A guide to writing a business proposal

You’ve found a great opportunity to sell – or sell more of – your product or service. Read on for how to create a business proposal you’d be proud to put in front of the Dragons.

What is a business proposal?

A business proposal is a document you send to a potential client to convince them to give you a particular job or contract.

In some cases, a client will put out a request for proposal (RFP), asking you to state your case as to why you’re the best firm for the job.

In other cases, you might instigate the work by sending in an unsolicited business proposal to a potential client. Or it may be something in between these two, where the idea comes up in a conversation and the client asks you to submit a proposal.

What should you include in a business proposal?

For a business proposal to help you get the work you’re bidding for, it’ll usually need to include the following points. However, the client may have set out clear guidelines as to what proposal format they’ll accept.

If the layout hasn’t been set in stone, bookmark this page and use these eleven points as your basic business proposal template.

1. Title page

Include a title page to introduce your business and keep your document neat and tidy, giving a good first impression of the way you do business.

2. Cover letter

Instead of going in cold, include a letter introducing your business and your proposal, keeping it friendly and positive in tone.

3. Table of contents

Let your potential client see at a glance what’s included in your document and, if possible, make this section clickable so they can easily jump to any sections they want to re-read.

4. Executive summary

As a small business owner, you understand better than most how precious busy working people’s time can be. Keep this short and sweet, making it a high-level overview of the problem, the expected outcome, an overview of the solution, and a call to action.

5. Proposal

This is the part where you identify the gap that you’re going to fill. What’s the problem and how are you going to solve it? It’s a good place to summarise your goals.

6. Services and methodology

How are you going to address the specific needs of the client? This is where you go into the finer details of what products or services the client will get out of your proposal and when they’ll get them. Draw up a timeline to bring your proposal to life for the client and focus your thinking on a realistic delivery plan.

7. Why hire us

This is your opportunity to sell your business as the best one for the job. What sets you apart from the competition? Let the client know about your experience of working on similar jobs, by using case studies. They’ll also be reassured to read bios of the person or people they’ll be working with, as well as positive testimonials from customers you’ve worked with in the past.

8. Costs

This self-explanatory section should let the client know how much it’ll cost to put your proposal into action and what you expect the return to be. It’s important to find the balance between overestimating (and scaring the client off) and underestimating (and disappointing the client) here.

9. Terms and conditions

Use this section to lay out what the client can expect from you and your business by agreeing to your proposal. This is a good place to set expectations as to payment and delivery dates.

10. Agreement and call to action

Include a section where the client can formally agree to your proposal, with a gentle call to action to encourage them to sign.

11. Appendices (optional)

Do you have any reports or other forms of evidence to back up what you’ve said in the rest of your proposal? This is the place to include them.

How to increase your chances of success

There are a few basic questions to ask when writing a proposal. They may seem obvious, but it’s always worth double-checking.

  • Does your proposal make sense? Read it once. Read it twice. And get a second pair of eyes to read it again.

  • Does your proposal provide value to the customer? The proposal that gives the client the greatest value will win the work, so make sure it’s yours.

  • Have you really understood what the customer needs? You may have a great idea, but it may not be aligned with what the customer wants – be sure to consider this.

  • Have you fully explained how you’ll fulfill those needs? If a client is going to give you work, they’ll need reassurance that you know what you’re doing – a detailed plan can help set their mind at ease.

  • Is your proposal visually appealing? If you send your proposal electronically, you can include visual content such as videos and images to bring your proposal to life for the client, and really set your document apart from the rest.

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