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Proposal Rejected: 10 Common Business Proposal Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Just like a marriage proposal, a business proposal can either go extremely well or horribly wrong. Play your cards right and both you and your client walk away from the experience feeling happy and hopeful for the future. But if something goes wrong, the relationship may be ruined forever.

So, what kind of business proposal makes clients want to run for the hills? More importantly, how can you avoid sending proposals that don't work in your favor?

We ran the numbers and collected the ten most common mistakes in business proposals. Read on and find out how to solve all of them.

What we'll cover

  1. Create and send business proposals faster
  2. Never send a generic business proposal again
  3. Write an effective business proposal, not a long one
  4. Adjust the language to the prospective client
  5. Simplify your pricing
  6. Build trust
  7. Focus on the benefits
  8. Make your business proposals easy to accept
  9. Never keep a potential client guessing
  10. Follow up on every business proposal you send

Mistake #1: You waited too long to send the proposal

You've had a productive client meeting, noted down their pain points, and you have a clear idea on why you're the right person for the job. The problem is, now you have to put it down in words and send them a business proposal.

And they expect it fast. According to our research, proposals that convert the best are sent within the first 24 hours from the client meeting.

So, you sit down, type up the project timeline, list all the details, and pinpoint the services your potential client needs. You make sure there are no typos, spruce up the document a bit to make it look presentable, and send.

send proposals fast

Only thing is, writing a business proposal is rarely that simple. More often than not, you're stuck staring at a blank page, writing and rewriting the same paragraph over again. And once you're finally done writing, the work isn't finished because you want to format the document as well.

Since the clock is ticking, the pressure builds up and you can't put in as much attention to detail as you'd like. In the end, you spend hours working on a proposal. You're not completely happy with it and you can't be 100% sure the client will accept it. But it's better to send something than nothing, right?

Solution: Speed up your proposal creation process

The best thing you can do to speed up your proposal creation process without sacrificing the quality? Stop doing everything from scratch. If you don't already, you should have a business proposal template to save time no matter which software you use for your proposals.

A well-designed template gives you a framework you can customize to each client and project. In addition to that, business proposal templates also allow you to:

  • Present your business in the best light. Using a business proposal template means keeping consistency in the format, branding, and structure of your proposals. Professionally designed templates help you come across as professional and credible by leaving a positive impression on potential clients.
  • Gain a competitive edge. A well-structured proposal starts with a great template. When bidding for a project or contract, a professional proposal helps you stand out from the crowd.
  • Write better proposals. A good business proposal template comes with predefined sections and headings. This not only helps you structure your content logically, but also ensures your proposal is easy to follow for the reader. What's more, a business proposal template reduces the risk of forgetting to include essential information thanks to guidelines and prompts. In cases when your team is overseeing various content projects and time is limited, seeking the help of an experienced essay service can be a strategic move to save your effort and write winning proposal templates for your campaigns, which will significantly boost the response rate, among other benefits.

How Better Proposals helps

Using professional proposal software significantly reduces the time it takes to create and send an entire proposal. With Better Proposals, you can cut that time down to only 15 minutes.

Simply choose a free business proposal template from our Marketplace, set up your account, and make it your own. All our business proposal templates are professionally designed and written, which speeds up the proposal creation process.

Better Proposals free business proposal templates

With our Content Library, you can save your best work for reuse or add pre-built items to your business documents. This allows you to add entire proposal sections in a few clicks rather than having to copy and paste from several documents.

In addition to that, Better Proposals comes with automatic input fields (i.e., merge tags). Instead of manually inputting client data, merge tags allow you to pull it in automatically, which helps reduce the margin of error.

Finally, integrating your customer relationship management software with Better Proposals means you can create a business proposal directly from your CRM. Find out more about how it works with our advanced Salesforce and HubSpot integrations.

Mistake #2: Your business proposal is too generic

In today's sales environment, 66% of customers see the lack of personalization as a reason to go to a competitor. Whether you've spoken to your client already or you're sending unsolicited business proposals, nobody wants to feel like just a number.

Granted, personalizing a proposal is much easier when you've had a discovery call since you've met the client. But even with unsolicited proposals, you need to do your research to show the client you understand their company and industry.

