It might seem like a strange question to ask.
“Of course I know what a business proposal is, why else would I be on a Proposal Software website?”
In reality, though, proposals or the effective use of them is still something that is largely misunderstood.
You’ve probably sent or created many proposals in the past, whether for your business or in your personal life. Some proposals are simple while others can completely alter your life, or the way you do business.
What do all proposals have in common though?
A good proposal takes the reader on a ride, and frames the path YOU want them to take, and makes them stand up and shout, “YES! This person gets me!”
Take a minute and think about your proposals from the past and ask yourself:
Do my proposals read like a….
- Business document
- Contractual agreement
- Boring, Boilerplate Company overview
Yes, your proposals might be performing many of the above functions but those things tend to be utterly boring to read. A good proposal should be sexy, engaging and like nothing your prospective client has ever read before, especially from your competition.
The problem with your business proposals
The biggest problem with most proposals is they are not created with the proper goal in mind: to speak directly to the client in order to close more business.
A proper business proposal is an effective marketing tool, plain and simple.
Your marketing strategy should be at the core of your business. One of the best marketing communications strategies is to speak to your prospects as if they are the only client you have. Everyone wants to feel special, even in the most mundane of industries.
Don’t simply assume that just because you’ve gotten someone to the point where they request a business proposal that you can start slacking off and hope enough trust has been built to keep them interested.
Your proposals should require just as much thought and effort as the overall marketing strategy your company employs.
When it’s time to send off your business proposal, the absolute worst thing you can do is to send off a cookie cutter example of what your company does, and then cross your fingers and hope for the best. An equally bad tactic is to send off your business proposal and be unwilling to waver from what has been written inside it.
If you can take away one concept or idea from this article, let it be this:
Your business proposal is a living, breathing entity that needs to evolve with your prospective client and their needs.
This is very closely related to the fact that your proposal needs to be about them, NOT about you. Leave your ego at the door and make it all about them.
This can be a difficult concept for many businesses to grasp, especially if they have spent years crafting the perfect mission statement, identifying best business operations for use in-house and making their services attractive to customers.
While all of those things are certainly important to the way your company operates, your clients aren’t interested in your inner workings. The only thing your clients care about is what you can do for them.
Your business proposals need to address the problems they are having and what you can do to solve them.
Don’t be so quick to assume though that your clients even know what their problems are. One great way to blow away your prospective client is to make suggestions to pain points they might be having, but might not have even realized yet. You might be right about some or wrong about others, but either way, this is the fast track to getting to the bottom of the real problems your client is having.
Another bad assumption is that the problems your clients come to you with are actually the ones you need to be spending the most time focusing on. The problems they think they are having could actually be minor compared to the ones you can help them uncover, and eventually solve.
Even the smartest business people can get too close to their projects/businesses and, as a result, fail to see the bigger picture. Once it is time to create a business proposal for your prospective client, give their perceived problems ample thought, but also ask:
- What are their real pain points?
- What problems are they really having?
- Are the problems they say they are having really the biggest problem in the grand scheme of things?
- What can I do to help them alleviate all of these problems?
- Do my solutions to their problems convey myself as a professional that truly understands their business?
- If I were in the prospective client’s shoes, would I be able to see undeniable value in the proposal?
While asking these questions, it is perfectly fine to have a rough draft of a proposal ready, but remember — the proposal is living and breathing.
Use a template or software tool, we personally love Quote Roller go figure, but make sure every proposal is aimed at the person you are sending it to.
Creating your business proposal
The proposal creation process needs to be created with the following two things in mind:
- Never stop selling
- Never appear to be selling
While these might appear to be two completely conflicting ideas, they are concepts that good copywriters will understand perfectly, let me explain further:
Never stop selling – Remember that your business proposal is a marketing tool, and what is the main point of marketing at its simplest level?
You should be thinking of your proposal as one large, expertly written, ultra targeted sales letter. When laid out logically, a proposal will have all of the same elements laid out in the same order as a well-crafted sales letter.
There is the strong opening, qualification, followed by identifying your client’s problems and pain points, and how you can solve them, finishing with a call to action with the desired action for your client to take.
Once this is completely understood, someone that has never written a proposal can write a Grade A proposal.
Never appear to be selling – Here is where things can be a little trickier, unlike a sales letter, where the readers are often entirely cold leads, in most instances anyone reading your business proposal can already be considered a warm lead. Their request for a proposal already conveys an active interest in your services.
