It's finally happened. You've started a new business, and your customer base is starting to expand. But even though you're making progress, you still feel like you could be doing better.
There's a whole world of untapped potential around you - prospects you know would benefit from your product or service. And the issues you're running into are less about your solution's soundness and more about how you can reach your potential base.
That's where business proposals come in. They can bridge the gap between you and potential clients. A solid proposal can outline your value proposition and persuade a company or organization to do business with you.
Here, we'll take a look at the various kinds of business proposals and go over how to write one. We'll also see some ideas and examples to help guide yours.
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What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a formal document that's created by a company and provided to a prospect to secure a business agreement.
It's a common misconception that business proposals and business plans are the same. The proposal aims 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.
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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 so that they can decide whether or not to do business with your company.
In a solicited business proposal, the other organization asks for a request for proposal (RFP). When a company needs a problem solved, they invite other businesses to submit a proposal that 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 organization's problem, 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.
Summarize with a conclusion.
Clarify your terms and conditions.
Include a space for signatures to document agreement.
Before writing your business proposal, it's crucial you understand the company. If they've sent you an RFP, make sure you read it carefully, so you know exactly what they want. 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.
You have to convey some basic information here. 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.
Your title page should reconcile engagement with professionalism. It's a tone-setter, so you need to make sure yours is sleek, aesthetically appealing, and not too "out there."
Here's an example of what a business proposal template looks like when done right:
2. Create a table of contents.
A solid UX is valuable in virtually any context, and business proposals are no exception. You need to make things as simple and accessible as possible for the people on the other side of your proposal. That starts with 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, it helps to 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. Specificity is key here. Why are you the best option for them?
Similar to a value proposition, your executive summary 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, the prospect should have a clear idea of how you can help them, even if they don't read the entire proposal. Here's what one should look like:
That example thoughtfully and effectively conveys both what the business does as a whole and how it can specifically serve the reader's needs. Here's what yours shouldn't look like:
This particular example is extremely vague. It doesn't allude to what the reader specifically stands to gain from doing business with Outbound Telecom and fails to actually speak to why it should be considered "the best in its industry."
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 clearly understand their needs and the problem they need help solving.
Research, critical thinking, and extra thought are key here. You have to do your homework. Take a holistic look at the specific issues your client faces that you can help solve. Then, compellingly frame them in a way that sets you up for the next step.
5. Propose a solution.
Here's where you offer up a strategy for solving the problem. Like the last step, you need to lean into specificity and personalization on this one. 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 of your business proposal template to communicate why you're best for the job. Include case studies of client success stories and 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 with 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. Summarize with a conclusion.
After providing the above information, it's necessary to simplify it into one final section. Briefly summarize the proposal. Touch on your qualifications and why you'd serve as the best choice. To prompt further conversation, confirm your availability. At the end of the proposal, the goal is to have the client ready to work with you. Provide your contact information to allow them to follow up easily.
9. 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 agree 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.
10. 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.
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.
If you want to produce a thoughtful, effective business proposal, you need to have some idea of what you're hoping to achieve with it. So 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.
You want your business proposal to capture your prospect's attention and help set you apart from any other ones they might have received. One of the best ways to do that is to include hard, quantitative data that helps stress the value of your business.
If you can find some relevant, compelling figures that highlight what you have to offer, you can establish authority and make yourself that much more convincing. It also helps to include visuals such as charts and graphs to enhance your proposal.
3. Add social proof.
Like the previous point, adding social proof lends your proposal another degree of credibility. You can only be so convincing when you're personally talking up how great your business is.
Prospects are skeptical. In many - if not most - cases, they probably won't take you at your word. They'll likely trust peers and fellow customers more than someone trying to win their business. That's why including elements like customer quotes and testimonials can go a long way.
4. Incorporate video into your proposal.
If you're creating an online proposal using document file formats like PDF, you can include multimedia elements to enhance the proposal experience. They can make your document richer and more engaging.
Whether you add video 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. This works especially on prospects who are visual or auditory communicators.
5. Use a call-to-action.
Prospects need direction. The best proposal in the world can only take you so far if you don't clearly define the next steps. That's why you have to make sure the reader knows what to do next after reading your proposal.
A clear-cut call-to-action is the best way to get there. Define and highlight exactly what they should do to act on the interest your proposal has generated. Without that guidance, you might leave your reader in limbo.
