Business proposal: structure and winning tips.
A proposal is the final step before the beginning of a project and it is almost a contract. But there are guide lines to follow if you do not want to waste your effort with a client. A poor proposal, bad done, not exhaustive can easily transform a good client in lost time.
In this article, there are described the golden rules for a winning proposal and the mistakes to avoid.
No boilerplate: be specific with the results you can get.
Emotional plus rational: using rational impact explains your professionality and clients need also a positive feeling on your proposal.
Do not underestimate the proposal: time and quality are constraints to write a clear proposal.
All around the client: use your time to talk and fully understand your client. A proposal should show how well you have understood your client.
Structure of the proposal
There is a specific structure a proposal should have to answer all the possible questions a client can have. The normal questions are Who, How, Where, When, Why. There are also special sections to give more results to your work.
The nine key elements of a business proposal are: Executive Summary, Background, Goals, Results, Methodology, Team, Time line, Fee and Warranty, Qualifications.
This is the most important part of writing a proposal. Everybody reads it and it has the main points of the proposal. It is not the place for technical details, but about your results, innovativeness and benefits for your customer. It is the key paragraph, therefore it should be clear, concise (one, two pages), jargon- free, client oriented.
This is the section to describe the client context. It contains the client situation in the past and the present opening prospectives and possibilities for the future (where the future is generally who is writing the proposal!). It can be quite short and without how and when. It answer to the question Where: where are operating, in which context.
This part underlines the goals you can give to your customer. It should be rational highlighting what it possible to achieve. It should be exactly what customer wants and that could be a problem. Sometimes clients change their mind without notifying that to who writes the proposal and that can lead to a disaster (or simply losing the client). For this reason, it is always better to talk with the client on a regular basis. This part answers the question What: what to do.
This section vary according to the field of the proposal. It should be quantifiable, specific and concrete in terms of client benefits. A winning example is: “The project will arise your sales by 15% due the new flow of your website in the next six months”. It is measurable and customer oriented. And it is not easy to predict! In this section, references to similar projects are welcome. This section answers the question Why: why a client should do that.
That is your way to work. Generally customers do not have time or resources to make what you are promising to do: that is why they put interest in your way to do your job. There should be possible to see the capacity to problem solving, experience, client knowledge. It describes how to put together tools, people and processes to achieve the goals with clear responsibilities. It also contains the interactions with the client. This answers to the question How: how you work and achieve your goals.
Introduce the real persons who will work on this project. Customers wishes to know who will do the job and they want to have a positive feeling on that. This answer to the question Who: who is doing the job.
Time has always an important role in projects and customers want to know how long it will take to achieve their goals. It is also possible to define milestones when customers can see part of the project or the results. Take attention to all the possible reasons that can delay the project, from political and cultural, to holidays and customer time. It answer to the question When: when it is possible to realize everything.
Fee and warranty
This is another part everybody is interesting in: the price. It must be clear how much the client pays. It can also made of several steps, with range of prices, so the client can see the mandatory and optional parts of the project. Another element that make clients happy is the warranty: it basically says that if you are not able to achieve your goal or you are not on time, you will reduce your fee of X%. It can also be a statement to finish earlier the project if it is not going as client expects. Those warranties are based on the results, the timelines or the process. It is not important because client will use it for sure (statistics show that is the other way around), but because it states your ability and confidence in what you promise and it makes the client in a safe situation considering the volatility of the actual market.
Now you have to sell yourself! Write everything interesting for that client about you and your skills and your methodology. Concrete case studies, testimonials and previous customers should be here. In this part it should be possible to understand why you are unique.
It is a long process to write a comprehensive and effective proposal. Generally it is better to write everything and then wait for one day, before reading the whole proposal. Three readings are suggested. The first reading checks syntax and grammatical errors. Although there are many automatic ways to do that, they are not always perfect. The second reading focuses more on the logic of the proposal. Each chapter should be logically connected with the others. The main section of the proposal are like a story that should interest your readers. The third reading should be more focused on the objective of the proposal: if you are the customers, would you like to give your money to who wrote the proposal?
A proposal is an important step during the communication between you and clients. You should show to have understood your client giving him/her a positive feeling about you. There should also be a strong rational attitude that shows goals, methodology and results. The nine sections of the proposal answer the normal questions a story does: so tell your story, your way to see the project and how you imagine the success of your client!
Levingson J.C. and McLaughlin M. W. (2005) Guerilla Marketing for Consultants, Wiley.