The proposal is a way of putting your best foot forward when reaching out to clients. While it is essentially a sales pitch, your business proposal should not ever feel like a hard sell. What it needs is to be fully customized, impressive and persuasive. What it needs to do is to connect.
According to some research that we’ve done for our guide to business proposal writing, 42% of decks are presented in-person – with 33% of consultants doing their pitches by email.
Whether it’s your first time putting together a proposal, or you’ve done it a handful of times but want to go back to the basics – we’re creating this step-by-step guide for you.
When it comes to proposal creation, you’ll be able to save a lot of time if you have a master proposal template to lean on. You’ll be able to customize it for each of your clients in a matter of minutes! Before you reach this level of efficiency though, you have to first lay out the groundwork.
Let’s get started.
1. Identify What You Are Selling First
While your proposal does seek to connect with would-be clients on a deeper and more human level, you are still offering a service. And before you get started, you should clearly identify what you are selling and what your competitive angle is. That is, how is what you are offering better than your competitors or more well-suited to your client?
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is my identity as a consultant?
- What services am I providing?
- How do I stack up against the competition?
2. How To Structure Your Proposal?
After getting to the core of who you are as a consultant and the services you’re able to provide, it’s time to put your proposal together. While every consultant takes a different approach to structuring their proposal, this is a general all-encompassing approach.
i) Proposal Cover
Whatever design you decide to go with for your proposal cover, it’ll be good to make sure you have some or all of the below information on your cover page.
- Name of the project
- Project reference numbers
- Name of the client
- Name of your company and contact information
- Date the proposal is submitted
ii) Executive Summary
The executive summary is an opportunity to show your client that you’ve done your homework and that you know your stuff. The idea here is to present a problem that you know your client is facing, and lay out ways that you can help them solve it. It’s also your opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by offering a customized solution.
Make this a compelling one to grab the client’s attention! This is where you focus on the client and summarize the problems they are trying to solve in a results-driven way.
See the below example – the client’s problem is laid out, a customized solution with attractive results proposed, with potential risks laid out.
Following your executive summary, let’s assume you have the client hooked and ready to read on. On this page is where you’ll lay out, in further detail, your customized solution for your client’s business challenges.
The key words here are “customized solution,” so make sure your solution slide is as specific to your client as possible. According to our research, 58% of consultants think that a tailored solution is the best way to go. The last thing you want to do is to alienate your client by sending them a generic solution, instead of one that is tailored to them. Show you’ve done your research!
You can structure it this way:
- The problem – This is where you zero in on the issues the client is currently experiencing, and demonstrate how you will be able to help them solve it. At this stage, you can share an example of project that you’ve worked on that is akin to this problem. How were you successful in this project?
- Solution – Time to lay out the solution that you have designed to help your client solve their business problems. Since this is just the summary, providing a high-level outline will do. Plus providing a teaser will make the client curious enough to read on.
- Call to Action – The executive summary is meant to sell the client on you and your services, so you should be able to convince them why hiring you will solve their problems. Reiterate how you stand out from other proposals, and also why your solution is the best choice.
It is also good to add a section within your solution slide(s) for your project deliverables. Whether it is a social media audit or a full content marketing strategy, be clear about what you plan on doing for them and within what time frame.
iv) About You
Time to finish strong by providing more details about yourself. Early in the proposal, you shared example project(s) and sold a bit on your experience and expertise in order to persuade the client to hire you. Now you can take the opportunity to flesh out your background, the way you work, and perhaps even the other clients that you’ve worked with in the past.
Worked with big name clients before? Have 10 years of experience? Make sure to list all of this out.
3. Do A Research Report For Your Client
This step can be done either ahead of your proposal, if you want to spend the time, or after the client has agreed to hire you. The reason for this is the client can oftentimes do the research on their own, and would prefer it to cut down on consulting costs.
The research report basically works as a stepping stone to developing the strategy for your client, which could consist of an analysis of their weak points, opportunities, and market trends followed by a preview of what you could do for them. For example, if it is a content strategy that you’re looking to develop – you’ll offer up a quick audit of their blog and summarize with 3-5 solutions.
A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis could be an added set of analysis work done for your client – which lays out all facets of their business.
Try this SWOT analysis template out in Piktochart!
4. Should You Include Case Studies?
Unless you already have an established brand and track record, case studies are a chance to showcase your abilities and backup all that “expertise” that you’ve been selling throughout your proposal.
Case studies are time consuming of course, but well worth it, as you should never assume that your target clients are well-versed in your skills and projects.
This is where great storytelling really comes into play, where you share a past client’s business challenges and how you were able to solve them. Telling a great story helps your target client visualize themselves working with you, which is exactly where you want to be.
As putting together a case study is often time consuming, and the deadline for proposals are a time crunch – here are a few things to consider:
- Make sure you get your client’s permission to develop the case study, as it may include some sensitive information about the process of your partnership.
- Get testimonials from your past clients, as it will help in building your case study.
- Customize the case studies to your client – if your client is a technology company looking for content marketing services, you should share success stories that are as such.
- Prepare case studies ahead of time as a workaround to the time crunch.
If you aren’t sold on including lengthy case studies in your proposal, you could also opt to include some quick success metrics alongside examples of campaigns that you’ve done in the past that have yielded top results. This approach could also serve a similar purpose, for those proposals that are meant to be a bit more concise.
5. The Pricing Slide Debate
Many proposal guides out there will include a pricing slide, which is a good way to be transparent about the cost of your services. It also helps clients who are working with a tight budget quickly figure out whether they’ll be able to engage you.
Transparency is important, but there is also an ongoing debate in the consulting world that the pricing slide could be left out – leaving open a conversation to be had about cost after the client has reviewed the proposal and expressed interest.
In the same vein, consulting fees can oftentimes be set according to what’s available on the market (mainly determined by your competitors), so creating a pricing slide can take out the guesswork.
For those that are thinking about including one, here are three things to consider:
- What would you charge to deliver on a minimal solution to their business problem?
- What kind of work would you do that would stay within the client’s budget?
- If money was no object, what work could you do to really impress them?
Even if you decide to include a pricing page, the idea here is to present several tiers of pricing so the client still has the opportunity to pay more to get more.
According to our research, only 56% of consultants think a pricing page is necessary, while 75% of clients say that they prefer to see pricing upfront as it helps with project budgeting.
6. Writing Persuasively To Win Over Clients
Simon Sinek’s talk on ‘the Power of Why’ gets referenced a lot, and for good reason. This is because behind a truly impactful and persuasive sales pitch is the ability to convince someone “why” something is important and why they need it.
The mistake that many salespeople make is to list all the features of a product, or in this case, all the services that they’ll be able to provide – but they fail to get to the heart of why.
Instead creating a proposal that reads like an information overload, be purposeful about it and work to persuade your clients to hire you – the person who understands their problems and has the ability to solve it.
7. Consider The Visual Aspect Of Your Proposal
Now that we’ve covered the importance of the content in your proposal, it’s important not to neglect the visual aspect. Creating something visually beautiful makes your proposal memorable, and especially if you’re a creative consultant, serves in a way as a portfolio of your work in itself.
So there we have it! A step by step guide walking you through how to put together a business proposal that doesn’t only present a strong visual front, but will also convince potential clients that you’re the one they want to work with.
To sum it all up, here’s an infographic that will walk you through the four key elements that make up a great proposal.
To learn more, visit our comprehensive and interactive how-to guide.
Now it’s time to make your own business proposal. Check out the below business proposal templates that are hot off the design press. Happy Piktochart-ing!