How to Write a Business Proposal

Written by Adam Hempenstall
how to write a business proposal

Step by step tutorial of how to write a business proposal, including the most important elements of the proposal, with Betterproposals.io

“Please send me a business proposal”

As a business owner or sales person, that’s the best thing you’ll hear all day. Until you get back to the office and realise you actually have to write it. This guide will give you a system and guidelines how to write a successful business proposal and make that process a walk in the park.

Actually writing a business proposal is about the most genuinely boring and yuck task in any sales executive or business owner’s life. It truly is rubbish.

I remember back running our old web design company, I’d spent all day travelling to and from London, speaking to this company who gave me that validating feeling by asking me to write up a proposal for what we’d discussed. They even added in that they were “excited about seeing what I’d come up with”. I promise them it won’t take me long to do the proposal and they’ll have it first thing.

I get back at 9.30pm, it’s Thursday night and I stare at the screen for a good 2 hours. I’ve got nothing. Literally a blank page with their company name at the top. I loaded myself up with coffee and basically just wrote any old thing. It must have read like I was talking to myself the entire time. It got to 3.16am and I hit send.

Radio silence.

Not the result I hoped for. Pretty certain I never heard from them again. The flip side is you don’t make stupid promises about overnight proposals like I did and give yourself a few days to write it. What happens then? You spend ALL FOUR DAYS you said it would take thinking about it until you sit down on that fourth day and smash it out.

Exactly the same result. Lets not do that shall we. Writing a proposal to a company is not easy, but there is a much better method.

business proposal writing system

Get your Proposal Writing System Nailed Or How To Write an Effective Business Proposal

Your proposal writing system is really two things:

    1. Having a great template written with everything in it
  1. Knowing what needs editing each time

The first thing, getting your business proposal template in order is vital. My suggestion with this is to just choose the next proposal you need to send, and really allocate a good day to getting it all as good as it can be.

This means editing the copy like it’s a headline on your website. Think about the wording, think 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, that goes for your template too.

Once your template is sorted and you know it’s brilliant, the next thing is to know what bits will need 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 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 very rarely tell you what those questions are. Mostly because they’re pretty awkward. I know this is true when I quoted someone £40,000 for some software once. The proposal was about 17 pages long and he 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 give a shit about his data if I was dead. I did explain to him a contingency plan Sabrina and I have 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, I 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 less conversions than I got before?

You can’t just assume people will ask these questions. Think about it. How many questions do people actually ask on the back of proposals? A couple at most. It’s really not a lot.

I can’t give you any magic pill answer here. You have to just think openly and honestly about their situation and make a judgement call. This brings us to our next point.

How do you want your potential clients to feel

Don’t think of business proposals as sales documents. Think of them more like you’re 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. Why do you think killing off the kindest character is so prominent.

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 but 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 my 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 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.

What to include in any business proposal?

There are 8 elements most business proposals should include. Some are absolutely essential, some aren’t but that depends on the situation.

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 reason you don’t win jobs you didn’t get a chance to do a meeting or call about is because you never discovered what they want to achieve, what’s important to them and what makes them tick. This is one of the most important things you have 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 like price or the technicalities of what you’re trying to do, when writing a business proposal for them.

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 reason it’s important is because if the deal goes bad, you both have this to refer back to. 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’ll only confuse them. The less the reader understands, the less they’ll trust you.

Timescales

It’s crazy how few people put timescales in their proposals. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bracket as such, say 2-4 weeks, but you have to give them some clue otherwise it’s a massive unknown.

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

Proof

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

You always want to make sure you have sufficient proof in any really good business proposal you’re sending. Just back it up. 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.

Don’t get cute about it. It doesn’t have to have the production value of a Spielberg classic. It just needs to get the point across.

Price

This is the page that will typically get clicked on second. I prefer to call it ‘Investment’ or ‘ROI’. It’s a little thing that can sometimes stop people jumping straight to it giving them a hope of reading the rest of it first.

That said, there’s 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.

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

testimonial

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

Guarantee

This is controversial. Some people love the idea of a guarantee. They’re usually the people who have been in business longer than 5 minutes. Understand this. It’s your job to take the risk, not them.

That said, I’m not necessarily suggesting a typical “moneyback guarantee”, I actually don’t recommend that. I think it’s up to you to come up with a better, and more creative 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.

How about that for confidence. She’s so confident in her ability to get it done in the day she’s literally saying she won’t sleep until your website is live. That’s mental and awesome all at the same time.

Next Steps

This cracks me up every time I review a business proposal on my show Proposal Breakdown and there’s no obvious next steps. Sure, some people might reply and say “Great, okay let’s go ahead” but why leave it up to them to figure it out?

It’s not their job to figure out how to buy from you. As I apparently famously said in one episode of Proposal Breakdown “It’s not a fucking game show”. It’s true. Just tell them what the next steps are.

The best way to do this is explain the next three things. 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 this immediately

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

Anyone can get their head around typing their name, receiving/paying an invoice and booking a phone call in. These aren’t complicated tasks.

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

Terms & Conditions

You absolutely should be including your contract or terms and conditions. Don’t worry about “putting people off”. People expect this. Just put it on a separate page called Terms & Conditions or Terms of Business and leave it there.

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

You always to be including your terms in your business proposals because when someone signs the proposal, they automatically sign the contract. It covers you, it covers them and there’s no “weirdness”. They just type their name and off you both go.

How to write a business proposal

If you follow the ideas set out in this article, you’ll dramatically increase the number of people who say yes to you. It’s really that simple.

One of the biggest reasons people take forever to write business proposals and ultimately do a bad job of them 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 I recommend you 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.

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