A business proposal is a formal document that is used by a business-to-business company, with the goal of persuading a prospective customer to purchase goods and services.
A construction supplier would submit a business proposal to bid on a project.
A business proposal can also be requested by a prospective client, either publicly or individually. It’s a document that businesses, both large and small, rely upon for bringing in new work. The core of a business proposal is sales and the document itself includes standard information, such as details about the project, what the business can deliver to a client, costs, and timelines, not unlike bid or business quotes.
However, a business proposal is more detailed because it focuses on a specific job or needs of the client. It is a business’s way to show the prospective client why their company is better for the job than their competitors.
Types of Business Proposals
When writing a business proposal, there are two main types: solicited and unsolicited. Solicited business proposals fall under one of two categories:
A solicited business proposal is used when a potential client comes to you with a problem and asks you for a business proposal outlining how you would solve their issue. This can be done verbally or via a Request for Proposal (RFP) document.
- Formally Solicited – When a potential client submits an official request for a proposal, generally through an RFP, it is classed as a formally solicited business proposal. Companies will make their RFP public, giving all of the details about themselves needed. You would then send them your business proposal for them to evaluate.
- Informally Solicited – This type of business proposal occurs when you have an informal conversation with a prospective client who has shown interest in your service or product. They will verbally ask you to submit a business proposal and are not planning on asking for proposals from your competitors. It will require you to do more research on the company.
An unsolicited business proposal means that the potential client has not requested a proposal from you, rather you have contacted them first in the hopes of gaining their business. This happens when you have found a potential client who you feel that can help with your services or products, much like sending out a marketing brochure. This type of proposal is also more generic because you have not researched the needs of the company.
Basic Contents of a Proposal (Format)
A business proposal requires specific formatting, whether you are using an unsolicited or solicited proposal. Three points need to be covered: the problem that the prospective client has, your company’s solution, and your pricing information.
Doing research on the client’s business is crucial. You need to understand what their needs are. With a request for a proposal by the client, pertinent information will be given. Go over any details you are uncertain of with the client.
These sections must be covered in your business proposal:
- A title
- A table of contents
- Your executive summary
- The stated problem
- Your proposed solution
- Your qualifications
- A timeline for the work to be done
- Your pricing
- Billing options
- Relevant legal details
- Your terms and conditions
- An acceptance section
The title page of the business proposal is your introduction to the client. Include the client’s name, your name, the name of your company, and the date of the proposal.
The title page sets the tone of the proposal, so keep it professional, appealing aesthetically, and not too extreme or unusual. Use a compelling title that will catch the client’s attention and interest.
Table of contents
The next section/page is the table of contents. It is a fundamental part of the template. It makes make the contents of the proposal easy to understand and access. It gives the prospective client an overview of exactly what your business proposal will cover. For electronically sent business proposals, you should make the table of contents clickable, moving to each area of the proposal using hyperlinks in your document.
You need to keep in mind that your business proposal is being read by high-level executives, most of which have busy schedules. Using a table of contents in your business proposal gives the client the ability to quickly see what is included in the proposal and move to the sections that are relevant to them.
The executive summary section is used to tell the client your reason for sending a business proposal. Include how your solution to their problem is the best choice. It is important to be very specific in this section. Outline the company’s services and products that are most relevant and beneficial to the client. Explain how their problem can be resolved. The executive summary needs to be concise to give the client a clear idea of what a business can offer them.
An executive summary should not only show a business’s confidence in solving a problem, but it should also highlight the following:
- The client’s problem and how it has an impact on their company
- Your solution and how it benefits and suits the needs of the prospective client
- A list of the key benefits that your solution will offer the client. This should also include any relevant research based on your solution and the results that you have achieved
- A proposed method regarding the solution and its relevance. It needs to show that there is flexibility with the timeline and be realistic in what can be achieved
- Unique reasons why your business is the best-suited choice and offers a service that your competitors can’t offer
Problems and solutions
In this section, you will be going over issues that are impacting the client and how your company can offer a solution.
The problem section goes into more detail about the issue that the client is facing in their business. It will show them that you have a clear understanding of their issues and needs. This is where doing proper research comes in. Consider how you are able to help solve the problem that the client has. Make sure the problem section outlines their issues as clearly as possible. This sets the tone for the next step, the solution.
There are two keys that make for a well-defined problem statement:
- It needs to show your prospective client that you have done your research rather than sending them a generic sales pitch.
- It needs to create an opportunity for you to outline an issue that the client may not even know they had.
