All About Business Proposals: Guidelines and Extensive Resources

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Sections of this topic

    All About Business Proposals: Guidelines and Extensive Resources

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

    Sections of This Topic Include

    Preparation

    What is a Business Proposal?
    Should I Just Use a Business Proposal Template?
    Guidelines About Style of Writing to Use

    First Learn About Prospect’s Organization

    You Can Learn a Lot Just From Their Documentation
    Meet With the Prospect Before Submitting Proposal?

    Write Your Business Proposal

    Draft Each Section of Your Proposal
    Review Your Drafted Proposal

    Submit Your Proposal

    Submit Your Proposal
    Follow Up to Your Proposal

    Samples and Templates

    Business Proposal Samples
    Business Proposal Templates

    Also consider
    Related Library Topics


    PREPARATION

    What is a Business Proposal?

    Definition of a Business Proposal

    A business proposal is a documented, formal offer to provide a product and/or
    service to a potential buyer (a prospect). The proposal can be in response to
    a formal Request
    for Proposal
    (RFP) which is a solicitation issued by the prospect that is
    seeking bids from providers. The business proposal documents the provider’s
    bid.

    It typically includes brief description of the prospect’s problem, why you
    can solve it better than anyone else, your general approach to solving it and
    the approximate cost to solve it. It also includes brief description of your
    organization and the people who will be working on the problem.

    To get more of an impression of what a business proposal is, it would help
    to look at some samples of business proposal samples.
    However, do not start selecting a preferred sample to use now until you have
    reviewed the guidelines in the rest of this Library topic.

    Business Proposals and Business Plans Are Not the Same

    In contrast to a business proposal, a business plan “is a formal written
    document containing business goals, the methods on how these goals can be attained,
    and the time frame within which these goals need to be achieved. It also describes
    the nature of the business, background information on the organization, the
    organization’s financial projections, and the strategies it intends to implement
    to achieve the stated targets. In its entirety, this document serves as a road
    map that provides direction to the business.” (Wikipedia).
    Also see
    All About Business Planning

    Other Names for Business Proposals

    There are various different terms used to refer to a business proposal, depending
    on any conventions used by those requesting and/or offering the proposal. For
    example, a business proposal is sometimes referred to as a “bid”,
    which, in this context, is an offer of a product or service for a price. When
    proposals are written by sales personnel, they often refer to them as sales
    proposals. Another phrase used for a business proposal is a contract proposal.
    If a proposal is in response to an RFP, then notice the terms used in the RFP.

    Should I Just Use a Business Proposal Template?

    The more your proposal is customized to the prospect’s needs, and to the culture
    and style of their organization, the more likely that your proposal will win
    a project with them. Standardized templates are not as likely to match the unique
    features of your prospect as would your own customized proposal.

    Also, if your prospect regularly issues RFP’s, then it is likely they have
    already seen many of the standardized templates, including the one that you
    had used for your own proposal. They might expect something more original and
    customized from you.

    However, if you still are committed to using a template, then you still will
    benefit a great deal from reading the rest of the guidelines in the Library’s
    topic. If you prefer to review some samples of business proposals now, then
    this article provides several, as well as critiques each.
    10 Best
    Proposal Examples [With Critical Critiques]

    Here is a link to numerous other samples, as well.
    Business Proposal Samples

    Guidelines About Style of Writing to Use

    General Guidelines

    Unless your prospect requires you to complete an online form when writing and
    submitting your proposal,, you can tailor your proposal as much as you would
    like. Consider these guidelines:

    • Your proposal will appear more credible if it is written on your organization’s
      stationery, including its logo and coloring.
    • Standard business writing often uses Times Roman font, 12-point sizing and
      1-inch margins. In addition, consider the guidelines in Business
      Writing Tips for Professionals
      .
    • Number all of the pages and mark them as “confidential”.
    • If you received an RFP, then write in the same style and format as the RFP.
      If you had met with the prospect before writing the proposal, then write in
      the style of the conversation that you had.
    • Avoid the use of jargon — words or acronyms specific to your industry,
      product or service. Otherwise, define them before you use them.
    • Avoid the use of humor. While it can invite a relaxed and casual atmosphere
      in communications, there are too many risks that it would be misunderstood
      or offensive.
    • In the case of an RFP, express your gratitude for the prospect’s providing
      the RFP to you.
    • Despite the importance of your proposal, you should still format it so that
      it can be skimmed. Use short paragraphs with titles. Do not repeat sentences
      or other information. Use graphics and tables to quickly depict numerical
      information.
    • If you submit your proposal online, be sure your prospect could read it
      on a small tablet or smart phone, that is, that your proposal can be shrunk
      to that size.
    • Unless you’re convinced that the prospect will not have many proposals to
      review, you should limit your proposal to the number of pages that the prospect
      could grasp in 5-6 minutes.
    • Write confidently, but avoid exaggerations. Too much of that will hurt your
      credibility.

