You've started a new business and you're building up your customer base. But how can you reach the prospects who might benefit from your product or service?
A business proposal can bridge the gap between you and potential clients. It outlines your value proposition, and its primary purpose is to persuade a company or organization to do business with you.
Know exactly what you need? Jump to one of the following sections:
- Types of Business Proposals
- How to Write a Business Proposal
- Business Proposal Ideas
- Business Proposal Examples
What Is a Business Proposal?
A business proposal is a formal document that is created by a company and provided to a prospect with the purpose of securing a business agreement.
It's a common misconception that business proposals and business plans are the same. The proposal's aim is to sell your product or service, rather than your business itself. Instead of assisting your search for investors to fund your business, a proposal helps you seek new customers.
Types of Business Proposals
There are two types of business proposals: unsolicited and solicited.
- Unsolicited Business Proposals - With unsolicited business proposals, you approach a potential customer with a proposal, even if they don't request one, to gain their business.
- Solicited Business Proposals - Solicited business proposals are requested by a prospective client.
In a solicited business proposal, the other organization asks for a proposal with an RFP (request for proposal). When a company needs a problem solved, they invite other businesses to submit a proposal which details how they'd solve it.
Whether the proposal is solicited or unsolicited, the steps to create your proposal are similar. Ensure it includes three main points: a statement of the problem the organization is facing, proposed solution, and pricing information.
How to Write a Business Proposal
- Begin with a title page.
- Create a table of contents.
- Explain your why with an executive summary.
- State the problem or need.
- Propose a solution.
- Share your qualifications.
- Include pricing options.
- Clarify your terms and conditions.
- Include a space for signatures to document agreement.
Before writing your business proposal, it's crucial you understand the business you're writing the proposal for. If they've sent you an RFP, make sure you read it carefully so you know exactly what they're looking for. It can also be helpful to have an initial call or meeting with the new client to ensure you fully understand the problem they're trying to solve and their objectives.
Once you've done your research, it's time to begin writing your business proposal. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to writing a business proposal, but let's take a look at some elements proposals often include. (I designed this example business proposal using Canva.)
1. Begin with a title page.
Use the title page to introduce yourself and your business. Be sure to include your name, your company's name, the date you submitted the proposal, and the name of the client or individual you're submitting the proposal to.
2. Create a table of contents.
A table of contents will let your potential client know exactly what will be covered in the business proposal. If you're sending your proposal electronically, include a clickable table of contents that will jump to the different sections of your proposal for easy reading and navigation.
3. Explain your "why" with an executive summary.
The executive summary details exactly why you're sending the proposal and why your solution is the best for the prospective client. Similar to a value proposition, it outlines the benefits of your company's products or services, and how they can solve your potential client's problem. After reading your executive summary, even if they don't read the full proposal, the prospect should have a clear idea of how you can help them.
4. State the problem or need.
This is where you provide a summary of the issue impacting the potential client. It provides you with the opportunity to show them you have a clear understanding of their needs and the problem they need help solving.
5. Propose a solution.
Here's where you offer up a strategy for solving the problem. Make sure your proposed solution is customized to the client's needs so they know you've created this proposal specifically for them. Let them know which deliverables you'll provide, the methods you'll use, and a timeframe for when they should expect them.
6. Share your qualifications.
Are you qualified to solve this prospect's problem? Why should they trust you? Use this section to communicate why you're best for the job. Include case studies of client success stories, mention any relevant awards or accreditations to boost your authority.
7. Include pricing options.
Pricing is where things can get a bit tricky, as you don't want to under or over-price your product. If you'd like to provide the prospect a few pricing options for their budget, include an optional fee table. Some proposal software offer responsive pricing tables which allow clients to check the products or services they're interested in, and the price will automatically adjust.
8. Clarify your terms and conditions.
This is where you go into detail about the project timeline, pricing, and payment schedules. It's essentially a summary of what you and the client are agreeing to if they accept your proposal. Make sure you clear the terms and conditions with your own legal team before sending the proposal to the client.
