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
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.
“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.”
“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.”
Checklist: 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:
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…
Putting the final touches on your business proposal
Before you press send make sure you do these final checks and additions.
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.