    Polish Your Writing Skills?

    As far as your prospect is concerned, the quality of your writing shows the
    quality of your products and services. So, if you do not have complete confidence
    in your writing skills, then you would benefit from reviewing guidelines in
    the following topics. After you have drafted your proposal, you should have
    it reviewed
    by at least one person will strong skills in proof reading documents.
    Vocabulary
    | Spelling
    | Grammar
    | Writing
    for Readability
    | Reviewing
    Your Writing


    FIRST LEARN ABOUT PROSPECT’S ORGANIZATION

    You Can Learn a Lot Just From Their Documentation

    You can learn a great deal about your prospect’s organization, even without
    having met the prospect in person. That learning can help you to match your
    proposal and other communications to the culture and style of their organization.
    That, in turn, can make your proposal even more persuasive and credible to your
    prospect.

    For example, look at the prospect’s website, annual report, sales literature
    and the Request for Proposal. Some things to look for are:

    • Completeness – Have they produced the typical documents
      that you would expect for their particular stage in organizational development?
      If so, then they probably value completeness and accuracy.
    • Currency – How up-to-date is the documentation? If
      it’s up-to-date, then they probably value timeliness.
    • Scope – Does the documentation include the typical
      contents of that particular type of document? If so, then they probably have
      good knowledge of standard management documents — and so should you.
    • Depth – How in-depth is the content of the document?
      If it is in-depth, then they probably value thoroughness.
    • Alignment – For example, does the content between
      the documents seem consistent and complementary? If so, then they probably
      are fairly clear in their thinking and management.
    • Authorship – Who has developed the various documents?
      If it is appropriate authors, for example, the CEO is not doing the Board’s
      documents, then they probably value having clear roles.

    So what have you learned about:

    • How their culture values completeness, timeliness, understanding and accuracy,
      thoroughness, clear thinking and management?
    • How might you customize your proposal and other communications to match
      their culture and style?

    Meet With Your Prospect Before Submitting Proposal?

    If your prospect regularly issues RFPs, then it is not likely that they are
    willing to meet with the bidder’s to their RFPs. Instead, they opt to write
    very specific RFPs and rely on those to help them to reliably select the best
    providers.

    Otherwise, it can be extremely useful to first meet with your prospect. The
    sections below suggest what questions to ask in the meeting. In that meeting,
    don’t forget to use strong people skills including the following:
    Interviewing
    | Listening
    | Non-Verbal
    Communications
    | Questioning
    | Building
    Trust

    Learn More About the Prospect’s Problem

    In the meeting, useful questions to ask include:

    • Why do they want to address the situation now?
    • What did they see or hear that brought them to that conclusion?
    • What will happen if nothing is done?
    • What has been the effect of the problem on the rest of the organization?
    • What have they done so far about the situation?
    • What happened as a result of their efforts so far?
    • How did they conclude that they needed a consultant now?
    • Respectfully and tactfully ask, what might be their role in causing the
      problem?
    • What do they consider to be success
      now? What would the situation look and feel like after the problem has been
      solved?
    • What is the budget for doing the project?
    • What is the timing, especially any deadlines for completion?

    Learn More About the Prospect’s Organization

    For example, ask:

    • How do you like to make decisions and solve problems?
    • What is unique about the culture of your organization?
    • How can a consultant best work in that culture?
    • How do you prefer to communicate? In-person? In writing?
    • What is your approach to situations, for example, do you refer to “problems”
      or “opportunities”?
    • Do you talk most about the “business” side of the organization
      or the “people” side?
    • What do you know about change management? How would you like to learn?
    • What is the personality of your meetings?

