How to Write a Business Proposal in 2021 (the A-Z Guide)

Updated: 20.08.2020

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:

  • The key elements of a winning business proposal
  • Which sections you NEED to include in every proposal
  • What to do before you even begin writing
  • Examples of successful proposals from different industries
  • Quotes from industry experts on the proposals they’ve written and sent

Things to know before you start writing business proposals

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

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

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?

A business proposal is a sales document created with the purpose to persuade your potential customers to buy from you. A business proposal is used in a variety of industries to help sell a wide range of products or services. From selling carpets to offering enterprise software solutions and social media marketing, all of it starts with a business proposal.

Besides the difference in industry, the main division is between solicited and unsolicited business proposals. A solicited proposal is sent when you already have a connection with the potential buyer and they’re interested in what you’re selling. Usually, the buyer themselves will ask for a proposal.

On the other hand, an unsolicited proposal is sent without the explicit request of someone who may be interested in what you’re selling.

How to write a business proposal

Most people think that writing a business proposal is boring and time-consuming. And for the most part, they’re right. There really is no creative flare in writing them and it’s all about pitching your product or service so that the client says yes and gives you money. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to make proposal writing easier and more efficient and get your prospective client on board more quickly.

In the following sections, we’ll show you that writing a business proposal is more about preparation and using the right tools to make writing easier. In other words, we’ll teach you how to write a business proposal with minimal effort and maximum sales performance.

But first, let’s tackle a very important term – business proposal templates.

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, best title page, etc. A template combines all the best elements of the proposals you’ve sent which resulted in sales for your product or service.

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:

  • The client and their personal information
  • Details about the specific offer
  • Pricing, timelines, detailed specification
  • A proof section with an example similar to the offer you’re sending
  • Etc.
ebook 15 min proposal

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.

  • Excitement – Describing possibilities, using uplifting pictures, success stories will be good here.
  • Confidence – Include lots of proof and trust-building elements into this. You wouldn’t be making suggestions; you’d be certain in your wording.
  • Action taking – Lots of commanding words, talking about the next step, don’t bog them down with a list of 42 things to decide. Just get them to do the “next” thing.

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.

  • Proposal software is web-based. You can send your clients links instead of PDF and Word files.
  • Proposals are optimized for different devices. They look and feel the same on a phone, laptop or tablet.
  • You get to use proposal templates. (We have more than 100 of them.)
  • You can track what the client does with the proposal. You get notifications when they read, forward and sign. 
  • Clients can instantly sign proposals with e-signature. No need for third-party tools like DocuSign or DocuSign alternatives – good proposal software has that already built in.  
  • Clients can pay from the proposal. Paypal, Stripe, credit card, you name it.
  • You can use a variety of integrations. MailChimp, Zapier, Salesforce, HubSpot or whatever you are using in your sales workflow. 
  • Detailed reporting. Find out what works and what doesn’t, no guessing.
  • The ability to use live chat. You can chat with the client as they’re reading the proposal, increasing your conversions.
  • You get to write your proposals in 15 minutes, not 5 hours.
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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.

There is one thing that we didn’t mention on purpose – the title page. 

All proposals should have a well-designed title page, with an image and some text to address the specific client. We’re leaving it out because all of our proposal templates come with a beautiful title page out of the box.

The introduction – also known as executive summary

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. If you want to show your clients how you offer custom services, this is the place to stress that.  Show them how you customize your usual offer to match their exact pain point.

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.

This section is also known as a summary or an executive summary, depending on your resources. Even though the title is different, everything else is the same – it’s a section where you discuss how you’re going to solve the client’s problem.

Business Proposal Cover Letter

You may have heard about the term business proposal cover letter. A cover letter is essentially the same as the introduction. It’s an additional document that should be read before the “meat” of the proposal. Its purpose is to convince the client that you know their business and their needs and it should get them hooked to read the actual body of the proposal.

To keep things simple, we use the introduction of the proposal for the purpose of a cover letter.

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 or the talent and credentials of your team. 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.

Also, if you absolutely must write about your company, this might be the place to do it. Who you are, what you do, how long you’ve been doing it and what makes you stand out. However, don’t spend too much time or space on this because the focus is on the client, not 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. They want solid proof and a few good case studies will do.

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.

To help them feel like they’ll be in good hands, indicate relevant credentials and certifications your team managers and members have. After all, product managers and team leaders will play a massive role in ensuring that your product or service will be of top quality. Moreover, you can and should use a good employee engagement platform such as Sparkbay.

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. Keep your pricing tables super simple. 

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

  • Investment
  • Return on investment
  • ROI
  • And others following this pattern

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. Small businesses or enterprise clients, no one wants to spend money, they want to invest it.

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. Just reading the words “terms and conditions” may make you feel dizzy because of the work ahead, but it’s actually something that you can do once and never fret about it later.

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 and our proposal software has everything you need for writing proposals in one place.

Now that you know how to write a business proposal, it’s time to use the right tool for the job. Sign up for Better Proposals today and find out how to win more business with less work!

About Adam Hempenstall

Adam Hempenstall is the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals. He started his first web design business at 14 and has since written four books and built an international movement around sending better proposals. Having helped his customers win $500,000,000 in the last 12 months alone, he’s launched the first ever Proposal University where he shares best practices on writing and designing proposals. He co-runs a once-a-year festival called UltraMeet and is a massive FC Barcelona fan.
Categories: Proposal Writing Tips