Every proposal has a specific purpose, but their end goal is one and the same — to get approved. A proposal effectively sells your service, your company, and yourself, all of which requires a balance between clear facts and smooth, well-written persuasion.
At its worst, a proposal is unconvincing and falls flat. The details can be muddled and the delivery sub-par. At its best, however, a proposal captivates your potential client and has them nodding in resounding agreement even before they reach the last page.
This is the kind of proposal you want to write. In this article, you’ll find the general guidelines for creating a proposal that’s both succinct and gets your point across, plus a proposal template to get you started.
What Exactly Is a Business Proposal?
A business proposal is an important document, but it’s very different from a business plan.
While both do have similar sections — an executive summary, notable milestones, pricing estimates — a business plan is more of a formal statement about the organization’s overall goals.
A business proposal, on the other hand, is from an individual or company to a prospective client. Often referred to as a project proposal or services proposal, it presents particular goods and services rather than a business idea itself. It hopes to secure a client’s business rather than investment or funding.
Bplans.com describes a proposal as “a document you’d send to a prospective client, outlining the service you’re offering, and explaining why you’re the best person for the job.”
It’s essentially your pitch, and therefore one of the most important documents you’ll write to grow a successful business.
How to Create a Proposal Template
Writing a proposal template is just like writing anything else — it helps to begin with the end in mind. Who will be reading your proposal? What outcome are you hoping to achieve?
By identifying your audience, you’ll understand how to appeal to them. You’ll have a better idea of what they care about and what will resonate with them.
If proposing to a new client, you’ll likely have to do a little more legwork. Take some time to gather more information — visit their store location, talk to some of their customers, scope out their competition, and identify any pain points.
Get familiar with the client’s current situation. This will not only help you tailor-fit the proposal with your own keen observations, but also give the client a better impression that you know what you’re writing about.
The 3 Parts of a Proposal
The formula for any successful proposal outlines can be boiled down to 3 P’s — the problem statement, a proposed solution, and pricing.
These also make for a perfect starting point should you ever need some help writing proposals. Just follow these three basic points and you’ll end up with a rough draft of your business proposal template.
Despite its name, this section can cover either a problem to solve or an opportunity to seize. Is there a common complaint among customers? An untapped area for high potential growth? Take this time to highlight any area where a change must be made.
Start by describing the client’s present situation in your own words, so they know you have a good understanding of their point of view. Then focus on the client and their needs (rather than you and your services), identifying the problem or opportunity in simple, easy-to-read language.
This is the most pivotal part of the proposal — how you plan to solve the client’s problems. Describe how you can help their business better than anyone else thanks to your game-changing solution.
Be as detailed and specific as possible, outlining a recommended course of action for each problem you identified, and the concrete steps you’ll take to ensure everything follows through.
Explain why you think these are the absolute best steps for the client to take, as well as all the advantages they’ll have by agreeing to your proposal. Get them excited about the project’s possibilities.
At the end of this section, the client should have a clear idea as to what exactly you’re proposing, and have no doubts about just how beneficial it will be for their company.
The final, and often the deciding, factor as to whether the proposal will be approved or not is price.
A project’s price can be determined per hour or per task — this is entirely up to you. For short project spans of 1-2 months, a simple fee summary should be enough. Longer projects, spanning 3 months and more, however, usually include an itemized fee schedule, which divides the total payment into increments according to project milestones.
How to Format a Proposal Template
Once you’ve nailed down your 3 P’s, it’s easier to flesh out the finer details and start drafting the official project proposal template. Here are all the sections that are typically included in a full-fledged proposal.
It’s always good to begin any relationship by introducing yourself. Start with the basics — your name, your company’s name, and your contact details, and other key information, like the client’s name and the date you submitted the proposal. Include a title that best describes the subject of the proposal.
A cover letter is optional, but is a nice added touch to a relatively formal document. Similar to a resume cover letter, it doesn’t go into specifics, but is a good way to tell the client more about yourself in a more conversational manner. Encourage the client to reach out to you if they have any questions, and sign off with a “thank you” and your personal signature.
Table of Contents
A table of contents lets the client know exactly what they’ll find in the proposal, condensed in a clean and convenient format. It should come early in the proposal, before you launch into any details. If you’re sending a proposal as a soft copy, consider creating a clickable table of contents. This enables clients to easily navigate to different sections without having to scroll through the entire document.
This section sets the stage for your proposal template. What’s your reason behind writing the proposal? Why should the client continue reading? Whereas the cover letter introduces you and your company as an entity, the executive summary outlines what you can offer the client and how you will benefit their business.
Executive summaries are direct, factual, and best kept under one page. It should give the client an idea of all the ways you can help them, even before they read the rest of the proposal.
Statement of the Problem or Need
Pointing out another company’s problems can be a bit tricky — you don’t want to start off calling attention to all of the client’s weak spots, but you also want to show them ways you can help them improve. Sometimes, the client’s “problem” may even just be finding the right person for the job.
In any case, it’s always best to show, rather than tell. Describe some scenarios where a specific problem or issue has been impacting the client. This is also the perfect way to reveal how informed and understanding you are of their particular position and needs.
This is finally the time to present your suggested solution. For every problem previously stated, offer a detailed strategy for how you plan to solve it. Include the methods you’ll use, the action steps you’ll take, and the deliverables you’ll provide at the end of the project.
If yours is a service-based solution, include any necessary timelines and schedules. Be as realistic as possible and maybe even include a buffer in case more time is needed — when it comes to business, it’s usually better to deliver earlier rather than later.
