Writing a business proposal is a key part of the sales process, allowing you to build relationships and win new business. This guide will take you through the steps to writing a winning business proposal. 

What is a business proposal?

A business proposal is a document that will show your capabilities and how they match with a client’s needs, and ultimately tell them why they should do business with you. Not to be confused with a business plan which is an articulation of the company’s vision and mission with details of financial forecasts and marketing plans. 

A business might write a proposal to: 

  • win a contract or project that has multiple bidders 
  • convince a supplier to work with you
  • gain funding
  • pitch their product to a retailer

A business proposal may be solicited or unsolicited - solicited coming from a formal request for proposal (RFP) - this might also be called a request for information (RFI), request for quotation (RFQ) or invitation for bid (IFB). An unsolicited business proposal may come off the back of a networking event or meeting when a client has mentioned an issue to you and you’ve asked if you could send them a proposal to offer them a solution. 

The business proposal should get their attention, show that you understand the problem and provide the right solution to win their business. 

What preparation do I need to do for a business proposal?

Before you start writing, do your research. Collate all the information that you’ll require and ask any questions early on to be fully prepared.

Preparing a business proposal in four parts

The preparation you’ll need to do for a business proposal can be broken down into four parts.

1. Understand the client

From a client's perspective, there's nothing worse than reading a proposal that shows a lack of understanding of their situation. 

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Understand the client

"The best thing you can do is to put yourself in the client’s shoes. Ensure you have a good grasp of their problem and objectives (and that they’re quantifiable), what they’re currently doing, what they’ve done in the past, their budget and any deadlines." 

Ashley Alderson, Brightside Renovations Ltd 

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2. Understand the industry

Your proposal should instil faith in the reader that you have a firm understanding of the industry and external landscape. 

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2. Understand the industry

"Consider the current climate and challenges in their industry. Use benchmarks and case studies to demonstrate what and how you’d achieve the given objectives." 

Becky Elkin, Becky Elkin PR

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3. Understand your relevant experience

You should think about your work experience and qualifications and how they might enhance your proposal. 

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3. Understand your relevant experience

"Think about similar projects that you’ve delivered in the past or bits of projects that can be pieced together to provide evidence of your capabilities."

Beverly Jackson, Jackson & Lyon’s Digital Agency 

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4. Understand your resource requirements and other costs

It's easy to overpromise in the proposal stage so you need to be mindful of what you can realistically deliver and tally the costs accordingly. 

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4. Understand your resource requirements and other costs 

"I mentally walk-through each element of the project and write down the hours that will be required in labour and list all other associated costs like materials. Typically I would then multiply labour hours required by 1.5 which will ensure you don’t under-estimate - ending up working for peanuts or running out of time, unable to deliver the project to the best of your ability. This time will allow for inevitable changes, additions and over-delivery on the project."

Jayne Knowle, JK Kitchen Designs

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Writing your business proposal in 10 steps

Across all sections, your business proposal should stand out to grab the attention of the reader but it should also be clear and concise throughout. The business proposal can be broken down into these ten sections:

Video: How to create a winning proposal

Depending on your industry and the type of client you’re sending to, then the way you structure and design your business proposal may be slightly different. Take a look at this video with an alternative example of how Experiment27 put together proposals when pitching to agencies… 

How to send your business proposal and follow up

When your proposal is finished, spend some time crafting a great cover email or letter. This will be the first thing the client sees before they open the proposal so make it count and remember that people want to work with others that they like and get on with so make it friendly and positive. Make sure they know that you’re readily available to discuss the proposal in more detail and this isn’t the limit to what you could provide (especially if it was an unsolicited request). 

Be confident, you’re obviously in the position of proposing for a reason and know that you’ve given it your best. Don’t put off following up - unless they’ve let you know when they’ll get back to you, do it the next day to appear keen and see if they have any questions.

Download: free business proposal template

Download your free annotated business proposal template to help you write winning proposals.

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Next Steps

How do I agree payment terms with customers?

After you’ve won the business you’ll need to put your payment terms in place. Read this guide which will walk you through the terminology and potential issues.

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Finding the right suppliers

A great guide to finding the right suppliers for your business to help you fulfil your contracts.

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