A carefully crafted business proposal can be a powerful catalyst for positive change. It can also position you as a trailblazing leader and a trustworthy source of insight.
Creating a proposal that strikes a chord with your audience, however, requires proper formatting and compelling content. Otherwise, it could easily be glazed over or tossed into the trash before it even gets read.
According to a report by software company Proposify, an estimated 50% of proposals are signed or rejected within twenty-four hours of opening. So it’s critical to take extra care in ensuring every aspect of your proposal is working to drive the intended subsequent action from the reader.
Let’s discuss the basics of how to write a business proposal—the fundamental elements all proposals should include, as well as what makes for an effective proposal, and how to apply those principles to your own work.
What makes a business proposal effective?
Having the right format and information will get your proposal read—but making it compelling will ensure it gets implemented. So how do you write an effective business proposal?
A persuasive proposal is . . .
Tailored to fit its audience. The focus of your business proposal should always be on your audience’s needs and how your solution can address them.
Easy to read and understand. The formatting should be easy to follow, and the content should be concise and free of distracting tangents and irrelevant details.
Written in a confident, direct tone. A timid tone can quickly undermine an otherwise bulletproof proposal. After all, if you’re not convinced of your own argument, why should your reader be?
Professional in its presentation. Your document should be free of mistakes that might misdirect or distract your reader. If you print your proposal, be sure to keep the papers in pristine condition until they are delivered.
Now, let’s take a look at how to approach writing a proposal inclusive of all these elements.
How to write a business proposal: the basics
There are two basic types of business proposals: solicited and unsolicited.
Solicited business proposals are specifically requested by prospective clients and tend to require less research. This is because the client typically includes all (or at least most) of the pertinent information about themselves and their requirements for your proposal in a formal request for proposal (RFP) document.
Unsolicited business proposals are similar to cold emails. They are sent to potential customers, clients, and investors with the hope that they will want to hear more. Because you will not have been provided with an RFP document first, you will need to conduct thorough research on your own to understand your audience prior to writing this type of proposal.
In general, all business proposals follow the same basic structure:
1 Title page
2 Table of contents
3 Executive summary
6 Your qualifications
7 Cost summary
8 Terms and conditions
Let’s delve into what specific information you’ll need to include in each section of your proposal, depending on the type of proposal you’re writing and to whom you will be addressing it.
1 Title page
The title page should clarify who you are, who your audience is, and what the topic of your proposal will be.
- When sending a proposal to an external audience, be sure to include the full name of your business, your name, and all relevant business contact information.
- For internal proposals, it’s more important to focus on what your proposal is about. Your title should reflect what problem you are solving or what solution you are proposing, e.g., “Proposal to Increase Marketing Budget.”
Keep this page simple and clean in terms of both layout and content—avoid cluttering it with unnecessary text and too many graphics.
2 Table of contents
This brief list of topics covered in your proposal is only necessary for longer documents—it makes more detailed proposals easier to navigate.
- For physical submissions, include the titles of each section as well as page numbers. (Be sure to number the pages of your document as well.)
- For electronic proposals, it’s best to link each item to the corresponding section.
While you can get a little creative with your section titles if it fits your brand, prioritize clarity above all. It should be easy to tell at a glance what the purpose and contents of each section will be.
3 Executive summary
As the name suggests, this is a concise summary of the content you will be presenting throughout the rest of your proposal.
- For customer, client, or investor proposals, this is your first chance to introduce yourself and your brand. Briefly discuss who you are, what you do, what need your proposal addresses, and how you plan to fill it.
- For internal proposals, it is especially important to emphasize the “why”—the reason you are submitting this proposal and how your solution will benefit your company.
For the summary, conciseness is key. Keep sentences short, simple, and to the point; avoid getting too detailed (you can go into more depth in the following sections).
This section is where you clearly state the problem you are trying to solve or the need you seek to fill.
- This is your opportunity to show that you understand both the problem itself and the requirements you’ll need to fulfill in order to solve it.
- Be sure to emphasize why it’s so important that this problem gets solved.
Be as detailed as necessary to fully convey the scope of the issue your proposal will address—just be sure to only include directly relevant information.
This is the meat of your proposal—a clear and detailed outline of your solution and its benefits.
