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One of the most common ways to get more clients as an agency is to present compelling business proposals. Learning how to write a business proposal that impresses potential clients enough to seal the deal will make a big difference on your bottom line.
A good proposal should prove that you’ve done your research and have a plan to lead your clients into success. It should be detailed enough to answer all the questions your potential client may have, while also getting them excited to work with you.
This article will show you how to accomplish that in less time.
As an agency, a business proposal template is an essential tool you can use over and over. Of course, the actual content will be distinct for every proposal you send. But you’ll save time and avoid staring at a blank page if you always start with a format and standard set of talking points.
Once you’ve done the templating work, anyone on your sales team should be able to collect and spin the right content to close the deal.
Each step we just described is important, so let’s break down the details of how to write a winning business proposal.
What is a Business Proposal?
A business proposal is a persuasive document that states the arguments in favor of a client hiring your agency. It should paint a thorough picture of what you can provide and the goal of your proposed services.
Of course, depending on what your services are, the business proposal may be structured and voiced in a few different ways.
You may be sending a business in proposal in one of two scenarios:
- Solicited business proposal: this has been requested by a prospect.
- Unsolicited business proposal: this is sent cold to prospective clients.
Some industries, like hospitality companies or government agencies, have request for proposal (RFP) platforms. Agencies that provide relevant services may submit proposals on a digital platform, even without being sent an RFP. This is simply a way of throwing your hat in the ring with other contenders and bidding on a contract.
But any agency or freelancer will need a process for turning leads into clients, and this is what we are focusing on in this article. Business proposals are a key part of the sales process for any service provider, freelancer, consultant, or agency. If you sell services, as opposed to products with set pricing, writing persuasive business proposals will help you sell more.
There are two basic categories business proposals can fall into, which reflect how your agency operates and who your ideal customers are.
B2B business proposal
If your agency works with other businesses, you’ll write a proposal that showcases that. B2B proposals may be drafted in response to an RFP or as the next step after an initial conversation with a potential client.
Depending on your industry, there may actually be some guidelines about what these must include. If you do have to line up with a standard like that—such as in a cybersecurity business or healthcare setting—you already know which boxes to check and how to word things.
When speaking directly to another business, your focus will most often be on the bottom line benefits you can bring. Businesses are typically most concerned with improving profits, whether through adding revenue, reducing costs, or improving efficiency. A business proposal is your chance to outline the return on investment potential clients can expect.
Besides selling B2B clients on your services, it will be essential to address any logistics, such as which department you would work with and how you will communicate. It’s also helpful to identify important data that proves there is room for improvement.
B2B proposals often also benefit from some specific proof of your track record. Testimonials or recommendations from businesses like the one you are writing the proposal for may go a long way. More on that when we dive into content.
B2C business proposal
Other types of agencies will send business proposals directly to consumers or individual clients. This may be the case, for instance, if you do coaching, work with authors or entrepreneurs, or provide any one-on-one type of service. Many consulting agencies deal in B2C work.
If someone is a solopreneur or an individual who will directly pay you, that is considered a B2C relationship for your agency.
Whatever the nature of your offering, a solid B2C proposal needs to focus heavily on value. Often, individuals have fewer resources than organizations. They are hiring you to solve a problem or achieve a desired benefit, which your business proposal should define.
The B2C business proposal you write needs to clearly illustrate things like problem/solution and project deliverables. It’s also important to stipulate terms and be very clear about pricing. You can avoid unpaid invoices by clarifying the payment process up front, including due dates, payment method, and late fees.
What Does a Business Proposal Look Like?
The goal of any type of business proposal is to put your agency’s strengths on display. This is best done with a well-designed business proposal that looks as good as it sounds.
Keep in mind that a business proposal is a static document. It is not a slideshow or something you will (typically) be presenting to a client. They will receive it from you and go through it on their own, although the client onboarding process should include a call to review the proposal together.
Keep it simple, readable, and self-explanatory. Now is not the time to experiment with avant-garde brand messaging. Stick to the basics, using clear, concise language that effectively communicates your point.
Here are the elements a business proposal should include:
- Title page:
- Prepared for: official name/title/company name
- Prepared by: official name/title/company name
- Cover letter: Start with a short, personal introduction with the proposal writer’s direct contact information (email and phone).
- (Optional) Table of contents: If your proposal is on the longer side, and will be reviewed by multiple departments, add a TOC so readers can easily find relevant sections.
- Executive summary: Write a short summary of the client’s problem and the solution you will provide. Think of this as an elevator pitch to get people interested in reading the main body of the proposal.
- Body of the proposal:
- Agency information: Provide brief information about your company. This should include:
- Founding date
- Highlights of achievements
- Key team members
- Project details: This is where you will detail the scope of services, project plan, methodology, deliverables, and pricing.
- Agency information: Provide brief information about your company. This should include:
- Agreement and CTA: Wrap it up with any official terms and conditions, disclosures, or agreements need to be made before the proposal is concluded.
As a high-level overview, these are the basic content categories that should be included on your business plan. They should be no more than one page each. Less is more.