    For more guidelines for this meeting with your prospect, see
    How
    to Do the First Meeting With Your Client


    WRITE YOUR BUSINESS PROPOSAL

    Draft Each Section of Your Proposal

    There is no standard format for a business proposal. If the prospect issued
    an RFP, then notice if it suggests a certain format that you are to follow.
    The following sections are typical across the different types of formats. When
    writing each section, don’t forget the above Guidelines About
    Style of Writing to Use.

    Cover Letter

    This should be a one-page letter with your company letterhead (logo and coloring).
    It is not part of the proposal itself, but accompanies it. Be sure that the
    cover letter:

    • Is addressed directly to the contact information that you were told to submit
      the proposal to. An RFP would specify that contact information.
    • Thanks them for the opportunity to submit a proposal.
    • Asserts your confidence that your organization can very effectively meet
      their needs in a timely manner.
    • Avoids duplicating information that is already in the proposal.
    • References the attached proposal by the exact title and date.
    • Includes your direct contact information.
    • Includes your original signature (not a copy).

    Be reluctant to set a deadline for them to get back to you because that raises
    the risk that it won’t match their timelines.

    Cover Page

    The phrases “cover page” and “title page” (below) are sometimes
    used interchangeably because their contents are so similar. Because of duplication
    with contents of the title page, it may not be necessary to include a cover
    page in your proposal unless an RFP specifies to include it.

    Some proposal writers prefer to have a cover sheet that encapsulates the proposal.
    It includes the title of the proposal and perhaps the organization’s logo and
    color scheme. If a cover sheet is included, then there also is a back cover
    at the end of the proposal, and it duplicates info from the cover sheet.
    Example
    of Cover Sheets

    Title Page

    As mentioned above, the phrases “cover page” and “title page”
    are sometimes used interchangeably because their contents are so similar. The
    title page typically includes:

    • Title of the proposal
    • Date of the completed proposal
    • Title of the author
    • Brief description of the purpose of the proposal (4-5 sentences)
    • Direct contact information of the key contact in the prospect’s organization
    • Direct contact information of the person in your organization who is knowledgeable
      about the proposal

    Examples of Cover Pages

    Table of Contents

    A table of contents is very useful if your proposal will be more than four
    pages long. Along with associating page numbers with topics, the listing of
    the topics themselves can be used to quickly convey the nature and organization
    of the content in the proposal.

    It is very handy if the titles can be active Web links, so the reader can conveniently
    click on a title and immediately be transferred to that section in the proposal.

    Executive Summary

    Because the Executive Summary is a summary of the highlights of the proposal,
    it is usually best to write the Summary after having written the other sections
    in the proposal. Highlights to be sure to include are clear, concise and persuasive
    descriptions of:

    • Your excitement and confidence in submitting your proposal
    • The prospect’s problem, including its adverse impacts on their organization
    • Your proposed solution, and how it particularly suits the nature and needs
      of your prospect’s organization
    • Listing of the key benefits of your solution in their organization, including
      reference to relevant research and results regarding your solution
    • Your proposed methodology toward the solution, and how it is relevant, realistic
      and flexible to their needs
    • Your unique value proposition — how your company is the
      prospect’s best choice among your competitors

    How to Write an
    Executive Summary for Your Proposal
    How
    to Write a Business Proposal Executive Summary
    How
    to Write an Executive Summary for Your Proposal

    Introduction

    Some RFPs specify an introduction that briefly describes your organization,
    including its mission, strategic priorities, history, successes and why it is
    an excellent choice for your prospect’s situation.

    This section might not be needed if you plan to include more information, for
    example, about your products and services and any personnel who will be involved
    in the work with the prospect. In that case, you might instead include a section
    later on, such as “Company Overview” (later on below).

    Statement of the Problem

    Here is where you show that you completely understand the current need that
    your prospect has, whether they refer to it as a “problem”, “priority”
    or “goal”.

