Being passionate about your job is only half of what you need to run a successful career, freelancing or otherwise. The other half, of course, is being able to get others to be passionate about what you can do for them.
A well-written business proposal can be a key part of achieving that and landing a job. It’s your one, and usually only, chance to connect with the client and make the case for your awesome skills and incredible delivery.
How to write a great business proposal
Unfortunately writing business proposals is something a lot of freelancers and small business owners feel intimidated by. Which is silly; if you’ve managed to master your profession, whether that might be, from web design to plumbing, it is quite easy to figure out how to start and put together a business proposal, as it’s mostly a “paint by numbers” affair.
As for how to do and present a great business proposal to a company or a customer, well, that’s all about having some experience in the area. Or, if you’d rather take a shortcut, you can get close just by applying our simple, battle-tested ideas, tips, and techniques. Beginning with…
1. The customer is always right
Well, maybe not always. When it comes to writing a commercial proposal, though, it all starts with what the customer wants.
Your first priority before you even attempt to write anything should be to understand the client’s needs, priorities, and constraints — and the best way to achieve that is by getting them to talk about the project. And not just the “big boss” — try to talk to all the people from the client’s side that will be involved with the project, either as end-users, stakeholders, or enablers.
This way you will manage to gain an introduction to the topics and components of a highly professional and targeted business proposal for your customer. Before you get to write that proposal, you should have a good grasp of the project’s desired scope and the business needs it is supposed to cover.
2. You need to compete
Whether the client asked you to write a business proposal for his project, or you cold-called him first, you need to keep in mind that you’re not their only option. Unless you have a long and stable history of working together, they’re probably weighing their options, e.g. by also asking several of your competitors for their offers, or by having a look at the overall market for such services.
You should be already on top of what’s considered “state of the art” in your industry and offer them a good deal (price and scope-wise) with all the trimmings that they would expect for the kind of pricing that you ask for.
If you are a web designer, for example, don’t propose some “web 2.0”-era design that’s not even responsive and try to charge dot com bubble prices for it — keep an eye on recent trends and best practices, and adjust your pricing according to the market (of course feel free to charge more if you’re demonstrably better and customers know it).
Oh, and your customers need to be competitive too. So, have a close look at what’s going on in their industry, what solutions their most important competitors have gone with, and how you can build something better that will differentiate them (and you).
3. Outline, fill in, refine and iterate
Those are the basic steps for all kinds of writing, be it business-oriented or creative. Whether you’re writing your next novel or your first business proposal, they will get you started and keep you going. Start with the outline — the headings of different sections and the list of things that you’ll need to address.
If you already have some more insight or knowledge of what should go in some particular section, e.g. a bullet list of requirements from the customer, or a breakdown of the development time, include it in the respective part in the outline, as simply and with as few words as possible. Your goal in this step is to just create the basic structure of the proposal. When creating the basis of your business proposal, remember to maintain a simple writing format.
While there are no definite rules about what to include in a business proposal, a good starting point would be:
– Introductory section
Describe the reason for the proposal and give a high-level view of the project.
– Project description
Describe the project in detail. Give the full list of the project’s specifications and requirements.
– Explain your solution
Describe what you offer to build, and how it meets the customer’s requirements. Talk about the methodology that you’ll follow, what makes you better than your average competitor, and how your approach is in accordance with your industry’s best practices.
Provide a detailed breakdown of all the costs involved in the development, installation, delivery, and support of the product or service.
Propose a schedule for the development and final delivery of the project, with specific work packages and their associated deadlines.
– Cover Letter
One of the best pieces of advice on how to write a good & successful business contract proposal letter is to keep it short and kind of formal. Include the main reason why you want the job and why you are the best. Add your contact information and maybe imply that you are available for further discussion of your offer. That way the potential customers will not be intimidated by any of the terms included.
In the next step, fill in your outline with as much detail as possible. Sketch out the various sections and expand upon any “bullet points” you’re noted down during the outline stage.
Then you’ll need to refine what you have written. Proofread it or have someone else proofread it for you. Replace convoluted or confusing expressions with a simpler and clearer copy. Double-check any numbers and calculation results you have included.
Iterate between filling in the outline and refining what you just wrote, until the proposal is ready.
4. Give alternatives
When you write a business proposal it’s easy to only think of a single specific implementation, scope, and timeline for a project. It’s also a mistake.
What if the potential customer finds your asking price too high? Or too low — since that can also signal that you’re not “good enough” for them? Or what if they find the project, as you describe it, too much for what they really need?
Even if the customer himself described their need for a big project that will include everything and the kitchen sink, your business proposal might still come as a shock to them, as they might not be expecting the price or the timescale required for getting their grandiose plans implemented.
To reduce the risk of them asking someone else for a cheaper quote, offer them multiple options in your business proposal from the start. You don’t have to make each and every aspect of what you’ll deliver customizable, but give them at least 3 options, ranging from something simpler and cheaper to a high-end option with all the bells and whistles.
Even if they don’t go for one of the pre-defined options, their inclusion will signal that you’re flexible, so that they’ll feel more comfortable asking you for specific adjustments.
5. Tailor your commercial proposal to your industry
While what we wrote applies to pretty much all kinds of business proposals, you’ll also need to tailor your proposals to the standards and norms of your particular industry.
A marketing business proposal, for example, might need to include demographic analysis, SEO statistics, advertising costs, a media strategy, and other marketing-related information, whereas a web design business proposal would need to discuss recent design trends, include mock-ups for several different layouts, talk font choices, and color schemes, etc.
Those 5 simple rules can get you quite far, but it’s really practice that will make your business proposals stand out. So get into writing them — even for clients that you’ve already worked with and don’t require one. It will not only give you those experience points, but it will also make the whole process more professional, which is in itself a good thing.
Do you have any favorite business proposal writing tips to share with your fellow Elorus users? Drop us a line! And stay tuned for more news, tips, and advice for freelancers and small business owners.