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How to write Informal Business Proposals

Balance is the key. Sort it out from the beginning.

Here’s the issue - you want to be professional, send a contract, a detailed price, have them sign your proposal and have them take you seriously but at the same time, you don’t want them to reply with a text “What’s all this nonsense you’ve sent me? How much is it and are you coming to the pub on Friday?” In talking to people about this, one of the biggest fears is that it will change the relationship from a friendship based one to a transaction based one and I think this fear is completely unfounded. It’s far better to have a relationship based on respect, so if your friend doesn’t respect that you conduct your business in a professional manner then what sort of friend are they? This article is going to cover the idea of selling to your friends but also selling to someone who isn’t a friend as such but someone where you feel that a full-blown proposal is overkill. First, let's try and get to the bottom of what an informal proposal actually is.

What is an informal proposal?

Let's start by suggesting that a formal proposal is a document explaining the entirety of a project, contains words like “executive summary”, “specification” and “investment”, it likely would also include a contract. If you sent a proposal with none of those things it would make absolutely no sense and you’d lose the job instantly.

It’s important to note, your proposal needs what it needs and nothing else.

Just because the person knows you well and knows what you do, that doesn’t mean they know about the results you get for people with your service. You still need to tell them that. You can’t just leave out parts like an executive summary, because it sets the entire proposal up and gives it context. You can call it an introduction though - that’s cool. A specification or statement of work - People ride on both sides of the equation here, some prefer to not put anything in and others like to detail everything that is going to be completed. I prefer the latter. It means if the deal goes bad, there’s no debate about what should / should not be done. It’s right there in black and white. Pricing - don’t put discounts in. The only time we ever discounted anything as an agency was in return for a video testimonial. That was highly worth it to us as we could use it in our marketing. No other reason for discounting in my opinion. Certainly not just because they’re a friend or client. Contracts - Even an informal proposal needs a contract. You’re still doing work, and they’re still paying. Contracts are for far more than just payment terms. They cover you and they cover your client. Signing the proposal - No negotiation here. It gets signed or work doesn’t start. No verbal confirmation is good enough. Get it signed.


Dealing with friends

You must remember that your future and your business is going to exist long after this business arrangement is going to last so you have to put yourself first. To do that you must prioritise your procedures over their wish to skip that part. What does that mean? It means making sure:

  • You send a professional looking proposal
  • You have your contract
  • No “mates rates”
  • Sticking to your timescales and processes

One of the things you can do here is “set them straight” before the whole thing starts and simply explain that you do your best work for everyone regardless of who they are, you don’t do discounts or mates rates and you will hold them to a high standard the same way you expect them to hold you one. This lets them know you’re not mucking about and that you’re there to get the work done and do a great job. They might not like it, in which case it’s better to know that now than 2 months down the line.

When a full-blown proposal is overkill

There might be times where you think “Ah I just need to send them a price and get them to sign it off”. You might be right but I want to mention a few things to challenge you on that thought. Let's clear a few things up first, if this is a potential client then you always send a full proposal. No arguments here. Don’t send them “just a price” because they asked for it. You’ve gone in, seen them, spoken to them or whatever has happened, you have every right to send whatever you think is going to give you the best chance of winning the job. Don’t let them tell you what to send. I used to get this all the time “Just send me the price, don’t worry about all that other stuff”. I used to just say “Every proposal we send is different and it’s tailored perfectly to best explain how we imagine working with you. If you don’t want to read that then it’s best we don’t do one at all”. Response? “Oh no no please do that, that’s exactly what I want. Perfect”. Yeah right. Sit down, my rules. You’ll get what you’re given ;-) There are times when it’s wise to exclude certain things from your proposal. Let's look at what those are.

What should always be included and what’s debatable.

Things to add:

Introduction - this is the most important part of the proposal. Must-have. Specification - You’re always going to be doing something for them. You need to detail this. How detailed it is depends on the project. Price - You need to include a price and make sure it’s clear. Next Steps - Explain what they need to do next to get the project started. Don’t skip this. Contract - You can’t start work without a contract. Even if they’ve signed it 20 times in the past. Always include this. There are some things you don’t need to include if you want to trim it back a bit. Social proof or case studies - If they are an existing client, you can lose this. If not, keep it in. Guarantee - Not necessary in all cases but if you offer it, why not include it.

Closing thoughts

Your proposal should have in it what it needs to close the deal. Cutting anything out reduces that from happening. Don’t pay attention to people who say they don’t read proposals or skip to the price, it doesn’t matter. There are tons of free proposal templates available to you for inspiration or to just use straight out the box. Remember, your rules.

Adam Hempenstall's profile image
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.