Businesses of all types share a common goal: to make revenue. In order to do so, they need to reach prospective clients who might be interested in or can benefit from their product or service.
As an entrepreneur, writing a proposal is one way to close the gap between you and your potential customers. At any stage of your business, from creating a business website to building a customer base, it’s crucial to effectively persuade people that what you’re offering is the best solution in your market.
When starting a business, you want to stay one step ahead of the competition. We’ve created a complete guide on how to write a business proposal, as well as a list of the best practices to consider when crafting your own.
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a document written by a business that’s designed to convince a prospective client to award them a particular job contract, or to use their services. For example, a photography agency might submit a proposal to a firm that’s looking to get new company headshots. The proposal can be as short or as long as necessary to successfully communicate relevant information.
Unlike a business plan (see our guide on the types of business plans), which serves as a roadmap for how to structure, operate and manage a business, a proposal is created to help sell your offerings and reach new clients. Although there are three types of business proposals to consider, they all address the same points: what is the problem at hand, what is the proposed solution and how much does it cost.
The different types of business proposals are:
Formally solicited proposals are made in response to an official request - either verbal or written - by prospective clients. Most businesses prefer using RFPs (request for proposal), which is a document sent to another organization asking it to submit a business proposal. If your company is solicited a proposal, you’ll have the advantage of receiving all the vital information that the client is looking for, so you can write up a solid proposal.
Informally solicited proposals are those that have been requested by prospective clients, although unofficially. They may come up in the setting of a casual conversation or meeting. If your company receives an informally solicited proposal, the preliminary research about the client will be done by you, unlike what happens during formally solicited proposals.
Unsolicited proposals are sent to potential clients even though they don’t request one. Unsolicited proposals are comparable to a popular sales technique known as cold calling, in which a seller contacts a potential buyer who hasn’t previously shown interest in their offering. Implementing extensive market research, however, can help turn an unsolicited proposal into a personalized bid for your prospect client’s active attention.
How to write a business proposal
01. Start with a title page
Whether you’re starting a business or expanding an existing one, your business proposal's title page serves as an important anchor.
Here you’ll introduce the fundamentals. List your name, business name and company logo, as well as the client’s name and contact information. Add the date the proposal was submitted and a compelling title to distinguish your business from the rest.
Keep in mind good writing and grammar rules, such as capitalizing the letters in names and titles. Stay consistent with the formatting of all contact information and dates.
In your layout, think about how you can help the most important elements stand out. The title should be front and center, followed by your name, company name and logo.
People are drawn to aesthetically pleasing design, so make sure your title page is attractive to the eye and that it falls in line with your message. One way to do this is with typography or the visual aspect of type. When typing in your text, try to make it appealing and legible by carefully selecting the right alignment or font size.
Choosing a specific typeface or font pairing can visually set the perfect tone for your proposal. For example, if you work in the publishing industry, then you may want to use American Typewriter to highlight your expertise.
02. Create a table of contents
The average attention span for a person is down to eight seconds. That gives you just enough time to transmit a few words to someone else.
To make your proposal easier for skim reading, consider adding a table of contents. That way, readers can easily navigate through different sections.
Think of a table of contents like a cheat sheet in outline form. It lets your potential client know exactly how to find everything in your document. The table should mention all the main components of your business proposal, from the executive summary and pricing to the terms and conditions.
When crafting a digital proposal, you can create a clickable table so that your reader will have the ease to revisit each section and quickly search across multiple pages.
03. Make your case with an executive summary
In your proposal, the executive summary serves as a high level overview of your business. Explain why your business offers the best solution to a prospective client’s problem or issue. Use direct language that is persuasive and communicates all your key points clearly and eloquently.
Take the time to talk about your business by writing a mission statement and vision statement and outlining the specific benefits clients can expect from your product or service. Articulate this by showcasing any milestones in your career, such as new customers a month or reaching a significant number of sales.
04. Sketch out the problem in question
You want to show that you’ve got your customer’s best interest at heart. With that said, be sure to establish that your company truly understands the problem at hand.
