The Perfect Length of Your Next Business Proposal

How long is too long, how short is not enough? This article explains how to decide the length of your proposals Written by Adam Hempenstall
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The answer is simple – however long it needs to be to get you the sale.

How long should your business proposal be? It’s a question that really depends on what you’re selling, the value of it and who you’re selling to.

To truly know how long your business proposals should be, you need to take a number of things into account. Working out how long your proposal should be is less about what to put in and more about what you can leave out.

Everything the ideal proposal should have in it

First we’re going to look at everything your proposal should have in it then we’ll look at what scenarios dictate what you can shorten or leave out:

Every one of these has its place. There are three deciding factors which determine what you can cut from this list and when.

  1. What you’re selling
  2. The value
  3. Who you’re selling to

1. What you’re selling

If you’re selling a technical service like a website or something similar then regardless of anything else it’s going to need the information about what it is you’re providing which is going to force a certain length. You’d want to explain what they’re getting, the pages they’ll have,

If for instance it’s an off the shelf item like a set of business cards then the description really doesn’t need to be pages long. Some high quality photographs would do most the talking, you’d just need to tell them the thickness of the card for instance.

It’s really about judging it based on what you’re actually selling. Some things need a longer description and more information, others don’t.

What you can do to shorten the proposal:

– The length of the service description can vary
– The process and timescales will vary in detail
– Your guarantee might not need to be so prominent

2. The Value

If you’re selling something of low value and very cheap, a long proposal would be seen as complete overkill. Using our business card example, 3 page description would be going overboard. Likewise a single line description for a $50,000 custom web and marketing solution isn’t going to cut it.

This requires common sense but this should serve as a framework.

What you can do to shorten the proposal:

– Your service description can be as little as a few lines
– You could possibly lose the guarantee or have it on your Investment page
– You might not need to explain the process if its low value and timescales can be explained in a sentence in your introduction

3. Who you’re selling to

If you are selling to someone new then it’s likely you’ll want to do everything you can to impress them. Things like case studies, guarantees etc are vital in situations like these where they don’t have that full certainty that you’re going to do what you say you will.

If it’s a client you’ve had for 10 years and they’ve asked for a quick quote on something, you don’t need to show them a list of testimonials. They know – this is just an insult to their intelligence and feels weird.

What you can do to shorten the proposal:

– You might not need to explain the process to an existing client
– Your service description might be able to be trimmed back
– Your case studies or social proof might not be needed at all.
– You might not need a whole page for your guarantee

It’s not about the actual length of the proposal

The length is really quite subjective. If you’re sending a PDF then the length or size is going to be measured in the number of paper-sized pages, or even in some cases by the file size. Sending a 54mb file sounds crazy big even though it might not be.

Online proposal systems like Better Proposals don’t measure it in paper-sized pages but rather in sections. The content is scrolled through on the right but there’s no indication as to how long each section is. This proposal for instance looks like a decent length:

Whereas this one looks pretty light on content:

There’s could actually be more content on the second one but your perception tells you otherwise.

According to the 2017 Proposal Report, we looked at a number of factors which helped get proposals signed. One of them was the number of pages. Turns out if you want your proposal to convert, you should have 6 pages.

It looks “beefy” enough to cater for larger deals with lots of explanation but not so long it looks daunting. Likewise for smaller deals it doesn’t feel like overkill.

It’s really important that the proposal looks the right size for the job you’re pitching for. That’s really all that matters. Implement these ideas into your future proposals and you’ll send the perfect length proposal every time.

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