A well-written business proposal can often mean the difference between winning or losing a prospective client. And in today’s tough times, with contracts dwindling, it’s more important than ever to have a standout proposal.
But, what are business proposals? How do you make them? What do you include in a business proposal? How long should a business proposal be?
We answer all of these questions and more in this in-depth guide to creating business proposals that will help you close more deals, make more sales and crush your business goals.
But when it comes to learning anything, it’s important to start with the fundamentals before getting into the nitty-gritties of it all.
Here’s what this guide will cover (click to jump to each section):
- What is a business proposal?
- What are the three types of business proposals?
- What is the purpose of a business proposal?
- What should you include in a business proposal?
- How to write a business proposal?
- Business Proposal Examples and Design Tips
- Key Takeaways and Conclusion
But first things first:
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a document used by a B2B or business-facing company (this may not always be the case) where a seller aims to persuade a prospective buyer into buying their goods or services.
You do this by identifying pain points and providing your buyer the right solution to alleviate those pain points.
What are the three types of business proposals?
1. Formally Solicited
A formally solicited business proposal is made when you aim to respond to an official request for proposal. In this scenario, you know all the requirements and have more (if not all) information about a prospective buyer. You simply need to write a proposal for your buyer to evaluate.
2. Informally Solicited
Informally solicited business proposals come in where there isn’t an official request for a proposal. A prospective buyer is interested in your services and asks for a proposal so they can evaluate it.
An informally solicited proposal requires a lot more research from your end as a seller as they are usually created out of informal conversations and not based on official requests which often contain more information.
Think of this like a marketing brochure or a cold email. Unsolicited business proposals will often be generic, one size fits all approach to business proposals and lacks any understanding of the buyer or their requirements. But with extra research, personalization and identifying customer pain points along with proposing a customized solution based on your buyer’s needs they can become very persuasive.
For example, this sales proposal quickly and succinctly outlines the project plan, deliverables and metrics:
What is the purpose of a business proposal?
Essentially, a business proposal aims to streamline the B2B sales process (which is often complex) between you as a seller and a buyer by serving the dual purpose of acting as a source of information as well as a sales pitch aimed at convincing your buyer why they should buy what you have to offer.
What should you include in a business proposal?
A business proposal usually aims to answer the following questions:
- Who you are and what your company does
- The problem your buyer faces
- The solution your company offers to alleviate the problem
- How your company will implement this solution effectively
- An estimate of resources (time, money, etc) required to implement the solution.
At a high level your business proposal should include the following parts:
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- The Problem Statement
- The Proposed Solution
- The Timeline
- Pricing, Billing and Legal
- Terms and Conditions
- The Acceptance
How to write a business proposal?
Before you get excited and start creating your business proposal, you need to know what comprises of a business proposal. So here they are (in order):
Business Proposal Title
Yeah, yeah I know. Pretty common knowledge.
But trust me when I say, a compelling title could mean the difference between someone actually opening your proposal and reading it or your proposal being stacked on top of other unread proposals that will probably be in the trash a few days later.
Having said that, remember the most important elements of a good title page:
- Your name along with your company’s name
- The name of the prospect (or their business)
- The date you’re submitting the proposal
The gray business consulting proposal template above contains all the details you would require along with a strong tangible benefit to the prospective buyer right in the title. Honestly, “Who doesn’t want to grow their business?”
Table of Contents
This is, again, pretty straightforward. Your business proposal should be scannable, easy to pick up and read with a table of contents.
If you happen to be pitching your product or service to a C-level executive (or just anyone who is fairly busy) who don’t have time to read your entire proposal in one go, adding a table of contents to your proposal makes it easy for them to go through it at their own pace or skim through parts of the proposal on a need to know basis. Consider this abstract business proposal template:
The goals of your executive summary are:
- Introduce your company to your buyer
- Provide an overview of your company goals
- Showcase your company’s milestones, overall vision and future plans
- Include any other relevant details
If we look at the same gray business proposal example from before, it has a detailed yet short executive summary including some social proof in the form of clients they’ve worked with:
Essentially, focus on keeping your executive summary concise and clear from the get go to set the right tone for the rest of your proposal. This makes it more likely that your buyer will continue reading your proposal.
