You have an RFP (Request for Proposal) sent in by a prospective client sitting in your email. You’ve read it, re-read it and thought about it, ad nauseam. But no matter how many times you try and rack your brain over how to get started on your business proposal, you draw a sharp blank. You’re overwhelmed with questions like, ‘How should I start?’, ‘What do I focus on first?’, ‘What tone of voice should I adopt?’, among many other nagging questions.
You want to win over your prospective client; you want to convince them that your agency is the best out of the ocean of competitors vying for their business. But how do you effectively communicate your agency’s prowess and ability to deliver stellar results through a business proposal?
In this article, we’re going to break the business proposal writing process down into an easy-to-understand guide so that you can deliver a killer business proposal that’ll help seal the deal with your present and future prospects!
Before we get down to the nitty gritty of writing a business proposal that sells, let’s dispel the myth behind Business Proposals and Business Plans.
MYTH BUSTING: BUSINESS PROPOSALS VS. BUSINESS PLANS
You’d be shocked at how rife the misconceptions are surrounding these two terms. Although they sound almost synonymous, identical even, that could not be further from the truth. Here’s why:
A Business Proposal is ‘a formal document that’s created by a company and provided to a prospect to secure a business agreement’ (Hart, 2022)
A Business Plan, on the other hand, is ‘a document that defines in detail a company's objectives and how it plans to achieve its goals and is used to attract investment before a company has established a proven track record’ (Hayes, 2022).
So, essentially the key differences between the two documents are as follows:
To secure a prospective client
To attract new investors
Addresses the specific needs of the client
A roadmap of the business to peak investor interest
Cover PageCover LetterTable of ContentsExecutive SummaryProposal and Solutions PagePricingAbout UsTestimonials and Social ProofAgreement and CTA
Cover pageExecutive SummaryIndustry OverviewCompetitor AnalysisSales and Marketing PlanManagement PlanFinancial Plan and Budget
WHO NEEDS TO HAVE ONE?
Enterprises and entrepreneurs looking to secure investor funding
TYPES OF BUSINESS PROPOSALS
There are two types of business proposals (FreshBooks, 2019), each with their own pros and cons:
Solicited Business Proposals
Unsolicited Business Proposals
1. Solicited Business Proposals
The Solicited Business Proposal can either be a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) sent to you by your client or it could be an informal request made mid-conversation.
In order to deliver a business proposal that sells, you need to demonstrate to the client that you’ve identified and understood the client’s problems, that you know exactly what the solutions are and that your agency has the requisite skills and talent to deliver a result-driven strategy. If you received an RFP, that solves half the battle as the answers to majority of the client-specific questions reside therein.
That being said, the RFP could also give you a peripheral view of your prospect’s problems, hindering your ability to truly appreciate the scope of problems the client faces. This could result in your agency underdelivering in key areas. So, make sure your agency does some independent research to ensure you’re getting the full picture.
2. Unsolicited Business Proposals
An Unsolicited Business Proposal is exactly what it sounds like: a situation where an agency makes the first move by sending a business proposal to a client without the client ever having made a formal or informal request in this regard.
Here, you might be flying in blind unless you do a deep dive into the client’s business in order to excavate whatever insights you can find and develop a strategy that speaks to your prospect’s specific, albeit untold, needs. If you don’t do your research into the client or you don’t do enough, then you risk losing the client’s business as well as the business of other prospects linked to the client in question. So, key take away: do your research and then do some more!
CONTENTS OF THE BUSINESS PROPOSAL
1. COVER PAGE
The cover page, also referred to as the title page, should include the following basic details, setting the stage for a clear and swift introduction:
Company contact information
The cover page will be your first impression, so make it a strong one! They may say, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but when it comes to your cover page, judging your business proposal by its cover, is all your client will be doing at first glance. According to Google study, 50 milliseconds is all it takes for a user to form a first impression (Javier Bargas-Avila, 2012). So, make every one of those milliseconds count by paying close attention to the colors, symmetry, spacing, structure, font type and size used on your cover page.
Make sure you design a cover page that strikes the perfect balance between aesthetically pleasing and professional. Your client should be impressed and intrigued by the contents and layout of your cover page, inviting them to take a closer inspection of what your agency has to offer inside.
2. COVER LETTER
Your cover letter is essentially how you introduce yourself to the client. It should be written in a warm and welcoming tone to gently encourage the client to get in touch and should include the following:
A line about your company
A brief overview of the solutions your company has to offer
A line about the processes you follow in providing these solutions
A line inviting them to get in touch
A thank you
As Shakespeare once said, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, so make sure you keep your cover letter as short and sweet as possible. You don’t want to exhaust your reader’s attention before getting to the heart of your business proposal.
3. TABLE OF CONTENTS
Including a table of contents seems like such a simple addition. Nothing to phone home about. Nothing that will add value. However, think again. This seemingly simple addition will help your client navigate through your business proposal with relative ease which inadvertently ensures your client won’t get put off by a confusing business proposal structure or layout. The table of contents will rush to your client’s aid whenever he or she requires a quick reference.
