How to Write a Business Proposal [The Ultimate Guide]

May 20, 2021

i

15 Min Read

You met with the client, you understand their business problem, and you have the solution!

But how do you present your solution to the client effectively? 

A business proposal can help you in showcasing your understanding of your client’s problem, your solution, the costs involved, and the time it will take to provide your service.

A GREAT business proposal reflects your brand, highlights how your service or product solves the client’s problem and helps persuade your prospective client to do business with you.

In this post, we’ll be detailing what a business proposal should include as well as provide helpful examples and tips for you to get started.

What is a Business Proposal?

Put very simply, a business proposal is a presentation of your solution to a client’s problem. It’s usually a written document, however, more modern proposals can take the form of a webpage or video. 

It may seem obvious but a business proposal is a business-facing document.

Business proposals are most often used for B2B businesses where a “Seller” is proposing a solution to the “Buyer” – this is different to a quote or another document used for business to consumer (B2C) sales. 

Types of Business Proposals

There are essentially 3 types of business proposals:

Formally Solicited ( RFP)

If you’re responding to a tender, this is a formal solicitation. You’ll be given all the requirements and all you need to do is go through the requirements matching your services/products to provide your response.

Beware though, RFPs can take a LOT of time to put together and you will be directly evaluated against others that have been asked to respond.

Typically government agencies and very large enterprises send out RFPs.

Informally Solicited ( Most common)

For B2B businesses informal solicitation is the most likely type of proposal. There is no official request from the client for your services or products.

Usually, the client won’t know exactly what they want or need, and thus your research and analysis into their problem will help you to provide your proposed solution.

Unsolicited ( Not all that common)

Often generic, these ‘proposals’ are more like marketing or sales documents. In B2B very few businesses send unsolicited proposals as they lack the required information to put together a proper proposal in the first place.

Having said this, unsolicited proposals have their place where a seller knows exactly what the client needs, exactly who they are and can propose a highly targeted solution to their problem winning them over without the need for a tailored proposal.

Depending on the type of proposal, you may include different sections or follow a different framework. For example, with an RFP you may be given a long-form document for which you will use to respond to the proposal. However, with an informally solicited or unsolicited proposal, it is up to you to determine what content is relevant to the client and will meet their requirements.

It is important to know that all proposals seek to define the known problem AND provide a solution for the client.

The other critical section to include is the pricing section, most clients will jump straight here first so your pricing section needs to be clear and concise. 

Jump to “What is a Business Proposal?” for more information on this topic.

In the steps below for how to write a business proposal, we’ll focus on the most common option, the informally solicited business proposal.

10 Steps to Improve your Proposals and Stop Losing Sales to Your Competition

How to Write a Business Proposal (10 Steps)

Without a doubt, the most important thing to do before you start writing your proposal is to ensure you understand the client’s problem clearly. Without knowing the problem you could end up spending a great deal of time creating a proposal for a solution that doesn’t accurately meet their needs and result in you losing the opportunity. 

Taking the time to map out their problem after the initial meet and then even going as far as to highlight their problem back to them to confirm it is correct (via email, phone or zoom), can ensure you’re well prepared to create a tailored proposal that meets their needs. 

You can also drastically reduce the time it takes to create a proposal by using proposal software such as PandaDoc or Formstack Documents to build your proposals rather than using Microsoft Word. These are effective solutions that add a lot of great features like the ability to track when your proposal has been viewed or signed and can automate many aspects of the proposal process.

Start with a title or cover page

A title page is important to introduce your business and it’s the first impression your client gets of your overall proposal. The title page sets the tone and should clearly show your brand identity through the use of brand colours, specific photo overlay, or other things like your brand font etc. 

You’ll need to be sure to include your Business Name, your name, and the name of the client or the client’s business to which you’re sending the proposal. You could also include things such as; the date, the name of the project/service/product, a tagline if it is relevant to your service offering. 

Generate a table of contents

Your table of contents does a few different things, depending on how you’re sending out your proposal. For standard written proposals, a table of contents highlights to the reader the sections included and allows the user to jump easily to a section they’re interested in straight away. This is important as, without it, you make your proposal harder to navigate, and if it’s harder to read the client will be less likely to move forward with you. 