Whereas the cover letter starts the proposal with a friendly hello, the qualifications section punctuates it with a bold exclamation. Go on, don’t be shy — this is the place to show off what makes you or your company stand out from the rest of the proposals.
List any relevant education and experience, certifications, awards, or success stories. Impress your potential client with everything you’ve done and show them all the ways you’ll also be a huge benefit to their project.
Now, we get to the bottom line of your business proposal template — the pricing. This is always a bit tricky as you don’t want to underestimate or overestimate yourself, particularly if you’re a small business. While some choose to stick with market rates, others calculate their price based on time, experience, or other perceived value.
You can opt to provide a menu of your services, with prices broken down per goods or service, along with a total fee for the complete package. This gives the client options and shows them the value of each service.
Terms and Conditions
This reiterates all the important details of the project — timelines, payment schedules, and any ways the proposal can be amended. It’s essentially a summary of what you and your client are each agreeing to by signing onto the proposal.
You may want to run these terms and conditions by a lawyer or legal counsel before sending the proposal a client. Fortunately, this section is pretty standard and can be used as a general template for all proposals.
A small but important section of your proposal, this is basically a set of signature boxes for your client to date and sign. If you’re sending your proposal electronically, you can also include a friendly prompt where the client can contact you personally if they have any questions.
Make things as easy as possible and hopefully, you’ll be embarking on a new project together with your client soon.
Types of Proposals
You’ve likely come across a range of proposals, from creative design proposals to business consulting proposals. Although there are many different types, you’ll likely need to write only one or two, depending on your line of work. The following are a few of the most common variations, each with its own distinct features.
Design Proposal Templates
When it comes to proposals in a more creative field — like graphic design, website design, or interior design proposals — it’s good to showcase a bit of your personality. A graphic design proposal template can feature an attractive layout. A web design proposal can include the tools and platforms you specialize in.
Incorporate your brand elements throughout the proposal, and stand out amongst the majority of monotonous paperwork that crosses the client’s desk.
These proposals can also carry a more personable tone as compared to say, a project management proposal. For example, in place of your cover letter, you can share a little bit about yourself and your studio, the clients you’ve worked with, and how you can apply design services to grow your client’s business. Share a portfolio of work with details about your thought process and the overall vision you had for each project.
In addition to a custom project price quote, you can also include a few set design packages the client can select from (i.e., brand identity and logo, complete web design, social media management).
Sales, Social Media, and Marketing Proposal Templates
For a sales or marketing proposal, the solution is typically one that results in increased revenue. For a sales or marketing professional, however, you should aim for a proposal that goes beyond such a simple solution. Prove your true sales capabilities by capturing the client’s attention within the first few pages. It makes sense — if your proposal can’t convince the client, how can the client expect you to convince their customers?
The best way to keep your client’s attention is by getting straight to the point. Refrain from adding superfluous details, and don’t shower them with a long list of your accolades and achievements. Of course, you can include a short, powerful list of your work, as well as a link to your website, where they can read more if they’d like.
Be sure to focus on the client. Deliver a solid understanding of their situation and an even more impressive solution to their needs. This will go much farther in convincing them of your professional skills than any long roster of qualifications.
As for the timeline, sales and marketing tends to be more complex as compared to other more concrete projects, such as a graphic or web design. Marketing plans usually take at least a few months to manifest results and even then, these results can be quite difficult to measure.
This is the nature of the job — there are a multitude of factors that add up to the success of a campaign. Just make sure it’s also something explicitly noted in your proposal, and that all parties are on the same page at the start of the project.
Job or Consulting Proposal Template
These proposals are more specific, as they’re mostly from an individual to a company. A job or consulting proposal concerns a specific position that the individual wishes to take on within the company, and explains how their particular skills and experience can best fulfill that job.
Frequently, these are written only after the individual and client have already discussed the job in detail. But whereas a consulting proposal is usually for a defined term (usually a few months to a year), a job proposal entails a more permanent position.
These more particular proposals can reference your past education and work experience, as well as your work style and values.
Consulting proposals should also outline the exact job duties you’ll be responsible for, as well as the ones that are not included in your proposal. A smart consultant wants to avoid any “scope creep,” which is the gradual addition of work without proper control or corresponding compensation.
Solicited vs. Unsolicited Proposals
Business or project proposals can be either solicited or unsolicited. A solicited proposal is one initiated by the prospective client, usually through a request for proposal (RFP) that details specifically what they’re looking for.
An unsolicited proposal is initiated by the individual or company who writes it, offering a product or service they think will benefit the prospective client.
Both are quite common. But a solicited proposal generally has a higher success rate as the client is already in need of something, and the writer already knows exactly what that is.
Still, an unsolicited proposal does benefit from its element of surprise. By offering goods or services that a potential client wasn’t expecting, you may be able to open their eyes to something they didn’t know they needed.
Free Proposal Templates
Writing a proposal requires a lot of research, time, and effort. Thankfully, there are a lot of great resources for a free proposal template out there, our favorites being PandaDoc, Proposify, and Smartsheet. These offer a rich selection of proposal template ideas, ranging from software development proposals to SEO proposals.
Send a Proposal With Confidence
With these online tools and the aforementioned best practices, plus an easy-to-use proposal template, you’ll be able to put together a winning proposal template that best presents yourself, speaks to your potential client, and grows both your businesses successfully. Now get to crafting your proposal and good luck!