How to Write a Business Proposal
Knowing how to write a business proposal is an essential skill for any freelancer or service business owner. Think of a proposal as the ultimate sales tool; once you’ve learned how to write a good proposal, you’ll be able to win more clients with less effort.
Whether you’re a new business owner or you’re in a growth stage, writing proposals can be intimidating, daunting, and downright overwhelming. If you want to land a new client, you’re likely putting a lot of pressure on yourself to write the best proposal possible.
But the truth is, writing proposals doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think.
Here’s how to write a business proposal that saves time and gets results.
Create a Business Proposal Template and Process
Writing proposals can suck up a lot of time and energy, but you can save yourself plenty of effort — and a lot of headaches — by creating a proposal template and establishing a process that you can use every time a new opportunity pops up for your business.
When you have a repeatable process and a template that you can plug information into, you never have to start from scratch. Yes, you’ll need to customize your pitch for each potential client, but the basic building blocks will not change. All of your proposals should follow the same framework; there’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time.
First impressions matter, so having a clean, simple, professional design for your proposal is key. Include a cover page that puts your best foot forward, and follow through with consistent formatting throughout the document. Your design should not be cluttered or distracting, but instead, guide the reader’s eye from section to section.
One of the best ways to build a proposal template and implement a repeatable system is to use a proposal tool, such as Proposify. Not only does Proposify provide preloaded, well-designed proposal templates you can use as a starting point, but the cloud-based software also allows you to streamline the entire proposal process from start to finish.
By having a proposal template and repeatable proposal process in place, you’ll be prepared to respond to inquiries and opportunities quickly and professionally. This will help set you apart from the competition from the start.
So not only are you making things easier on yourself and your team by setting yourself up to turn your proposals around quickly, but you’re also setting yourself up to win more business. In fact, proposals sent within 24 hours result in a 26% higher conversion rate and tend to be signed faster.
Get Clear on the Client’s Needs
The best business proposals stand out by demonstrating to the client that you understand their needs. Nothing turns a client off faster than jumping into selling a solution that misses the mark on what would actually solve their problem.
Before you begin writing a proposal, make sure you’re clear on exactly what the client needs.
If there is an RFP, read it carefully, and ask questions if you need clarification.
Conduct a thorough initial consult or discovery session to ensure you fully comprehend the client’s needs and circumstances as well as the background of the problem your service will address. Also, take the time to do your research about the industry, company, your competition, and context.
Recommended Sections for Your Business Proposals
A fatal mistake that I see many freelancers and agency owners make when it comes to proposals is not including enough context in their proposals. Instead, they send a scope of work and a price. Your proposal is a sales tool, and you should include everything in that document that someone who hasn’t yet met you can use to make an informed decision about hiring you or your company. Here are the sections to consider adding to your proposals.
Introduction or Situation
The first section in the proposal should identify and summarize the client’s problem clearly and succinctly. This is the point at which you can let them know you understand their needs, and it sets the groundwork for everything that follows.
Scope of Work
In the scope of work section of your proposal, you’ll want to provide a detailed solution to the problem you described in the introduction. Here, you should do more than talk about what you’ll do for them, and focus on the specific benefits of your proposed solution — including the results they can expect.
The timeline section of your proposal is more than an outline of tasks. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you understand the importance of any milestones that need to be met.
Providing timelines also enables you to show them that you’ve worked on projects like theirs before and understand the steps that need to happen. For this reason, it’s also important to explain what will happen if the timeline changes — because it will — and if you don’t acknowledge that, it can come across as a rookie mistake.
About Your Company
Next, you need to position yourself or your company as the best possible solution to their problem. What have you done in the past to prepare you to deliver a better result than your competition? How are you uniquely qualified to give them what they want? What social proof can you provide that’ll boost your credibility in their eyes?
Go beyond your bio or company overview, and use this space to sell yourself.
What You Can Expect From Us
In this section of your business proposal, you’ll establish how things are done at your company and how you work with clients. Examples of what to cover include: how you’ll communicate, who on your team will be working on their project, and other relevant details.
All of this information helps to put their minds at ease, giving the impression that you’re a professional company that has fine-tuned systems, processes, and policies in place to serve your clients.
What We Expect From You
As important as letting the client know what they can expect from you is laying out what you expect from them. This section goes a long way in managing expectations from the start. In order for any project or work arrangement to be successful, you’ll need buy-in and commitment from the client.
Let the client know what their role will be and what you’ll need from them in order to meet milestones and work effectively together.
Never make the mistake of putting the cost of your service at the beginning of the proposal. Instead, put your pricing toward the end — once you have provided the context and presented your value proposition. You want them to clearly understand the value you deliver before they see the fees involved.
Clear pricing makes it easier for a client to say yes. Include a fee breakdown, so they understand what you’re charging for each component or phase of the work. This will help to avoid sticker shock or unnecessary questions and haggling.
Also, be sure to include payment terms and conditions here as well to prevent misunderstandings, and set proper expectations moving ahead.
Wrap up the proposal by removing any uncertainty from the proposal process. Never leave your potential client wondering how to move forward with you. In this section of your proposal, spell out exactly how to accept the proposal, how to sign documents electronically, and specifically what happens once they say yes.
Ideally, you can incorporate a proposal tool like Proposify to accept electronic signatures and automate the onboarding process. Again, the more ease you create for yourself and the client, the better.
Smart Follow Up
Once you’ve submitted a proposal to your prospective client, you might be wondering what to do next on your end. If you’re anything like most freelancers and service business owners, sending proposals can be nerve-wracking, and following up can feel stressful. You don’t want to come across as pushy or desperate, but you don’t want to seem uninterested either — there’s a fine line.
Taking the guesswork out of follow-up is another reason using a tool like Proposify is so helpful. You don’t have to wonder if the client has viewed your proposal yet because you can easily log-in and track activity. This way, you can be strategic about checking in to close the deal.
Overall, once you have a well-designed proposal template and know what to include in a proposal, you can feel confident that you’re in the running to win more business. And the next time you want to go after an opportunity, you’ll be ready to step up to the challenge.