How-to Write a Killer Business Proposal
May 13, 2013
Jessie impatiently combed her hands through her hair, shoving it out of her face. She sighed heavily, staring at the blank screen and blinking cursor in frustration. She felt like such a failure.
She had the opportunity to land a project that was perfect for her struggling branding business. But so far, her proposals had not received the response she had hoped for. In fact, they were not receiving any response at all.
It was sink or swim time, and Jessie needed to start swimming soon or the rent wasn’t going to get paid this month. She needed to figure out what the heck she was doing wrong, and stat. But what did she need to do to write a proposal that actually gets results?
Unfortunately, Jessie’s situation is more common than you might think. Writing a killer proposal can be an art form, but with a little practice, you can achieve spectacular results.
Let’s Talk Basic Sales
A proposal should be written like anything else in business: clear, concise, and using simple language. Be wary of using lingo that you are not familiar with. You do not want to take the chance of being misunderstood. The winning proposal will be the one that best communicates a core message to its audience.
If you are submitting a two page long email proposal, or sending off a PDF that’s mostly pretty images without much information, you’re probably not going to get the response you’re hoping for.
You’re also not going to win any favors with the busy professional you just sent it to, who is likely wading through an inbox chock-full of business proposals just like yours. Since the business proposal is a tool specifically designed to present and sell your services, learning to create an effective one is time well spent.
Anatomy of a Killer Business Proposal
Proposals at their core should communicate why your particular company or service is right for the job. Regardless of the type of project you are pitching for, a proposal should provide your potential client with everything they need to know about you and your company to make an informed decision. Ideally, this should be accomplished within the first couple of paragraphs.
You can start by communicating your business’ mission and goals right off the bat. Be concise, but also be creative. You want to engage the reader and compel them to keep reading further.
Consider telling a brief story about your business that gives the reader a sneak peek into the integrity of you or your brand’s character. People need to feel a sense of trust in who they choose to hire.
This is where you briefly outline your proposal to the client. Remember to include benefits that might be attractive to them. This will make the proposal feel like it’s about the potential client instead of it being all about you. (It’s just like grade school. No one likes a braggart.)
There are two very simple ways you can do this. You can explain a problem that the client is facing and how you can solve it. Or, you can share a brief story outlining the problem of a past client with a similar situation, and how you solved it for them.
The latter actually does double duty by outlining benefits to the client as well as providing proof, by saying, “Hey, I did this for client XYZ so that means I can do it for you, too.”
Another crucial aspect of a proposal is to know what job you’re pitching for. You’d be amazed at just how many people will randomly submit a business proposal for a project they didn’t even bother to investigate fully. They ignore the guidelines and/or requirements from the client that detail what they are looking for. Stand out by showing that you are attentive to detail and that you took the time to meet their unique needs
Showcase Your Cred
While it’s vital to make sure the focus of your proposal is on your potential client, their needs, and how you can help them solve their problems, you also want to be able to back up your claims with some credibility.
If you are submitting a PDF document, then you can strategically incorporate testimonials from past clients throughout the proposal. If you will be sending an email proposal, you could use a signature file that showcases a testimonial from a high profile client. Or, you could insert small, graphic images of company logos you have worked with in the past.
Remember, although tempting, never fabricate fake testimonials from clients. These things are easy enough to investigate, so why risk being painted with the “Hey, I’m shady” brush?
For your pitch to be effective, it should include a call to action within the close. That means you give your reader something to do next. Perhaps you ask them to email you to discuss the project further if they find your proposal intriguing. Or, you can provide them with a phone number to call and speak with you personally.
You might also direct them to an online portfolio and ask them to view samples of past work, and then you. It’s all about getting them to take an action that will encourage further exploration into whether or not you are right for their company.
At the end of the day, a winning business proposal can be a powerful sales tool for your business. Even if, like Jessie, you’ve failed a time or two in the past trying to land a gig, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure. As the saying goes, “Fail fast and fail forward.” Figure out what you’re doing wrong, and make it right.
Following these guidelines, Jessie was able to put together a proposal that got the attention of her dream client, securing her a fantastic project and helping propel her business forward.
So, with your next business proposal, take some time to craft it well, respect that the person who will be reading it is a busy individual, and rest assured, you will stand head and shoulders above the rest.
More great ideas to grow your business
Check out this freelancer’s advice on how to write winning proposals.