The main body of your proposal is where you will spend time demonstrating your understanding of the client and your ability to provide what they need. This section should show clients the value you will provide and anything that sets your services apart from the competition.
Here’s how to write a business proposal’s main section:
1. The problem or pain point
Start with a thorough explanation of the problem or pain point that necessitates your services.
Depending on the nature of your offer, it may be useful to include data and statistics to illustrate the size or prevalence of a problem.
You could include projections of how much this problem is costing your potential client in time, money, or stress. Providing these details will highlight your industry expertise and knowledge, and your understanding of the client’s situation.
2. Your plan
After thoroughly describing the issue, present your plan for solving it.
Start with a couple of sentences, or even use bullet points, to lay out how your agency is uniquely qualified and experienced enough to apply the right strategy.
Then, lay out a roadmap for how success will be achieved and measured.
3. Project scope and methodology
It’s important that you provide information on the scope of the project and the method you intend to use.
This part will include a timeline, as well as provide more insight into your internal systems and processes. You should also detail any external systems you will need access to.
For some, this means including a list of what the client is responsible for in the project, like providing information or implementing recommendations.
Of course, the point of a business proposal is to get a new client signed so you can get paid. Be clear and specific about your pricing.
Some proposals will be the result of a preliminary sales call, in which you’ve already negotiated rates or at least discussed a ballpark price. Many times, the price you quote in a business proposal will be what a client holds you to, even if the work changes a little.
At the very least, whatever price you put down here will set an expectation with the client. Many people skip straight to this page, so think very carefully about your quote.
If you are proposing a retainer pricing model, rather than a single price to complete a project, be sure to include the length of the contract, and renewal terms.
Business Proposal Format
Most business proposals include some or all of the elements listed above. Not every business proposal you write needs to be formatted the same way. However, having a format to use as a general guide will ensure that you don’t miss any key components.
Here is an example of how a business proposal should be formatted:
- Title Page: Graphic, minimal text, to/from format and title.
- Cover letter: A personal introduction and contact info, in letter form.
- Table of contents: Simple bullet points with page numbers if it’s more than 10 pages.
- Executive summary: A highlight reel of the proposal, in paragraph form.
- Agency profile: Who you are and qualifications, in paragraph form with bullets for listing key information.
- Business problem: What issue is at hand?
- Business solution: Explain how you will solve it in paragraph form.
- Timeline and scope of project: Use a bulleted list or break into sections with subheadings for all the relevant details.
- Pricing: Be as precise as possible, stating the price and payment terms.
- Terms and Conditions: Paragraphs with headings for each term and condition.
- Agreement: Include a prompt to call and discuss any questions, and a place for each party to sign and date if the proposal is agreed to.
It may be useful to have a graphic designer create a template that you or your sales team can plug content into. People are accustomed to sleek, well-designed documents, and it makes for a more professional impression. Even if your content is rich and valuable, it will only benefit from professional design.
When you ask a graphic designer to create a business proposal template for you, there are a few elements to check for:
- Standardized font and color use throughout.
- Variety of shapes (angular and circular).
- Easy to read, with plenty of white space.
- Nothing too dark.
- No extraneous or unnecessary design elements.
- No animations.
- Minimal photography or other elements that will increase the file size/make it difficult to view or download.
From a content perspective, there are some aspects to check for when you edit a business proposal:
- Standard use of capitalization cases. For instance, if you want to have all headers or page titles be in all caps, be sure that is standardized throughout. You may wish to use a title case for headers. Whatever you choose, edit for it.
- Proper punctuation. You may decide for or against the Oxford comma, for example, or decide to use the em-dash to be more concise. Also check that money, dates and measurements are punctuated correctly.
- Readability. Because it is an official document, some agency owners or operators are tempted to get too fancy with their words. You can be professional and highly intelligent while also writing something approachable and very readable.
At the end of the day, the content goal of writing a business proposal is to incite action. It isn’t necessary to go on and on for pages about your qualifications or plan for the project.
Simple, clear, concise language is difficult to write but an important task. Keep it simple. Provide synopses and summaries that leave the client wanting more. With practice, you’ll learn how to write a business proposal that’s easy to read, yet covers every detail.
When it comes to file format, make sure you choose something universally accessible, like PDF. Don’t assume your readers will have the same software or computer you are using.
It’s also smart to check your final format on various devices to make sure it looks good before sending it. Make sure the graphic design and content is optimized for mobile use as well as desktop computers.
Anyone should be able to open the document and read it on any device. Even if your business proposal is headed to a corporate entity, you can’t risk it distorting or not working on tablets or mobile phones.
Writing a Business Proposal
Now down to the actual work. Writing a business proposal doesn’t start with the words on the page. You’ll want to back up the process and do your due diligence.
Learning about the client and the nature of the work is essential to providing a coherent solution to their problem. Read on for more on each step you’ll take to achieve a quality business proposal.
