To keep your business growing, you need to always be adding to your client portfolio. In order to keep landing new clients, you have to be able to sell them on your business and what you can do for them. One way to do so is by preparing a business proposal. Business proposals not only allow you to include the details of the project, your proposed solution and prices, but also give you the leeway to sell the benefits of your solution and your company. The business proposal is your opportunity to shine and, hopefully, acquire a new client in the process.
A business proposal is a multipage document detailing how your business can solve a problem or fill a need for a customer. Business proposals can be unsolicited or solicited.
Business proposals should demonstrate your company’s understanding of the client’s problem or need, your expertise and experience in addressing this type of need, your proposed solution and recommendations, your unique selling points, how much you are charging, and what the terms and conditions will be if the client chooses your company for the project.
Business proposals can be printed on paper, in the form of a presentation using software such as PowerPoint (sent electronically or printed), or via proposal software that allows clients to accept the proposal electronically.
The ideal length for a proposal, on average, is six pages. This gives you enough space to adequately cover the essentials but is short enough to keep the client’s attention.
Business proposals are not appropriate and necessary for all types of businesses, but in some industries, they are a crucial way to get new clients. They are almost exclusively used in business-to-business (B2B) sales. The reasons for this are twofold. First, to justify a business proposal, the size of the project must be fairly significant, at least $1,000. Second, the project or challenge must have some level of complexity where it needs a custom solution, not something ready-made.
These are some industries that typically require business proposals:
Writing a business proposal involves a lot of initial legwork. Once you become aware that a potential client is looking for proposals in your business niche, you will want to develop a sound, clear and precise business proposal. To do so, there are many pre-planning activities you will want to conduct.
If you don’t know much about the potential client, you need to study. Go to the website and read everything. Get names of decision-makers, an idea of its business model, how long it’s been in business, its goals and its financial picture.
You may not get in to see the CEO, but you should make an appointment with the highest-level manager possible. During this meeting, you want the client to clarify goals and needs, so be a good listener and take notes! You also want to get clear budget parameters so you have a financial framework for your proposal. While the focus of this meeting must be on the client, try to tout yourself a bit. Talk about your successes with similar organizations/industries.
Once you understand the client’s goals and needs, you are prepared to brainstorm and develop the most effective and cost-effective ways to serve them. For example, if you are in the property management business and have become aware that a large apartment complex owner is looking for a new outside property management firm, you meet with that owner or their rep. You ask about their issues and problems and what made them unhappy with the previous management. These will be critical points in your solution proposal. [Related article: Your Guide to Creating a Small Business Marketing Plan]
Writing a business proposal can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. If you don’t know how to write a proposal, you need to be a quick learner. There are templates and samples online that you can study, or you can visit a fellow entrepreneur who has experience and ask for their help. Generally, though, your sections will be as follows.
To establish your credibility, include testimonials, examples of similar projects and client references, and awards and press your company has received.
If you are not a good writer, get someone who is. You never know who will be reading your proposal, so make sure there are no grammatical, punctuation or spelling errors. And above all, keep it simple. Write it in a conversational tone. No one wants to struggle through long and complex sentences with academic-level vocabulary. As an extra check, have someone else read it over to catch mistakes and points that need clarification before you send it to the client.
You may also want to get input from your marketing and sales team. They specialize in communicating with prospects and know their pain points and priorities. So they can help you emphasize the right things and get your message across in a way that will be effective.
In addition to the content of your proposal, the way it looks makes a difference. An attractive graphic on the cover page can catch the eye of the client, and high-quality images, charts and layout make your proposal easier to read and more compelling. A well-designed proposal also tells the client that your business is professional and that you took your interaction with them seriously. You can use a business proposal template or software, or you can engage the services of a graphic designer to make your proposal look its best.
A business proposal solicitation letter sets the stage for an unsolicited business proposal and is a formal and much more dignified cold call or cold email. You are trying to drum up business by introducing yourself to potential clients who may or may not have heard of you before. The letter should, of course, be business formal and impeccable in grammar and style. Here are some pointers:
Once you have written the business proposal, it is time to send it to the client. Even when the client is expecting to receive it, you should still include a cover letter as an introduction. If the client has issued an RFP or specifically asked you for a proposal, refer to this and express thanks for the opportunity. Let the client know that you have the ability, expertise, experience and creativity to successfully solve their problem. Throw in a few examples, such as how many years you’ve been in business, similar problems you have solved for other companies in the industry and how long clients tend to use your services.
Finally, tell them that the proposal is enclosed or attached, and encourage them to reach out to you if they have any questions.
Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and research in this article.