How to Write a Business Proposal in 2020 (the A-Z Guide)

Written by Adam Hempenstall

You just finished an amazing meeting with a client, they seem ready to pull the trigger and excited to work with you. Then they utter the following sentence:

 “Please send me a business proposal”

As a business owner or salesperson, that’s the best thing you’ll hear all day. Until you get back to the office and realize you actually have to write it. This guide will give you a system and guidelines on how to write a successful business proposal and make that process super easy and simple every time.

Writing a business proposal is actually not that fun. In fact, most business owners absolutely hate this task.

Writing a proposal for a company is not easy, but there is a much better method.

If you want to learn how to write a business proposal like a professional, read on to find out:

Things to know before you start writing business proposals

At the most basic level, your proposal writing system is two things:

The first thing, getting your business proposal template in order is vital. The best tip we have is to choose the next proposal you need to send and allocate a good day to getting it as good as it can be.

This means editing the copy like it’s a headline on your website. Consider the wording, about what they’re thinking and really make each section as good as it can be.

Later in this article, we’ll look at what is included in a business proposal, and that goes for your template too.

Once your template is sorted and you know it’s brilliant, the next thing is to know what needs editing.

When you’re having that meeting with your potential client and they ask you to write them a business proposal for your solution, you can confidently walk away, knowing exactly what task is ahead of you.

What is a business proposal template?

Put simply, a proposal template is a proposal that is about 90% finished. As mentioned above, a template includes everything that you want to send in a single proposal. Your best introduction, your best pricing strategy, your best type of proof, etc. A template combines all the best elements of the proposals you’ve sent which resulted in sales.

Business proposal template

If you want to create a template of your own, simply think of the best proposals you’ve ever written and grab the most effective piece from each one. If you’re using proposal software like Better Proposals, this shouldn’t be difficult, because you will know which proposals work on your target audience.

What if you’ve never sent proposals before so you don’t have a basis for templates? What if you don’t have the time or you just don’t know a thing about proposals? The good news is, you have no reason to worry – our proposal library has more than 100 different proposal templates for a variety of industries and different applications.

Once you have your template, you can fill out the major details, such as:

Once you add these, your proposal is ready to go. The main idea is that templates help you write proposals in 15 minutes instead of 5 hours.

What questions are your customers asking?

When writing a business proposal, there’s a situation going on that only the best salespeople understand.

Your potential client has a list of questions. They’ll rarely tell you what those questions are. Mostly because they’re pretty awkward. For example, we had a situation when I quoted someone £40,000 for some software once. The proposal was about 17 pages long and the client replied with one sentence.

“Sounds good. What happens if you die? How do I get my data back?”

I didn’t think it was an appropriate time to go back to him and explain I probably wouldn’t care about his data if I was dead. I did explain to him a contingency plan that we had in place for nearly a decade now for this exact situation. I told him, he signed up.

This got me thinking. This guy was bold enough to ask that question but he can’t have been the first guy to think it. From that moment on, we included that in every business proposal we sent under a section called How we protect your data.

What other questions might your potential customers have that they won’t ask you:

What happens if he dies?
What will I do if they screw up my search engine rankings?
What happens if they take over my website and vanish?
What happens if they redesign my website and I get fewer conversions than I got before?

You can’t assume that clients will ask these questions. Think about it. How many questions do people actually ask on the back of proposals? Answer these questions in your proposal before the client gets a chance to ask them.

How do you want your potential clients to feel?

Don’t think of business proposals as sales documents. Think of them more like taking someone on an experience.

Think about movies. The emotions override the content. It’s less important how you get them to feel sadness at the end, so long as you do and they’ll use every trick in the book to do it.

When you write a business proposal, think about the emotion you want them to feel at the end of reading your proposal.

Only you know what’s most appropriate. What you don’t want to be doing is talking in “maybes”, “ifs” and using suggestive wording when you want someone to trust you. It sounds like you’re not sure.