Do Your Research
There are a few areas you’ll want to dive into as you research your business proposal:
- Research the industry: What’s going on in the client’s industry? What news has come out recently, what new innovations have come to market, what major shifts have occurred? What do you need to know to be a relative expert or apply your knowledge in this field? You don’t need a PhD in it, but you do need a layman’s understanding of what the industry is and does, plus any news that could impact how you word things.
- Research the company: The last thing you want to do is assemble a business proposal that is all about your agency. Your proposal needs to show your understanding of the client. Ultimately, the point of a business proposal is to highlight how you can make another company or client better. That means you need to spend a little time getting to know them. Maybe they’ve tried a strategy before and it hasn’t worked. Maybe they used to do things a certain way and now do them differently. All of that information will come in super handy when you’re drafting a document in which you propose to solve their problems.
- Collect relevant research and data about your agency: Lastly, make sure you have a centralized place where you store relevant research and data about your agency. This includes things like stats from previous clients, success metrics for your services, client testimonials, and reviews. If you have these handy already, you can skip this step. If not, this is a good reminder that collecting those things will save you time.
Create the Actual Plan
Once you have the research done, use it to create an actual plan. How do you intend to take real action to resolve a client or company’s problems? Keep in mind that a business plan shouldn’t include a lot of aspirational or inspirational content. What you outline in your plan should be 100% achievable, right away.
Don’t put things into your business plan that require you, for instance, to hire a new team member or add a new kind of software to your agency. From the moment you send it, everything you propose to do should be doable.
When creating a project plan for a business proposal, it’s best to keep each step:
- Short: Each step should be one sentence at most.
- Measurable: Use clear benchmarks and success metrics.
- Shareable: the client should be able to see when success is achieved.
While you may need to clarify or outline your capacity to complete the project, a business proposal should be brief. The client can always ask questions later.
Establish the Timeline
The plan should then be subject to a timeline. It’s best to consider the full sequence/scope and pick a deadline. From there, reverse-engineer a reasonable timeline for the entire project.
Of course, you may be bidding for something more long-term in nature. Some projects involve ongoing services with no clear end point. Either way, spell out in the business proposal what kind of time you are asking for and what you will accomplish in it.
While timelines almost always change, this is an underpromise and over deliver category. It’s best to be conservative and project completion in a conservative way. Deadlines, like pricing estimates, are well-remembered by the client. If they go whizzing by, that too will be remembered.
Write the Executive Summary
This may seem out of order (because you put it first), but this is really the point at which you should write the executive summary. Now you have the data, project plan and timeline. Those are three key components to crafting a high-level summary that touches on all of the important points.
Again: brevity is king. Most executive summaries are drafted in paragraph form but there’s no law that you can’t use bullet points. Touch on only the broadest topics and ideas. Don’t go into any detail. The executive summary should be able to stand alone, apart from the business proposal, but should also incentivize someone to keep reading.
Work Out Pricing
After the body of your business proposal, you’ll have a pricing sheet. This needs to be clear and concise. Depending on the nature of what you are proposing, of course, you may have numerous elements that are broken down in pricing. The goal is to keep it as clear and bottom line as possible.
Remember that people remember pricing. Write your price with this mindset: if the proposal was accepted today, I would be happy with getting paid that amount to do the work. If you aren’t settled on that, go back to the drawing board. Pricing may change, of course, but the number you set out in your proposal should be legitimate and something you can stick to.
Official Language and Call to Action
Terms and conditions and any agreement language may need to be reviewed by your legal team or ops director. Often this is boilerplate content that relates to things like intellectual property, terms of cancellation, etc. Make sure it’s on point and regularly reviewed, especially if you’re churning out numerous business proposals a quarter.
The last creative writing piece you’ll create is the call to action at the end of your business proposal. This is actually extremely important. After all, the point of this document is to get someone to hire your agency.
When you craft a call to action, it should be to the point and direct. This is the only sales pitch you have, and it’s on paper. You get one chance, and it’s text-based. Not ideal. But that’s how business proposals work. So, make it count.
The call to action is simply a sentence or two encouraging the reader to take the next step. For example, you might want them to call you and discuss the proposal, or pay a deposit to hold their spot. Come up with something compelling that works within your brand voice.
Next, let’s check out some resources so you can see what business proposals look like in black and white.
Business Proposal Examples
While you can’t just copy stuff from the internet, there are plenty of great illustrations and even templates you can buy to get your business proposal started. This is a good way to make sure you aren’t missing anything and to compare things like style, length, and format.
Basically, it helps to see what other people are doing. Isn’t that how we all learned to write resumes?
Here are some business proposal examples from other sites:
Bplans.com—very simple, text-based templates. Must sign up with email to get a free template.
Formswift.com—can view a watermarked, sample template for free.
Score.org—downloadable Word doc with a complete business template. No email address required.
Template.net—several preview options. Must create sign-in to download free templates.
Here are some software resources to find business proposal templates (paid):
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft Publisher
- Adobe Acrobat
A business proposal is an important way to get your message across. Your agency will benefit from having a templated business proposal that you know communicates succinctly and effectively.
Include all of the necessary elements we covered here, but add your own flair.
Check out our video course for more on the systems and processes that will help you make the transition from freelancer to thriving agency.