How to Structure a Proposal: 8 Research-Based Tips for Success

Written by Patricija Šobak


A business proposal is a document that can either open exciting new business opportunities or close that door for good. That’s why, no matter the size of your company or the amount of experience you have, putting one together can seem daunting.

So, to get some of that weight off your shoulders, we’ve analyzed four years of data to find out what the ideal proposal looks like. Here’s how to structure a proposal that helps you win more business and represents your company in the best possible way.

1. Ace the cover page

The cover page is the first thing your potential clients will see, so you need to make sure it leaves the right impression. When it comes down to design, keep in mind that simple is the way to go. A busy cover page will draw your client’s attention away from other important information, such as:

  • the project name
  • the name of the person you’re addressing
  • your company name
  • your contact information
  • date of submission

And what is a cover page without a logo? While we strongly recommend adding it to your cover page, you need to make sure you’re using a high-quality version. You don’t want the first thing your client sees to be a pixelated logo pasted to the page in a hurry, right?

That said, if you’re wondering whether you need a cover page in the first place, the answer is a resounding yes. Our data shows that business proposals with covers have better conversion rates than those that don’t. So, if you’re not using a cover yet, you might want to start now.

web design proposal cover
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2. Write a great introduction

Before working with you, clients need to like you. But in order to like you, they need to get to know you first. So, to show them what your company is all about and how it can bring value to their business, you’ll want to write a tempting intro. And if you’re not convinced you need one, think of it this way: showing up to a job interview without introducing yourself first would be strange, right? The same goes for jumping right into the project specifics in your proposals.

That said, avoid the common mistake of making it all about you. Instead, focus on the client’s pain points and illustrate the solutions your company can provide. That way, you’re grabbing your prospect’s attention from the start and improving your chances of sealing the deal. If this sounds easier said than done, we’ve got you covered. Here are some tips on how to write an introduction that shows your client that you’ve understood their problems and goals.

Personalize

If your company sends a lot of business proposals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of copy-pasting the same generic intro over and over again. However, it’s also a bad practice that lowers your chances of closing a sale.

Seeing that your potential client is likely considering other companies as well, you need to make sure you stand out from the competition. One of the easiest ways to do that is to personalize your proposals, especially if you’re using proposal software.

For example, using merge tags for your clients’ names saves you time and leaves no room for error since you don’t have to type them in manually every time. What’s more, Better Proposals now also lets you create custom merge tags, so you can automatically add whatever you need.

Go back to your meeting notes

Assuming you’ve had a call with your potential client and asked the right questions, you already know what issues they’re facing. The only thing left to do now is to show why you’re the right choice to tackle those problems.

Making sure you get off on the right foot with your prospect from the get-go is as easy as adding an overview of their specific needs. To do this effectively, mention:

  • objectives they shared with you
  • the situation they’re in now
  • how you can help them achieve their goals
proposal introduction example
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Keep it short

When it comes to introductions, the best rule of thumb is to keep them short and sweet. Remember that your goal is to hook your prospect and keep them engaged – you can go into the specifics such as timelines and pricing later.

3. Show your client what they’re getting

Once your prospect gets past the introduction, they’ll want to know what’s in it for them. So, while describing the services you offer, focus on the end result rather than the process that will get them there. For example, let’s say you’re selling SEO services. As a professional, you know how much work goes into performing an audit, keyword research, and optimizing the content.

While you might be tempted to describe the entire process from start to finish to show off your skills, that’s not always the best idea. Keep in mind that your client is hiring you to get results, not a crash course in SEO. At the end of the day, they are more interested in the increase in website traffic than the process that is behind it.

Granted, finding the right balance between describing the services and results can be difficult. The trick here is to focus on the benefits while adding just enough technical information so any potential disputes can be resolved.

proposal services section example
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4. Showcase the timeline

The one thing that all clients have in common is wanting to know how long a project is going to take. And while including a timeline can help your client to get on board with the process, it also lets you set your own pace and project milestones.

For example, if you’re looking at a six-month timeline, breaking it up into smaller sections makes it seem less intimidating for the client. At the same time, having set deadlines for different phases of the project keeps you on track.

proposal timeline example
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And if you want to take it a step further, consider turning your timeline into a sign-off sheet. That way, both you and your client stay on the same page when it comes to the scope of work and deliverables. What’s more, using a sign-off sheet makes it easier for you to charge for any additional services not included in the original agreement.

5. Provide social proof

There’s no better way to win the trust of a potential client than showing them that you’ve done similar projects before. That’s why we recommend adding a relevant case study to your business proposal. Yes, you read that right – just one.

