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What makes a great business proposal?

We spoke to over 100 consultants in a mix of surveys and in-depth interviews to learn what makes a winning business proposal. Explore our comprehensive guide that walks you through proposal creation to client pitching.

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Putting together a business proposal is an art:

It’s time consuming, the content has to be customized per client, and creating a beautiful presentation without a design background is no easy feat. On top of that, stakes are incredibly high as…

only
1/3 of proposals
are accepted
So what makes a really good business proposal?
How do you create a proposal that makes clients want to say yes?
How To Structure A Business Proposal

So you’ve listened to what your client has to say, and they seem fairly sold on your abilities and ideas. It feels like a match made in consulting heaven.

So what’s next? It’s time to seal the deal by submitting a business proposal, which will put the needs assessment conversation down on paper and lock in the client.

Based on our research, the ideal approach is to put together a straightforward document that includes the following:

What should your proposal include?
Scope of work - Summary of the work you plan on doing for the client. This is where your tailored solution goes.
Steps needed to get the work done - A breakdown of the deliverables.
Timeline - What are the ideal deadlines for each of the deliverables?
Rules of engagement - How often will you touch base with the client? Will it be by email or the phone? Will you be working on Google Docs or other platforms?
Price of project - Cost of project and whether there are other additional fees.
Two referrals - Case studies from happy clients.
How Long Should A Business Proposal Be?

Being detail oriented can pay off in a business proposal, especially if a tailored solution is being carefully crafted to serve the client. But sometimes a lengthy proposal can work against you. How long is too long?

Client

Average number of slides a сlient wants to see in a business proposal

10.1
Consultant

Average number of slides a consultant thinks is appropriate for a business proposal

11.1

The difference is minimal, but freelancers and consultants all agree to submit shorter proposals. You don’t want to lose the attention of your client or bore them with too much information. Less is more, and it helps to be laser-focused on delivering the solution that the client is specifically asking for. For some consultants, submitting a lengthy proposal can be a costly mistake…

“For one client that said no, it was a proposal where I included too much text. If I had given less information and just included 2-3 scenarios for the pricing page, and managed to speak to the decision maker before proceeding, maybe I would have been in.”

Angelique Slob,
organizational consultant

“If my proposal could be one page, I would do it.”

Mark Evans,
marketing consultant
Tip

Submit a proposal that is simple, straight forward, and user friendly. Avoid any unnecessary fluff that is irrelevant to the client’s problem.

Personalization: Key To A Proposal's Success

Personalization, based on our survey and interview responses, is absolutely key to the success of business proposals. A tailored solution for the client’s business problems is the most important section in a business proposal, according to 58% of respondents.

The most important page in the proposal will be the first one, which is the scope of the work. The client just wants to know: Are you going to do what I need you to do?

Mark Evans,
marketing consultant

“[To create a tailored solution], I make them talk about their situation, ask lots of questions, and then make some analyses. For example, I might ask: ‘It seems you have some problems figuring out your current business culture.’”

Angelique Slob,
organizational consultant
Tip

The key to personalization is through listening carefully and asking the right questions.

“My client was looking for people to help them with advertising, SEO, and PPC campaigns. We don’t really offer that, but instead of having the client go to another agency, we brought in third-party providers as a part of the solution that we were offering to them.

I didn’t want to lose the client if we can give them the solution that they want, even if it means we need to hire someone else from the outside.”

Kareen Satorre,
strategy and management consultant
Tip

Stay flexible. The sweet spot for bringing in third-party providers can be at 20% per project.

NO
Pricing Page - Yes or No?

Should you include a pricing page in your business proposals? Does it help build trust and promote transparency, or is it counterproductive? Based on the answers of our survey, we summed up the debate on both sides:

NO
  • Price is not a concern in early stages of negotiation - show value first, price after
  • Variability/flexibility on prices
  • Not as important when compared to other sections
  • Shouldn't be the main focus of the discussion
  • Mood killer
YES
Pricing Page - Yes or No?

Should you include a pricing page in your business proposals? Does it help build trust and promote transparency, or is it counterproductive? Based on the answers of our survey, we summed up the debate on both sides:

YES
  • Clients are price-driven
  • Transparency upfront
  • Helps set the ballpark in terms of budget
  • Saves time
  • Key decision-enabling factor for clients
  • May be a requirement in some industries
  • Transparency in business transactions leads to successful relationships
slide
Pricing Page - Yes or No?

Should you include a pricing page in your business proposals? Does it help build trust and promote transparency, or is it counterproductive? Based on the answers of our survey, we summed up the debate on both sides:

YES
  • Clients are price-driven
  • Transparency upfront
  • Helps set the ballpark in terms of budget
  • Saves time
  • Key decision-enabling factor for clients
  • May be a requirement in some industries
  • Transparency in business transactions leads to successful relationships
NO
  • Price is not a concern in early stages of negotiation - show value first, price after
  • Variability/flexibility on prices
  • Not as important when compared to other sections
  • Shouldn't be the main focus of the discussion
  • Mood killer
75
%

of clients say they prefer to see pricing details on a proposal as it helps with project budgeting.