6. Include up-sell and add-on opportunities.
They say you won't receive unless you ask. Readers won't explore the upper tiers of your solutions if you don't give them the opportunity. If you want to use your business proposal as a chance to get the most out of a reader's interest, you need to include some additional information about your business for them to act on. They need to know what else you have to offer.
7. Create a sense of urgency.
No one wants to feel as if they missed out on a great opportunity. A lack of urgency tends to cause people to drag their feet and take time when making a decision. As you create your business proposal, your goal should be to create a sense of urgency.
Prospective clients should read your business proposal and feel that now is the best time to sign up for your service. A way you can accomplish this is by stating your short and long-term goals for their business. While they will have to wait for the long-term goals, make the short-term goals so enticing that they are instantly ready to begin a collaboration.
8. Keep it simple.
There's no definitive blueprint for how long a business proposal has to be. Yours should be however long it takes to convey the information you want to get across.
That said, you're best off focusing on quality over quantity. Keep your sentences short and simple, and avoid including too much business jargon. You want your proposal to be straightforward enough for anyone who picks it up to make sense of it. So don't get carried away with being too fancy.
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.
Your proposal needs to be clean and airtight. You don't want to undermine your messaging by coming off as sloppy and unprofessional. Before you send the proposal out, make sure to read and reread it for any typos or grammatical errors.
Business Proposal Templates
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.
1. Web Design Proposal
When you make a web design proposal, you must understand your client's needs. In this template, you will begin by introducing yourself and your plan for the client. This template will walk you through outlining your development process, project timeline, and pricing.
2. SEO Proposal
For search engine optimization, clients want to hear key phrases like increased visibility and traffic. This SEO proposal template will allow you to demonstrate and communicate your growth plans. It includes sample content and walks you through the essential elements of an SEO proposal.
3. Sales Proposal
When making a sales proposal, it's critical to have clients believe in your expertise and previous work. With this template, you can establish this quickly. Starting with your company background and going into client testimonials, you can instantly prove the value of working with your company.
This template also gives you space to elaborate on your service proposal through goals, challenges, and proposed solutions.
4. Marketing Project Proposal
Marketing is a fast-paced industry, and many marketers don't want to waste time rifling through multiple pages of proposals. This one-page marketing proposal will help get your ideas across quickly and efficiently. This template features a description, pain points, solutions, goals, costs, and a strategy.
5. Business Consulting Proposal
If your company offers consulting services, this business consulting proposal template is easy to tailor to your business and your prospective client's needs. This template will include a project summary, project activities (including deliverables), a timeline, and more.
6. Social Media Marketing Proposal
Companies, big and small, dedicate resources to establishing a noticeable social media presence. With advertising on social networks projected to reach $56.85 billion dollars in 2022, it's in your business's best interest to have a plan for growing your client's social media presence.
To help you in that effort, the information in this social media marketing proposal includes an executive summary to help introduce your high-level ideas, an assessment of the client's company to demonstrate your diligence, and a breakdown of billing to show how your company charges for posting, content creation, and analytics.
7. Content Marketing Proposal
When pitching your content marketing services to clients, this template can help you organize your ideas. While it walks you through initial objectives and how to communicate your prospected results, one of the most helpful parts of this template is the pricing ideas it gives you when charging for your services.
Business proposal templates are helpful places to get started, but what should your business proposal look like when it's complete? Below, we share an example of a business proposal template that will inspire you.
Business Proposal Example
In the business template example above, Social Portal Consulting (SPC) pitches a marketing proposal to Graphic Bean. At first sight, this proposal appeals to the creative. A nice touch would include designing the layout in your or your client's brand colors. In addition to the design, the use of social media icons quickly tells the prospect what platforms Social Portal is pitching. Because we see Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest icons, the client instantly knows that this proposal does not include LinkedIn, YouTube, or other platforms.
While maintaining its design, this example outlines Social Portal Consulting's plans efficiently. It begins by providing insight into Graphic Bean and its goals before elaborating on how SPC can leverage its expertise to help them achieve it. This business proposal template includes an easy-to-follow timeframe for goals and objectives while keeping the client abreast of how payment will happen across the project.
Overall, this is an excellent example of how to combine the elements of social media marketing into a creative and concise business proposal.
Let your business proposal do the talking.
Depending on the type of business you're in, your business proposal elements will vary based on the prospect's needs. After reading through your plan, prospective clients should have very few questions about your company and what it can do for them. With the tips and examples in this article, you have all the tools to guide you through the process. 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.