You’ve just wrapped up a call with a prospective consulting client. They’re interested in working with you. Congratulations!
If you’ve found your way to this blog post, it’s safe to assume you now need to develop a consulting proposal for this client — and you need help doing so.
Many prospective clients request proposals before officially signing on the dotted line. Why? In short, a consulting proposal outlines your working relationship so that both parties can stay aligned and understand the other’s expectations. Proposals aren’t paper formalities — they signify the start of an important client-consultant relationship.
In this post, I’ll explain how to write a consulting proposal that your prospective clients can’t resist.
How to Write a Consulting Proposal
Knowing how to write a clear, concise consulting proposal can make or break your ability to convert prospective clients. Let’s review how to pull together a winning proposal.
Chat with your client in person or over the phone.
You can’t write an effective consulting proposal without chatting with your prospective client first. Do your best to set up a phone call for this conversation; if you can, meet in person. Email will suffice for getting to know your client and their consulting needs, but letting them see your face and/or hear your voice will help you build trust with them.
Understand their challenges and needs.
The better you understand your prospective client’s challenges and pain points, the more impactful your proposal can be. While a consulting proposal template can help get the job done, the details in your proposals should not be one-size-fits-all; they should be tailored to each client and their needs. Don’t hesitate to follow up with additional phone calls or meetings to better understand your client and what they need from you.
Ask about the details.
A successful proposal reflects the project scope and details to keep both parties aligned. Don’t forget to ask about your client’s ideal timeline, budget, expectations, and outcomes. These details are important for selling a prospective client on your services as well as giving your client a better understanding of how exactly you two will work together.
Focus on client outcomes, not consultant input.
While it may be tempting to hone in on your qualifications and experience, your consulting proposal should focus on what your client will get from working with you. Be as specific as possible about the value and outcomes your client can expect. Also, avoid buzzwords and generic jargon. In fact, do your best to use the same words they did in your meetings — this will resonate with them and show you were listening.
Keep it short.
When it comes to consulting proposals, quality matters much more than quantity. Keep your proposal as brief as possible to accurately describe the project scope and expectations. Don’t give your client a reason to stop reading your proposal and potentially view another consultant’s — instead, keep your proposal concise and engaging. For reference, the average length is one to two pages long.
Ask for feedback.
A consulting proposal is a two-way document, meaning both parties should have a say in the content it includes. As you develop your proposal, clarify any questions or concerns you have with your prospective client. When finished, send it to your client for review and feedback. Consider building your proposal in Google Docs or a similar word processor in which your client can collaborate and leave comments or suggestions.
Sample Consulting Proposal
The most effective consulting proposals follow an engaging and logical structure. In this section, we’ll discuss the anatomy of a well-written consulting proposal.
A personalized greeting sets apart your consulting proposals from a generic proposal. When you treat your proposal as a personal letter, prospective clients are more likely to trust you and want to build a relationship with you. Use the client’s formal name (e.g. “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Dr.”) unless you’re on a first-name basis.
Consider this section the introduction, or hook, of your proposal. Summarize the challenges your prospective client is facing and what value you can provide through your consulting services. In this section, you should also thank your client for considering you and give them a brief overview of what they can expect from the rest of the proposal. Lastly, outline a few key goals or objectives of your consulting project.
3. Project scope
This section is all about what you’ll be doing to reach those goals and objectives you outlined above. Specificity is key here — unless you clearly outline what you’ll be doing for your client, you may experience scope creep.
For example, if you’re being hired to review and analyze a client’s marketing strategies, this section would outline how long your phone calls or office visits will be, how many calls or visits you commit to each week, the length of each visit, etc. You can never be too detailed in the project scope section; it’ll only save you and your client a headache later.
This section outlines the tangible, identifiable end “products” you will be providing your client as a result of the project. If the project scope describes “how,” the deliverables are the “what”.
Following the example from above, while your project scope would be reviewing and analyzing marketing strategies, your deliverables may be a detailed analysis document, a presentation of proposed changes, or even a brand new marketing plan. (The specific details will vary depending on your client and their preferences and needs.)
So … if the project scope describes “how” and the deliverables outline the “what”, can you guess what the timeline section is? Ding, ding — it’s the “when”.
This section is incredibly important for setting expectations and creating boundaries with clients. The timeline part of the proposal should outline specific project dates and deadlines for different parts of your project. Whether you’re making office visits, creating documents, or simply sending follow-up emails, try to detail every possible date in your proposal. At the very least, make sure you include the project start, final project deadlines, and any milestones in between.
6. Fees and payment structure
Make it crystal clear what your consulting fees are, what they include, and how and when you prefer to get paid. If you recommend using a certain payment portal, include that information here. Similarly, if you require a down payment or staggered fee structure, don’t forget that information, too.
7. Why choose you?
While the proposal shouldn’t be focused on your work as a consultant, it never hurts to include a short section in which you explain why the client should choose you. Even if you pitched yourself during your initial prospective call, you can reiterate your key strengths and qualifications here.
8. Next steps
Finally, don’t forget to include a strong call-to-action in your proposal. Need feedback from the client? Are you ready to start working together and simply need a signature? Give clear instructions in this final section so clients know how to move forward.
Consulting Proposal Template for Sales
While each proposal you create should be tailored to each prospective client, it can be tedious to write out the entire document every time. This is where a consulting proposal template can come in handy, like this free consulting proposal template you can use in Word or PDF format. (Note: If you use a template, don’t forget to double-check that all client-specific details are updated and correct!)
Proposals are especially critical in marketing specifically. With so many areas of specialization, channels, deliverable types, and metrics to keep up with, you'll need to set expectations for the relationship between you and the client. A consulting proposal for marketing might include an outline of your strategic framework, the overall goals, and perhaps even the smaller milestones you want to be measured by. This free marketing proposal template is a great place to start:
A well-written consulting proposal not only serves as a guidepost for a consultant-client relationship, but it can help convert prospects into loyal, long-term clients. Implement these consulting proposal best practices and start developing winning proposals for your consulting business.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Aug 13, 2020 2:00:00 PM, updated April 27 2021