9. Include a space for signatures to document agreement.
Include a signature box for the client to sign and let them know exactly what they're agreeing to when they sign. This is also a chance to include a prompt for the prospect to reach out to you if they have any unanswered questions you can address.
Business Proposal Ideas
- Start with an outline.
- Include data and visuals.
- Add social proof.
- Incorporate video into your proposal.
- Use a call-to-action.
- Include up-sell and add-on opportunities.
- Create a sense of urgency.
- Keep it simple.
- Make the decision for them.
- Stay on brand.
- Quality control.
There's a lot to keep in mind when writing a business proposal. Here are a few tips to help you out:
1. Start with an outline.
Before you dive into writing, outline the major sections of your business proposal and the pertinent information you want to include. This will ensure you stay focused and your message stays intact as you write.
2. Include data and visuals.
Don't forget to include compelling, quantitative data. When applicable, use visuals such as charts and graphs to enhance the proposal.
3. Add social proof.
Customer quotes and testimonials can with a lot more trust than your words can on their own.
4. Incorporate video into your proposal.
If you're doing an online proposal over a document or PDF, you can include multimedia elements to enhance the proposal experience. Whether you add it at the beginning as an intro to your proposal or in the project breakdown to verbally discuss some of the more confusing parts, extras like this can make an impression, especially on prospects who are visual or auditory communicators.
5. Use a call-to-action.
Make sure the reader knows what to do next after reading your proposal. If the reader is ready to take action, your CTA should clearly indicate the next steps in the process.
6. Include up-sell and add-on opportunities.
They say you won't receive unless you ask.
When it comes to an upsell, a prospect may have use for additional support but they don't know what you offer.
7. Create a sense of urgency.
Your proposal should not be an indefinite offer. Give the reader a deadline to act on the proposal to expedite the decision-making process.
8. Keep it simple.
While there's no ideal business proposal length, focus on quality over quantity. Keep sentences short and simple, and avoid the use of business jargon.
9. Make the decision for them.
Craft your copy in a way that seems like saying 'no' to the proposal would be stepping over dollars to pick up pennies. Your offer should go above and beyond their expectations, and you should do everything in your power to eliminate frictions and objections along the way.
10. Stay on brand.
Don't be afraid to let your company's personality shine through in your proposal. Stay true to your brand and show the client what sets you apart from your competitors.
11. Quality control.
Before you send the proposal out, make sure to read and re-read it for any typos or grammatical errors.
Business Proposal Examples
In need of some inspiration before you begin writing? Here are example business proposal templates from popular business proposal software companies you can use to help create your proposal.
Image Source: PandaDoc
This example demonstrates a clear understanding of the client's needs. It includes a brief analysis of their current website and which specific features could be added or improved upon.
2. SEO Proposal
Image Source: Bidsketch
This proposal clearly outlines the steps that need to be taken to help the prospective client increase their visibility and traffic from search engines. They've created a table for each stage of the project timeline and included information on each deliverable and when it's due.
Image Source: PandaDoc
While this template is simple, it provides the prospect with an overview of the products and services you offer, and how they can be used to create a custom solution to address the client's problem or goal.
Some business agreements need a lot of information and detail to satisfy the audience. However, if your audience prefers a short and to-the-point summary of the project, this one-page proposal is right for you. Break down the issue, solution, strategy, goals, and costs on this attractive and easy-to-read template.
Image Source: Lucidpress
This proposal goes a lot deeper with several different page layouts to meet your needs. You can pitch your offerings, break down the price, and show off your team with this sleek but bold consulting template.
Image Source: Proposify
Depending on the type of business you're in, your business proposal elements will vary based on the needs of the prospect. With a professional, customized business proposal you're sure to delight your client and potentially gain their business.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jan 22, 2021 2:34:00 PM, updated January 25 2021