7 Tips on How to Create a Winning Proposal Outline

Make sure your proposals have all crucial elements of success Written by Adam Hempenstall
Proposal Outline Winning Tips

You probably know that one of the keys to a successful business proposal is having a great proposal template.

Once you figure out what every proposal needs to have, you can create a template and just edit client-related bits every time you need a new proposal.

Here are the crucial elements of all the successful proposals that go through our system. Based on our analysis of hundreds of thousands of signed proposals, this is what your ideal template absolutely needs to have.

Best Proposal Software

Ask questions in the discovery phase

The best way to know what your clients are looking is to simply ask them. In the discovery phase, make sure to ask as many questions as possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a meeting with a client, a simple phone call will do. Your aim is to understand what the client is trying to achieve and find out ways to help them.

For example, you run a marketing agency and a client comes up to you looking for more sales. When you dig underneath the surface, you may find that instead of a comprehensive marketing plan, all they need is some SEO or PPC ads.

Finally, note the expressions the client is using during the discovery session. They may know exactly what they’re looking for or they could be a complete newbie. Depending on the language they use, you will create a different proposal.

The discovery phase is the foundation of every good proposal, so spend a nice chunk of time here. You’ll save time anyways since you’re using proposal software, so you’ll have an hour to spare.

Write a great introduction

Armed with the knowledge from the discovery sessions, it’s time to kick off your proposal with an amazing introduction. Our research has shown that this is the second most read part of every proposal, after the pricing. As such, it deserves your utmost attention.

You may be tempted to write about how awesome your company is and how you’ve achieved goal X in X years or some other self-loving mumbo jumbo. That has a place too, but leave it for later.

To capture the client’s attention right off the bat, use the introduction to explain the client’s goals and show that you understand their situation. For example, you understand that they’re having a hard time getting leads from search engine traffic. You also know that they can use SEO and pay-per-click ads to solve this problem.

Remember the notes from the discovery session? This is where you use them. Talk back to the client and use their own words to describe their situation. If you go too technical, they won’t understand you and you will lose them as soon as they’ve finished the introduction and before they even glance at the other sections.

This is the spot to describe what you’re going to do and how you’re going to achieve it, but once again, without going too technical. For example, you’ll place 10 PPC ads for them, which will get a 30% increase in the number of their leads. There’s no need to go into details about keyword research, traffic, different versions of copy, etc. Keep it stupid simple and don’t overburden the client with things they don’t really need to know.

Business Proposal Introduction Section Description

Have a case study prepared

There is nothing better to convince the client that you can do your part of the job than seeing that you’ve already done it before. Case studies are one of the most powerful marketing tools out there, and while you can’t (and shouldn’t) include a full case study with each proposal, you can create it as a separate section.

In this section, make sure to list an example of a similar job you’ve done for a client before and what you were able to achieve. For example, you’ve run PPC ads for someone in the same industry and managed to get them 300+ leads per month. The more specific you can get with your case study, the better.

Problems can arise if you don’t have a similar success story from the past. Don’t worry too much and try to find something as close as possible to the client on the other end of the proposal.

The timescales

Time is money. Besides the work being done and how much it’s going to cost, clients want to know when it’ll be done. Make sure to include this as a separate section and break down when you’ll be able to do each part of the work. If the client has an upcoming event such as a launch or anniversary, factor this in the timescales.

As a bit of common sense, always underpromise with your timescales. You never know what may come up and the client may include additional work.

The pricing

This is the second most important element of each proposal. Naturally, the client wants to know how much your services are going to cost them and whether they can afford it at a given point in time.

The first trick to use here is to mind the words you’re using. Our research consistently shows that naming this section just pricing gets the worst results. To really convince clients to pay, name the section investment, ROI or return on investment. You want clients to think that they’re investing and not paying for something.

The second tip is to have a single, convincing offer. Although Better Proposals has the ability to include more than one pricing package, plus traditional marketing knowledge says that upsells are great, we’ve seen that they don’t really work with proposals.

If you have a single offer, it will increase your chances of conversion by 20.6%, no matter if you have a one-time offer or a monthly retainer. To keep it stupid simple, have one offer per proposal and maximize your chances of getting a signature.

The next steps

Imagine buying a table from Ikea without any instructions on how to put it together. That’s what most hand-written proposals look like. You need to include a section that tells the client what they need to do after signing and what happens next. For example:

  1. The client signs the proposal
  2. They get an invoice for the first part of the payment
  3. They’re invited to a kick-off meeting
  4. You start with work on their project

You can add as many steps as you wish, but make sure to include this section at all costs.

Business Proposal Templates

Terms and conditions

You may think that you don’t need this section and the truth is, clients will most likely skim over it. However, you absolutely need it in your proposal. This is the spot to include all legal details and ensure that if things go wrong, both parties are covered.

Wrapping up…

None of these sections are absolutely necessary. However, if you leave out any of them, you considerably hurt your chances of the client reading and signing your proposal.

Do you include all of these in the proposals you send out? Do you add something that we haven’t covered here and it works for you? Let us know in the comments!

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