Based on the project requirements, you can opt for either industry- or project-centered case study, but don’t go overboard. Including your entire portfolio in the proposal structure will only make it excessively long. In fact, our data shows that the most successful proposals only contain six to seven sections.

proposal case study example
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6. Break down the pricing

After showing that you understand their needs and offering solutions, it’s time for the section everyone spends the most time on – the pricing. Now, if you’re feeling a bit anxious about your client’s reaction, consider the following:

  • “Investment” sounds better than “Pricing” because it reminds your client that they are, well, investing in the future. As a matter of fact, it’s been the best way to get a signature for four consecutive years.
  • A well-placed testimonial goes a long way. In other words, make sure your client sees how you’ve contributed to someone else’s business right after seeing a steep price. It helps illustrate the value for money and gets you closer to closing the deal.
  • Optional services on top of your base price are a good way to up-sell. For example, let’s say your client needs website management but had a positive reaction to one of your other services during the call, such as cloud hosting. They weren’t sure they needed it at the moment, but it doesn’t hurt to add it as an option to your pricing table.
proposal pricing section example
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7. Let your client know what comes next

If your client is on board with what you’re offering, but isn’t clear on how to proceed, it’s going to cause frustration. So, to make sure everything goes smoothly, take some time to explain the steps they need to take to work with you. The best rule of thumb is to keep it as simple as possible. Including information on how to sign, pay, and what happens next is more than enough.

proposal next steps example
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8. Don’t forget the terms and conditions

Unless you’re working with a corporation and need to sign a separate contract, it’s a good idea to add your terms and conditions into your proposals. That way, your client only needs to sign one document, everyone knows what to expect, and you’re legally covered. That’s why all our proposal templates come with proposed terms and conditions that you can adapt to your own needs.

proposal terms and conditions example
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Bonus tips

Now that we’ve covered how to structure a proposal in a logical way, it’s time for some extra tips that will help you send winning proposals. There are a lot of factors that go into sending a successful proposal, so let’s dive right in. 

Ditch the “About us” page

If you’ve gotten as far as writing a business proposal for a client, they already know who you are. They’ve looked you up online before scheduling a meeting with you, so there’s no need to toot your own horn in the proposal. Instead, consider putting the spotlight on the team that will be working on different aspects of the project.

proposal about us example
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Join the digital age

What if we told you our data shows that printed proposals decrease your conversion rate by as much as 88%? If that isn’t a reason to start sending online proposals, we don’t know what is. So, if you want to avoid wasting time on writing proposals that get printed and forgotten under a pile of paperwork, consider going paperless.

Besides being good for the environment, going digital is also good for your ROI. For example, e-signatures help you get your proposals approved in five days on average. And have we mentioned that we’ve cut the time it takes you to get paid in half in only two years?

getting paid faster

Optimize for mobile

Old habits die hard. So, while you might want to cling onto your PDF proposals because you’ve been doing it that way for a long time, we have proof that’s not a good business decision. Today, almost 50% of people open business proposals on mobile devices, and that number is constantly growing.

Now, if you’ve ever tried to read through a PDF document on your phone, you know how much zooming in and out you had to do. Not fun, right? Your clients won’t think so either. So, to make sure you’re giving your prospects the best user experience possible, start using responsive proposal software. We’ll be biased here and recommend signing up for Better Proposals.

proposals optimized for mobile statistics

Lose the jargon

The logic here is simple: a client who doesn’t understand the proposal won’t sign the proposal. So, to increase your chances of making the sale:

  • re-read your proposal
  • identify the jargon
  • remove the jargon

As a rule of thumb, explaining your process in plain English is the best way to go. The only exception here would be proposals to clients who are in the same industry and expect industry-specific terms.

Proofread before you send

Besides being embarrassing, spelling and grammatical mistakes also make you look less reliable. Not to mention how unprofessional accidental misspellings of your client’s name or the name of their company are. So, whatever you do, make sure you’re not sending the first draft of your proposal. Use a spell checker or send it for review to that one colleague who’s always on your case about the who/whom situation, but get it proofread.

Final thoughts

Putting your offer in black and white is often more stressful than talking to your potential client. You need to figure out how much detail is too much, what you should mention first, whether your prices are too high or too low. On top of it all, you also need to stand out from your competitors.

If all of that seems like a tall order, consider using proposal software that cuts hours out of your proposal creation process. With Better Proposals, you don’t have to think about how to structure a proposal or figure out the pricing ever again. Our templates are always up-to-date with the latest market trends, and our proposal AI helps you get the best ROI possible. Sign up for our 14-day free trial and see for yourself.

About Patricija Šobak

Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.
Categories: Proposal Writing Tips