How to write a business proposal (The modern way)
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 proposal that gets your potential clients to say ‘Yes’.
A well-written 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.
The 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?
We’ll take you through an example of a social media agency proposal below, but the basic structure applies to just about any business proposal. You can download this proposal template and hundreds of other business proposals on our website.
Here are the elements of a business proposal, and what to include in each section
Step 1. Title page
This includes basic information, like your company’s name and contact information, your company logo, your client’s name and contact information, the date, and a title. It makes the proposal look neat, organized, and well put together.
The (somewhat) standard structure for this information goes a little something like this:
Step 2. 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 information 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.
Thank you for considering Jump Social Media Marketing for your social media needs. I’m glad we had the opportunity to connect so that my team and I could get a clear understanding of your social marketing expectations.
We specialize in working with real estate companies in the Chicago area, and got started when a realtor asked us to come up with a campaign back in 2005. It was a huge success, and the realtor was able to double his sales in a month.
Unlike our competition, we focus on a holistic approach to social media marketing by looking at your core values, your target market, and best practices and methodology on how to craft an authentic message that resonates directly with your audience.
By using social media strategies and implementing procedures based on the results of extensive analysis, a study of social media marketing trends, and the application of specifics unique to John’s Real Estate, we are confident in our ability to deliver effective results through your social media channels.
We believe our proposal provides a complete social media marketing strategy that will culminate in highly successful results for your business.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. My contact information is below.
Jump Social Media Marketing
Depending on the type of business you run and your ideal client, you may need to tweak this cover letter to better fit your industry. For example, a graphic designer may need to include a spec sample or reference to revisions. Meanwhile, a company offering wedding photography services may need to discuss an upfront non-refundable service fee to hold a date.
Step 3. 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.
Step 4. 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 client’s problems to make it more relevant and engaging.
This proposal outlines a coordinated plan crafted with the intent of building John’s Real Estate social media presence, primarily including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Twitter.
By engaging an audience through social media channels, our team will demonstrate the ability to generate awareness, widen your company’s potential reach within your target market, and contribute to driving more website traffic, which will ultimately result in top line growth.
Our clients are primarily realtors in the greater Chicago area looking to reach new clients through social media marketing. We help realtors identify, target and communicate with their ideal clients through:
- Creating Engaging Social Content;
- Posting Company-Related Updates;
- Promotions & Social Campaigns;
- Integrating Social Media Activity into Other Marketing Plans;
While our competitors work to serve multiple industries and target audiences, we specialize in the real estate industry. Our co-founder Tom Lancaster also has a background in both social media and real estate, giving him a unique perspective on the needs of the market.
Your own executive summary will shift depending on the duties you’re performing for the client, and what kind of industry they’re in. Your tone might also change. If you’re targeting a young travel startup run by college graduates, you might use a more casual tone peppered with industry jargon and humor.
Step 5. Proposal
This section outlines the solution that you’re suggesting. Describe the anticipated outcome of the project and general timeframe. Also, address the client’s needs and let them know you’re the one for the job.
Jump Social Media Marketing offers full-service social media services for the real estate industry. Our team ensures area realtors are targeting their core market with an authentic message across the best channels possible.
Jump Social Media Marketing will work to identify, target and market to your ideal customer through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Twitter channels. Our team estimates we will grow your social media followers from your combined 214 followers to over 5,000 in the next six months and generate more leads for your business.
We know that today’s realtors are also tasked with marketing homes and their own real estate firms. With a background in real estate and social media, Jump Social Media understands the unique needs of your industry.
Step 6. 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.
We will analyze your results and deliver your campaign on the first of the month. If the first of the month is a weekend or holiday, we will resume the following business day.
Creating Engaging Social Content
Beginning with quick yet thorough planning/preparation, our team will plan out a dynamic ongoing social content calendar to guide you to your goals.
We will grow an increasing social audience and follower base through: hashtag campaigns, strong use of keywords, sharing/retweeting relevant news, “liking” posts, staying updated within the industry, and contributing our own unique content to broaden reach.
