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5 tips to a winning business proposal format

Proposals 5 min read

You already know that writing a winning business proposal is kind of a big deal. It can make or break the start of a long and profitable business relationship between you and your client. No pressure, but you can’t afford to screw it up.

Luckily, we’ve got you covered with some critical insights to help you create a proposal that will knock your client’s socks off!

5 tips to a winning business proposal format

But, before we get down to the nitty gritty, make sure you’ve done your prep work and selected a business proposal format that speaks to your audience. Choose a template that fits your industry and niche. This is half the battle to creating a winning proposal.

The second half of the battle requires that you create high-quality content that is informative, engaging, and personalized to your audience. Ideally, your business proposal format and content should work cohesively to help your client “realize the need” of hiring you, and that you are their best and only option.

To achieve this, your proposal must clearly and persuasively communicate these four things.

4 things your business proposal should communicate to clients:

  • Who your business is and what you offer
  • Empathy and understanding for your client’s problem or issue
  • The solution you offer to help them solve their problem
  • Why you are the best one to handle the job

The business proposal format you’ve selected gets you halfway to your goal of selling. Adding the additional elements listed below will get you to the finish line — hopefully with a signed contract in hand.

1. Choose the right tone of voice

It’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it. The tone of voice you use in your writing helps prospects connect with you on an emotional level and keeps them engaged throughout your proposal.

Several feelings tone of voice can convey:

  • Trailblazer
  • Empathy
  • Irreverence
  • Reverent
  • Gratitude
  • Authority
  • Confidante
  • Humor
  • Guide
  • Mentor
  • Leadership
  • Childlike
  • Innocence
  • Elite
  • Safety
  • Humble

To choose the appropriate voice, first ask yourself, “Is this me?”

Does it represent your brand? Most importantly, does it speak to your audience? WIll it sound condescending to my audience?

Although most people prefer a conversational voice in business writing, you have to decide what would be the most impactful for your prospective clients.

2. Get to the point quickly

A business proposal is not the place to write a long-form piece of content. Remember who you’re talking to. Most business professionals are extremely busy and don’t have the time or desire to read a novel. Don’t take it personally. Just get to the point, and you will be appreciated for it.

Two best practices for clear and concise writing are shorter paragraphs (three sentences per paragraph maximum) and shorter sentences. Long, drawn-out sentences with lots of filler words and fluff just confuses and frustrates your reader.

“If you find yourself hopelessly mired in a long sentence, it’s probably because you’re trying to make the sentence do more than it can reasonably — perhaps express dissimilar thoughts. The quickest way out is to break the long sentence into two short sentences, or even three.”

William Zinsser, the author of On Writing Well

15 filler words to avoid at all costs:

  • Each and every
  • In order
  • Basically, essentially
  • Totally, completely, absolutely, literally, actually
  • Very, real, quiet, rather, extremely
  • That
  • In the process of
  • Being that
  • As being
  • During the course of
  • For all intents and purposes
  • Point in time
  • Pretty
  • Simply
  • At all times

3. Use plain and concrete language

We’ve established that there are those few that prefer business communication that is technical, dry, and boring. Leave that writing for your legal and government documents, insurance reports, instruction manuals. For your proposal, just keep things simple. This doesn’t mean you should dumb it down. Just use words and phrases that the average adult doesn’t need a dictionary to translate.

Your prospects should be able to follow what you’re saying and remember key points easily. Just keep it simple and straightforward. And, don’t exaggerate. Using a bunch of hyperbole to describe your company or service will only undermine any credibility you already have. Most people aren’t going to be impressed with ridiculous claims like,

“Our revolutionary and groundbreaking technology is nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

Just keep it simple and straightforward.

4. Use the right design elements

Although you’ve got a large selection of professionally designed customized templates to choose from, there are still a few design elements you need to keep in mind. Each format includes an option to personalize it for your business, which helps you add a unique flavor to your proposal. But, some people can get carried away.

For example, adding funky, over-the-top font styles or “large and in charge” headings may backfire creating a jarring experience for your reader. You’ll also run the risk of looking unprofessional with more conservative prospects who may see your “proposal flair” as a signal that you won’t understand their more traditional business. Either way, it’s not a risk worth taking so, keep your formatting as simple as possible.

A few general design guidelines for a professional and clean business proposal:

  • Use 10-12 pt fonts for content body
  • Use 12-14 pt fonts for subheadings
  • Bold each subheading
  • Use subtitles for each page
  • Stick with preferred font styles Verdana and Helvetica
  • Keep paragraphs and sentences short

5. Be persuasive

You shouldn’t be so worried about succinctness that you whittle your content down to just facts and data points. You still need to tell a story! Provide some context, and use those facts to tell a meaningful story.

The purpose of your business proposal isn’t just to inform and educate. It also needs to sell. You’ve got to be able to persuade your prospective clients why they need do business with you and why they shouldn’t wait another day to commit.

One of the best persuasive copywriting techniques out there is called the Problem-Agitate-Solution formula, known as PAS. Here’s the breakdown.

Problem

Clearly, state the problem your client is struggling with. Show empathy for what they’re experiencing and that you can relate on some level, if applicable. Explain what you believe is causing this problem. To prepare to write this section, do some research, possibly talking to your client or others like them, to get a better understanding of what their pain points are.

Agitate

Now that you’ve stated the problem clearly and showed empathy, you need to agitate it a bit. Show them how worse things could get if the problem persists and why a solution is needed now instead of later. Paint a picture of what could happen if the problem continues. Be careful not to exaggerate the consequences or make unproven claims to make your point.

Solution

This is where you get to be the hero! You provide the happy ending to their ordeal, a solution you’ve handpicked just for them, and that is ready to be hand delivered. Be specific with details. Include benefits, start time, project duration, quality of service/products, pricing, incentives, features, warranties, guarantees, and any other piece of information that would make anyone crazy not to immediately accept your offer.

Finally, it’s important to qualify your solution. Include your proven track record, past client ROI, years in business, years of experience, educational background, and credible professional associations like being BBB Accredited. By social proof and accreditations, you can score big points toward winning the deal.

Kathleen Smith

Kathleen Smith

Kathleen is a marketing and sales consultant for high growth startups. She provides strategies, tactical plannings, and content for startups, SMB and enterprise companies.

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