As a good friend Mitch Miller says:

“The doctor doesn’t ask the patient if it’s the right prescription. He just prescribes the right thing and tells them to get out of the office”.

Take an appropriate stance when thinking about the language of your proposals in relation to how you want them to feel at the end.

Consider using proposal software instead of writing manually

The truth is, rarely anyone writes proposals these days – most people use proposal software. Here are some of the reasons why it’s a good idea.

These are just some of the many reasons why you should consider using proposal software rather than opening Word the next time you want to write a business proposal.

The 8 key elements of every winning business proposal

There are 8 elements most business proposals should include. Some are absolutely essential; some are not – that depends on your specific situation. Here they are:

1. Introduction

2. Detailed specification

3. Timescales

4. Proof

5. Price

6. Guarantee

7. Next steps

8. Terms and conditions

Does your proposal need to have all of these sections? Maybe yes, maybe not – it depends. However, all of our proposal templates have these sections out of the box.

The introduction

Good business proposals always start with a great introduction. This is the most read part of your proposal so it needs to get across that you understand their situation, you’re clear on their goal and that is stated in advance. Your meetings and discovery sessions should be heavily predicated on getting the information for this section of the proposal.

The introduction section in a business proposal

The reason you don’t win jobs is that you didn’t get a chance to do a meeting or call about the job. As a result, you never discovered what the client wants to achieve, what’s important to them and what makes them tick. This is one of the most important things to include when you learn how to write a business proposal.

As a result, because you don’t know that information, you lead with the things that don’t matter as much. For example the price or the technicalities of what you’re trying to do when writing a business proposal for them.

In other words, the introduction should show the client that you’ve listened to their problem and that you have the cure, which you will show them in the next section.

According to our own research, this is the most read section of all business proposals besides the pricing. Most clients read just these two sections, so make sure that you invest extra time and care in this one.

The detailed specification

This part varies depending on what you’re selling. If it’s a website, this could be a list of pages and features. If you’re selling a marketing campaign, then this could be the strategy. It’ll vary. The basic idea is to be as detailed as possible in your offer.That way, the client understands exactly what you’re doing for them and how you’ll get it done.

The specification section in a business proposal

The reason it’s important is that if the deal goes bad, you both have this section to refer back to. It keeps you more accountable and the client knows what to hope for. Moreover, it also serves as a good exercise for you when writing a good business proposal as this is all the information you’re going to gather in any discovery phase of the deal.

It’s important here to keep this in plain English. Stay far away from jargon as it will only confuse the client. The less the reader understands, the less they trust you.

The timescales

It doesn’t matter if it’s a wide bracket like 2-4 weeks – you have to give the client some clue about when you will finish the work. Otherwise, it’s a massive unknown.

The timescales section in a business proposal

It can be really useful to find out if they have a special event, or reason for a timescale to be important to them. If there is, tie that in. You can even tie that into scarcity to give them an incentive to sign the proposal off by a certain date.

Be as specific as possible, but also use this section to your advantage. More time to deliver means two things:

1. You can finish earlier than promised and impress your client

2. You have more time to spare if something goes unexpectedly wrong

More time is always better, but make sure that you consider the need for urgency as well.

The proof

You must prove to your client that you can actually do what you say you can. Now, you might say “we have examples on our website”. That’s nice – but the client is not looking at your website, they’re reading your proposal – your one big “ask” for the business.

You need to have sufficient proof in a good business proposal. This could be examples, testimonials, video case studies, screenshots from a client proving you helped them with something, a recording of a voicemail – anything. Take some time to check out Foundr’s guide for freelancers with useful tips on self-branding.

The proof section in a business proposal

It doesn’t have to be complex and have the production value of a Spielberg classic. It just needs to get the point across.

The good news is, there is more than one type of proof that you can choose. Case studies, testimonials, portfolio pieces, videos – there are lots of ways to convince your clients that you’re the real deal.

