How to Write an Effective Proposal
Can You Sell Yourself?
Imagine you are taking about your business to a potential client. They love the idea and want to hear more. Can you pitch your whole business in 60 seconds? Ready…set…GO!
Not so simple is it?
What is your business? Software? Janitorial? SEO Marketing? Water filtration? Contractor? Many businesses sell complex, custom products or services that require an in-depth explanation. If you’re providing large-scale or custom services, there is plenty of competition and Proposals are an important component of your sales.
Think of a Proposal as a helpful tool to show potential clients about your business and map out what your business can do for them. Potential clients can review and approve the Proposal. As a law firm we see hundreds if not thousands of proposals, often because they become an attachment to a services contract of some sort. At L4SB, we strive to create templates for our clients so that they can reuse from one client to the next without having to go through the time and expense of hiring an attorney every time they bring on a new client. In short, having a good template for a Proposal can save your business time and money, because it also helps simplify the services contract.
Proposals vs Contracts
Making a template for your business is not always easy. Oftentimes, we are asked to create a services contract from our clients previous agreement as a starting point. We see a lot of variation in this, ranging from “contracts” that almost look like proposals to some sort of merger of a proposal and a contract contained in one document. In many instances, client proposals can be a mess — which impacts sales and makes our jobs as business lawyers more difficult.
A strong Proposal can feed into a Contract, but don’t confuse the two!
Lets make this simple. Proposals and Contracts are not the same thing! While the two go hand in hand, they are not synonymous. Confusing the two can actually sabotage sales efforts.
Confusing Proposals and Contracts is more common than you think. Businesses often send a Proposal with elements of both a Proposal and a Contract. It may be tempting to try and “kill two birds with one stone”, but this approach should be avoided like the plague! Why? Because no one likes contracts. Think of your own experiences. Do you like long-winded, legal sales pitches? Merging important sales information with legal-jargon is an instant turn-off to potential clients. Proposals should be 100% pure sales-focused.
Its only after the client approves your Proposal that your Services Contract enters the picture. A good Services Contract will incorporate your Proposal as Exhibit A. If your Proposal is well done, you can incorporate the important details such as costs, times frames and more into your Services Contract.
Writing Your Proposal
This is your time to share your passion for your business.
A well-done Proposal will sell your business, its services and win more business. So, what makes a good Proposal? What will seal the deal? How are you better? The answers will vary from business to business, but below is a basic outline you should focus on:
- Title Page – The title page should look truly outstanding. You only get one chance to make a first impression. How do you want your brand to be seen? Think about your Proposal lying on a desk with your competition. How can you make that first page stand out from the competition?
- Table of Contents – Organize your Proposal into sections, noted by an attractive (one-page) table of contents.
- Executive Summary – This is the basic outline of your Proposal. Keep it short! Ideally in one paragraph but worst case never more than one-page, the Executive Summary should not be detailed. Break it down to 5 simple sentences: why your company is the best, mention the specific offerings, its cost, discuss time frames, and finish with why the specific offering is the best for the potential client. Many businesses find it easier to write this part last, once they have a more complete idea of their Proposal.
- Our Proposed Solution – What are you offering? This can be titled in a variety of ways, depending on specifically what you are providing, including “Our Offering,” or “Our Services,” or whatever is appropriate for your business. This section should contain at least three subsections: Relevant features, your methodology or phased approach, and timeline.
- Relevant Features – What is unique about your offering or proposed solution? This can represent high-level requirements, overall services or offerings, or system benefits. What features set you apart from the competition?
- Your Methodology or Phased Approach – How will you do the job? This represents the entire life-cycle of your offering. Do you need to conduct some initial due diligence or requirements gathering? Do you build a custom solution? Do you test? Do you implement? Do you maintain or support? Do you have escalation procedures? Do you eventually hand-off to your customer? This section contains all the states, phases or stages to your service, offering or solution. Each should be separate and distinct, and they should be sequential — which means you don’t start a subsequent phase until the previous phase is finished in some specific, measurable way. By doing this, you can manage risk, client expectations and more.
- Timeline – When will it be done? It’s best to put times associated with each of your phases. Put time estimates/ranges, if time frames are uncertain.
- Other Possible Subsections – Could include service levels (SLA’s), assumptions, optional services or features, and more.
- Fees – You should break out the costs of your services into its own section. Use tables as much as possible, and seperate recurring costs from startup, initial or one-time fees.
- Our Company – Don’t forget to brag about your company and your specific offering. Why are you the best option for your potential client? Whether this means showing past experience, or bios for the employees working on the job, or a current client recommendation, find what works for your business. Sell your company in this section.
By writing a very strong proposal, you show your potential client that your business is strong, competent and organized. A weak proposal can lose business, even if your specific offering, price or offering details are better than the competition.
Some Final Tips on Your Proposal
- Make It Pretty: Have pictures and graphs. Keep it organized. No one likes reading walls of text.
- Make Use of Tables and Graphs: Do your best to summarize data and important information in tables and graphs. For instance, timelines look great on a simplified Gantt Chart and complex pricing information looks great in a table.
- Limit Jargon: We get it. You know your business. But spades of equations and acronyms will only serve to scare off potential clients. Try to keep the language accessible and if you are using any equations and/or acronyms, be sure to clearly explain.
- Include Discounts, Value-Adds and Write-offs: Are you offering important features, benefits, services or products at a discount or for free to close a deal? Make sure they are represented in your pricing!
- Keep it Simple: Your Proposal is a marketing tool, not a dissertation! It should be able to be read and understood in a matter of minutes, not hours. Make it easy to follow and understand with specific sections and consistent organization.
Attached are two sample proposals for your review. Both are for complex software solutions, but the overall approach and organization can work for just about any type of business that requires a written proposal. Please call us if you want help writing your Proposal. L4SB can write a Proposal template and Services Agreement template that you can reuse over and over, allowing you to focus on your customized solution.
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