Only
56
%

Of consultants feel that a pricing page is necessary.

Why the disparity in pricing perspectives on the consultant and client side?

 

It depends on the type of proposal. If it’s a long-term partnership and the business proposal is used to formalize what already has been agreed, pricing is redundant.

 

It also seems to be dependent on the business area the consultant is operating in. Analytics & Decision Making and Customer Strategy consultants think a pricing page is more important, at 76% and 74% respectively.

Pro Tips For Putting Together Pricing

If you have decided to include a pricing page, coming up with the right price is yet another challenge. It’s a balancing act between doing your services justice, while still being able to operate within your client’s budget.

Tip

Add expiration dates so clients won’t come back when you’ve raised your prices. And be clear about your payment guidelines – if you require 50% upfront or there is a cancellation fee, specify it.

“I basically provide three scenarios – the second being the typical package that I recommend, and the third being a scenario where you get more for more money. They typically always choose the second one, as it’s a psychological thing – especially if you label it as the ‘most popular.’”

Angelique Slob,
organizational consultant
Tip

When determining pricing for a client, ask the following questions:

  • Can you do the work and can you succeed at it?
  • How badly do you want the work?
  • How interesting is the client and how much fun is it going to be?
  • How much will you learn and will it open up opportunities?

Price establishes perception of the value that you offer. Until you know what your client wants, it’s really hard to price a project. So it’s an art form instead of a science.

For example, there’s a red hot tech startup that I want to work with, but they have a really small budget. I would give them a user friendly discount that will have them say yes. It’s a win-win for me as it will help me grow my business. It’s a short term pain, long term gain kind of proposition.”

Mark Evans,
marketing consultant
How To Pitch To Clients

Despite the ease of online networking, a good old fashioned in-person presentation is still the preferred way of consultants to pitch to clients.

How business proposals are presented:
Meeting In Person Offers A Competitive Edge

In a competitive consulting landscape, meeting your clients face-to-face is one of the best ways to get a leg up. After all, an in-person meeting builds trust which is essential to long term working relationships.

“I like to meet in person instead of having a phone conversation. Because they need to trust you, and once they realize you’re not a slick, virtual marketing guy – that changes the dynamic of the conversation.

So if you’re competing against somebody else, the most powerful thing you can do is meet to establish that connection. This is because we buy from people we know and like.”

Mark Evans,
marketing consultant
Listen Carefully To Find A Client's Pain Points

A tailored solution is key to a winning business proposal, which requires some detective work on your end. Listen to your client talk about their business problems carefully. This will help you determine their needs, as well as your action plan.

“Often what they say they need and what they actually need, are two different things. ‘My website doesn’t convert,’ that could be their need, and then you realize it’s not their website that’s the problem – it’s their messaging.

So they’re describing a symptom and you have to discover the problem.”

Mark Evans,
marketing consultant

“It’s kind of an analysis where you pinpoint the client’s pain points. There’s a different approach, as some companies are actively looking for someone to support them, while others are looking for active support in specific areas.

If people are specifically looking for support with A, B, or C – you just have to convince them you are the right person. If that need is not defined yet, it’s a more difficult process.”

Angelique Slob,
organizational consultant

Timing is also a factor, and your proposal should reach your clients sooner than later. A research of over 25,000 business proposals showed that on average, a winning proposal was sent 2.7 days after it was requested, while the average losing proposal didn’t reach the client for 3.4 days.

How To Write A Business Proposal Letter

A business proposal letter is just as important as the proposal itself, as it serves as the first impression to your proposition. Angelique says that this letter can be sent via email, paired with an attached business proposal. Here’s a scenario: Our consultant Angelique is pitching to the CEO of a small technology startup called eSpark, hoping to scale up quickly in the next year. Let’s call him Steve. She would send a business proposal letter via email like the one on the right, paired with the attached business proposal.

Click to see a sample letter
So What Makes A Good Business Proposal?
01
Personalized

A business proposal showcases the best version of you. It shouldn’t be a “one document fits all” situation. Your proposal needs to be tailored to your client’s needs, goals, and expectations.

02
Focused

Reconsider how much information to share. It’s tempting to include a long list of achievements and technical skills, but staying focused on the client and communicating how you’re going to cater to their needs is more likely to help you win the project.

03
Professional

A polished and concise document that looks professional will capture the attention of clients and help you stand out amongst competitors. More importantly, it also shows that you’re serious about the project.

04
Visual

A great way to fit more information into less space is to go visual. Share insights in a chart, illustration, or icon instead of a block of text. Creating visual content helps people retain information and can unlock a new layer of communication with your client.

65%

After all, 65% of people are visual learners. Visual information is easier to remember and is processed 60,000 times faster than text.

Tip

Use images that are relevant to your topic and industry, whenever possible. A visually appealing proposal will give clients the impression that you take a high-end approach to your work, and are likely to do the same on the project.

The presentation matters a lot, which is why I subscribe to Piktochart. A recent proposal that I sent to a client was very colorful and presentable, and that’s what I use to determine success.

Our client gets the impression that we have done the hard work, and have invested time and energy into winning the proposal.”

Batool Ahmed,
market research consultant