How To Write a Business Proposal in 4 Steps

How To Write a Business Proposal in 4 Steps

A great business proposal can be a powerful tool for securing new clients and contracts. Business proposals are also sometimes used to win new partners, funding, or project approval.

If you want to convince someone that your value proposition is worth investing in, then a business proposal is the perfect tool to help you do it.

Throughout this article, we’ll walk you through the major components of an effective business proposal, as well as how to create one.

Table of contents:

What is a business proposal?

A business proposal is a document that outlines the unique solutions you have to offer a potential client or investor. Usually presented as a formal document, a business proposal covers several key pieces of information in detail, including:

  • Who you or your company are and what you do
  • An overview of the pain points you are in a unique position to solve
  • How you will go about solving the client’s problems
  • The resources you’d require to do so

Think of a business proposal as your chance to present a compelling argument for your product, service, or project. It shows a prospective client or partner what you bring to the table and why you or your project is worth investing in.

Types of business proposals

In general, business proposals can be broken down into one of two major categories: solicited and unsolicited business proposals.

Solicited business proposals are requested by clients or other decision-makers. Unsolicited business proposals are those you’d submit to someone you’re interested in doing business with, even if they didn’t specifically request it. We cover the details on each below.

Solicited business proposals

Solicited business proposals tend to be more specific than their unsolicited counterparts because they’re submitted in response to a potential client’s request. For example, imagine that a group of business owners were interested in hiring vendors for a large project but weren’t sure who they wanted to hire.

They might create a formal document called a request for proposal (RFP) to send to potential candidates. An RFP outlines the needs of a project and serves as an invitation for vendors to submit business proposals outlining their pricing, qualifications, and approach.

If they aren’t quite ready to submit a formal RFP, a potential client might first send out a more general request for information (RFI) to gather information about potential solutions. On the other hand, if a prospective client is simply looking for pricing information, they might send out a request for quotation (RFQ) to ask about pricing.

Unsolicited business proposals

Unsolicited business proposals are similar to marketing proposals or cold calls in that they’re sent to decision-makers who haven’t specifically asked for them. These types of proposals can be in an informal or formal document, depending on the circumstance. Examples include project proposals, sales proposals, and funding proposals.

Components of a business proposal

While there are now countless free business proposal templates online, many differ slightly depending on their intended use. However, there are several key components that most business proposal outlines tend to include.

Front matter

“Front matter” refers to the foundations of your proposal. Much like the first few pages of a book, it tells readers what they can expect and outlines the structure of your proposal.

  • Title page. The title page is exactly what it sounds like—it should include your proposal’s title, your company’s name, your contact information, the prospective client’s name, and the date.
  • Executive summary. An executive summary is like a cover letter that introduces the highlights your readers can expect to encounter as they proceed through the rest of your business proposal.
  • Table of contents. The table of contents tells readers the pages where your sections begin.

Proposal content

The following items are included in the heart of the proposal itself. This is where you’ll break down your client’s problems and introduce your business plan for solving them. A business proposal’s content typically includes:

  • Problem statement. This section thoroughly and clearly outlines the pain points or opportunities that your business proposal addresses.
  • Proposed solution. This is where you get to lay out why your solution can meet the reader’s specific needs, whether it be solving their problems or giving them a unique opportunity.
  • Qualifications. This section should present a compelling argument for why clients should trust you to complete the project. You could include your experience, testimonials, or case studies here.
  • Methods and timeframe. Break down your proposed solution into major milestones and present a realistic project timeline outlining how long each would take.
  • Deliverables. Describe what products or services would be provided at each process stage.
  • Pricing. This is where you’ll lay out your pricing table and payment terms, as well as any costs associated with completing your proposed business plan.

Conclusion and call to action

The conclusion section should include a call to action (CTA) that tells your reader what you’re asking of them. Whether it’s a follow-up communication, funding, or a contract, make it clear what you’d like your reader to do next.

This is also a great place to reiterate your key points in a brief proposal summary. You should include your contact information here as well to make it as easy as possible for your reader to follow up.

How to write a business proposal

Now that you’re familiar with the basic sections included in a business proposal, it’s time to start drafting one of your own. We’ve got you covered with a step-by-step proposal writing guide that’ll walk you through the process.

Steps:

  1. Preparation and research
  2. Write the proposal
  3. Edit the proposal
  4. Finalize and deliver

1. Preparation and research

Building a strong foundation before you begin writing can make creating a business proposal much easier. We offer several strategies that can save you time (and rewrites) down the line.

Identify the right type of proposal

Start by asking yourself which type of proposal you want to write and why. For example, are you planning to write an unsolicited proposal to secure funding for your startup or small business?

Or, are you a freelancer who wants to win a new social media client by responding to their RFP? Understanding the type of proposal you want to create will help in creating an outline.

