Perhaps now more than ever, the need to write a winning business proposal is crucial. As a way of connecting with potential clients, a business proposal needs to outline your value proposition, using its content to maximum effect to persuade a company or organisation to do business with you.
So, to stand out, what are the ingredients that go into a business proposal that convinces others that you're the perfect fit? Plus, how long do they need to be, and what do you need to include?
To make sure your next proposal ticks all the right boxes, here's how to write a business proposal that could be the start of a highly beneficial relationship.
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a document created by B2B or business-facing companies where the seller aims to persuade a prospective buyer into a business agreement. This is done by identifying the buyer's pain points and then providing the solutions to help solve them.
There is some confusion over business proposals and business plans. They are not the same. A business plan sells the business; rather than assisting your search for investors to fund your business, a proposal helps to seek new customers.
There are three types of business proposal, which are as follows:
What should be included in a business proposal?
The title page should introduce you and your business, so make sure to include your name, your company's name, the date of the proposal's submissions, and the name of the client or individual you're submitting the proposal to. You should also include a compelling title for your business proposal. This can be the deciding factor in whether your buyer chooses to read on or not, so make sure it counts.
Table of contents
Unless it's so brief as to not require one, include a table of contents to let the reader know what they can expect to read about. If you're sending your proposal electronically, make the table of contents clickable, so your potential client can easily navigate through the pages you've included.
An executive summary explains why you're sending the proposal and why your solution is the best for the prospective client. Even if they don't read the full proposal, the reader should have a clear idea of how you can help them. For more information on how to write an effective executive summary, take a look at our article here.
The problem or need
State the exact problem your prospective buyer is facing. Whether they know the problem or not, the goal here is to outline the problem(s) as clearly as possible, making it evident that you're the one with the solution.
Your proposed solution should be tailored to the client's problem, showing how you can alleviate their pain points. Detail is key here; let them know which deliverables you'll provide, the methods you'll use, and a timeframe for when you should expect them. The more specifics you can provide, the more convinced they'll be.
Why should they trust you? Here, you'll need to demonstrate why you're the right person for the job, so be sure to include any case studies of client successes, relevant awards and accreditations that can prove you're an authority. Such merits show what your company does best and how qualified your team is.
Pricing is a difficult one as you don't want to put your client off with a price that's too high, but at the same time you don't want to go too low and end up undervaluing yourself. Provide your buyer with some options, so they have some room to work with. Consider breaking up your pricing into stages so your client knows what they're paying for too.
Terms and conditions
Summarise what you've promised to deliver so far, and what the prospective buyer will offer you in return. This includes things such as the overall project timeline from start to end, payment methods, and payment schedule, ensuring that both of you are clear on what each is agreeing to. Make sure you outline the legal aspects of the deal, too, and have a lawyer, or your legal team, take a look at them before sending your proposal to the client.
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Space for signatures
Include a signature box for the client to sign and let them know exactly what they're agreeing to when they sign.
What steps should you take to write an effective business proposal?
Gather the required information
Take the time to learn about the client. This will help you to craft something more likely to be accepted, and will inform the key elements to include in your proposal.
Holding a discovery meeting, where you meet with the client themselves, is a good idea before you create the proposal, ensuring that you, your team and your customer are all on the same page. Without a discovery meeting, you may not understand their main pain points or be able to address their potential objections – two things that will likely lead to your proposal being rejected.
Some things you'll need to discuss in your meeting include:
Define objectives and scope
Being able to articulate your objective ensures that you keep focused on why it is you're writing the proposal, allowing it to take shape in the process. Plus, you'll likely state your objective in your introduction or executive summary, so it's always good to know.
Try asking yourself the following questions:
After answering these questions, it's prudent to create a proposal objective statement centred around the prospective buyer's needs. Doing so will let you refer back to it over the course of writing the full proposal.
Once that's done, you're ready to move onto identifying the scope of the project. Here, you'll summarise the deliverables and should take features, functions, tasks, costs and schedules into account. Essentially, it's the "who, what, where, when, how and why" of your proposal and financial costs. When outlining the scope, answer the following questions:
Since the proposal is made up of the responses to these questions, answering ahead of the actual writing of the proposal will help you hit the ground running. With the scope defined, it also points to whether you have the necessary resources in place or not, allowing you to decide to move on with things before you get too invested.
Don't forget to edit your proposal
Of course, a document as large as a business proposal is unlikely to be the finished article after a first draft. When you're done writing it, have someone else take a look at it, even if it means hiring a freelance editor. This way, a fresh set of eyes will be able to detect any errors in spelling and grammar; even if the content is impressive, a shoddy presentation may reflect badly on you and your company.
Be mindful of the tone and language you've used too. Your proposal should feature clear and concise language that's free of industry jargon and technical terms. Likewise, while you'll want to sell yourself as much as possible, avoid going overboard with the hyperbole.
Similarly, avoid using humour. While you may have clicked well with the buyer during the discovery meeting, you never know who may read the proposal, and any attempted jokes or humour may not land when the proposal gets read by other stakeholders.
If there's a lot of information you want to include, then make use of an appendix. Here, you can place testimonials, graphs and charts without overstuffing the main body of the proposal.
Similarly, you'll want to be mindful of the proposal's length; instead of repeating yourself to reinforce your value, find a single, strong example that emphasises the point. Keep in mind, if the reader can't read the proposal in a single sitting, they may not read it at all.
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