In the event you decide to digitally share your business proposal, we recommend hyperlinking each item under the table of contents to the relevant headline in the proposal to ensure seamless navigation and greater ease-of-access for your client.
What’s more, where there is more than one representative from the client’s company flipping or scrolling through your business proposal, it’ll allow each client rep to effortlessly navigate to the section most relevant to their interests in the business.
4. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
A deceptively important section, the executive summary is a strategically worded summarization of your business proposal. When drafting your executive summary, keep in mind all the client’s pain points that were listed in the RFP and address each of them here in a clear and concise approach.
The executive summary is one of the most, if not the most, important sections in your business proposal as every representative from the client company will lay their eyes on this section to garner a cohesive understanding of what your business is proposing.
Make sure you include the following to deliver a powerful and engaging executive summary:
A brilliant introductory paragraph setting the scene for the rest of the proposal
Specifics as opposed to blanket statements on your product or service offerings
An attention grabbing statement on your unique solution to the client’s problem
Back it up with well-researched facts and figures relevant to your proposition, citing credible sources
A statement on the results you expect to deliver backed by figures generated from past client case studies (Lamachenka, 2021)
5. PROPOSAL AND SOLUTIONS PAGE
If the executive summary served to dip your client’s toes into your ocean of proposals, then the proposal and solutions page will serve as a deep dive into your solutions. This is where you explore the specificities associated with your solution and proposition. This section is where you must demonstrate to your client that you’ve understood the scope of their business problem like no other competitor has in the past.
According to Josh Gillespie from Upmarket Sales, “prospects need to know what you’re selling, how it will help them, and how long it will take them to get it.” Answer these three questions in your proposal and solutions page and proverbially put your client’s mind at ease.
In this section, take your liberties and elaborate each of the areas that were dealt with in the executive summary. Be sure to breakdown the methodology you will adopt in delivering the proposed deliverables. Provide tangible statements about each proposition as opposed to general, sweeping statements that fall short of convincing your client that your agency is the answer to all their problems.
Letting your client know right from the get-go how much they can expect to pay in order to procure your product or service is crucial. Including the breakdown of your pricing structure along with expected payment deadlines provides transparency and accountability from both sides of the isle.
If you were to omit this golden nugget of information from your business proposal, your prospective client may disregard your entire proposal on the grounds of a lack of information.
Experts advise using more nuanced titles for this section like ‘Your Investment’ as opposed to ‘Price’, ‘Fees’ or ‘Cost’, as it delivers the message to prospective clients that this is not just a cost that they will incur but an investment through which they will reap exponential rewards.
7. ABOUT US
Although not a mandatory section, you could include the about us page to shed a little light on what your company’s core values are in the hope that they resonate with the prospective client.
This section would allow you to communicate your company’s personality to the client which, if endearing, inspiring or engaging, may leave a lasting impression on the client’s mind that could mean the difference between the client choosing your business over that of a competitor’s.
8. TESTIMONIALS AND SOCIAL PROOF
The inclusion of this section would only be relevant where the client is a fresh prospect who hasn’t worked with your company in the past. Include the following on this page:
Relevant testimonials written by happy clients
Case study facts and figures
9. AGREEMENT AND CTA
A word to the wise in including an agreement and CTA section: Tread carefully.
This section is your final curtain call, having reached the tail end of your business proposal. All that’s left to be seen is whether your prospective client gives you the standing ovation you deserve by following the prescribed CTA to get the ball rolling.
Why tread carefully, you may ask? Well, if you don’t intend for the business proposal to constitute a legally binding contract upon the client’s acceptance of your proposition, you may want to avoid any legal language or phrases that may indicate the making of an offer on your part. Generally, the inclusion of a space for the client’s signature and the client’s consequent signing on the dotted line, could lead to the premature creation of a legally binding agreement.
On the other hand, if you’re confident that you can deliver on the presented proposal, the scope of work is within the realms of the achievable and the price is right, then by all means seal the deal! In the event that you intend on the proposal constituting a contractual agreement, you may even include a direct link to a payment gateway to ensure a swift transaction.
3 QUICK TIPS FOR WRITING A STELLAR BUSINESS PROPOSAL
1. Specificity is key: Deliver a customized business proposal tailored to suit the needs of each of your prospective clients. Although starting off with a general template would save you and your team an abundance of time, it is advised that you intersperse it with client and industry specific facts, figures and propositions that resonate with the client on a higher frequency than your competitors.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep: Reality strikes when you awake from your slumber having dreamt that you secured your top prospects. And then you realize that you did in fact enter into a wild agreement with a prospect and you don’t know how you’re going to deliver on all the promises made which have now been rendered as practically impossible. This is when your reality turns into a nightmare!
3. Deliver a well written proposal: If this means hiring a copywriter, then put out the job posting to make sure that your business proposal is an effortless read. Avoid using heavy technical language. Keep it clear, concise and to the point. Lastly, proofread the proposal for any typos or grammatical errors that may crop up upon a second reading of the document. If your proposal is marred by spelling or grammatical errors, you risk your proposal being relegated to the backwaters of unprofessionalism.