Write Your Way to a Win: Business Proposal 101

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

We're going to teach you how to propose. No, not that kind of proposal; we're going to show you how to write an excellent business proposal.

It’s a tough world these days, especially for entrepreneurs who have stiff competition in their business niches. Keeping current clients and adding to your client portfolio is the only way you both stay afloat and grow, and no matter how good your products and/or services may be, there are always competitors who want your current business and will go after the same potential clients you do.

Many calls for business proposals are pretty impersonal – governments and public agencies may advertise for bids on projects, products, or other services, give a bid deadline date, and publish the details of their needs. They do this because, by law, they are required to.

For example, a public school district looking to build a new school will publish a “call for bids” for the project. Local and regional contract management firms will then put their proverbial “hats” in the ring and present their proposals. The local school board will receive the bids and make a decision on the contract award, and they are accountable to the public for this decision.

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Not so in the private sector. A company is free to make contract decisions as it wishes, having only minimal accountability to their Boards for poor performance and/or cost overrides. Still, business owners seeking new clients and customers must perform well if they intend to keep those clients.

Before You Put Pencil to Paper

Writing business proposals involves a lot of initial legwork. Once you become aware that a potential client is looking for proposals in your business niche, you know you will want to develop a sound, clear, and precise business proposal, and there are many pre-panning activities you will want to conduct.

  • Do Your Research: If you don’t know much about the potential client, you need to study up! Go to the website and read everything! You will get names of decision-makers, get an idea of its business model, how long it been in business, its goals, and it financial picture – all good information to have!
  • Arrange a Meeting with Management: You may not get into see the CEO, but you should make an appointment with as high level a manager as possible. During this meeting you want the client to clarify goals and needs, so be a good listener and take notes! You really want to get clear budget parameters too, 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.
  • Develop Your Solutions: Once understand the goals and needs, you are prepared to brainstorm and to develop the most effective and cost-effective ways to serve the client’s needs. For example, if you are in the property management business, and you have become aware that a large apartment complex owner is looking for a new outside property management firm, you meet with that owner or his rep. You ask about his issues and problems and what made him unhappy with the previous management. These will be critical points in your solution proposal.

Writing the Proposal

Writing a business proposal is a lengthy and time-consuming process, so plan enough time to do it right! And if you don’t know how to write a business proposal, you need to be a quick learner. There are templates and samples online that you can study; visit a fellow entrepreneur who has experience and ask for his/her help. Generally, though, your sections will be as follows:

  1. Describe the client’s current situation: In the case of the apartment owner, repair and maintenance have not been acceptable; perhaps screenings of tenants has not be thorough enough; perhaps the management company has not been responsive to tenant issues. These make up the current situation.
  2. State your goals, objectives, and methodologies for meeting the needs of the client and remedying the current situation. Perhaps more resident maintenance staff are required; perhaps the office is under staffed; perhaps there are not clear and consistent policies and practices to respond to repair calls and to conduct those tenant screenings – systems and accountability need to be put into place!
  3. Time and cost: Here is where you get to the heart of the matter. How long, and along what timeline, will you implement the changes, install the equipment, etc. And, critically important, the costs must be carefully and clearly broken down, so that each facet of your solution methodology has a specific cost. In this way, if the client has to cut back on something, he can make informed decisions.
  4. Your conclusion: Do not be afraid to praise yourself. What are the benefits of choosing your company? Point out your successes with similar projects and provide references.
  5. Binding: Make certain that your proposal is bound in a professional manner and submit several copies so that decision-makers can all have their own.

A Word About the Prose

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. No one wants to struggle through long and complex sentences with academic-level vocabulary.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Make Your Business Look Bigger

How to Write a Business Proposal Letter

A business proposal letter is really a formal and much more dignified “cold call.” You are trying to drum up business by introducing yourself to potential clients who may or may not have heard of you before. The format of the letter should, of course, be business formal and should be impeccable in grammar and style. Here are some pointers:

  1. Find out who the decision-maker is before you write the letter. It should be addressed to that individual.           
  2. Your opening paragraph should catch their attention quickly.  Using saving money will do the trick, so tell them that you can save them money and/or make their operations more cost-efficient.
  3. The next paragraph should provide more detail about your product or service and describe how it saves money or is more efficient.
  4. The third paragraph should speak to your qualifications. How long have you been doing this? Name past and current clients who have experienced cost savings and greater efficiency with your help. Be certain that you have the approval of these clients to use their names, for they may be contacted.
  5. Closing paragraph should be short and give some call to action. Either ask them to call you or tell them you will call in a few days for an appointment.

Happy proposal writing!               

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