Sooner or later you’re going to write a business proposal, either because someone asked for it, or because you want to make a persuasive case that leads to a sale. Where do you start? What should you include? What are the rules? Since one of the goals of a business proposal is to persuade a potential customer to do business with you, it is important that you answer all questions.
Notice I use the word "persuade."
Not only are you trying to drum up business by introducing yourself to potential customers, but you are also trying to make a first and last impression on your prospect. So you want to ensure the proposal does its job- acting as a formal and much more dignified selling tool (https://www.forbes.com/sites/allbusiness/2013/07/01/6-steps-to-influence-others-with-your-business-writing/#d4b99c6509fc).
Let’s First Understand the Basics
There’s a lot of confusion on what a business proposal actually entails, so before we get to the questions your proposal must answer, let’s first learn the basics of a business proposal.
A business proposal is a document sent to a prospective client, outlining the products or services you’re offering and explaining why you’re the best. At the bare minimum, its primary objective is to provide a compelling solution to a problem faced by a client (https://www.inc.com/encyclopedia/business-proposals.html)
That being said, a successful proposal usually results in a contract. But because there is usually a significant distinction between a proposal and a contract, your proposal should be laid out in a question and answer format.
However, there is an exception. If your proposal is in response to an RFP or RFQ, it may contain formatting instructions that you have to follow. In this case, a question and answer format may not be practical (https://proposal.staging.wpengine.com/types-of-business-proposals/).
Writing a business proposal is easy- there are no set rules or pre-requisites for format, presentation, length or even subject matter (https://www.forbes.com/2010/05/03/better-business-writing-leadership-careers-tips.html). But finding the right answers to the right questions is critical if you want to attract sufficient attention from a potential client. We compiled a list of the typical questions your business proposal must answer:
1. Who are you and What Are Your Qualifications?
Go ahead, brag a bit- this is the section where you get to convince your potential customer that you are the most qualified person for the job. You can start by presenting your company and mission in a way that relates to your client’s needs. Feel free to include a brief story that will give your customer a feel for your brand and help build trust. The function of this section is to grab the attention of the customer so he will read the whole proposal and not just skip to the pricing details, like most clients do (https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2014/02/06/the-cover-letters-that-make-hiring-managers-smile-then-call-you/#41b9d4758f5f).
2. What Are the Client’s Problems?
The secret behind writing a winning business proposal is understanding what the customer’s problems are and offering the best solution to these challenges. This part is paramount because you cannot expect to seal a deal if you don’t know what the client’s problems are (https://proposal.staging.wpengine.com/ultimate-business-proposal-checklist/). Most customers will decide whether they are going to read the rest of the proposal just by going through this section. So take this opportunity to show your client that you fully understand their needs and are aware of the issue they want to solve.
3. How Do You Plan To Solve the Problems?
This is the million dollar question your proposal has to answer. In this segment, you need to outline how you’re going to tackle the project from the beginning to the end. Get into the nitty-gritty of the steps you’ll take, highlighting anything notable that sets you apart from the competition. Ensure that you make it realistic with accurate statistics and sound projections, so the client knows exactly what they are agreeing to upfront (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/21834). This section simply speaks into the details the project will be responsible for, and addresses each and every need in the most comprehensive way.
4. How Long Will Your Proposed Project Take?
Be clear with your prospective client, how long it will take for you to complete the project. Here, you should ensure that you set out realistic expectations so that both of you are on the same page right from the onset (https://www.business.com/business-planning/write-your-way-to-a-win-business-proposal-101/). While you might be tempted to under quote the time frame, it’s usually not a good idea. Don’t promise what you may not deliver. If you’re offering a product, time frames might not be applicable, so feel free to omit them. The format of a proposal is usually very flexible, so tailor it to suit your business.
5. How Much Will it Cost?
Cost is a fundamental component of your business proposal. In fact, it’s almost certainly what the client is going to spend most time combing through (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/66010). How you outline this part depends entirely on what solutions you’re offering. An itemized fee summary may be sufficient if the solution proposed will serve for a short period; otherwise, a fee schedule for periodic milestones may be appropriate if the solution will serve an extended period. If there are any legal/contractual issues to be addressed, such as licensing or permits, include this information here.
6. What is the Return on Investment?
This is the section many people miss. Maybe, it’s assumed that the client will immediately see the return on investment, but that’s highly unlikely. A proposal is your final sell- so don’t be afraid to detail to your prospect what they have to gain by choosing your business. If possible, spell it out so that the client can fully comprehend how your solution will either make money or save money. Being able to demonstrate the return on investment adequately, can almost win you a deal majority of the time (https://www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/return-on-investment-roi).
7. Who Will Work on the Project?
For you to clinch a deal, the people you plan to use cannot be left to speculation. This is the section where you get to some level of detail explaining the team members behind the project. Start by identifying each team member and writing a short resume for each. This will not only help the client know the team, but the individual members as well (https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-write-a-winning-proposal.html). However, be careful to keep the jargon to a minimum. You want the client to have a clear and concise document. Perhaps, the best way to present this part is to use bullet points.
8. What Is Your Company’s Experience with Similar Projects?
This is your final chance to leave your client with a testimonial from a customer who has had a favorable outcome with your solution. The good thing about testimonials is that they have the power to influence even the most hesitant customers (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/83752). Let’s call them the trust signals of a proposal. With a testimonial, you have the chance to make a strong final impression on the customer. Not only will it double your chances of closing, but you can as well be prepared to make your potential client smile and then give you a call.
Happy proposal writing.
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