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Guide to writing a winning business proposal

September 6, 2015

If you’re starting-up or running a small business the ability to put together a persuasive business proposal will really help you to succeed.

If you have impressed a prospective client or partner after an initial meeting, phone call or email, you will frequently be asked to submit a business proposal.

This is not the time to become complacent. There will be others on the short list too, so a well-written and attractively presented business proposal is a crucial sales tool. It is often the difference between getting the go-ahead with your idea or missing out on a lucrative new opportunity.

Fortunately, if you follow these 10 golden rules, it’s not too difficult to put together a winning business proposal;

1. Research your prospect

Before you start, gather as much information about the prospect as possible. If they have approached you via phone, arrange to meet in person. Having a personal relationship will often help you understand your counterpart’s needs better than a written email request.

2. Brainstorm for ideas

Two or more minds often work better than one. Get others involved: use business colleagues if you have a team, or rope in friends and family if you are a sole trader or just starting a new business. Consider all the ideas presented and then work up the best ones to add into your proposal.

3. Make every proposal special

It can be very tempting to save time by re-hashing an old proposal, but to maximise your chances of success you should write a new one each time.

Prospects can often spot a proposal where the writer has used a generic document and simply done a “search and replace” on the company’s name. This can ruin credibility. Fresh business ideas with some good research will demonstrate that you have gone the extra mile.

4. Find out how much detail you need to include

Deciding on a structure for the proposal is also important, so ask the prospect what their preference is. Do they want a one-page document or a full 20-page paper with detailed analysis? Is your client too busy to wade through pages of written documents?

If you’re proficient with PowerPoint, you could offer to provide a presentation with a voice-over that runs upon opening. However, you need to make sure that your presentation impresses. For help on how to do this read,

5. Plan the structure of your proposal

Once you sit down at the computer, create an outline for your plan. Typical outlines include:

  • Summary
  • Market analysis
  • Company situation analysis
  • Your solution to their problem
  • Timelines
  • Budgets

Using this structure, you should be able to feed in information from your research, and flesh it out using your brainstorming material and previous proposal experience.

6. Relate to the brief

Keep your writing succinct and to the point, and keep asking yourself whether you are meeting the prospect’s needs. If your words are not relevant – get rid of them. Remember to relate to the brief you’ve been given at all times, and avoid clouding the proposal with unnecessary extra material.

7. Use visuals to quickly convey information

Ploughing through pages of market analysis and recommendations can be hard work, so add relevant diagrams or flow charts. Visualise your thinking. With specially created diagrams, you can wow your prospect and show that you have thought through their problems. But beware, do not overuse them.

8. Write positively

You may not be a prize-winning novelist but when writing, try to enrich your text by using descriptive words – words reflect power if used correctly. “Bringing a project to a successful conclusion” is better than saying, “bringing a project to a conclusion”.

9. Tell a story

Start with the problem, offer your solution and sum up with why your company is the right choice for the job. Throughout your proposal, think of the benefits that the reader’s company will gain by employing you.

Your aim is to sell yourself so do not be shy. Relate your prospect’s problem to any concrete examples of similar work you have done for other companies.

10. Check everything carefully

Finally, make sure you check the proposal carefully before sending it. Any errors will lower your chances of winning the business.

If you’ve been immersed in the document, you can easily miss some obvious mistakes so get someone to double check your work.

Here’s a useful check list to help make sure you’ve covered everything:

Final Proposal Checklist

CONTENT

Did you:

  • Answer the brief fully?

  • Show creativity?

  • Give them a reason to hire you?

ENGLISH

Did you remember to:

  • Check spelling?

  • Check grammar?

  • Look out for typos?

  • Enrich your text?

  • Check punctuation?

PRESENTATION

Look out for the following:

  • Spacing – between lines and words

  • Fonts – be consistent in use

  • Illustrations – make sure they are interesting and relevant

  • Quality of the “finish” – e.g., quality paper for printed proposals

More help on writing business proposals and pitches

These other ByteStart guides will give you more help on producing winning proposals and business pitches;

About the author

This article was written for ByteStart by Hilla Ovil-Brenner, CEO of WhiteSmoke English Writing Software. For business writing templates and other business writing advice, see whitesmoke.com

ByteStart is packed with tips on all aspects of running your own business, from starting up to saving tax. Try some of these popular ByteStart guides for starters;