Another thing to keep in mind is the format of your proposal. Humans are visual beings. As a matter of fact, as much as 93% of people say that visual appeal influences their buying decisions.

In other words, the better your proposal looks, the easier it is for the prospect to decide that you're the right person for the job. At the end of the day, the amount of effort you invest into your proposal design and writing signals the amount of effort you plan on investing into the job.

Solution: Personalize your business proposals

If you're still creating proposals in Microsoft Word, converting them to PDFs, and sending them as email attachments, consider this your sign to stop. A standard, A4 document is just that - standard. There's nothing distinctive about it and it won't help you stand out among the competition.

First impressions matter, so your branding, formatting, and design should be on point if you want the client to invest time into reading what you have to say. Our data shows that visual presentation helps you get your foot in the door, and the content you put in gets the deal over the line.

conversion rate of visually appealing proposals

Another thing to keep in mind when creating a business proposal is that you're not the only person the prospect is considering. At the end of the day, the job will go to the person who demonstrated they understand the prospect's problem the best and has the best proposed solution.

Since every proposal starts with an introduction (i.e., executive summary), begin by addressing the client's pain points and the problem statement. That way, you're showing the client you're interested in proposing relevant solutions, rather than wasting their time with a paragraph that could have easily been left out. For more advice on writing each section of a winning proposal, check out our Step-by-Step Guide.

How Better Proposals helps

Unlike standard A4 formats, Better Proposals is fully web-based. This means that, instead of email attachments, you're sending links to your documents. It also means that your content is not limited to static document types. Besides only adding images, Better Proposals also lets you showcase your business with rich media, such as video.

Another thing that sets you apart from the competition is the fact that a business proposal created in Better Proposals looks great on any device. Whether your client opens it on a tablet, phone, or PC, they will never have to zoom in and pinch away at their screen to read a section.

Think of it as a business proposal that works as a responsive website. And remember how we said you're sending links, not email attachments? Well, you can also set up your custom domain and make it look like the proposal came directly from your own website.

Finally, when it comes to personalizing your proposals to different companies, you can rely on automatic input fields and CRM integrations to keep your client-specific data on point. And if you ever need an example of a proposal that will help you sell, our Template Library holds over 200 pre-written and professionally designed ones.

Mistake #3: Your business proposal is too long

Business proposals are a simple thing - the prospect has a problem, you have the solution. The proposal writing stage is all about presenting that. However, it can be tricky to figure out which details to include and what to leave out.

The last thing you want to do is make your potential client feel like you're trying to exhaust them into submission. At the end of the day, they're most interested in 3 things:

  • Whether you understand their requirements
  • What the timeline is
  • How much it's going to cost them
proposal report data on proposal length

Solution: Stick to the essential elements

Thanks to our analytics, we know clients spend the most time reading your introduction (i.e., executive summary) and pricing sections. As a matter of fact, they spend only 33% of the total reading time on all the other sections combined.

proposal report data on most popular sections

Besides telling us that taking the time to polish the introduction and pricing is a good idea, this also shows that, as far as clients are concerned, less is more. At the end of the day, they're interested in what you can do for them. Your company's history, background, or team size are not relevant at this point.

To make sure you've made your proposal as concise as possible, you'll need to edit ruthlessly and cut out the fluff. For example, depending on the industry you're in, it might make sense to include a team page. However, more often than not, this is a section you can completely leave out.

How Better Proposals helps

With Better Proposals, you can find an optimized proposal example for almost any industry. We've taken a look at the best-performing proposals and crafted our templates based on them.

If you're not sure what the perfect length of a proposal in your industry is, you no longer have to worry. Our templates will not only show you that, but also which sections to include and leave out.

better proposals tour cta

What's more, once you've sent out your first proposal, you'll get to see our document tracking and analytics in action. As soon as a client opens the proposal, you get to see:

  • Which sections of your proposal they looked at
  • How long they spent on each section
  • The order in which they viewed the sections

Over time, as you send out more proposals, this data will help you optimize the length. In addition to that, it will help you figure out which sections need more of your attention going forward.

Mistake #4: Your business proposal is too technical

The trick in writing anything is knowing who you're writing for. When it comes to a business proposal, this means using language that your potential clients understand. For example, if you're offering app development, including details on the code behind the scenes doesn't make sense if your client doesn't know the first thing about coding.

