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Writing an effective business proposal is a vital skill for any consultant, freelancer or agency looking to win new clients and projects. With the right approach, you can create persuasive proposals that highlight your skills, experience and value to convince prospects to work with you.

This comprehensive guide will teach you how to craft compelling business proposals that get results.

What is a Business Proposal?

A business proposal is a written offer from a seller to a prospective buyer. Proposals are sales documents that outline the goods or services you can provide to solve a client’s problem or need.

The goal of a proposal is to persuade the client that you understand their requirements, and can deliver a solution that provides value. Proposals need to demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the project to win the business.

Key elements of a strong business proposal include:

  • Understanding the Client’s Needs – Research the client and tailor the proposal to their specific wants, pain points and objectives.
  • Proposed Solution – Provide details on your approach to execute the project and deliverables.
  • Qualifications – Sell your skills and expertise to showcase why the client should choose you.
  • Value – Convey the unique benefits and return on investment you offer.
  • Pricing – Quote reasonable fees that deliver ROI for the client’s investment.

Common Types of Business Proposals

There are many types of proposals you may need to create as a freelancer or agency. Some typical examples include:

  • Website design and development proposals
  • Marketing strategy and services proposals
  • Business consulting proposals
  • Accounting and financial services proposals
  • Software design/engineering proposals
  • Event planning proposals
  • Training program proposals

The steps covered in this guide can be applied to any type of business proposal your company offers.

Why You Need a Strong Proposal Process

Responding quickly to leads with generic, one-size-fits-all proposals is not an effective strategy. To consistently win new business and beat your competitors, you need a robust proposal process.

Investing the time upfront to create customized proposals tailored specifically to each prospect’s needs gives you the best chance to impress clients and win their business.

Benefits of a structured proposal process include:

Increased Win Rates

Taking the time to thoroughly understand the prospect’s requirements and create tailored solutions in your proposals will impress clients and edge out competitors who submit generic responses.

Higher Project Success

The proposal phase is your opportunity to set proper expectations with clients. Taking the time to deeply understand what they need and clearly defining project deliverables and timelines in your proposal leads to more successful engagements once you begin work.

Operational Efficiency

Establishing an organized system for creating and tracking proposals allows you to reuse elements and templates to work more efficiently. Over time, you’ll have a library of proposal content to reference.

Ability to Scale

With a solid process in place, your business can handle more proposals and new business opportunities without compromising quality as you scale.

How to Write a Business Proposal

Now let’s get into the steps and best practices for creating winning proposals that convert prospects into paying clients.

Step 1 – Qualify the Lead

Your proposal will only be as strong as the quality of the lead it is responding to. Make sure to properly qualify RFPs and leads before investing effort into submitting proposals.

Key qualifying criteria:

  • Does the prospect have a clearly defined problem/need you can address?
  • Is it a good fit for your services and areas of expertise?
  • Does the client have a defined budget?
  • Is their expected timeline reasonable?
  • Is the decision-maker involved?
  • Are you interested in doing projects for this client?

Don’t waste time bidding on leads that don’t meet your ideal client criteria or send up red flags.

Step 2 – Request Additional Information

If an RFP or lead doesn’t provide sufficient details to write an informed proposal, don’t be afraid to request more information.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for clarification on:

  • The exact scope of work/deliverables
  • Project timelines
  • Overall goals & targets
  • Available resources from the client
  • Budget expectations
  • Evaluation criteria

Taking the extra time upfront to request missing details will allow you to craft a tailored response.

Step 3 – Research the Prospect

The more you understand about the prospective client’s organization, needs and goals, the better you can position your proposed solution. Conduct thorough research such as:

  • Studying their website, case studies, services, and current solution if applicable
  • Looking up their social media channels to see announcements, initiatives, and insights into their culture
  • Reviewing any past RFP/projects if you’ve worked with the client before
  • Searching reputable industry websites and press sources for company news
  • Checking their LinkedIn for new hires, growth data, and employee feedback

Step 4 – Draft an Outline

Before writing the full proposal, create an outline covering the essential sections.

Typical proposal outline:

  • Cover Letter – 1 page overview
  • Project Understanding – Summarize scope of work
  • Proposed Approach/Solution – Details on how you’ll execute the project
  • Relevant Experience – Highlight specific expertise in areas needed for the project
  • Team & Resources – Introduce key personnel who will work on the project
  • Pricing – Project fees and payment terms
  • Timeline – Milestones and schedule
  • Why Us? – Sell your competitive advantage
  • Conclusion – Recap value and thank prospect

This provides a logical structure and flow before drafting the meat of the content.

Step 5 – Flesh Out the Sections

With your outline in place, the next step is to flesh out the sections with persuasive content.