Pro Tip: Try to write an executive summary such that, even if your prospective client doesn’t read the entire proposal (with a good executive summary, they most likely will), they should have a clear idea about what your company does and how you can help them.
The Problem Statement
Here you state the exact problem your prospective buyer is facing. Whether or not they know the problem, your goal is to outline the problem statement as clearly as possible and develop an urgency for your prospect to find a solution to the problem. A solution you provide.
A well-defined problem statement does two things:
- It shows the prospect you have done your homework instead of sending a generic pitch
- It creates an opportunity for you to point out a problem your prospect might not be aware they had in the first place.
This bold business proposal template above clearly outlines the problem at hand and also offers a ray of hope i.e. how you can solve your prospects problem which brings me to…
The Proposed Solution
The good stuff. The proposed solution section is how you can alleviate your prospective buyer pain points. This can fit onto the problem statement section but if you have a comprehensive solution or prefer to get into more details, a separate proposed solution section is also a good idea.
Feel free to spare no details with respect to the solution you will provide, how you plan to deliver this solution, an estimated timeline of when they can expect your solution and any relevant details.
The prospect you’re pitching your solution to, likes it. But they may not trust you to fix it. Why is this?
It’s because they don’t know you. And it’s your job to convince them why they should trust you to fix their problem. This section is important because it acts as social proof by outlining what your company does best and how qualified your team is.
Per the standard business proposal example above, It’s not a bad idea to go above and beyond by showcasing company accolades, client testimonials, relevant case studies, industry awards and any other forms of social proof to establish yourself as a credible business in your buyers eyes and make it that much more likely for them to say yes!
Pro Tip: Attaching in-depth case studies of your work is a great way to build trust with a potential client by showcasing how you’ve solved similar problems for other clients in the past. Our case study examples post can show you how to do just that.
To further demonstrate just how prepared you are, it’s important to outline the next steps you will take should your buyer decide to work with you.
You should provide your prospective client a timeline of how and when you provide all your deliverables. You can do this by making the usual flow chart or introduce more nuance to it with a roadmap. Pitching a long term project? A timeline infographic would be a better fit.
If you look at this bold business proposal template below, even something as simple as a table can also do the trick.
This timeline is not always set in stone, rather it’s just an estimation. The goal is to clarify any questions your client might have about how you will deliver or the underlying B2B sales process.
Pricing, Billing and Legal
This step is where you outline everything from your pricing, payment schedule, payment terms as well as legal aspects to this deal.
The key to good pricing is to provide your buyer options, something a pricing comparison table can help with. You want to give your client some room to work with. Make sure you’re not scaring off your client with an excessively high price and not undervaluing yourself in the process.
Breaking up your pricing in stages is another great way to make sure your client knows what he’s paying for. Check out how this simple business proposal template does this:
The legal aspects can also slot right into the terms and conditions section or signature section of the proposal too to keep things simple.
Terms and Conditions
This is the part where you put your money where your mouth is.
In this step, you summarize everything you have promised to deliver so far and what the prospective buyer will offer you in return. This includes things like the overall project timeline from start to end, payment methods and payment schedule so the both of you are clear on what each is agreeing to.
This step is very important as it outlines all the legal aspects of the deal which is why it’s important to be as clear as possible in the terms and conditions of your proposal.
I recommend consulting a lawyer or your legal team when working on this section of the business proposal. If you’re a business veteran and understand the legalities of your business however, the same terms and conditions can stay consistent across all your proposals.
The final step of this whole ordeal. Your client has read your business proposal and he’s convinced. So convinced in fact that he’s ready to buy what you have to offer.
This is the step where you add in a small section get all the signatures at the end of your proposal so that your client and you can sign the proposal and the both of you can make things official.
Be sure to also include your contact information to act as a gentle prompt that your client can contact you in case they have any questions.