Create an outline

Think of creating an outline as charting a map before setting off to an unknown destination. Business proposals can take several forms, so customize yours to best suit your prospective client.

A business proposal example outline for an SEO expert hoping to win a new client might look something like this:

  • Executive summary
  • Self-introduction and qualifications
  • The potential benefits of your SEO services
  • Proposed solution for mapping out and implementing an SEO strategy
  • Proposed metrics to track
  • Project timeline with scope of work broken into major milestones
  • Pricing guide, including any necessary software or data
  • Social proof/client testimonials
  • Summary and call to action

Know your reader

Do enough research to really understand the client’s needs, backgrounds, and unique pain points. This will help you speak to their needs and also help guide your stylistic choices.

For example, you might use a more casual, approachable tone if you’re drafting a business proposal for a startup run by very young entrepreneurs. If you were seeking funding from an already-respected foundation, however, you might use a more professional tone to present your unique value proposition.

2. Write the proposal

Once you’ve got your outline in place and have a clear understanding of the client and your proposed solution, it’s time to get started. We offer some tips to consider for each section.

Title page and table of contents

Your title page is the first thing a prospective reader will see. While there’s no need to go over the top, try to create a professional, attention-grabbing title page that sets the tone for the sections inside. Include your contact info here to make following up as easy as possible.

A table of contents is both a handy navigational tool and also gives readers a snapshot of the type of information that will be introduced. Some proposal writers even include small summaries of each section listed in their table of contents.

Executive summary

The executive summary is your first official chance to introduce yourself, your company, and the solutions you’re about to expand on. Try to keep things short and sweet, with just enough information to get your reader interested in what’s to come.

Consider your proposal type when deciding on what to touch on in your executive summary. For example, if it’s an unsolicited proposal, you’ll want to introduce yourself and be very clear about what you’re proposing and why.

Problem statement and proposed solution

At the end of the day, prospective clients read business proposals to find out several key pieces of information:

  • Do you understand their pain points and challenges?
  • Is your solution better than the competition’s?
  • Are you qualified to implement the solutions you propose?

Whether your business proposal is intended to sell a service or secure funding, make sure it reflects the unique expertise you bring to the table. Demonstrate that you understand what needs to be done and know the best way to go about it.

You might consider incorporating visuals, graphs, or case studies, if they’re relevant. These can make your proposal even more compelling while backing up your industry expertise.

Don’t be shy about showing off your qualifications here. If you or your team are backed by awards, certifications, or impressive client testimonials, now’s the time to use them as proof of your quality track record.

Deliverables and milestones

Outlining your deliverables and proposed milestones is a great way to demonstrate what clients can expect if they choose to work with you. It’s also further proof that you’ve taken the time to consider the best plan and know how to accomplish it.

While including timeframes is always a good idea, be realistic. Don’t try to bolster your sales process by listing impressive turnarounds just to hook a potential customer. You should always be prepared to live up to any promises you make in your business proposal if your offer is accepted.

Pricing and payment schedule

A clearly laid out pricing section can go a long way toward avoiding misunderstandings. If the goal of your proposal is to bring in new business, then do yourself the favor of keeping your pricing as transparent as possible.

No matter what pricing methodology you use, outline the exact products or services a client can expect if they choose to work with you. Additionally, lay out your payment schedule, including any upfront costs or expenses.

CTA and Contact information

Your call to action should summarize what you want your reader to do, and should also tell them how to do it. Provide your contact information and tell them how to follow up with you.

3. Edit the proposal

Don’t rush to send your proposal when you finish the last sentence. Take a break and step away from it so you can revisit it with fresh eyes.

When you return, read the entire proposal from beginning to end to get a sense of the overall flow of the document. In addition to spelling and grammar errors, be sure to also look for things like inconsistencies, too much repetition, or overly wordy sections.

You can also ask a friend or colleague to read over the proposal and share any additional thoughts they may have. A winning business proposal takes a lot of time and energy—don’t ruin yours with sloppy grammar or spelling mistakes.

4. Finalize and deliver

Now it’s time for your final checks. Before sending your business proposal through the client’s preferred communication channel (if applicable), ensure that it’s:

  • Professionally formatted
  • Free from spelling or grammar errors
  • Concise and compelling
  • Aligned with any guidance the client may have specified in their request
  • Designed to present your value proposition clearly and consistently
Business proposal

Find business proposal writers on Upwork

Whether you hope to secure new clients or expand your business, understanding how to craft an effective business proposal can prove invaluable. We hope the information we’ve offered here will help you along your journey to creating a winning business proposal that helps you reach your unique goals.

If you find yourself stuck or would like a little help along the way, then look no further than Upwork for access to top business proposal writers who would be happy to help. Or check out Upwork’s business proposal writing jobs to turn your skills into additional income!

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How To Write a Business Proposal in 4 Steps
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