Cover Letter

You want to quickly introduce your company, summarize the proposal, and express enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with the prospect. Hit the major points like:

  • Brief company background/credentials
  • Understanding of their core needs
  • Highlights of your proposed solution
  • Unique value you offer
  • Appreciation of the opportunity to submit a proposal

Aim to create interest so the reader looks forward to diving into the details within your proposal.

Project Understanding

Demonstrate your grasp of the prospect’s needs, objectives, requirements and constraints for the project:

  • Objectives – What business goals is the project aimed at achieving? How will success be measured?
  • Scope – Define all project components, key deliverables, and requirements as you understand them.
  • Challenges – Show empathy for any difficulties or pain points the prospect is looking to solve.

Proposed Solution

This is your opportunity to describe your approach to execute the project and exactly what you’ll deliver:

  • Provide an overview of your proposed solution
  • Break down how you’ll conduct key stages of the project
  • Outline tangible deliverables, tools and methodologies you recommend
  • Describe how your solution will achieve the prospect’s goals
  • Explain how you’ll solve their challenges
  • Define how you’ll collaborate with any of the prospect’s internal team

Go step-by-step to build confidence you have an effective methodology and can hit the ground running once engaged.

Relevant Experience

Connect the dots between past work and the prospect’s current needs.

  • Feature 3-5 case study examples of relevant projects, especially those in the same industry or for similar companies
  • Pull out stats/facts that demonstrate how your work drives business results
  • Focus on stories that highlight specific skills needed for this job
  • Keep case study summaries concise and impactful

Team & Resources

Sell your capabilities by spotlighting your key personnel:

  • Introduce the proposed project manager and their relevant credentials. This gives the prospect confidence there will be strong oversight.
  • Briefly list any other team members who will be hands-on with significant roles. Provide 1-2 lines on their background.
  • Mention any proprietary tools/technology you utilize that will support delivery.

Pricing

Make sure to clearly define your pricing and payment terms:

  • List your fees with a breakdown by project stages/phases if possible
  • Explain any external costs they may incur
  • Disclose your payment expectations – Upfront deposit? Net 15/30 terms?
  • Accommodate their budget if reasonable – offer options if needed

Project Timeline

Provide a schedule that covers:

  • Kickoff date once the agreement is signed
  • Outline key milestones and target delivery dates
  • Factor in any dependencies on the prospect’s internal resources
  • Allow time for review cycles and approvals during the project

Why Us?

Summarize why the prospect should choose you over competitors.

  • Tout your experience/credibility in their industry
  • Note any unique awards or press coverage
  • Highlight any proprietary technology or assets competitors lack
  • Call out if you have worked with any of their competitors or major brands they admire

Focus on strengths that differentiate you and make their decision easy.

Conclusion

Wrap up by recapping the value you offer and expressing excitement about the opportunity:

  • Summarize the key benefits of your proposed solution
  • State your appreciation and interest again
  • End with a call to action to move forward with next steps

The conclusion aims to leave them with enthusiasm and eagerness to begin work with you.

Step 6 – Include Visuals

Proposals are more compelling with visuals to showcase your past work and proposed solution.

Effective visuals to incorporate:

  • Case study examples – Screenshots, videos, or photos showing deliverables from relevant past projects.
  • Data visualizations – Charts or graphs demonstrating ROI, KPI improvements, etc.
  • Team headshots – Help put faces to names of key team members.
  • Process flows – Diagrams of your proposed methodology.
  • Screen mockups – If proposing a technology solution, mockups bring it to life.
  • Infographics – Visually display insights, statistics or comparisons.

Images make proposals more visually interesting, memorable and easy to digest.

Step 7 – Format for Readability

A clean, professional proposal format ensures your prospect can easily consume information:

  • Use a logical header structure – Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, etc.
  • Include a contact block with your information on the cover
  • Separate sections with page breaks for better flow
  • Use bullet points instead of long blocks of text when possible
  • Call out key information with bolding and italics
  • Make sure text is left aligned for readability
  • Leave plenty of white space – don’t cram content
  • Use an organized numbering system for charts/graphs

Nice formatting ensures your proposal is inviting and simple to navigate.

Step 8 – Edit and Refine

Set your proposal aside for a day then revisit it with a fresh perspective. Look for ways to refine:

  • Make sure messaging is consistent throughout
  • Tighten up any lengthy sections
  • Check for spelling/grammar errors
  • Have a colleague review and provide feedback
  • Ensure formatting looks polished
  • Read out loud for awkward phrasing

Refinement takes your proposal from good to great.

Step 9 – Send Professionally

Finally, you want to send your proposal to the prospect in a professional manner:

  • Send as a PDF to maintain your desired formatting
  • Include version with contact info in footer vs. anonymous
  • Use an email services like Mail Merge to personalize outreach
  • Attach any additional documents or appendices
  • Express excitement and gratitude for their consideration

Make a good final impression that encourages follow-up.

Proposal Follow Up & Negotiation

Your work doesn’t end once you submit the proposal. Following up thoughtfully gives you the best chance of winning the business.

