not only lets you know when your potential client viewed your proposal, but also how many times they opened it and which sections they spent the most time on, so you can anticipate their questions when you follow up.
Ultimately, your business proposal should be about your potential client’s issue and how your business is going to fix it. By creating customized, professional business proposals, you’re showing your client that they can expect the highest quality work from your company.
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