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The difference between a business plan and a business proposal

February 26, 2024

Whether you are in business, employment, or college pursuing a degree, understanding the basics of a business proposal is a skill that you must have. Most people use the terms business plan and business proposal interchangeably. These two documents are very different. A business plan is different from a business proposal in terms of content, structure, writing style, goals, and purpose. The most important difference to note is that a business plan is a written presentation of fact while a business proposal is a price quote and a call to action.


According to an article on Entrepreneur.com, a business plan is a document that outlines a detailed description of how a business is set up. It is a 5-year plan of a business showing the company structure, products and services, market findings from research, marketing strategy, planned budget and financial projections. It can be simply defined as the factual and wide description of a business and its projections. A business plan can be drawn by a start-up as well as a going concern.

A business proposal is a purposeful sales document formulated to illustrate how a business will carry out a project, give the value of the project to the prospective client and ask for the client's business. Therefore, it is a document that a business submits to another enterprise or organization putting forward a business arrangement.


A business plan ideally comprises three elements: description of the business model, the marketing strategy and financial projections. It includes informative sections, specifically the executive summary, business description (products and services), marketing plan, industry analysis (competitor analysis), build-out plan, internal analysis, operations plan, leadership structure or introduction of management, and financial projections -- discussion of financial concern and projection of results. The opening page is the executive summary. It can be an intense abstract or a detailed but precise marketing tool to draw interest in the plan. The business plan is an informational document intended to factually showcase the company's operations, goals and potential.

According to Sean Kerner from Tech Republic, the format of a business proposal depends on whether it solicited or unsolicited. A solicited proposal and in response to an RFP should take the format called for in the RFP. Usually, this entails a quick description of the services and products offered by your business and clearly showing their relevance to the goals of the RFP, a replication of the scope of work, response to specific questions raised in the RFP and a quotation detailing materials, equipment, labor, delivery and other basics of the project outlay. An unsolicited business proposal may or may not take the same format. The intention is to create and develop a business opportunity, and so it is advisable to follow the same format or any other that is popular with the industry or business. Be keen to address all the questions that the potential client might have. With an unsolicited proposal, it is up to you to decide the structure. Whichever format you choose, ensure that the proposal is professional, highlights key areas of interest, presents a value proposition, is thoroughly researched and loaded with facts and with a call to action.


A business plan is required for two main reasons. It clearly defines the scope of the business and in the process clarifies your thinking as the proprietor of the business. It offers you information that had not been considered previously. Simply put, it documents the vision of the business and how it will be achieved. This guides the business towards a practical strategy to guide the business for the time-frame enclosed by the plan. It is the blueprint to success of the business. It outlines strategies for converting the ideas into core competencies. It also presents the financial projections of starting and operating the business as well as estimation of revenue generation from business activities. Secondly, it offers comprehensive business information for use by potential investors and employees, suppliers, accountants, attorneys and other stakeholders. The primary function for a business plan is to record and pass on information.

A business plan is also used to raise funds in form of a business loan, venture capitalist, angel investors or incubation. When approaching these money lenders you must present a thoroughly researched and realistic business plan. The investors need to be sure that you are confident and truthful about the market statistics and financial projections indicated in the report. A business plan should be as truthful as possible because it is the blueprint and vision of the company. It provides a checklist of whether the objectives of the business are on track. According to experts, a professional business plan requires about six weeks of in-depth research and preparation. It is not possible to whip one a day before your appointment with investors.

The reason for a business proposal can be well explained based on the type of the proposal. There are two major types of business proposals: invited and non-invited. An invited proposal is submitted in response to an advertisement from the buyer or client. For instance, organization and government agencies wanting to purchases services and products from private suppliers invite contractors to place their bids. Alternatively, some businesses ask for Request for Proposals (RFP) from a selection of suppliers that they willing to consider as a prospective partner. In each case, the business is competing against other bidders. It is in the interest of your business to present a competitive and compelling business proposal.

Non-invited or unsolicited proposals are submitted to potential clients even when they have not requested for one. In this scenario, you give suggestions to the company or organization to purchase services or products in return for funds. For instance, you can tender a proposal to develop an app for an organization or training services for its staff. The most important thing in both cases is to come up with well researched offer to convince buyers. A business proposal is limited to the scope of the specific project or need. In addition, it has a specific audience. The primary function for a proposal is to solicit or grow a business opportunity.

You can look a business plan as more of an internal document. A proposal on the other hand is an external document used for presenting or selling the business to an external player. A business plan guides the activities of the business internally in terms of marketing strategies and revenue projections that should be achieved. A proposal shows the external players such as governments, donors or business partners what the business is all about and how it intends to carry out a project at hand or use the opportunity to generate revue for both partners.

For more information, here is an article on how to write a business proposal.


Entrepreneur.com: An Introduction to Business Plans https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/38290


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