A guest blog by Adam Hempenstall (CEO and Founder at Better Proposals)
Whether you like them or not, proposals are one of the key parts of winning new business in 2019 and beyond. While most companies focus on ways to improve their offer, very few of them focus on learning how to write a business proposal to win more clients.
However, writing great business proposals is anything but rocket science. All it takes is nine proposal elements that you need to get right and every proposal you write is sure to convert. Here are those elements and how to get each of them right to create winning proposals, spending a fraction of the time you’re used to.
1. Start off with a template
Much like every other part of sales, proposal writing needs to follow a pre-established procedure. When there’s a new inbound lead, you don’t guess what needs to be done. The sales team is already on it to book a call, schedule a demo, arrange a free trial or whatever fits into your business model.
It’s the same with proposals – you can establish a pre-set template for proposals and follow it every time. As part of at tool like Better Proposals, you can choose proposal templates for different industries, such as design, marketing, SEO, social media, consulting and many others. These will work great if you’re just starting out and you can edit them according to your needs - and learn how to write a business proposal more quickly.
Now, go one step further. Take one of these templates and write one business proposal that is incredible in all aspects. The copy, the offer, the arrangement of the designs and sections, the whole shebang. Once you have that, there is your ideal proposal template. You can re-use it again and again, just editing a few main spots – the introduction, the pricing, the detailed specification and so on.
Templates save you time and make the writing process much more efficient. They make proposal writing a lot less about actual writing – which is excellent news for busy business owners and sales professionals.
2. Have an awesome introduction
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they introduce themselves. Likewise, you can tell quite a lot about a company’s offer by their proposal introduction. This is no wild guess either – we’ve found through research that clients spend the most time reading the proposal introduction (34.6% of total time) along with the pricing section (27.1%).
You're all set to write a business proposal. But what does an awesome introduction include? To start off, it needs to heavily rely on the information you get before writing the proposal. Meetings, demos, discovery sessions – use the information about the client and their needs from each of these and write it down carefully to write a business proposal that works.
Using that information, create an introduction where you:
1. State who you are and what you do
2. Show that you understand the client’s pain points
3. Show how you can effectively solve those pain points
Many introductions flop for one reason – the person behind them doesn’t know enough about the client. They may end up focusing on the wrong aspect of the offer. For example, someone offering SEO services could focus on justifying the service cost, while the client may be more concerned about getting in top of search results for their region.
3. Give a detailed specification
While the introduction was the hook of the proposal, this is the part where you let the client know exactly what you’re offering. As the name of the section says, go deep into detail to outline your offer. For example, if you’re offering a website redesign, you can include:
- How many pages you will be redesigning
- What elements you will be working on (wireframe, logo, banners, etc.)
- What you will need from the client (page copy, vectors, images, logos, etc.)
Make sure you spend a good chunk of time on this part of the proposal because the extra time you invest will pay dividends later. There are two reasons why the detailed specification is important:
1. It shows the client you know your stuff
2. It creates accountability
As for the second point… Any claims you make here will help out if something goes wrong with the deal.
Another tip here is to mimic the client’s language. If you’re offering SEO services, don’t talk about backlinks, technical SEO audits, white-hat practices, internal linking structures, etc. Use the language that the client uses and repeat it back at them. The key to learning how to write a business proposal is knowing the client’s perspective - including their language.
4. Show the timescale
When will you be able to finish with the offer in your proposal? You would be surprised how many business owners completely omit timescales from their proposals, leaving clients wondering when they can expect finished work. It can be as specific as the hour within a certain day or something as broad as a time frame of several weeks – just make sure it’s written in plain sight.
If you’re familiar with the client and you know they have an important event coming up, make use of this information here.
5. Deliver the proof
If I were to make a statement that I’m the best painter in the world since Michelangelo died, you’d probably call me out on my lie. However, if I presented one of my recent paintings that illustrates my talent, you would look at my statement a little bit differently, right? While I am absolutely horrible at drawing anything more complex than stick figures, this illustrates a point (pardon the pun).
In this section, include examples of previous work you’ve done for a client most similar to them. It could be a full-blown website, a testimonial, an online review – anything that shows you as the expert in a given field.
Of course, you could always go the lazy route and say: for samples, check out our portfolio on our website. The thing is – hardly anyone is going to bother and do that. They are reading your proposal and they’re two scrolls away from signing it, the last thing you need is to make them open up another tab and browse for a suitable sample.
6. Establish the pricing
As mentioned earlier, this is the second most important part of any proposal. Obviously, your potential clients want to know if paying you will make them cry more than seeing their bill in a pub at 2 AM. With that said, there are a few rules to getting your pricing section right when learning how to write a business proposal.
First, keep the pricing structure simple. Don’t offer any upsells, additional packages, combos, deals or whatnot. Our research has shown that upsells don’t really work with proposals and that a simple pricing structure better nudges the client into signing.
The second thing is the wording. If at all possible, avoid using pricing as the title. Instead, focus on expressions such as investment or ROI. It’s a small psychological trick, but it helps you move the client one step closer towards signing.
Third, don’t charge by the hour or day. Charge by the value you provide and you’ll have an easier time getting paid higher fees. If you include another testimonial in the pricing section as well, your chances of a signed proposal will increase.
7. Give the guarantee
Every time a client decides to go with your offer instead of someone else’s, they’re making a bet. After all, they’ve probably never heard of you before and they’re (hopefully) about to hand over a large wad of cash to you. Why not take some of that risk on yourself?
For example, you can give a simple money-back guarantee if you don’t complete your work according to terms by a certain date. Alternatively, you can mix it up a little bit and offer extras in case you’re late with a deadline. For instance, additional branding design in case you miss a website design deadline you assigned.
You may think you’re making a risk – but so is your client. As long as you’re well covered with everything stated in the detailed specification, you should be good to go.
8. Specify the next steps
When you go to a supermarket to pick up your groceries, you know the next logical step (hopefully) is to go to the register and pay for your items. It’s only logical.
The problem is, your proposal is not a grocery store run and your clients most likely don’t know what to do once they’re finished reading. Instead of asking you, they will probably close the proposal and go for a pint of beer.
To prevent this from happening, include a section called Next Steps with clearly outlined next steps the client needs to take. For example:
1. Sign the proposal
2. Pay for the initial invoice (X% of the total price)
3. Schedule a kick-off call
It may sound like common sense on how to write a business proposal, but it makes a world of difference when it’s in writing.
9. State the terms and conditions
At this point, the client already knows everything to make an educated decision and sign your proposal. However, this one final detail will make sure that A) you appear more professional and B) you have all your bases covered.
Creating a new T&C is not essential to learning how to write a business proposal – there are plenty of generic ones available online. Take one that works for you and adapt it to your needs and re-use it with necessary changes.
Conclusion: use the right software to write a business proposal
Writing a business proposal can be a daunting task. On the other hand, it’s far from the most complicated task in the world.
By using proposal management software and utilizing all of the elements I mentioned here, you’re sure to create a proposal that clients can understand, that looks great and that gets signed every time.
A little about Adam:
Adam Hempenstall is the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals, simple proposal software for creating beautiful, high-impact proposals in minutes. Having helped his customers at Better Proposals win $120,000,000+ in one year only, he has launched the first Proposal Writing University where he shares business proposal best practices.
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