Business proposals are powerful tools you can use across all industries. Whether you're a freelancer applying for a contract job, a company proposing a new vendor agreement, or a start-up looking for funding, the business proposal is the best way to showcase your skills and get results when making a formal request. Below are seven tips to help you create a winning proposal—regardless of its purpose, or your audience.
Understanding What to Include
First, consider what your target audience needs in order to make a decision on your proposal. This varies depending on the structure of your company or business. For example, it's relevant for a start-up or entrepreneur to include at least a basic business plan within any business proposal sent to an investor, but this is not necessary for proposals sent to clients or vendors. You can skip the entire business plan and just focus on a summary of your company's features and benefits when you're applying for a position or bidding on a project. Seasoned companies obviously need to focus more on their history than a start-up, which must rely on current achievements and plans for the future.
Formatting the Information Properly
Once you've decided how much depth to include in your proposal, you need to lay out each section of information in logical order. Depending on your approach, include sections like:
- A title page, clearly stating the title and your name or company's name.
- An executive summary, which opens the proposal with an introduction to your company or your business plan.
- The body of the proposal, preferably following the popular Three P's format. (More on that below!)
- Any extra information to back up your claims, including independent research, industry statistics, or testimonials from former clients or investors.
The Three P's Format
Finding it hard to start your proposal off on the right note, or struggling to organize the information you need to convey in the package? The Three P's format makes it easy to address your audience directly and give them the facts.
Start with a problem statement
Also known as a pain point, every proposal should aim to solve a problem the client is facing or at least address the problems you'll solve for your customers if you're addressing an investor. If you can't sum up your problem statement for your product or service in a few sentences, do some market research and build on your target demographics before writing your proposal. There are many worksheets and software packages to help with this step, but ultimately, you need to figure out what unique selling point you can hinge your statements on.
Follow up with the proposed solution
For every feature you lay out in this section, you need to clearly explain its benefits. If you write software that does a task faster than the competition, don't just include the numbers, state how the speed increase affects the end user. This is the best section for including hard data, but don't overload the reader with unnecessary or highly technical information. You can include all your research or talking points as an appendix. Keep the proposed solution section focused and to the point.
Tie it together with the pricing, product, or payment section
This is where you lay out how much money your start-up needs to get off the ground, or what you'll charge for a certain service, or how much money your client could save by upgrading their vendor agreement. Whatever you're proposing either to earn or to gain through the proposal, you address it at the end in clear terms. Consider a chart or table of fees if you're including dozens of different products or price options.
Using a Template to Cover All the Bases
Concerned that your solution information will end up in the introduction and you'll run out of facts to add before the end? Build your work in the right business proposal template and you won't miss any of the crucial sections. With a proposal template that is tailored to your sales or marketing goal, you can keep all your information organized as you fill out the sections. There's no need to go back later and spend hours on formatting. A sales proposal contains different information, charts, and fees than a request sent to a start-up incubator, so make sure the template you choose matches your goal.
Planning a Presentation
For the biggest impact and the best chance at winning over your audience, plan a meeting and present your proposal face to face. Even if you have to use teleconferencing technology to stream your presentation online, you'll get a chance to explain your ideas in person instead of relying on a static document or PDF file to convince them. You don't have to be outgoing or have great presentation skills to get attention with a personal proposal either. Using the right presentation software allows you to streamline most of the work so you can keep the focus on your facts and statements.
Related Read: How to introduce yourself before a presentation
Addressing the Competition
Don't be afraid to state your competition and explain how you can outmaneuver them. This is especially important for start-ups and established companies proposing major partnerships with investors or other companies. If you can't explain why your proposed solution is better than the rest of the available options, you can't win over your audience. Stick to the facts and avoid personal claims or statements you can't back up. Focus on how your company, service, or product stands out rather than listing the failures of the competition.
Covering the Legal Details
Finally, finish off your business proposal template by adding in information on any legal regulations or concerns specific to your industry. For example, a start-up that wants to go public will need to include certain schedules and their plans to file with the regulating bodies. If you require clients or customers to sign contracts or need extra tax filings due to the nature of your company, list all these details now so that the audience is surprised by them later. There's no need to include a formal conclusion at the end of the proposal template. You can simply close with substantial data or include a few extra research notes to finish off the package.
Related Read: 5 Steps to Writing the Perfect Freelance Proposal