proposal writing tips

Free business proposal template by ClientPoint

July 24, 2013

A business proposal is a document that is used by a business that wants to sell their product or service to another company.

As a persuasive sales document, a business proposal is basically a "Statement of Work," that clearly establishes the following objectives:

(1) Define the nature and rationale of the proposed business;
(2) Explain the marketing, financing and operational aspects of the proposal that can inform stakeholders why it makes business sense; and
(3) Persuade the stakeholders who will approve the proposal that you or a proposed management team has the competence, suitable short and long term strategies, and resource plans to operate the business, make it grow, and add value to any investment poured into it within a reasonable time-frame and given the constraints and risks it may face.

What makes a good business proposal?

Browsing the internet can lead you to some sites offering a free business proposal template and many of them describe the needed sections that comprise a reasonably adequate template. But as with anything else, first impression counts and one important attribute of a business proposal template is appearance. This is not merely about using attractive graphics, images or fonts (typically double-spaced 12-point Times Roman or Arial), though these things help, but an impressive business proposal is one that a stakeholder will find time to read despite his or her busy schedule and must have the required information that is easily digestible.

Another important attribute that is supportive of the first is having a well-organized presentation and a rich source of details (statistical and financial data in tables and graphs, technical support documents, and pertinent legal and regulatory provisions in annexes, etc.). You don\'t want your reader to feel you\'re making things up. Having annexes that contain supporting data may not always be read, but just by being in your proposal gives confidence that your arguments why the proposal makes business sense are well-founded.

Organizing Your Business Proposal

Bear in mind that a business proposal must convince your stakeholder about the soundness of your proposal. Here are some of the major sections in your document that can guide you to achieve the three objectives above and deliver a compelling presentation of why your proposal merits approval.

(1) Cover page and Table of Contents
Just like a thesis, your business proposal should indicate a suitable title and author of the proposed followed by a table of contents and possibly an acknowledgment page recognizing the people who have helped you shape the form and content of the document.

(2) Executive Summary
The people in a position to approve your proposal may often stop at this section to make a decision. The summary should present the highlights of the business proposal and may start with how much income it can generate and the return on investment that can be reasonably expected within the next 5 years. This section need not be more than 2 pages long.

(3) Introduction: Statement of Need or Problem
This is often the introductory page(s) that presents the market need, problem or situation that the proposed business can address or which opens up opportunities for the business to thrive and prospers. Often the results of a thorough needs analysis and problem identification based on research, this section explains the relevance of the business and can contain pertinent literature reviews, market research results, and competitor gaps what the business can fill in profitably.

(3) The Business as a solution
This defines what the business is about and its relevance to addressing the problem discussed in the preceding section. You define the business model (franchising, ad-based revenue, B2B or B2C, internet-based, etc.) and the nature of your product or services you plan to offer to your target markets. This is just an introduction without going into details. You can also indicate why the business will succeed based on similar businesses that have succeeded, or why it is unique or innovative enough to be the first in the industry or markets. Sub sections effectively defines your business plan as follows:

-The business vision, mission and objectives which create the foundation for what the business values and what corporate culture it can create and sustain;
-Environmental scan that details the market, competitor positions, government and industry requirements as well as the potential problems and threats that the proposed business may face. This is also called your SWOT (strengths weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and should discuss how you plan to maximize your strengths, take advantage of opportunities while addressing your weaknesses and minimizing threats.

(4) The Marketing Plan
The business revolves primarily around a marketing plan which allows the business to capture market shares and earn enough sales revenues to cover the cost of doing business and sustain profits with which it can grow and provide dividends to its owners. It will require the discussion of at least the 4P's of marketing - product (tangible or intangible service), pricing (tariffs, break-even points, etc.), pipeline (distribution, sales outlets) and promotion (marketing communications). Some marketing pundits include people (sales staff) and politics (external affairs). The discussion in each should also cover the relevant strategies and actions you plan to undertake to maximize the resources you will use in your marketing plan.

(5) The Operations Plan
This details what elements are needed in operationalizing the business on a daily basis. It should cover such functions as human resource management, payroll, sales operations, procurement or purchasing operations, IT support, billing, customer management and after sales support, engineering support, government and industry relations, public relations, and other functions unique to your business.

(6) The Financial Plan
This section talks about how you plan to monetize (convert to sales revenues) your marketing and sales effort. At the minimum, it must contain sales and cash flow projects over a 3-5 year period of time based on reasoned assumptions and indicating when you can reasonably expect a profit. For investors and financiers, this section can make or break your business proposal.

(7) Financing Requirements
You need to specify the starting capital detailing the assets (building, equipment, raw materials, etc.) and the operating budgets (salaries and wages, office supplies, utilities, advertising, etc.). This can be tabled to allow you to categorize your expense items and their corresponding funding requirements over a period of time, say five years. You will have to support this section with a simulated set of financial statements (Balance Sheet, Income, Cash Flow, etc.). The section is often the most read by your would-be investors because it will tell them who much money they will have to invest to establish and operationalize the proposed business.

(8) The Management Team
This answers who will make the business succeed. This is your management team and if you already have some names, possibly coming from your mother company if you are proposing the creation of an affiliate, or from a pool of potential new hires, you should be able to present the competencies of your proposed management team. The section should also include a start-up organizational chart showing the hierarchical structure of officers and staff and the total number of people along with its distribution in the organization.

(9) Pre-Operating Project Management
Setting up the business is no different from a project that requires specific time-bound and resource-driven tasks that need to be identified and mapped out in a typical project management plan so that the interested investor can see that you have a firm handle on what it takes to establish and operationalize the business. In many situations, this is often considered the pre-operating plan and presents in a Gantt chart when you can raise the funds, secure business permits and regulatory clearances, source start-up raw materials or sales inventory, train your staff, set up the offices and factory, and mount your ad campaign to penetrate the market, etc. It is important that you define your expected deliverables at specific dates and what resources you need to accomplish them before Day One or the inaugural date of your business.

(10) Literature sources or references
If you had cited some literature sources to support any assertion you made to describe or justify your business proposal, you should list them here, preferably following academic standards in reference listing.

(11) Annexes
This is the last section that contains more details of what you have summarized or mentioned in the body of your proposal (Sections 3 - 9). Section 9, for instance, can be just a summary and the details of the project management plan can be an Annex. The CV\'s or resume of your management team to support Section 8 can also be another annex. Similarly, the details of projected financial statements that you summarized in Sections 6 and 7 can also from part of your annex section.

Conclusion

The sections above define a free business proposal template anyone can use to market his or her business proposal to the people who can finance or approve it. They are by no means carved on rock and depending on the business you have in mind, some sections may require more detail than others, or can be left out. For instance, a small home-based business with purely online transaction may require more discussion on the technical aspect of online commerce in covering the security issues of credit card transactions to give more confidence to your prospective investor. The same business many not need any pre-operating project management other than creating the needed website and getting their domain names registered. Companies with business development units may have their own preferred pro-forma proposal templates, but if you are starting out a business for which you need other people to help in the financing, this template can serve as your guide to hasten the development of an effective business proposal.

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