Learning how to write a business proposal is one of the most important things an entrepreneur or professional can do.
While many business schools touch on this subject at one point or another, few students realize how important this skill will be throughout their careers. From getting a new initiative approved by the board of your company to selling your product or service to a new potential client, understanding how to write a professional business proposal is a critical skill.
In the following sections, we will outline a standard business proposal template, offering some detailed explanation into what each portion should cover, and how it should look.
By the end of this article, you will be a business proposal expert, ready to pitch and sell whatever comes your way!
Spending enough time to fully grasp the “why” of a proposal before writing leaves you with a much more persuasive finished product.
In planning to write your business proposal, you should be asking yourself the following questions:
If you get the feeling that a win for the audience is misaligned with what you are trying to accomplish, its time to get back to the drawing board.
In like manner, if you discover your proposal does not alleviate any pain points for your target audience, you may want to reconsider your targeting strategy or messaging.
The best way to write a winning proposal is to make sure that its approval means a win for all parties involved.
With the planning phase complete, its time to start putting your thoughts on paper. In writing your proposal, there are a few key elements you should make sure to cover.These include:
Making sure you succinctly cover each one of these sections is the best way to write a great proposal with a high likelihood of approval.Depending on the audience, the most critical section of your proposal will likely vary.While an internal corporate proposal may be considered more on cost, an external client proposal may draw more negotiating power from product details or incurred benefits.
As with most professional communication, it’s essential to set the stage for what you’re trying to discuss clearly and concisely.
Your proposal introduction should briefly address the audience and outline the issue at hand or the pain point you intend to alleviate.
Striking a balance between being too wordy and being too short here may very well be the most significant contributor to your chances of approval. With that in mind, you should make sure to take the time necessary to ensure your introduction is both concise and compelling.
After establishing the problem you’re trying to solve or pain point you hope to alleviate, it’s time to start work on outlining your proposed solution. If you’ve succeeded in capturing the audience’s attention in your introduction, the effectiveness of your pitch tends to increase dramatically.
Your ability to resonate with your reader here will heavily depend on the skill with which you outline the features of your offering and its ability to solve the problem or pain they are facing (benefits).
While it’s ok to go into a bit more detail on this section than in the introduction, you should still strive to be as concise as possible in delivering your message.
The last thing you want is for your reader to become disengaged because you spent too much time outlining non-critical and uncompelling details.
Plan of Action & Timeline
You should dedicate this section of your proposal to outlining the steps required to accomplish the thing you are proposing.
Along with this implementation roadmap, you should also outline a timeline, making sure to include details on how long it will take to deliver each stage of the implementation. Typically, the plan of action section of a proposal takes the form of a verbal description of a graphical timeline.
That said, depending on the formality of the situation, it may behoove you to use a graphical timeline in place of written copy here.
Now that you’ve outlined the problem, your proposed solution, and the roadmap to getting there, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: budget.
While this section is arguably the most make or break part of a proposal, it’s essential to realize the progression of thought people go through when reading through everything. Think of each section as a stage of a game that you need to win to get to the final boss.
Even though you can’t get a proposal approved without winning buy-in on cost, you won’t ever get to that stage without successfully winning the steps leading up to it (pain point, your proposal as a solution, timeline, etc.)
The silver lining to this truth is that winning buy-in on the preceding sections helps you build momentum that you can carry into the final decision.
It’s important to avoid thinking about the cost section as the only real contributor to the final decision. In doing this, you increase your likelihood of approval and avoid the pitfall of believing you need to compete on cost. Rather than try to sell on price, sell on solutions.
In other words, if a person is acutely aware of real pain, they tend to focus much more on getting relief than what that relief will cost.
By this point in your proposal, the battle has already been won or lost.
Rather than spend this section trying to interject a last-minute plea for approval, you should instead use it to thank the audience for their time and clearly outline the next steps.
A proposal call to action should create a sense of urgency in the mind of the reader, as failing to do so runs a high risk of negotiations stalling out. While finding the perfect balance between urgency and calm is often a struggle, cultivating this ability is the best way to maximize your chances of getting a yes.
As you get ready to start putting your new proposal writing skills to work, there are a few things you should keep in mind along the way.
Some of the most important things to keep in mind include:
Make Sure Your Proposal is Properly Formatted
As each situation will likely be different from the last, you need to carefully consider your audience and setting in deciding on how to format yours.
Assuming you are writing a formal proposal for a corporate audience, your safest bet is to use standard 1″ margins and include a title page, table of contents, and a proper header.
However, if you are writing a memo for a client for your small business or someone you with which you have a pre-existing personal connection, it may be best to tone down the formality and personalize your delivery to the situation.
In writing proposals for small business audiences, people are more likely to buy into the brand than the proposed product or service.
No matter what your audience looks like, matching your proposal to your brand image and voice will likely net you more wins than sticking to the standard formal methodology of the corporate world.
Deliver Your Proposal on High-Quality Paper or a Polished Digital Format
First impressions are huge in business.
When preparing your proposal for delivery, this should be a top of mind consideration.
Rather than print your proposal on the same budget printer paper you would see in an office copier, consider investing in some beautiful business cardstock to give your plan a quality feel.
The same goes for digital delivery. Rather than email a dull word document, take some time to think about places you could insert graphical elements and make sure to export the final product in .pdf format with an elegant cover sheet.
The way your proposal is delivered will directly impact the perceived quality of the product, service, or initiative you are proposing.
Even if you have the best offering in the world, a poorly packaged proposal can make it seem cheap and unappealing.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Would you take a proposal seriously if it was littered with spelling and grammatical errors?
Neither would the target audience of your proposal.
No matter how far removed we are from our formative education years, the importance of reviewing your work for errors never fades.
At the end of the day, perception is reality; both in life and in business.
The last thing you want is for a few avoidable grammatical errors to make your product or service look second class.