- Preemptively address any concerns your audience may have at this point by discussing potential obstacles and how they can be avoided or addressed.
- Clearly state why your solution is the best solution. What is it that makes your proposal more effective or beneficial compared to alternative options?
When writing this section, always keep your audience at the forefront of your mind. The more tailored your proposal is to your audience’s perspective, the more convincing it will be.
6 Your qualifications
This is where you reassure your audience that you have the experience and/or expertise necessary to solve the problem.
- This section is mainly useful for proposals directed at customers, clients, or investors who may be unfamiliar with you or your work.
- You may also want to include this section in unsolicited internal proposals if, for example, the colleague it is addressed to is someone with whom you have had little prior communication.
- This section may not be necessary for a solicited proposal, as the use of an RFP indicates your audience is already aware of your qualifications.
For this section, tone is almost as important as the content itself. A confident tone will reinforce the trust you are trying to build.
Hint: An easily integrated digital communications assistant like Grammarly can swiftly analyze the tone of your piece in real time and provide suggestions for improvement to ensure your message has maximum impact.
7 Cost summary
This is where you include the financial cost of your solution, as well as any other potential costs (time, resources, etc.) it may incur.
- Clearly break down the different costs—ensure your readers will know exactly what they are paying for and how much it will cost.
- If applicable, make sure to differentiate between necessary costs and those that, while ideal to include, can be cut if absolutely necessary.
- For electronic submissions, consider including a responsive pricing table that will allow the reader to check off only the items they are interested in to instantly calculate the total.
For this section, good organization is critical. Use simple tables, charts, or lists to make it as easy as possible for your reader to review their options.
8 Terms and conditions
Use this section to thoroughly cover billing procedures, project timelines, and other legal formalities—the “terms and conditions” of your agreement.
- This section is likely not necessary for internal proposals, but is absolutely necessary for proposals directed at customers, clients, or investors.
Avoid frustrating your reader with confusing legalese and industry jargon here; keep your vocabulary simple and direct.
Hint: Grammarly Business allows companies to create custom style guides to ensure all content is brand-aligned and avoids jargon that can confuse readers.
This is where you and your reader sign off on the proposal once it is accepted.
- Be sure to include both your and your readers’ names and titles in print below the signature lines.
- For customer, client, or investor proposals, include contact information should they have questions or concerns about your proposal.
Again, keep this section simple and easy to read in order to smooth the path to acceptance.
As for creating the document itself, there is a wide variety of purchasable business proposal templates and programs. However, many major drafting platforms (such as Google Docs) offer free templates you can use as well. In most cases, you can even customize the look of these to fit your brand image.
Tips for polishing up your business proposal
It’s one thing to understand how to write a business proposal; it’s another thing entirely to recognize how to optimize your argument to its fullest potential. Here are a few tips for improving your writing skills when it comes to crafting proposals:
- Do your due diligence. Thoroughly research your problem, solution, and audience before writing to ensure you are not missing any important details.
- Trim unnecessary information. If it doesn’t clarify the problem, support your solution, or position you as the ideal candidate to propose the solution, then it’s not relevant.
- Break up long paragraphs into bullet points, numbered lists, tables, or smaller paragraphs with shorter sentences.
- Use images where appropriate to make your proposal more visually engaging. Again, keep it relevant—think charts, graphs, or other graphics that will help illustrate your main points.
- Align your overall tone with your brand’s personality. This will make a good impression whether your proposal is for customers/clients or colleagues.
- Read your proposal out loud (in private) to listen for the correct tone, or have someone else read it to you.
- Proofread your work. Even minor spelling and grammatical mistakes can be distracting and detract from your credibility, no matter who your audience is.
Using a digital communication assistant like Grammarly Business can significantly decrease the time you spend not only writing, but also refining your proposal. You’ll also be able to minimize the margin of human error by automating processes such as proofreading, tone analysis, and readability testing. A feature-rich business writing tool will allow you to polish your business proposal to perfection, enabling you to turn more of your great ideas into effective plans of action.
Knowing how to write a business proposal that drives action can be easier said than done. But with an AI-driven writing assistant like Grammarly Business, it is easy to check your work and refine your proposal to its fullest potential. Contact us to learn more or get started with Grammarly Business today!