If you haven’t got much experience writing a business proposal, it can be a daunting prospect. Not to worry, in this post we’ll show you how to write an engaging proposal, explore the different types of proposals, and share some examples to help get you started.
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a formal document that you send to a potential client, to convince them to work with you and secure a business agreement. The goal of your proposal is to sell your product, solution, or service—rather than your business itself.
Broadly speaking, there are two different ways business proposals are sent out: unsolicited and solicited.
Unsolicited proposals are sent out to potential customers, even if they haven’t requested one, with the aim of winning their business. As these proposals are often sent out en masse without extensive knowledge of the buyer or their requirements, they usually take a generic, one-size-fits-all approach.
Solicited proposals are requested directly by a prospective client. They’re often sent out in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP)—so they’re more specific and tailor-made to address the prospect’s specific needs.
The different types of proposal
Sales proposals are your standard, bread-and-butter proposal. It’s how you document and present your offering to potential clients to try to win their business.
A marketing proposal is a detailed plan that outlines an upcoming marketing, brand awareness, or advertising campaign for a prospective client’s business.
If you’re curious about what a good marketing proposal looks like, HubSpot offers a great free template that’s worth checking out.
A grant proposal is different from a business or marketing proposal, as you’re not directly selling a product, solution, or project. Instead, you’re trying to secure funding for your business—often for research or to support education initiatives.
You can find some examples of grant proposals here.
Though there are some nuances to each of these proposal types, the tips outlined here apply broadly across all three.
How to write a business proposal
Before you start furiously typing out your proposal, you need to know what business you’re writing for. If you’ve received an RFP, great. Read through it carefully until you understand the problems and how your business can solve them. If you’re sending an unsolicited proposal or a less formal request, it still pays to do your research. The more you can learn about the company you’re selling to, the better.
With an understanding of the problem you’re solving, it’s time to start writing. As a starting point, your proposal should follow this rough structure:
- Start with a title page
- Create a table of contents
- Write an executive summary
- Add proposal and solutions pages
- Explain pricing options
- Sell yourself and your company
- Show off your past testimonials
- Finish with agreement and CTA
But before you create your proposal, it’s worth having taking a moment think about how to format it. Some clients may prefer a slide-deck, while others will be happy with a standard written document. To put your best foot forward, show that you understand your client’s document culture, and present your proposal in a format that suits them.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s explore how you can structure your proposal.
1. Start with a title page
To kick things off, you need a title page. Here, you’ll introduce yourself and your organization. You’ll need to include your name, your company’s name, the date you’ll submit the proposal, and the name of the client or their business.
This page sets the tone for the rest of the document, so make sure it’s smart, aesthetically pleasing, and professional. Don’t be afraid to add your own creative flair, branding, and design—but make sure it sits within your company’s accepted guidelines. If in doubt, keep it simple.
It’s also worth taking time to name your proposal. Your proposal title is a quick, easy way to get across your message and show that you understand the client’s needs. So, come up with a concise title that aligns with the objective of the project.
2. Create a table of contents
A table of contents lets potential clients know exactly what’s included in your proposal by making it scannable, easy to read, and accessible.
If you’re sending your proposal electronically, it’s also worth including a hyperlinked table of contents instead of just simple text for easy navigation. That way, whoever’s reading your proposal can jump between sections quickly and save themselves from any unnecessary scrolling.
3. Write an executive summary
An executive summary is a staple in everything from annual reports to project plans—and your proposal is no different.
Your executive summary should outline why you’re sending the proposal and why your solution is the best fit for the client. It pays to be specific here so your prospect understands why they should choose you over a competitor.
It doesn’t need to be overly long, but make sure you:
- Briefly introduce your company
- Give an overview of the benefits of your solution
- Explain how you can solve the prospect’s problem
4. Include proposal or solutions pages
This section is the meat of your business proposal. It’s where you demonstrate your understanding of your prospect’s needs and the problem they need your help with—so you can offer up your solution.
Show how your prospect’s issues impact their wider business. Next, explain your strategies for solving each problem. The more personalized and specific you can make this section, the better.
You’ll also need to cover:
- Specific deliverables
- The methods you’ll use
- Expected timeframes
5. Explain pricing options
Writing a pricing section is straightforward—set out the various pricing options for your product or solution. But be careful not to overvalue or undervalue your offering, as this can cause dissatisfaction on both sides of the table.
If you’re writing a grant proposals, you’ll want to outline exactly how you plan to spend the money you’re receiving in the most specific way possible.
6. About us (sell yourself and your company)
Although you’ve already provided a brief intro to your company in the title and executive summary pages, this section is where you can really hammer home what makes your company unique.
It’s an opportunity for potential clients to get to know you better, so make it personal. Include your mission statement, background, and anything your business is passionate about or sets you apart. If you’ve got a great team behind you, put them front and center. People like to know who they’re working with, so photos and brief biographies can go a long way.
7. Show off your past success
Why should your prospects trust you? What makes you qualified for the job? What results have you delivered for similar businesses? In this section you’ll answer these questions.
Showcase your testimonials, case studies, awards, accreditations—anything that makes you stand out and boosts your authority.
8. Finish with CTA and your contact details
Once prospects are done reading your proposal, you want to make it easy and compelling for them to reach you.
Often proposals are passed around teams, which means many people in the process won’t have your contact information. So make sure to include your contact details at the end of your proposal.
Adding a clear call to action (CTA) to prompt your prospective client to contact you may also be the difference between your proposal and another business’. You want to invoke an immediate response in the reader, so tell them exactly what you want them to do.
A couple things to remember…
Don’t make your proposal too long
The average proposal is about 10 pages. And unless your product is complex and difficult to explain, you shouldn’t need to make it longer than this—a short, engaging proposal will always have a better chance of being read, understood, and accepted.
Include data and visuals where possible
Impactful stats can help cement your authority and capture your prospect’s attention. The same goes for good visual design. Charts, graphs, and other visual elements are a great way of setting your offering apart from the average, run-of-the-mill proposal.
Start writing proposals like a pro
So, now you’ve got everything you need to write an engaging proposal, every time. But once it’s been accepted, you need to send over a contract to your prospects and get it signed.
With Dropbox Sign, you can send your documents digitally, and give your clients the option to sign contracts from anywhere. This not only speeds up time to completion, but means you can track the progress of the document across its lifecycle, so you’ll always avoid unnecessary hold-ups.