Updated: May 4, 2020
The Business Proposal Masterclass: unpacked.
There’s nothing holding you back from delivering a kick-ass proposal next time you want to win a client. There’s a really simple process to creating a great business-winning document. Many of my new clients don’t have the time, resources or experience to assemble a stellar proposal, but it’s one of the first things I explore with them as I begin to help them win new business. How you respond to a new business lead is crucial. Delivering an en pointe proposal can cement the deal, and once your template is made, you can - with a few tweaks - use it again and again.
What’s the point of a refined proposal?
The primary purpose of your proposal document is to help your client realise that:
You have completely understood their challenge.You have a considered and structured approach in tackling their project. You have a very relevant skillset and lots of experience - ideal for the work that they need doing.
A well-received proposal will have made your future client’s decision-making process much easier, and will put you in a strong position to win the work. Your document must be simple to read, have a natural flow to the order of information and crucially, must be easy for your client to present to their C-suite, stakeholders or internal team.
Remember: you are helping your client do their job. You are making it effortless for them to sell you in as the right partner for this project - which in turn makes them look great among their peers for having found you.
Follow the simple rules in this guide and the chances are that your proposal will be greatly valued by your prospective client, as it will be head and shoulders above the rest.
Keep it short
We are all time poor - so essays and repetition and endless self-praise are a total no-no: bullet points and absolutely zero waffle for the win. Never make the same point twice, and never write lengthy paragraphs about anything. No one has the time to crunch through 1000s of words. Your proposal should be pithy in the extreme.
Keep it visual
The appearance of your proposal is crucial. It should be aspirational. Your document must be visually strong and look well designed in order to convince your client that you are a professional outfit. By simply looking at it, your prospective client should be thinking: ‘this proposal looks like quality, and if I hire them, they will work with me to a similar high standard”.
You don’t always need a graphic designer - but do use Google slides, Powerpoint or Keynote to ensure your PDF document works as a slide presentation. Find a source of quality images - either from your company image library or online resources - and choose high resolution images that are relevant to your text. There’s also no need to feature your company logo on every page. It’s overkill.
Word to image ratio
Typically have an image on half of every page, and text in the other half - this gives your proposal a strong visual cue. Think about background colours. Black text on white is tried and tested for maximum ease of reading. But subtle variations also work: Dark grey text on white. Black text on light colours. Headlines may have a font that syncs with your branding or your clients. Avoid any colour combination which makes your document hard to read in any way.
Choose easy to read fonts and be consistent where you use them - ideally they’ll be your brand fonts used for all communications. Never change fonts from page to page. Always adjust the line spacing to at least 1.5.
It may take time to generate your first proposal, but then you’ll have a template and process will be one hundred times easier for your next one.
Your proposal: page by page.
The 3 opening pages.
Down to the nitty gritty. What you say on these first 3 slides can make all the difference. You want to make 3 clear statements:
Thanks for thinking of us, this project is right up our street
What you are really saying here is: ‘You’ve come to the right people for this job’. Follow this heading statement with 4 or 5 points that confirm why you are best positioned to tackle this project. Who you have worked with before, how long you have been working in this field, how much you enjoy working on this kind of project and finish with a point along the lines of: “With our attention to detail, and emphasis on collaboration, we feel we’ll be a great fit for this project”.
How we’ve understood you challenge:
On the next page, start with the heading statement above. Then bullet point 5 key ways in which you have understood exactly what your client needs to do - for example: “You want to build a new online store that is effortless for your customers to use”.
Your desired outcomes…
On this page, after this heading in bold, list 4 or 5 things that your client hopes to achieve by working with you - staying on the themes above, you might write: “A significant increase in online sales”. Be sure to distinguish between challenges and outcomes. Outcomes should never be problems - they should be the gains that your client will achieve after working with you on this project.
On this page or indeed pages, explain simply and clearly - using the bullet point format again - how you would go about solving the challenge faced by your client. If necessary, break it down into stages, but always try to keep it brief. If your approach is more than 4 pages - it is way too long. If the project is lengthy, a page that shows a timeline of events can be a very helpful way to indicate to your client that you’re across the sense of scale and timings of the work.
Precisely costing up the work may not always be possible at this stage - you may need a further meeting with your client so that you can lock more variables down. But all prospective clients will appreciate ballpark prices for the services you offer, and you can indicate them as such. Put the costs on one page, and be sure to have read up on pricing theory and the established science behind pricing psychology. Present your price options in a neat table that itemises the deliverables you outlined in your “Our approach” section.
Your ‘next steps’ page should explain how you intend to kick things off with the process: front end development ; a design sprint commencing on a specific date. It’s down to you and how you work. If you are proposing an immediate start, you may wish to include a few pages about the team assigned to work on this project - again, a strong image of each team member, with a short biog that champions their relevant skills and past work successes.
Alternatively, use this page to invite your client to an opportunity workshop - a free 2 hour consultation so that you can get to understand their challenge comprehensively, and establish the quick wins and pain points that may be experienced along the way, before you finally cost it up and issue a Statement of Work.
Almost there - this is the end of your proposal. Please don’t say ‘thank you’ at the end - it’s a pet hate of mine. Who are you thanking and for what? You don’t owe your client anything… yet. If they want your business, they’ll let you now. A ‘thank you’ makes no difference at this stage and derails the natural sense of confidence that you should have about your services and products.
Do say something like: “If you’ve any questions at all about the contents of this proposal, please reach out”. Include a real name: firstname.lastname@example.org and a location address and telephone number.
Some relevant case studies:
After your contact page include 2-3 relevant case studies. This is an appendix to your proposal that helps your client qualify the standard of work that you have done previously. Typically each case study can be 3 pages: Page 1: client name and what the problem was; Page 2: how you solved it; Page 3: a testimonial quote from your happy client that sings your praises.
And you’re off. Convert the document to PDF, make sure the PDF is compressed to email size using a site like ilovedpdf.com and send to your client. Give them a week before following up.