Business Proposal Examples and Design Tips
Now that we’ve gone over how to write a business proposal, below you’ll find some amazing business proposal examples and templates to get you started. I’ve also included some design tips to keep in mind when you’re designing your next business proposal:
1. Know Your Audience
If you have some clarity on who your ideal buyer is, their pain points, their budget, deadlines, among other things, you’ve already won half the battle. If you’re a business that helps clients with everything from running giveaways or helping grow their blog, identifying which customers to pitch with which offering is a sure shot way to close the deal.
Mapping user personas of your ideal buyer can help bring some clarity and help you position your business proposal accordingly. This will make it more likely your buyer throws your business proposal in the “Yes!” pile.
How long should your business proposal be?
It depends on the scope of the work as well as the complexity of the project. Here is a one page business proposal template:
Can my business proposal really be one page? Well, as long as you understand who your buyer is, their pain points and you have the ability to communicate everything your ideal buyer needs to know about your business in a succinct manner, one page is all you might need.
Or if you’re feeling adventurous how about just two pages? Often times clients prefer you to be straight to the point and avoid all the fluff.
For example, this green modern marketing proposal template wastes no time in getting down to brass tacks:
In short, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to deciding how many pages you should include in your business proposal. And at the end of the day, “the only rules are the ones you set for yourself”.
2. Put Your Brand Front and Centre
If your company follows certain brand guidelines, then it only makes sense you incorporate them in your business proposals. Consider this business proposal example:
From the color palettes to the company logo, everything obeys their brand guidelines.The result: a business proposal that’s consistent across the board.
Or consider this business proposal example:
Design companies sure do know their design. They did a phenomenal job keeping their brand colors consistent opting for a black design across the board. This unique color scheme also gives their white logo plenty of prominence throughout the proposal.
Pro Tip: Switching his template to match your brand assets is actually pretty easy. Venngage’s MyBrand Kit feature allows you to import your color palettes, logos as well as font choices. Any Venngage template can now be your template.
3. Try Less Text, More Visuals
Ever read a proposal and thought to yourself, “Wow, this is all text and has no images, I love it!”. Yeah, me neither.
The creative business proposal template below is a perfect example of the “less is more” principle. It does a phenomenal job of communicating what it needs to by substituting some text with icons and visuals resulting in a clean business proposal with minimal text.
Want to keep things strictly professional? Well, you can always add in your teams headshots and show your buyer exactly who they’ll be working with.
Check out this formal business proposal template for some inspiration:
4. Switch Up Your Business Proposal Designs
It doesn’t hurt to go above and beyond once in a while and jazz up your business proposal with some extra colors. This helps make your business proposal more engaging and help your buyers retain information faster.
The business proposal example above shows you how it’s done. They alternate between black, white and grey backgrounds while still managing to maintain consistency in their branding. Just switching up your backgrounds once in a while can also bring in some variety to an otherwise standard business proposal.
This SEO business proposal example proves that it’s possible to switch up the colors every page while still maintaining the same color scheme across the entire proposal:
Pro Tip: Not a color expert? Our guide on picking colors can help you pick the right color scheme for your proposals.
A Few More Business Proposal Design Best Practices:
We covered almost everything when it comes to designing persuasive business proposals, but also try to keep these best practices in mind:
- Do a thorough spell check. The goal of your business proposal is to convince your buyer why you’re the perfect person for the job. And a proposal with typos or grammatical errors communicates the opposite. A thorough spell check before you send your proposal across is a must.
- Let your brand shine. As discussed before, writing a proposal is all about knowing your ideal buyer and focusing on their pain points. But that doesn’t mean your business proposal has to be boring. Show off how you’re different compared to other companies, be it through your brand guidelines, using more visuals, switching up your proposal design or even showing off your personality in your writing.
- Download your business proposal as a PDF. This allows you to attach other collaterals with your business proposal like a company explainer video or case studies showcasing the work done with past clients. Also, who doesn’t love saving paper?
At the end of the day, writing winning business proposals that sell is all about you understanding your buyer, their potential pain points and positioning yourself as someone who can alleviate those pain points.
Now that you know how to write compelling business proposals, what are you waiting for?
Take action and start creating your own business proposals to close more deals and grow your business today!