The solutions section needs to clearly outline how the client’s issue can be resolved by the products and services of the business making the proposal. It needs to be specific and personalized to the client. Outline what your business can deliver to the client, what the method of delivering will be, and give a timeframe that lets the client know when to expect completion.
The solutions section is where a business proves to the client that their products or services can alleviate the areas of trouble that the client’s company is faced with.
The problem and solution statements can be on the same page, unless the solution is more comprehensive, in which case, give it its own section.
The qualification section is crucial to the success of a business proposal. It is used to show how and why a company has the expertise to solve the problem of the client. It also works to build trust between a company and the client. Give examples of the skills and experience that your company and staff have that are suited to solving the problem effectively. The client needs to know why your solution is the best fit for them. Use examples of how the company solved similar issues with other clients. The purpose is to prove your company’s credibility.
Terms and conditions
The terms and conditions section is used to give a company’s pricing table, timelines for completion of the proposed project, and a payment schedule. It is a summary of the agreement between a business and a prospective client once a proposal has been accepted. Have a legal team review this section before presenting the proposal. The summary needs to outline what you have promised to do for the client, what is expected of the client, and payment and timeframes from start to finish.
When creating the pricing section, don’t under or over-price the company’s service or product. It is beneficial to offer the client a few pricing options that will fit their budget. Outline fees, payment terms, payment schedules, and any legal aspects related to the agreed proposal.
The key is to give the client options. Include a price comparison table in your document that gives them a clear idea of what you can offer. The purpose is to give the client room to work with. Under or over-valuing your services or products can dissuade a client.
The timeline section provides more detailed information regarding when certain stages of the proposed project will be completed. Provide the client with detailed information using flow charts or a roadmap that gives specific deadlines for tasks to be completed.
Acceptance and signature
This is the final section of the business proposal, where you and the client come to an agreement on the business proposal. Once accepted, the proposal and business partnership become official. First, include your contact details. Underneath the contact details, leave space for signatures.
Agreement & call to action
You may also want to add a call to action or agreement section. The agreement action is where you need to be careful because, in some jurisdictions, your proposal can be considered a legal contract under some criteria. This could mean entering into a contract before you are read and is not ideal if the business proposal is only meant to give rough estimates of costs, or is meant to bring the prospective client into further negotiations. Make sure that you make note of this in the documentation and prompt them to contact you as a call to action to get the process moving forward.
The About Us section allows you to go into more detail about what makes your business unique in comparison to the competition. This is especially helpful if you are running a new or small business because it is more personal and gives the potential client a chance to become more familiar with you and your team. You can include pictures and brief bios of team members.
A business proposal would not be complete if it did not offer information about your company’s past success stories. Also referred to as social proof, this is where you can add testimonials from other clients, case studies, and industry awards.
Social proof is important and things like word of mouth recommendations and earned media are more trusted than a majority of other advertising forms. It helps to prove that you have the expertise needed for the job and that you are trusted by other clients.
Social proof isn’t as valuable if a proposal is coming from a client that you have worked with previously. This is because a business relationship has already been established. Social proof is important when it comes to a new business that is responding to Public Request for a Proposal. It shows a company’s ability to do the job that they have agreed upon.
Here are some examples of good testimonials from past clients:
“John Smith and his team from XYZ Analytics worked above and beyond to help us solve our problem with employee morale. Through their efforts and upbeat teamwork, we were able to increase productivity by 75%. They really helped save our company”
“If you are struggling with creating top-quality marketing campaigns, give David Johnson at Marketing Pros a call. Their out-of-the-box thinking helped us tap into resources we never knew we had. They delivered on their promises in a timely and efficient manner and I highly recommend them.”
When compiling testimonials, keep the industry and client in mind. Humorous and lively testimonials are great for building a connection with future clients, however, with more serious clients, humor may not be appropriate. Look at the tone that the client uses for their own clients and match the tone of your testimonials with theirs.
Business Proposal Examples
Business proposals will differ depending on the type of business you have and the customer’s needs that you wish to focus on. The important key here is to create the business proposal around the industry and the client.