Solution: Stay away from industry jargon

Anyone looking for your services already knows you're an industry professional. Otherwise, they wouldn't have asked you for a business proposal. However, most clients don't care to know what goes on behind the scenes - they care about the end result.

Sprinkling industry jargon and buzzwords across your business proposal might seem like it's coming off as professional, but it often has the opposite effect. If clients don't know what you're talking about, they won't want to work with you.

How Better Proposals helps

If you're not sure how to simplify the language in your proposals, taking a look at our industry-specific templates can help. They're all pre-written in a client-friendly way.

What's more, you can also use our Document Checker. That way, you get feedback on what to take another look at before you send your proposal.

Mistake #5: Your pricing is too complicated

The logic here is simple: if a client needs to break out a calculator to figure out how much a project will cost, you're doing something wrong. From complex pricing tables, subscriptions mixed with one-offs, to failing to put in the grand total or putting in an estimate instead of an actual price - we've seen it all.

Combine that with complex line items that make clients want to Google to figure out what they mean, and you've got a real chance of not winning the deal. But instead of making you imagine what a complicated pricing table looks like, we can do you one better: we already have an entire article analyzing real-life pricing table crimes.

Solution: Avoid confusing your prospective clients

Even if you have the best project proposal out there, presenting confusing pricing to a client is the worst thing you can do for your conversion rate. Besides leading to feelings of frustration, complex and unclear pricing can result in people felling like you are trying to deceive them or take advantage of them. This, in turn, harms your company's reputation and reduces your chances of making a sale.

To make sure your pricing is as transparent as possible, start with taking a look at your line items. Add a short description in plain English so your clients don't have to guess what they're paying for. If your offer includes periodical services and a one-off payment, group items together based on pricing structure similarity. And, finally, include a grand total, especially if you offer percentage discounts.

How Better Proposals helps

Better Proposals allows you to add multiple interactive pricing tables to your proposals. What's more, the pricing tables calculate the grand total automatically, which means nobody has to do the math.

No matter how you charge for your products or services, we've got you covered. Subscriptions, one-time payments, discounts, choice and optional items - we've got it all.

Mistake #6: You didn't include social proof

Anyone spending large amounts of money on anything wants some sort of reassurance that it's going to pay off. While not including social proof in your business proposal usually isn't a dealbreaker on its own, it can help you get those indecisive clients over the line.

Solution: Add client testimonials or a case study

Client testimonials and cases studies show your potential clients that you know what you're doing and you can prove it. This is especially important for first-time clients that haven't worked with you before. Seeing other happy clients vouch for you can give them a peace of mind and show them your proposed solutions work.

How Better Proposals helps

All of our free business proposal templates come with dedicated case study and testimonial sections. And if you decide to build your own proposal template from scratch, our pre-built blocks inside the Content Library will help you get ideas on how to showcase your previous work.

better proposals marketing proposal template

Mistake #7: Your proposal is not selling benefits

When you're trying to bring in new business, it's easy to get caught up in talking about yourself. And while it's understandable that you want to showcase your products or services, there's a good and bad way of going about it.

For example, let's say your company does interior design. You're writing up a business proposal for a new project. You list out all the details about the materials, colors, and furniture you'd choose and how you want to lay it all out. 

You also listed all the team members involved, mentioned your experience, and included a payment schedule. However, you still didn't win the project and you're not sure what went wrong.

Solution: Present your value proposition clearly

The perfect proposal is the one that focuses on the prospective client. If you emphasize what you have to offer instead of the benefits it brings, you will come across as a company who only wants to sell. What you want to do instead is make the client feel like you're interested in helping them achieve their goals.

Taking the interior design example from above, this would mean talking about all the ways your choices will make the client's life better. Creating a comfortable living space that brings them a sense of peace after a long day is much more important than the years of experience you have.

Better Proposals business proposal example

By emphasizing benefits, you show that you understand your clients' issues and have solutions. In addition to that, benefits often have an emotional component because they address desires, aspirations, and positive outcomes. Appealing to your prospective client's emotions strengthens their connection to your business proposal, making it more persuasive.