Instead of selling to them, prove your own value to them and turn them into a buyer who feels like it was their idea to buy before you even give them the opportunity to. If you have been following the advice in this post thus far, your client will be feeling so confident of everything you can do to help their business, they will be asking where they can transfer the payment to, without feeling like they have been sold anything at all.
The key elements of a winning business proposal
We have covered the concepts of what makes a stellar proposal, but what do you actually put in there? While there is no perfect format for all proposals (remember they are living, breathing things and we have yet to find any living, breathing thing that was completely perfect), making sure your proposals include some key elements will help you knock it out of the park.
Make your opening strong – This is copywriting 101, but is just as important to creating a strong proposal.
DO NOT make your opening an introduction to or overview of your company. Anyone reading a proposal from you should already be more than familiar with your company and will be bored beginning to read your proposal by hearing more information that they already know about. Again, this proposal is about them, not you so make sure you spend time addressing their business and not stroking your own ego by talking about yours.
DO ask yourself when creating your opening, “will people read the whole thing on the strength of the opening alone?” If the answer is “no”, then go back and keep working on it until you have people intrigued from the very first sentence they will read. Openers that defy popular convention or ask the reader a question directly that they don’t know the answer to are both examples of strong openers that build interest from the moment they are read.
Good formatting is essential but over-formatting will work against you – Just like in a sales letter or any form of actionable copy, it is a must that your business proposal is easy to read and has a good flow to it. This ensures your readers absorb your information at the correct pace and in the order you meant for it to be consumed.
The templates available from Quote Roller will help guide readers through your proposals in a way that is easy to digest.
While we can help with the template, the content will be up to you and it also needs to come across in a way that is easy to read. Big blocks of text are your biggest enemy and most people will just skim through the big blocks, missing your most important points.
Paragraphs, especially short ones, are your friend and help to segment your ideas and make them reader friendly. Subheadings are essential to helping you move from topic to topic and things like bold and italic fonts draw the reader’s eye to the important parts you want to focus on.
Remember, if your client wanted to read a big block of monotonous text, they would pick up their favorite novel.
Clear pricing leaves less room for confusion – Along with making your pricing clear, don’t be afraid to talk about price in the first place, your customers know your services are not free!
In making your pricing clear, it should all be completely evident within one minute as to how much your different services cost. You may have a few different packages so it needs to be displayed in a manner that is easy to digest.
Your services might also have several variables that affect price but will only be applicable to a small percentage of potential clients. Instead of making them read about all the exceptions to your pricing, include a short addendum explaining that anything outside of the services listed will need to be discussed directly. This has an added benefit of appearing to have less additional costs and leaves less room for them to criticize or analyze your prices for things that may not pertain to them anyways. A good proposal tool like Quote Roller will include optional pricing options for you to use.
Be personable and have social proof – At a basic human level, people buy from people they know, like, and trust. You can be a HUGE business with many people working for your client, but the transaction is generally completed person-to-person.
This is best accomplished by creating a proposal coming from one person in the company and not just from the company as a whole. That isn’t to say that receiving a proposal from a company isn’t professional — it can definitely convey the fact that you are a large operation with successes under your belt. Having a name and/or face of a real person they can associate with the proposal though will definitely help to build trust.
Keep in mind that the proposal doesn’t actually have to be written by said person if they are not a great copywriter, but they should be familiar with the proposal that has been written as them, so as to keep everything congruent.
In addition to just being personable, having social proof is one of the biggest factors to building trust these days. Include links to your business’s social media profiles and if possible, a portfolio of previous works and successes.
Testimonials are also a great way to build trust, allowing your prospects to hear the opinions of others who have used your services in the past and been satisfied with their decision. If at all possible, try to include testimonials for work that is similar to that of the client you are sending the proposal to, so they see you have done excellent work on similar projects in the past.
Keep it brief – It would be hypocritical to write a long paragraph here, so keep things as short as you can. Explain everything in as much detail but in as few words as possible. Doing so will make everything much easier to digest and much less overwhelming to prospective clients.
An expertly crafted proposal doesn’t have to come from scratch
And despite what some people might tell you, we don’t recommend that it does either. We have perfected the art of sending proposals and are here to help you do the same.
With our easy to use proposal creation service, we handle all the technical bits so you can focus on crafting the perfect angle that your clients can’t say “no” to.
Don’t take our word for it though, sign up for our free trial and discover how the right business proposal helps you to win more clients and build your business faster.