Posting Company Related Updates
Our plan is to engage your social media audience by sharing company news, press releases, events, employee spotlights, and more.
We will also pay attention to industry trends, and share it. This will help to gain exposure with your target market.
Promotions & Social Campaigns
We will utilize social channels to connect with your follower base, and engage them with promotions to get them excited about both current events, and the brand itself.
These campaigns can last as short as a day, or can run up to six months. We’ll be able to analyze the results from each campaign, and then we will provide a report of its success.
Results of campaigns can be compared so the most effective promotions, offers, or contests can be replicated.
Integrating Social Media Activity into Other Marketing Plans
With clear communication and monthly brainstorm meetings, we’ll be able to consolidate the marketing initiatives to fit your goals and promotional material. Campaigns via social media are more important than just sharing about giveaways, sales, contests, and/or promotions. We will agree on a schedule for a series of posts to keep up the exciting momentum for all prospective customers.
It is important to regularly maintain marketing activity for maximum growth. We will continually monitor each channel and will respond to any questions, comments, and posts within a two hour time period. Two hours will allow us to confirm that accurate information is relayed back to the person asking.
We will provide you with:
- Daily and Weekly Analytics. Such as follower growth, reach, demographics, comments, “likes”, shares, retweets, etc.
- Reporting. Summarizing various results and activities over each quarter.
We will set up a meeting to go over the results and then tweak our approach accordingly.
Your own proposal may look different than this depending on your proposal writing skills and services, but you can still use the example as a framework. Add in more details as needed. For example, a cyber security company would need to include information on penetration testing and how often it would be done to look for possible intrusions and hacks.
Step 7. 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.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Jump Social Media Marketing is the public recognition we’ve received for our work. We won Chicago’s Best Social Media Agency for Small Businesses three years in a row now, and have been recognized by the National Association of Realtors. We also took Chicago Real Estate Solutions’ Facebook followers from 0 to 5,000 in six months and secured 25 leads, with 10% converting into sales.
Too often in social media, good things come at a price – and that means paying for followers or favorable reviews of products. But for us, that’s tantamount to criminal activity.
Authenticity is important in today’s online world, and Jump Social Media Marketing makes this our No. 1 priority in your social media marketing. So let’s meet a few of our stars.
The above is a great example of a lively and humorous ‘About’ section that brings some personality to your company. However, if your industry has serious clients, this may not be appropriate. If you’re working with a 3D manufacturing company with B2B clients, think about what kind of messaging and tone they take with their own clients and follow accordingly.
Step 8. 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.
Jump Social Media Marketing operates on a monthly billing cycle. Here’s an estimate of our pricing and services for John’s Real Estate for your review:
You may need to add more information or just list one package price depending on your business. A company that’s offering just one service like the creation and launching of a Facebook campaign probably just needs one or two pricing options.
Step 9. 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 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.
Start date: 8-1-17
Completion date: 2-1-17
Total Payment Due: $5,912.50
Payments accepted: Check, credit card, line of credit
$1,970.00 due upon signing of this contract, which includes custom order material costs
$1,970.00 due 11-1-17 (midway through project)
$1,972.50 due 2-1-17 (upon completion of project)
Prior to a contractual agreement, elements of this proposal may be amended upon collaboration with the client, John Smith of John’s Real Estate, at the discretion of Jump Social Media Marketing.
If you work with an in-house legal team, run the terms and conditions past them first before sending on the proposal. But in most cases, you can stick with a consistent template for your clients.
Step 10. 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!
Your signature below indicates acceptance of this social media marketing proposal and entrance into a contractual agreement with Jump Social Media Marketing beginning on the signature date below:
Regardless of how you ask your clients to commit, make it easy for them. Adding a signature and date section can help close sales quickly.
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.
Wrap up with quick tips for better proposal writing
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 the ability to sign electronically.
- Read and re-read. Your proposal introduces your 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.
Hopefully, the proposal example above has given you a better idea of what our templates can do for you and your business. Start leveraging your content to win clients and close deals.
Originally published October 6, 2016, updated June 14, 2018