Confirm Receipt

Politely email the next day to confirm they received the proposal. Thank them again for the opportunity and highlight your enthusiasm.

Offer Additional Information

Check in after a few days to ask if they need any clarification or have additional questions on your proposal. Be responsive.

Connect Periodically

If the sales cycle is extended, periodically connect to build the relationship. Offer helpful information and look for ways to provide value without being pushy.

Discuss Negotiation

If the prospect wants to negotiate on price or scope, keep an open mind. Have an honest conversation about changes you may be able to accommodate.

The goal is to reach mutually agreeable terms, which often requires flexibility on both sides.

Be Patient

Don’t pressure or rush the prospect for a decision. Thank them for their time and reiterate interest whenever you connect.

Request Feedback if Rejected

If you receive notice they went with another provider, request constructive feedback for how you could improve in the future. Don’t get defensive – use it as a learning opportunity.

Following up with care and professionalism gives you a competitive edge and sets you up for future opportunities. With this structured approach to writing and sending polished proposals, you’ll be able to boost your win rates and consistently land new business.

Proposal FAQs

Here are answers to some frequent questions about writing and sending effective business proposals:

How long should a proposal be?

Most proposals range from 10-25 pages long including visuals and appendices. Aim to be as concise yet comprehensive as possible. Avoid lengthening just for the sake of volume.

What format should you send a proposal?

Send as a PDF file to maintain your desired formatting like fonts, colors, and images. PDFs also look more professional than Word docs.

How do you calculate proposal costs?

Tally internal labor costs based on hourly rates and estimate of time required. Factor in any external expenses. Build in reasonable margin above your costs.

Can you use proposal templates?

Yes, start with templates or samples for standard sections. But never use a one-size-fits-all template – you must customize each proposal to the specific prospect.

Should you offer a money back guarantee?

Consider offering a guarantee to provide peace of mind. But make sure to clearly define terms like what results you promise to achieve. Don’t take on excessive risk.

What makes a proposal persuasive?

Custom research, tailored solutions, ROI focused, great visuals, strong writing, and selective highlighting of key info make proposals more persuasive.

How much project info should you include?

Provide sufficient details to instill confidence in your approach, but don’t give away your entire methodology before securing the work.

Proposal Templates and Software

Crafting proposals from scratch every time quickly becomes tedious. Leveraging templates and software to streamline creation can save tons of time.

Here are helpful tools and resources for developing proposals more efficiently:

Proposal Templates

  • Better Proposals – Downloadable templates covering a variety of industries and project types.
  • Nusii – Free and premium proposal templates in Word and Google Docs.
  • Hubspot – Editable proposal template in Google Docs and PowerPoint formats.
  • Proposable – Gallery of free proposal templates to download and customize.
  • PandaDoc – Proposal templates optimized for all industries and niches.
  • Qwilr – Modern templates with expert tips tailored to different fields.

Proposal Software

Online software can streamline creation, provide guidance, and automate proposal delivery. Popular options include:

  • Better Proposals – Generates tailored proposals through an intuitive wizard interface.
  • PandaDoc – End-to-end proposal design, automation, eSigning and tracking.
  • Qwilr – Produce interactive proposals with videos, presentations, and document uploads.
  • Nusii – Curated proposal templates by niche plus collaboration tools.
  • Proposify – Robust platform including unlimited templates, built-in CRM, and reporting.

Investing in tools like templates and dedicated software can maximize the impact of your proposals while spending minimal time. Take advantage of available resources and technology to work smarter.

Key Takeaways

Winning new business consistently means mastering the art and science of creating persuasive proposals. Use these proven recommendations to strengthen your proposal process:

  • Qualify leads thoroughly before submitting proposals
  • Research the prospect extensively before responding
  • Use an outline to frame your proposal structure before drafting
  • Write compelling content that sells your capabilities and solution
  • Highlight relevant experience and case studies
  • Add visuals, graphs, mockups and images for more impact
  • Use templates but customize proposals for each prospect
  • Follow up professionally and navigate negotiation
  • Refine and improve your process over time

With a strategic approach, your proposals will convince more prospects to hire you and grow your business.

Author

  • Sarah Teague

    Sarah Teague brings 5 years of professional writing experience to her role as content writer for Walletminded. In this position, Sarah creates compelling articles, blog posts, and other digital content that engage readers and promote the Walletminded brand. Before joining Walletminded, Sarah honed her writing skills as a freelance writer and ghostwriter. Her work included crafting blog posts and web content for financial services, technology, and healthcare clients. Sarah holds a bachelor's degree in English from Emory University, where she also served as editor of the campus literary journal. She continues to volunteer her time as a writing mentor for youth in her community. When she's not meticulously crafting content, you can find Sarah attempting new baking recipes and enjoying hikes with her dog. She also loves curling up with a good memoir.

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