Web design proposal
This web design proposal clearly highlights the needs of the client and shows that you have a solid understanding of their company. This can be seen with the “Your Website” section that focuses on what the client has said their needs are, as well as adding key features that can be added to make the website better. It was also written to be used as both a proposal and an executable contract. It gives a clear overview of the development process used with infographics and a short summary of how each step works, and a clear timeline.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
With this proposal, a clear outline is given of what steps will be needed to increase the client's search engine traffic and online visibility in search engines. A table is also given that outlines the stages of the proposed timeline, along with information for each stage with a due date.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
This is a simple proposal, however, it gives the client a well-rounded overview of the services and products that the company can offer to them. It explains how these can be utilized and customized in order to give the client a solution that is unique to their needs. It includes pictures and a brief bio of the team members involved, which works to get the client familiar with who they would be working with.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Marketing project proposal
This is a very short but concise 1-page proposal that summarises the project, the client's pain points for their business, and your solution to this problem. It also has a brief goal layout, pricing information, and your strategy for getting from point A to B. it's very easy to read and works well for busy clients who like brief and clear information.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Business consulting proposal
In this example, the proposal is used to pitch what you have to offer the client, shows a breakdown in pricing, and gives a nice introduction of the company, its achievements, and the team. You have a clear and simple breakdown of their pricing and the overall look is simple and sleek.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Social media marketing proposal
With this proposal, the company uses imagery that is linked to the social media world, has visuals that are engaging for the client, and copy that is structured and professional looking. It conveys the message of the company clearly and shows the thought put behind the organization of the overall proposal. It includes all of the key elements a business proposal should have.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Content marketing proposal
This proposal focuses on the digital world and is very engaging with its use of interactive sections. The owner of the company has used a short video to introduce themselves and talk about what the company can offer. It also offers the client different pricing options with a detailed outline of what each option includes, and ends with a call to action.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Tips for Writing Your Business Proposal
Now that you know how to create a business proposal, here are some tips from the professionals to help give your business proposal that extra edge.
Tip 1: Know your audience
This is one of the most important keys to writing a successful business proposal. Do your research about the potential client’s business so that you understand their pain points. For example, if a client’s problem is low motivation from employees, research what causes low motivation in the workplace. Understand the client’s goals for their business, their budget, and make sure you are pitching your proposal to the right audiences.
Tip 2: Go visual with data and images
Make your proposal engaging with the use of eye-catching visuals and quantitative data to drive home your business’s value to the client. Figures that are compelling and relevant show that you are an authority in the industry and adds credibility. For example, one business uses the phrase “Our success is proven by our customer’s happiness”, however, this doesn’t show the client why. A better phrase needs to include figures. “In the past 6 months, our company has improved marketing campaigns of over 500 businesses. These improvements have widened their client base and sales by 75%”. This example gives the client some tangible figures.
A business proposal shouldn’t solely be all text. Add visuals, such as graphs and charts, headshots of your team in your About Us section, blockquotes, and infographics. Make sure your visuals are relevant and communicate what you need to. It makes the overall proposal easy to scan.
Tip 3: Proofread
First impressions are the most important and your business proposal is an introduction to a potential client. It should portray the quality of your work. A business proposal that has a lot of errors and typos is not going to impress your potential clients. Proofread your proposal a few times and then have someone else proofread it as well.
Tip 4: Follow up
Another important key is to follow up with the client to see if they have questions. Send reminders at certain intervals to keep your proposal and your company fresh in your client’s mind. You are more likely to close on a deal if you follow up.
Tips 5: Use a call to action
Give your prospective clients direction with a good call-to-action that tells them what they need to do once they have read your business proposal. Keep it clear and concise,
“Let us get started raising your sales. Give us a call today!”
Tip 6: Offer add-on and up-sell opportunities.
Make sure to add additional details about what your company has to offer and what options are available to them. Most clients will not look at the upper tier of your business solutions unless you direct their attention to it.
Tip: 7 – Eliminate objections and frictions
Frictions and objections are areas that can cause a potential client to be uncertain about taking on your proposal. Take the time to consider what would cause a client to say no, and then show them why they should say yes instead.
Business Proposal Templates
Following are some free downloadable templates for you:
Frequently Asked Questions
A business proposal’s purpose is to convince your client to look at their business and potential problems, and your solutions the way you see them. You are persuading them to make a change for the better in their business by using your services and products.
While not set in stone, here are the key practices you should consider:
Try to keep it to one or two pages, unless the proposal calls for more details and information, for example, when a client submits a Request for Proposal.
Be sure the proposal goes to the correct individual in the company.
Keep deliverables and pricing in separate sections. Otherwise, the client can get too focused on costs.
Offer a range of pricing options. Remember to have a higher-priced option with your reasonable pricing because it makes that price seem like more of a bargain.
Don’t use business jargon. Use language that is simple.
Be sure to use relevant statistics and figures.
Add a call to action between your sections to help entice the client to move on to the next section of your proposal.
Include testimonials from clients and case studies.
Details about your company should be saved for the end of the proposal. You want to focus on the client’s problem at the start of the proposal.
The length of a business proposal will depend on what information you provide. A proposal should be long enough to show you understand the issues of the company and to clearly explain why your solution is best for them.