    In this section, focus on what you can provide. The next section explains
    how you can provide it. Don’t forget to consider any learning that
    you got from previously reviewing the prospect’s documentation, as well as if
    you had met with the prospect in person, as explained above. In this section,
    include brief descriptions of at least the following:

    • The prospect’s need in terms of the problem or the significant goal to be
      addressed
    • What the adverse effects will likely be if the prospect’s problem is not
      solved
    • How your product or service will meet that need
    • What overall success will look like after the need was met
    • Individual outcomes, or benefits, to the organization that together will
      comprise that success

    In the case of an RFP, your descriptions should closely match — but without
    exactly copying — the wording that your prospect wrote in the RFP. Your tone
    should convey a sense of urgency to meet the need, and yet strong confidence
    in what you can provide.

    It can be very powerful to include a testimonial or two now from a previous
    client in whose organization you were successful in solving a problem similar
    to the prospect’s.
    How
    to Write a Problem Statement for Business
    How to Write
    a Problem Statement

    Methodology (Outcomes, Deliverables and Timelines)

    List Outcomes and Methodologies to Achieve Each

    Here is where you specify how you will achieve the what that
    you had specified in the above information about the problem. The “how”
    is best explained in terms of action plans that are associated with each outcome
    that you itemized in the above Statement of the Problem. For each outcome, specify:

    • Tangible deliverables, for example, documented assessment plans, status
      reports, presentations and post-assessment reports.
    • Who will produce and provide each deliverable.
    • To whom it will be provided and by when (timetables).

    The following article can be very useful when developing and associating action
    plans with individual outcomes or goals:
    Guidelines
    and Resources for Action Planning Phase of Consulting

    Organize Methods Into Various Project Phases?

    This information is most concisely and clearly depicted in the form of a table.
    For complex or long projects, it might be most understandable if you organize
    the outcomes and associated methodologies into various phases, for example:

    • Phase 1 – Diagnostic and Pre-Assessment
    • Phase 2 – Implementation
    • Phase 3 – Post-Assessment and Follow-Up

    Be Careful About Finalizing Methodologies

    It might be that, if your prospect hires you, then further exploration (or
    discovery) into the problem
    might reveal that what the prospect thought was the problem was actually just
    its symptoms.

    Thus, there might be a different problem and methodology required than what
    was originally described in your proposal. So be sure to specify that your proposed
    methodology is in accordance with the current problem reported by the prospect.

    Pricing and Payment Terms

    Use Detailed or Overall Pricing?

    There are different viewpoints about how to derive the pricing in business
    proposals. Some experts advise not including detailed pricing, for example,
    per-hour pricing. They suggest that your pricing should be based on the overall
    value of the outcomes that your products and services will achieve for the prospect.

    Others advise that detailed, for example, per-hour pricing, is the most understandable
    and, thus, the most credible way to present that information to prospects.

    If you have an RFP, be sure to reference how the prospect wants the pricing
    information to be described. These articles provide very useful guidelines to
    selecting which approach to use.
    Consulting Fees and
    Rates: How Much Should I Charge?
    How to Determine
    Consulting Fees
    Guide to
    Value-Based Pricing for Consultants: 10 Experts Share Their Fee Strategies

    Payment Terms

    In this section, specify your proposed payment schedule, including:

    • When you will invoice the client
    • Which prices are to be paid and when, including any initial and final payment
      amounts
    • How prices are to be paid, for example, in US dollars
    • Interest and penalties for late payments

    Mention any additional payment options, for example, early payments or lump-sum
    payments. Mention that your proposed schedule can be adjusted to suit any standard
    payment terms used by your prospect.

    Terms and Conditions

    The decision now is to decide what should be included here in the business
    proposal compared to what should be specified later on in a contract if your
    prospect selects your proposal. Be sure to reference an RFP if available to
    discern what should be included in your proposal. It might require that you
    specify terms regarding:

    • Proposed roles and responsibilities of the prospect’s and your organizations
    • Terms of confidentiality
    • Ownership of intellectual property
    • Licensing and bonding

    Different experts would assert that certain information should always be included
    in a business proposal and others would assert that the contract is the most
    appropriate place to specify terms other than payment terms.
    Core Elements to
    Include in a Consulting Contract
    How
    to Do Consulting Proposals and Contracts
    Protect
    Your Business with Proposal Terms & Conditions

    Company Overview

    Here is where you impress the prospect with the appropriateness and credibility
    of your company’s expertise and resources. Include:

    • Mission of your organization
    • Legal structure
    • Key personnel and resumes
    • Professional code of ethics
    • Key awards, presentations and publications
    • Testimonials relevant to the prospect’s problem
    • Case studies that more fully depict similar projects, including their problem,
      methods and solutions

    Signature Pages

    Here is where you include the original signature of those who composed the
    proposal. Be sure to sign in blue ink, which more readily indicates that the
    signatures were not merely copies of original signatures.

