Keep It Short: Write A Proposal Someone Will Actually Read

My boyfriend works for a Spanish construction company. One day, they were given a presentation on contract law in France. At the beginning of the training, everyone was given a small 15-page booklet, filled with French policies. The Spaniards were confused because the Spanish one is 200 pages. The French responded, “Yeah, but we actually want to make sure folks read ours.”

Let this be a lesson to you — if your business proposal goes on for days, your clients eyes are going to glass over and they are going to click on something else. When both drafting a business proposal and talking with your client, imagine your clients are as busy as you are — and they probably are. Strive to make the copy of your sales proposals the cleanest, clearest and comeliest, and you are guaranteed to improve your winning rate.



What’s the first rule of writing? KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. And, let me tell you, it’s the hardest. When you’ve interviewed someone, they get you excited about their small business or project and you just want to tell their whole story. But you can’t — trust me, I’ve tried. My editor is always getting on me to “tighten it up,” asking me to go down from 1,200 to about 750 painfully short words. Nowadays, the average reader of anything has an increasingly shorter attention span. Wizards and vamps aside, ever wonder why there aren’t any modern-day Tolstoys or Victor Hugos? Because in the last 150 years, folks have lost their desire to spend days reading beautifully written, drawn out prose, when there’s just so much else they could be doing. (Yes, shame on us, but that’s just how it is.)

Cut. Cut. Cut.

It’s the same with your business proposal. Before emailing it to your client, read your proposal out loud. Besides being the best way to check for mistakes, if you get bored reading it aloud, imagine what your client thinks. As you read your proposal aloud — hopefully to your teammate who is working on writing the proposal with you — ask what really seems necessary and what doesn’t. Cut the latter. Cut. Cut. Cut. Be ruthless without deleting the core of your message and, most importantly, the services you have to offer.

One Page

Besides any legal terms you may include — those can really be as long as they need to be — try to keep each section of your proposal down to a page. Instead of full sentences, try to use bullets followed by short phrases whenever possible. While clients may try to read every last bit — and, really, we have all been taught we should read everything before signing it — your clients are almost certainly spending time one just one section…

Pricing Matters

If you are going to spend your time on one part of your business proposal, let it be on the part your clients are spending more than half their time on: your pricing table. Plus, since it’s really the most important part to you, why shouldn’t you spend the most time on it? Don’t be obtuse — state your prices and services really clearly. Each service you provide uses a certain amount of your time and resources, so make sure you make it very clear what each thing costs. You can even offer a couple different packages that make your client think he or she has a bargain, without cheapening your value.

Picture time!

Another journalism cliche is “A picture’s worth a thousand words.” If you’re in graphic, interior or any kind of design or photography, save your breathe and include a few examples or your designs or links to your portfolio right into your business proposal. If you have a YouTube video that explains your company in two to five minutes, embed it. Business proposal software let’s you appeal to the ADD generation by jazzing it up with shiny baubles, pictures and videos.

Offer proof

Folks judging business proposals also like numbers. Anything in the ballpark of, “our last client saw and increase of (insert-your-awesome-results-here)” or “We represent (blank) client from the F-500 or Inc-200.” And instead of spending so much copy space selling yourself, use the quotes of a client to do it for you.

As with all things, don’t just say what you’ve accomplished, show what you’ve accomplished, then state your business and put your best face forward, but with a succinct, straight-forward message that places your proposal as the one the other companies are comparing to. Increase that winning rate!

What part of your business proposals do you spend the most time on?


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