Your business proposal is the most effective sales document you have and your best chance to win a new business.
The problem is, writing a kick-ass business proposal isn’t easy. You have to consider a number of aspects, from the target audience to the writing style. And each one of these aspects needs to be carefully planned and developed.
What is a Business Proposal?
If you want to create a great proposal, you first need to be clear about what it actually is.
Shopify gives the following definition: A business proposal is a document designed to persuade an organization to buy a product or service.
The word that is missing here is ‘tailored’.
A business proposal differs from a business plan. Your company’s business plan presents financial and operational objectives. A business proposal, on the other hand, is prepared for a specific opportunity or upon request (such as public governmental Requests for Proposals).
This is why a business proposal needs to be tailored to the specific client’s needs.
A proposal is a document that clarifies how your product or service will solve the client’s problems. And in order to propose a solution, you need to know what the client’s problem is.
We’ve already said it, writing a business proposal can be daunting but we’re here to hold your hand during the entire process.
We have outlined the most important elements every kick-ass business proposal should have and provided some tips to help you create a strong and appealing business proposal.
1. Prepare Well
Who Is Your Audience?
Your proposal audience is the key factor. In order to produce a great proposal, you need to understand the readers. Try answering the following questions:
- What are their main concerns?
- Who is the decision-maker?
- What resources do they already have?
- What is their industry background?
- Which solution would provide the best value?
The worst thing you could do is write a generic business proposal, i.e. a proposal that describes your product/service to any audience.
To make sure your proposal hits the target, prepare it, write it, and review it keeping your audience in mind.
Why Should They Choose You?
Your proposal should not be focused on emphasizing how awesome your business is; it should emphasize how awesome it can make your client’s life/business.
Start by simply asking: Why should the client choose you?
- How will your solution affect your client’s business?
- How does your product or service add value?
- How does it uniquely solve problems?
Consider Your Competition
Bear in mind that your business proposal will be compared with those of your competitors. That’s why knowing what your competitors are offering can improve your own document.
If you have access, review your competitors’ previous proposals to get an idea of their products/services, pricing, and strategy. Then, adjust your proposal accordingly.
Make sure the proposal title is short (up to 10 words), catchy, and engaging. It should be an overview of the whole business proposal.
Keep your audience in mind and think about what kind of title they’d like to read.
Here are two examples of good titles:
- Cutting Advertising Costs with Improved Natural Search Rankings
- Increasing Leads Through Social Media Campaigns
The verbs used in these titles talk about taking your clients from a bad situation to a good one. Use verbs that focus on the change your clients are looking for.
If you are having a hard time constructing a title, don’t fret. You can do it after the whole document is finished.
The executive summary is a brief introduction to your business proposal that is to be read by a super-busy executive.
The summary should be comprised of all of the key information contained in the proposal. The information should be presented in an appealing, easy-to-scan way so that the said executive can understand the whole business proposal quickly. It should be clear, persuasive, and emphasize how your product/service will solve the client’s problem.
This is the place where you demonstrate that you understand your client’s problem and explain your solution in more detail.
In order to be convinced that the solution will be effective, the client needs to see that their problem is understood. Your proposal should then explain how each stage of your strategy will contribute to the final solution.
The overview also defines the solution’s scope. Make clear what the solution includes. For instance, a website redesign may include design, hosting, and graphics, but exclude the creation of content and images.
Clarifying the proposal’s scope will help you prevent any misunderstandings in the future.
Timeline and Deliverables
This section of the proposal offers more specific details of how the solution will develop.
The deliverables should outline what the client should expect to have accomplished or received. They should be realistic and specific.
The timeline informs when the deliverables will be completed. Depending on the client, the timeline may be flexible or strict. In any case, the timeline must be realistic and clearly defined. Anticipate any obstacles or weaknesses that could slow you down and design the timeline accordingly.
Many clients will go to the budget first and read the rest of the proposal later. That’s how important this section is.
Make sure your proposal budget is competitive, accurate, and easy to understand. Break the total cost into smaller items to ensure the client understands all the numbers. Support each item of the budget by a clear benefit for the client.
Many people make a mistake by putting this section at the beginning. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and think: What would your first question be?
Most clients want to know either ‘What is the solution?’ or ‘What’s the cost?’ If the client finds these two elements to his liking, he’ll proceed to check out the company background.
This is a good place to get creative. Make sure to include the company’s background, contact information, as well as info on the staff working on the project. The ‘About Us’ section can also include statistics, sample work, and case studies that provide evidence of success in similar past projects.
Design and Graphics
Good graphics are the best way to make a great first impression. They’ll make it easier for the client to understand your business proposal.
Here’s what to use to improve your proposal:
- Data visualizations and clear charts
- Legible fonts
- Typographic hierarchy to make it easier to skim
- Legible data tables
And here are some mistakes to avoid:
- Disproportionately scaled images and low-quality stock images
- Low-resolution, pixelated images
- Too many different typefaces (2-3 should suffice)
- Too many colors that aren’t associated with your brand
Use a Template
Consider using business proposal templates because they can be a real time-saver. If you don’t have a template in-house, you can easily find one online. For example, if you’re a web designer, look for web design proposal templates. These can be easily edited to suit your niche or industry and personalized to meet your goals.
Your business proposal should be written using a business writing style. Here are a few guidelines you should follow:
- Be precise. Use specific terms to identify the strategy and results. Instead of saying “The design will be successfully executed”, try “The site’s logo and header design work will be delivered in both editable and web-ready files within 1 month.”
- Be concise. Bear in mind that your reader is busy, so make sure to include only the information that is necessary and avoid fluff.
- Be persuasive. Use strong, convincing language to present your strategy. Include positive phrases and words to make the proposal more appealing. However, keep things real and include only accurate information. Over-promising may win you a new business, but the final results will probably be under-delivered.
- Use active voice and simple words. Even though you might want to impress the reader, using the passive voice and highly-technical wording will make the text more difficult to understand and decrease its effectiveness.
Keep in mind that the first thing readers will do is skim your proposal. Good formatting will make the document more enjoyable and effective. Here are some tips to help you create an inviting and accessible business proposal.
- Divide the text into headings and subheadings.
- Add a table of contents to provide a complete outline of the document.
- Leave some white space. It looks modern and sleek and makes the text more accessible.
- Add lists and tables. They are eye-catching, easy to read and a great way to emphasize important information.
If your proposal looks appealing, the client will want to open and read it immediately. Make sure that it’s striking but also professionally-looking. Carefully choose the layout design, images, colors, and fonts to make a great first impression.
Make sure to review the document thoroughly before submitting it. An in-depth review will help you catch any errors or issues that could lose you the bid.
Writing a kick-ass business proposal is your chance to demonstrate your skills and offer a unique strategy that meets the client’s needs. Creating a great proposal is not an easy task, but when done right, it’s the key to success.