    Similar to the Terms and Conditions section, if your proposal is including
    terms and conditions that typically would be in a contract, then specify the:

    • Positions
    • Dates
    • Agreement that is assumed by the signature, for example “By signing
      this document, you agree to the terms and conditions specified herein”

    Appendices

    In this section, include information and materials that further explain the
    information in the body of the proposal, for example:

    • Resumes
    • Graphics and charts
    • Testimonials

    In order to accommodate the likely tight schedules of prospects who will be
    reviewing numerous proposals, title the Appendices as “Supplemental Information
    and Materials” to indicate that it is optional for the prospect to read.

    Review Your Drafted Proposal

    Have someone else review your proposal, ideally someone who is somewhat familiar
    with your product or service. Have them follow this checklist:

    • If you are following an RFP, does your proposal exactly match the requirements
      specified in the RFP?
    • Are there any spelling and grammatical mistakes? Avoid common
      mistakes in vocabulary and grammar
      , for example, use of “affect”
      for “effect”.
    • Check apostrophes and quotation marks to be sure they are used correctly.
    • Do your numbers total correctly, for example, in your pricing?
    • Do the deliverables seem reasonable? Are the timelines reasonable with each
      deliverable?
    • Read the document aloud to someone, and ask them to interrupt where the
      document does not make sense or seems repetitive.
    • Focus especially on condensing the wording. Avoid
      These Filler Words in Your Writing
      .

    SUBMIT YOUR BUSINESS PROPOSAL

    Submit Your Proposal

    Electronic Submission

    If your prospect prefers that you submit your proposal electronically, then
    attempt to include a read receipt, that is, verification that the proposal was
    indeed received by the prospect. Also, print out any response from the electronic
    system that indicates that your proposal was received.

    If you are concerned about the electronic submission changing any of your formatting
    or preferred writing style, then you might also email your proposal. However,
    if the prospect is likely to receive many proposals, then they are very likely
    to screen out any proposals that do not closely match the requirements specified
    in the RFP.

    Make Changes to Your Submitted Proposal?

    If you prefer to make any changes to a proposal that was already submitted,
    then be sure to change the date of the proposal, especially on the title page.
    Be sure to notice if an RFP specifies any deadlines for changes to submitted
    proposals.

    Similarly, if your prospect suggests changes to the proposal, then be sure
    to change the date of the proposal. If you expect several changes, then it might
    be useful to include a Revision Page in the proposal that specifies the dates
    and nature of each change.

    Follow Up to Your Proposal

    Contact Prospect About Your Submitted Proposal?

    If an RFP specifies dates in which the proposals would be reviewed and a candidate
    selected, then be reluctant to contact the prospect beforehand. If you do, then
    do it only once, so as to not irritate those processing the proposals, especially
    if the prospect is likely to be reviewing numerous proposals.

    Preparation for Interviews by Your Prospect

    If your prospect selects you for a follow-up interview, then you should carefully
    prepare. Guidelines to consider for the interview include:

    • Study the RFP one more time to be sure you understand the prospect’s problem.
    • Review your proposal one more time to be sure you can concisely answer any
      questions they might pose about its contents.
    • If you had not met with the client before, then during the interview, consider
      posing the questions listed above in the section Meet With
      the Prospect?
      It can be very impressive to the prospect that you had thought
      of such useful questions.

    These articles in the Library will also be useful:
    How to
    Interview for a Job

    P
    is for Poise and Persuasion

    Tips
    On Presenting A Proposal


    SAMPLES AND TEMPLATES

    Business Proposal Samples

    PandaDoc
    Sample
    Business Proposal
    Venngage
    Business
    Proposal Sample
    Free
    Business Proposal Samples

    Business Proposal Templates

    Proposal Templates
    Free Business
    Template
    Business Proposal Form
    Free
    Business Proposal Template
    Free Proposal Templates


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