The price

Based on some of our own data, this is the second most read section of any proposal – people usually jump straight from the introduction to the pricing. Needless to say, spend some extra time here to make it look right.

That said, there are a few things you want to make sure of. The first is that the pricing is super clear. If you have somewhat of a confusing pricing structure then this might be time to think about simplifying it.

The pricing section in a business proposal

Speaking of which, we’ve done some research on pricing in business proposals and you can see our results in the latest Proposal Report. As it turns out, it’s a better idea to have a single offer and price instead of trying to get more money with upsells. Proposals with a single offer sold significantly more – 20.6% for offers with upfront costs and 33% higher for offers with monthly retainer costs.

The reason is that a business proposal is a matter of getting a simple answer – yes or no. The more options you add, the more difficult it gets for them to decide whether to sign or not.

Along with your price, try and include a testimonial above it suggesting that your price is value for money. Here’s an example:

Another thing is how you charge. Ideally, you want to be charging on value rather than a day or hourly rate.

How to name your pricing section

Finally, there is one more thing that you should know about the pricing section – don’t call it that way. We’ve discovered that these names work better:

Basically, you want your clients to see your services as an investment in their business, rather than a simple cost and money down the drain.

The guarantee

Some people love the idea of a guarantee. Others don’t like giving guarantees for fear of abuse. However, a guarantee is a great way to push clients further towards conversion.

The guarantee section in the business proposal

Instead of a typical money-back guarantee, consider guaranteeing a part of your service or a timescale. Cheryl Laidlaw has her service “Website in a day”. She (at time of writing) charges £1,995 for the day and delivers the website THAT NIGHT. The client doesn’t go home and neither does Cheryl until it’s done – which is an amazing offer.

The next steps

A lot of times, people seem to forget the very basics – to show the client what to do next. Sure, some people might read your business proposal and say “Great, okay let’s go ahead”. But why would you leave it up to them to figure it out?

The next steps section in the business proposal

It’s not their job to figure out how to buy from you. Just make sure to tell them what the next steps are.

Usually, this will be something like:

Step 1: Sign the proposal by typing your name in the box below and hitting ‘Sign Proposal’.

Step 2: We’ll invoice you for 50%. Please, pay for this immediately.

Step 3: We’ll arrange our initial consultation call with you.

Anyone can do these tasks on their own – they’re not all that complex. The problem is that if you leave all of this unsaid, you’re leaving your clients wondering.

Stick to basics and explain what’s going to happen next.

Terms & conditions

You absolutely should be including your contract or terms and conditions. Just put it on a separate page called Terms & Conditions or Terms of Business.

Terms and conditions in business proposal

There’s a great contract written for freelancers which covers 98% of the basics. If you’re not using a contract in your business right now, then you can use this until your business demands something better.

You should always include your terms in your business proposals because when someone signs the proposal, they automatically sign the contract. It covers you and it covers the client, so it’s only natural to include it.

The takeaways

If you follow the ideas set out in this article, you’ll dramatically increase the number of people who say yes to your proposals. It’s really that simple. In summary, here are the exact steps that you need to take to write an amazing business proposal:

1. Start off with a proposal template

2. Find out the questions that your clients are asking

3. Think of how you want the clients to feel as they read the proposal

4. Include the 8 elements of a winning business proposal, as listed aboveUse proposal software to automate the wiring process

5. Use proposal software to automate the wiring process

One of the biggest reasons people take forever to write business proposals and ultimately do a bad job is because they are using software that simply isn’t geared up to doing the job in an effective way. It might sound like a self-serving suggestion, but you should take a look at using Better Proposals for writing your next business proposal. The business proposal templates in the Proposal Marketplace alone will save you a ton of time.

So now you know how to write a business proposal. Get on board and start sending proposals the better way. smartest entrepreneurs by sending proposals the better way.

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