How Better Proposals helps

If you're not sure whether or not you're doing a good job emphasizing the benefits of your proposed solution, simply take a look at a free business proposal template in our app. They're all professionally written, so you can use them as an example and compare with your current proposal content.

Mistake #8: Your proposal is not easy to accept

When clients look for a business proposal, it's to solve a specific problem they're experiencing. And since they already have a problem, the last thing they need is another one in the form of jumping through hoops to accept your offer.

Even if you have a solid proposal, you have to keep in mind that another company might have one, too. The last thing you want to do is lose the project and the client's business because of customer experience.

Emailing back and forth to hash out the project timeline and then going through the process of printing out a piece of paper just to sign, scan, and send it back is not something anybody wants to go through. If this is how you begin the relationship with a prospective client, they might start wondering how well you'll handle their project.

Solution: Become easy to buy from

In this day and age, nobody should have to decide whether it's more hassle to sign a PDF digitally or print it out and scan it. A straightforward and convenient buying process not only creates a positive customer experience, but also sets you apart from your competitors.

What's more, people who find it easy to do business with you are more likely to remain loyal and recommend you to others. So, take a look at what your company can do today to simplify the purchasing experience. Using dedicated proposal software and eliminating the need for physical document handling is a great place to start.

How Better Proposals helps

Better Proposals lets clients accept your offer how they received it - online. It's as easy as clicking the Accept button. And if you want to include your terms and conditions inside your proposal, you can. Our software comes with built-in, legally binding digital signatures.

Better Proposals digital signatures

On top of that, you can accept payments directly from your proposal. Simply integrate with Stripe, GoCardless, or PayPal and get paid from almost anywhere around the world.

Mistake #9: You didn't tell your client about the next steps

While analyzing real-life business proposals for our Proposal Breakdown show, there's one thing we often see: a business proposal that doesn't guide customers through the next steps. Put simply, if the prospect wants to move forward, what do they need to do?

Do they sign the proposal and you'll contact them? Should they send you a confirmation email? Do they call you on the phone? What happens after they've accepted? Is there a specific date by which they have to decide?

Solution: Tell your potential client what to do next

While you are familiar with your own process, you can't assume your client will come to the same conclusion. There's no reason to leave it up to chance if you can simply add a section into your business proposal. It can be as simple as:

Step 1: Sign the proposal to accept the offer.

Step 2: Once you've signed, you'll be taken to the payment screen to make a deposit.

Step 3: We'll contact you with details on your project start date.

How Better Proposals helps

Besides including a dedicated section that tells clients what to do next to every proposal template, Better Proposals also comes with expiry dates. That way, you can set a deadline for accepting the offer. Besides giving you more control over your sales process, this ensures no deal gets signed with outdated pricing options.

Mistake #10: You failed to follow up

No matter how relevant your offer, the fact of the matter is that people get distracted. Simply sending out a proposal and waiting for a response won't get you anywhere. More often than not, clients don't forget about your proposal on purpose, so reminding them of the project is usually enough to get the ball rolling.

Solution: Don't lose track of your business proposals

Besides keeping your project proposal top of mind, following up also provides you with an opportunity to address any questions or concerns the recipient may have. This can help resolve doubts and provide additional information that may be necessary for them to make a decision.

Sometimes, the recipient may have feedback or suggestions for adjustments to the proposal. Following up gives you the chance to incorporate these changes, making the proposal more relevant to their needs.

How Better Proposals helps

Using dedicated proposal software means you have full insight into your entire proposal process. With Better Proposals, you get real-time notifications for all actions your clients take inside your documents.

What's more, our tracking and analytics show you exactly how much time the recipient spent reading each of the proposal sections. Paired with our live chat integrations, this means you can follow up at the right moment and resolve concerns and questions in real time.

Final thoughts

In the business world, creating a great proposal means telling a story that resonates with your prospect. However, even the best story can be ruined by the common mistakes listed above.

From failing to personalize to underestimating the power of a well-crafted executive summary, these mistakes can undermine even the best ideas. So, before you send out your next proposal, make sure to check for these ten most common mistakes. That way, you can correct them before it's too late.

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The second one is signing up for Better Proposals. The first 14 days are on us.

Patricija Šobak's profile image
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.