How to write a kick-ass business proposal

Yachna Singh

Yachna Singh

With over eight years of experience in the Digital Marketing industry, Yachna has worked as a Copywriter, Strategist, Project Manager and Head of Digital over the years. She has worked with various brands in the financial, travel, automotive, retail and telecommunications industries in South Africa and Canada.

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Writing a business proposal for the first time can feel as awkward as answering, “tell me about yourself?”. But creating a compelling business proposal doesn’t have to be complicated.

Here’s what you need to know about creating a killer business proposal that will impress your partners, investors, and customers. 

What is a business proposal? 

A business proposal (sometimes called a business plan) is a businesses’ document to a potential client. It contains information about the seller’s purpose, its products or services, a business plan, and pricing. 

Why is a business plan so important?

You may feel that a small business doesn’t require a business plan, but EVERY business does. The important document serves two purposes: 

  1. The potential client gets to learn more about your company and offer from just one document, potentially securing a project from that client. 
  2. You and your potential client are on the same page at all times. There are no hidden surprises and no potential threats. 

A business proposal allows you to see any hidden weaknesses or threats within your business or industry. You’ll analyze and act on these weaknesses before submitting the proposal to your potential client. 

What do modern-day clients want to see in a business proposal?

Gone are the days of showing clients a paragraph about your company and getting them to sign on the dotted line. 

Obviously, clients want to see results and they want to see how you’ll get there. Every proposal is different and tailored to the client. This doesn’t just mean you throw things at them and hope it sticks. Clients want detail. Most industries are saturated, and there are plenty of options out there, so the easiest way for you to be different is to show clients your purpose and plan while building your credibility with them. Providing realistic goals and giving an outlined plan on how to get there is different from giving your secrets away.

Creating an impressive business proposal outline: Our step-by-step guide 

Here are the steps you should take to create a kick-ass business proposal outline: 

  1. Start with a bold title page
  2. Layout a simple yet effective table of contents
  3. Create an informative executive summary
  4. Explain their specific problem or need
  5. Suggest some solutions 
  6. Share your pricing options
  7. Add eye-catching visuals 
  8. Include a space for signatures 

Step 1: Start with a bold title page

Your title page is the first thing that your potential client will see — and first impressions matter.  Grab their attention by using a strong visual, while introducing yourself and your business. You can also date the submission and include your contact details. Remember to include the name of your client you’re submitting the proposal to. 

Here’s an example of a photography proposal cover page that is simple yet effective: 

Image courtesy of Visme

Step 2: Layout a simple yet effective table of contents

This page should serve as a premise of what your client can expect in this document and a navigation page or quick-reference tool. Include each section of your proposal with topics and sub-topics. Each topic should have a corresponding page number. Try to include not more than six subjects to keep it simple but easy enough to find a specific area of interest. Stay away from an encyclopedia-styled table of contents. Instead, stick to something clean here. 

Step 3: Create an informative executive summary

This is your time to shine. Most clients are most interested in an executive summary. Why? 

  1. It explains who you are. 
  2. It is a summary of this document. Time is precious to clients, and they want to hear your need, solution, and ask immediately. 

Use this opportunity to include who you are and, more importantly, why you are sending this proposal to them. Include why you feel your solution could be valuable to them. Keep this to just two or three paragraphs; you don’t want to bore your reader, but still need enough information to keep them intrigued. Once the client has read your executive summary, they should have a good understanding of how you are willing to help them. 

Step 4: Explain their specific problem or need

Your reader needs to be sure you have researched and analyzed their situation well before offering a solution. This is why things like preliminary business development meetings,  client research, and market industry research are so important. You should ask yourself these questions before explaining the need: 

  1. What is the problem or need you are trying to solve? 
  2. Who has this problem?
  3. How (if at all) are they currently managing the issue?
  4. How can you help them with your current products or services? 
An adorable black cat wearing a tie and a protective face mask posing on a blue backdrop.

Step 5: Suggest some solutions and goals

Now that you have identified the need, it is time for you to propose a practical strategy that will help your potential client. Feel free to suggest more than one solution or phase solutions (e.g., Phase 1 should be actioned from months 1 – 3, Phase 2 should be actioned from months 3 – 6, and Phase 3 is six months onwards). A timeline will certainly help them get on board. Explain your methodology and add timelines to your solutions. Let them know what you can provide, and if you need another supplier to assist with a specific step in the project. Most importantly, remember that you can share solutions and plans in such a way that your insider knowledge doesn’t get “leaked” while still leaving just enough of it out to incentivize your business.

Step 6: Share your pricing options

Now that you’ve reeled them in with your kick-ass plan, it’s time to put a price on it. Share your pricing options for each solution here. This can be a slightly more delicate topic as some of your competitors may propose a cheaper hourly rate or overall price. No good will come of selling yourself short, only increasingly thinning margins. If you find that you are charging more, you’ve got to explain what they’ll get from that extra money. That said, research what the general rates are out there, and feel free to keep some elements flexible to your client if you can. For example, phasing a solution can help with their budgeting. You can also offer different paying options, like fifty percent at the start of the project and fifty percent on the project’s conclusion.

Step 7: Add eye-catching visuals 

The more traditional business proposals are often black and white, with only text. With modern-day graphics, we can now use stunning visuals that relate to your business offering to add some spruce to your proposal. This is a perfect chance to take some of your research,  insights, or proposals and display them visually. This not only will make your concepts easier to understand, but it’s also much more engaging, too. Culina created a visually-stimulating plan with imagery, graphs and icons throughout the document. 

Step 8: Work with the client to create a contract

With the rise of virtual work in 2020, many clients use digital signatures. You want to include a space for this in your document so that if they are happy with your proposal and pricing, they can simply sign and email back to you. Be sure to include any terms and conditions that the reader should be aware of before signing.  

Some great business proposal examples

That’s a wrap! 

Now that you know how to create the ultimate business proposal, here are some impressive business proposal templates that you can use for inspiration before starting yours. 

Web design business proposal template

Interior design business proposal template

Financial services business proposal template

Best of luck! Remember that a business proposal is all about your unique value proposition and showing that to potential clients. Enjoy creating it and be proud of the work you have to offer!

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