If you’re using proposal software such as PandaDoc, your table of contents can automatically create an electronic table of contents that sits on the left-hand side of the screen whilst a client is clicking through your proposal. For longer proposals, this is amazing, as it speeds up the navigation and the client will love being able to move to where they want with a simple click. 

PDF’s can also have clickable links in the table of contents but you’ll need to set these up manually using Adobe DC or another similar paid software. 

Highlight your “Why” with an executive summary

The executive summary otherwise known as the introduction section, helps your client to understand exactly what you and/or your business can do to solve their problem. This section should clearly outline your “Why” and the client should be able to understand exactly what your solution will do for them, without having to read the rest of the proposal. 

The executive summary shouldn’t go too into depth about what you’re proposing, that’s for later sections, so be sure to leave out things like the timeline, pricing and terms and conditions information. 

Explain the problem back to the client

In this section, your client will get a clear picture of how well you listened and understood their problem. You want to come across as having heard the clients issues and what they think they want to be resolved, this is an opportunity to show you listened well. 

However, it is also important to note that oftentimes clients don’t know exactly what the problem is. This is where you’ll highlight what you think the problem is and how it’s impacting their business.  

Outline your solution

Here you’ll detail your proposed solution to the client’s problem. You should be sure to highlight how your solution will bring real value to the client, and what is included as a part of your offer. 

Depending on how competitive your industry is, you might want to detail how your solution is better than the competition by highlighting your product/service benefits over your competitors. However, be careful as a little goes a long way when talking about how you’re better than the competition. 

You should also outline the method you’ll use to deliver your product or service, as well as the general timeframe to completion. 

List out the project deliverables

The project deliverables section should showcase the “what”, as in, what is going to be delivered to the client by you for this project. 

The deliverables should be very clear and they should be as close to as possible what the client is expecting to have completed as a part of the project. It is critical to NOT over-promise or provide deliverables that are unachievable. Your deliverables should be consistent with what your business is capable of doing, they should be well thought out and very unambiguous. 

The client may refer back to these deliverables to see that what you’ve said you’d do, you have done, and you don’t want to be caught out. 

Scope out your project timeline

Whether you include a strict timeline or whether you are flexible, the important thing is to provide a timeline that meets your client’s expectations. Without a timeline, it won’t be clear to your client when to expect the project to be completed by. 

Depending on your industry a more strict timeline might work better as is the case for government work. Or perhaps if you’re in industries such as advertising or construction, your timeline might need to be more flexible to cater to discussions with your client. 

Include pricing & billing

The pricing section is the most important part of your proposal. Over 80% of clients will go directly to this section (if given the ability to) and as such, your pricing needs to be accurate and clear to read.

Some businesses choose to provide options and depending on what you’re offering this might work for you. BUT, if you’re in an industry that offers professional services OR your client has come to you as the expert in your field, a list detailing too many options is likely the last thing your client wants to see. 

As the expert, you should be putting forward the absolute best option for the client based on your excellent understanding of their requirements. Having said this, there’s no reason why you can’t add a note or link to the fact that you have other service packages or products that might also be a good fit for the client. Ultimately, what you’re aiming for the client to understand by putting 1 service or product forward, is that you know what they need and you’ve taken the time to listen. If you choose to offer more than one option, you could follow the good, better, best approach.

If you choose to use proposal software, you can include a pricing table that has your ultimate solution for the client, with add-on optional extras, or the ability for the client to change the quantity. 

You may also want to include a billing section explaining what the client can expect regarding billing and how they’ll pay. For example, you might take payment via credit card only and you’ll invoice 50% of the cost before starting the project and the other 50% upon completion. The amounts are completely up to you and should be derived based on standards within your industry. 

Detail your terms and conditions

Your terms and conditions are an important part of your document as they highlight the detail that was excluded in previous sections as well as explain what working with you looks like. Your terms and conditions should ideally be developed in consultation with a contract lawyer to ensure that you’re covering yourself AND your client if things go pear-shaped. 