In order to do so, use clear and concise language to address the issue in question. You can explain in simple terms what difficulties your client is facing or what exact problem is holding them back. Readers will be able to better see themselves reflected in your proposal if you explicitly show their concerns are integral to the solution you’re offering.
Additionally, you might also point out an issue that a potential customer hasn’t been made aware of, indicating a solid awareness of their needs. This can lead to forming a strong relationship with your prospective customer and gain their trust.
05. Offer a solution
This section of your business proposal is about how you plan to address the client’s problem.
Here, you’ll need to clarify the “how” and “when” of your proposal while avoiding industry jargon that may obscure any type of reader’s comprehension.
At this stage, you’ve reviewed the challenges the client faces and showed you’ve got the best intentions to help them. Now, you’ll want to translate these approaches into a strategy.
When laying out your offering, you may want to include a timeline detailing when each part of your plan will be taken. That way, the client knows when to expect what you’ve promised to deliver. For example, if you’re running a coaching business, you can walk the prospective client through each step of your proposed solution, from a pre-consultation meeting to the wrap-up session.
06. Introduce your team
Now that you’ve addressed your potential client’s main priorities and your solution, the prospective customer is ready to spend some time getting to know your company in depth.
Whether you’re a team of one or many, it’s important that the client identifies who the experts are. Feature your staff with their names and headshots, alongside their company titles and short bios. You should highlight details such as education levels, awards, industry-specific training and any other relevant background.
Having an About Us section is not only a great space to introduce your team, but it also strengthens credibility and builds trust. For example, incorporating testimonials from satisfied customers helps boost your business’s reputation. This section is the perfect transition to telling the unique story behind your brand and talking about your business’s values, vision and goals.
07. Add pricing options
You want to avoid any confusion when it comes to money. Creating a pricing table can bring clarity and accuracy to different payment options for each product or service that you're offering.
This also lets potential customers quickly find what they are looking for and immediately see how much it will cost them. An organized structure like a table, where options may be viewed side-by-side, is also a great way to draw attention to your most important offerings and increase your chances to upsell.
08. Outline your terms and conditions
Clarify what you and your client are agreeing to if they accept your proposal. This is where you want to specify formalities such as the duration of the business deal, payment dates and methods, the project timeline from start to finish, and the cancellation policy. Any necessary permits or licensing must be added in the section, too.
It is highly recommended to consult with a member of your company’s legal team or an external lawyer to go over this section before finalizing your proposal.
09. Make room for signatures
Conclude with a signature box for clients to sign and make it official that they are committing to your business proposal. Make sure to include a line for the signing date.
Consider including a friendly prompt for the client to reach out to you in case they have any questions, accompanied by your contact information.
For digital proposals, set up an e-signature field and make contact details clickable.
Best practices for writing a business proposal
Each section of a business proposal is composed of many components. To make the process easier, we’ve handpicked a few tips to get you started:
Use visual content - From charts and graphs to photographs and illustrations, visual content can be used to enhance any proposal. Use images to better explain and highlight crucial information so the potential client doesn’t miss a thing.
Embrace quantitative data - At the core of any decision-making process is data-driven research. Statistics such as demographics, market size, monetary figures and more can enrich our understanding and help validate your claim.
Take it online - A digital proposal makes it easy for you to share it and get feedback. You can include audio clips, hyperlinks and videos to keep readers engaged, making the content more enticing. In case your proposal is meant for the eyes of individual clients only, you can password protect it to keep the content gated.
Watch out for typos - Your proposal is a reflection of your business. It should look professional and polished. Proofread the final version of your proposal before it is sent off and watch out for any spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
Remember your brand voice - Your brand is the way your business is perceived and what sets it apart from the competition. Stay true to your brand identity and values throughout your proposal. Maintain a cohesive tone and style of communication, whether that means being technical, playful or anything else.
Implement a call-to-action - After reading your business proposal, a potential client should know what to do next. By using a persuasive call-to-action (CTA), you’ll be able to prompt your audience to perform a certain act or follow the final step to sealing the deal. ‘Join now’ or ‘contact us’ are good examples of strong CTAs.