What is a Business Proposal?
A business proposal is a sales document that highlights how your products or services can meet a potential client’s needs. It’s essentially a sales pitch that outlines a well-tailored and personalised solution for the clients’ pain points using your products or services. Typically, this document is used by B2B companies, which might include small business owners or freelancers offering their services to other businesses. The business proposal bridges the gap between you and potential clients, allowing you to make more sales, and secure more contracts or jobs. A specific business proposal might be a marketing strategy, photography package, website development project or business growth plan.
Benefits of a Business Proposal
Isn’t it enough to direct clients to current information, such as your website or marketing materials? Depending on the type of proposal, as outlined later, this might be sufficient for clients that are interested in your services. However, a business proposal provides a space for you to persuade potential clients and aid their decision making process. This can lead to more sales or contracts. You can also send business proposals to clients who might not be aware of your offering, and expand your reach. If this business proposal leads to a client, you have streamlined the selling process and already have the project scope prepared early on. This can lead to better planning, project management and ensure there’s formal documentation of the agreement in detail.
Types of Business Proposals
Solicited business proposals are created for clients who have expressed an interest in your product or service. These types of proposals fall into two categories:
Formally solicited business proposals are sent in response to a RFP (request for proposal). This is an official request for a business proposal that details requirements, scope of work and provides a significant amount of information. These tend to follow a standardised, formal process and are likely to be competitive. Businesses might send out a RFP to a number of businesses, inviting them to solve a problem and then select the best fit based on the business proposal.
Informally solicited business proposals often follow casual conversations with a potential client. The proposal allows the client to evaluate how your product or service might fit their needs. There’s fewer formal requirements and likely, less competition but there’s also less information. These proposals will require more research into the client and their pain points.
Unsolicited business proposals are sent out based on a potential market opportunity, such as a client who is unaware of your services and products. There has been no formal or informal request made here. Instead, this takes a more generic approach, similar to a marketing brochure or cold email. However, using market research, you can personalise the proposal by identifying the client’s potential pain points and outlining a more tailored solution. This can lead to more sales, jobs or contracts beyond your current market reach.
Tools and Templates for Business Proposals
Research and planning is essential to creating an effective and engaging business proposal. Informally solicited and unsolicited proposals will require more background research than a formally solicited proposal. By taking the time to research and plan, you’re more likely to create a compelling business proposal that speaks to your client. This process can be streamlined using digital tools and templates that can help you to create well-tailored, thoroughly researched and professionally designed business proposals.
Genei, an AI-powered research and note-taking tool, can help you to research and plan your business proposal. You can read webpages and PDF files 70% faster with genei’s AI generated summaries, document outlines, and keyword lists. In genei’s notepad, summaries can be added and organised using headings and personal notes. You can expand the notepad to begin planning and writing your business proposal using your research notes. If you’re struggling with writer's block, genei’s summarising and paraphrasing features can give you a headstart.
After researching, planning and writing, it’s time for design. There’s a range of resources out there with free professional looking templates that you can customise to your liking, such as PandaDoc, Canva, Proposify, JotForm, Better Proposals and Venngage. Now, let’s look at the basic structure of a business proposal.
How to Structure a Business Proposal
The First Pages
The covering page that will set the tone for the business proposal and set you apart from the competition. This includes the proposal title, date of submission or creation, client’s name, your name, your company’s name, contact information and logo. Emphasis your brand assets to make a lasting impression.
This is a short, sweet and friendly introduction to your company, and what the proposal entails. You can recap the reason for your proposal, introduce who created it and include some company background, maybe your mission statement or unique selling proposition. It’s good to leave your contact information and encourage questions here.
Table of Contents
A business proposal might not be read in chronological order or in its entirety by everyone. A table of contents will give a clear outline of what the client can find, and make it easy for other key team members to find what they need.
Executive Summary (Your “Why”)
This section presents a concise summary of the entire document, and leaves the client with a high-level overview of their problem, your solution, and a call to action (CTA). You can outline why you’re sending this problem and why your solution is the best fit for the client. It’s important to be specific here, and pinpoint the benefits of your product or services for the client’s direct needs. This should give a clear idea how you can help the client even if they don’t read the entire proposal.
This section is an opportunity to summarise the client’s pain points and highlight that you have a clear, and thorough understanding of their needs. Research is important here, especially for informally or unsolicited proposals.
After the problem statement, this is a crucial section of the business proposal. You can outline the products, services or methods that will be used to implement your problem solving strategy. This should be specific and personalised to their current needs. You can break this down into sections, which will depend on industry or content you include. Highlight deliverables, methods, timeframes, project timelines, resources and any other relevant details. Think about questions the client might have and try to address them.
For pricing, be specific and clear. You can use a table to outline the costs of each product or service, this might be estimated costs or fixed rates but give a clear breakdown. It’s ideal to give the client options using a price comparison, or by offering discounts for long term commitments, and suggesting add ons and upgrades. This leaves some room for flexibility.
The Closing Pages
You’ve shared the proposed solution but why should the client pick you? Show them what qualifies you as the best for the job. Use data to highlight achievements instead of vague statements. What notable results have your clients seen? Share company awards, and testimonials of client success.
People buy from people, and we all love some good storytelling. Connect with the client by sharing the story behind your business, and the uniqueness of your business as a whole. This allows you to be more generic. Whereas before, this was tailored to the clients problem, here they’re just getting to know you, your unique mission and values. This is a good place to share team profiles too.
Agreement and Call to Action
The final sections can include terms and conditions, an agreement to sign or simply a CTA. For some business proposals, the legal agreement is clearly outlined and left ready for the client to sign. This would include full terms and conditions that outline project timelines, payment schedules and expectations for both parties. Alternatively, if this is a more casual proposal, you can encourage the client to book a call with you, or leave a relevant next action.