Make sure your terms and conditions are clear, unambiguous, and highlight what your client’s rights are just as clearly as your own. 

Add in an acceptance section

At the end of your proposal is the acceptance section. This section should follow the terms and conditions, depending on the complexity of your terms and conditions section you may want to include an “I accept these terms and conditions” checkbox – if you’re using proposal software. 

The acceptance section should include the names of the parties involved, signature boxes and date boxes. You may also want to include your business details below in case the client has questions and wants to reach out before signing. 

Optional Add-On Sections

Next Steps or Call to Action (CTA)

The next steps section is a great way to clarify for your client exactly what happens after they sign. This is important because knowing what to expect next sets the tone for the engagement and reassures the client that things are on the right track moving forward. 

You can include next steps as a simple line of text after your acceptance section or maybe you include a link to your project management software, client portal, or other section to kick off the project once signed. 

About Us or Our Story

More and more nowadays, clients care about who they buy from and why the company exists. That’s why many businesses choose to have an “about us” or “our story” page on their website and some choose to include this in their proposals. 

If your client hasn’t had the time to review your site or been provided with any insight into who you are and why you do what you do, maybe it’s the right choice for you to include your story in your proposal. 

Case Studies/Testimonials

Social proof is very important, especially when selling something with little to no in-person interaction with a client. You’ll see that software companies try to provide testimonials and case studies of how their solution has helped clients in specific industries to provide some reassurance to a prospective client that they’re the right fit for them. 

Including case studies and testimonials is a great way to build trust with the buyer whether or not you meet with them or take them through the proposal. Just the mere fact of seeing that other clients endorse your product or service will help sell the idea that your solution is right for them. 

Cover Letter

If you’re replying to a government tender or a private RFP, it would probably be very silly to not include a cover letter. However, for most businesses, a cover letter is likely overkill. If your exec summary section is well set out and you’ve already had a meeting with the client, you don’t necessarily need to introduce yourself again. A cover letter can be great for some business though, it’s something to bear in mind. 

Qualifications

For specific industries and when applying for a large cost ongoing or once-off project, it can certainly help to include your businesses qualifications. Whilst not always necessary, for larger-scale deals, your qualifications can help you stand out from the crowd. When your client looks over your proposal as a part of a stack of proposals from your competitors, your qualifications might just be what helps set you apart. 

Business Proposal Examples

Maybe you’d like some inspiration? Here are some examples of business proposal templates made using popular business proposal software PandaDoc.

Sales Proposal Template

Great for professional consulting services or a general sales offer. This proposal has a very simple contract that is editable using variable fields. Simply designed and fully editable.

Digital Marketing Template

With full-page cover images, clean font, and a simple design, this template is great for digital marketers. And the ‘our services’ section highlights what offerings the client can purchase and the pricing section is designed with simplicity in mind.

Professional Services Business Template

A standard proposal template that provides many necessary sections for professional services businesses. This template makes use of images and white space to cap off a very clean and simple design.

Landscaping Proposal Template

With a beautiful cover page, and well-designed cover letter this proposal template stands out. The use of green throughout is an excellent feature and it includes all sections that a landscaping company could need to get started.

Website Devlopment Proposal Template

A great website development proposal template that highlights the standard services offered by webdev companies. An easy way to get started and build from there!

HVAC Proposal Template

An interesting design with full-page color and the use of images throughout. This proposal is heavily tailored to the HVAC industry providing all the necessary sections for a template that is ready to go.

Final Thoughts

Well, that’s all folks. Hopefully, this post helps you to highlight important sections in your business proposal and win your next client. 

Don’t forget to use the step by step guide above to help track which sections you have and which you could include and please leave a comment if you liked this and would like to read more like this.

Finally, you can check out our other posts below for more on Business Proposals and other related topics. 

Adios amigos! 

Want to make more sales?

Pure Proposals can help optimise your proposals and ensure you’re putting your best foot forward. Get in touch for a free consultation today.

You May Also Like…