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How to Write a Business Proposal in 2021: Examples & Outline

How to Write a Business Proposal...

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How to Write a Business Proposal in 2021: Examples & Outline

A complete guide to writing business proposals that land deals. Easy-to-follow steps, actionable examples, and insider tips from sales pros.

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John McTale

Editor-in-chief

May 13, 2021

 

 

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Not a fan of writing business proposals? Few people are. After all, it puts you in quite a vulnerable position. You need to convince prospects to pick you and make them understand why you’re the perfect fit for their needs. It’s just as uncomfortable and stressful as online dating or writing cover letters. Except... the stakes are much higher. A well-written business proposal can make a deal. A less-than-perfect one will be a dealbreaker. Simple as that. 

  

It sounds scary when framed this way, I know. But no need to freak out about that key business proposal you’re working on. There is an easy and effective way to write business proposals for modern-day sales and you’ve come to the right place to learn all you need to know. 

  

This guide will show you a simple 8-step process you can follow to ace every business proposal you create. Plus, for every section of your proposal, you’ll get sample content you can take as a point of reference and use to score more deals. 

  

First, see a business proposal example created with Storydoc’s business proposal templates. 

Sample business proposal transformed in our tool:

Before

After

Static, plain-text proposals are a relic of the past. With Storydoc, you’ll get engaging, interactive proposals looking better than anything you’ve ever created. Rise above your competitors and give your customers a proposal they will be proud to show their boss.  

 

What is a business proposal?

 

A business proposal is a formal document devised by a company and delivered to a prospect with the purpose of securing a contractual agreement between the two parties. A good business proposal shows to your potential clients why your offer is the most beneficial to them.

Before we dig deeper, if you just need a quick checklist, here it is. To learn more about a specific section just click on a desired item in the interactive table of contents and we’ll take you right there.

 

Here’s how to write a business proposal:

 

 

Now, let’s go through each step and see some examples.

 

1. Create a title page

 

Starting with the basics. The title page of your business proposal needs to feel professional and inviting. Most importantly, though, make it feel as personal as possible.

Include:

  • Your name
  • The name of your business
  • The subject matter of your proposal
  • Your prospect’s name and job title
  • Your prospect’s company logo
  • Submission date

 

Business proposal title page example:

 

 

Jane Atkins
ABC Company

Inbound Marketing Proposal 
for Acme Corp

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Submitted to:  John Random, VP Growth
Submitted on: May 5, 2021

 

 

 

Using your client’s logo is virtually a must. But you kick your title page up a notch by applying other elements of their branding, too: think colors, master visuals, and overall vibe. They will notice and appreciate it.

 

 

2. Include an interactive table of contents

 

One of the keys to success in business communication is setting up expectations and then meeting them. A table of contents achieves just that: you tell your readers exactly what they’ll find in your proposal.

If you’re sending your proposal electronically, make the ToC clickable, with jump-to links to appropriate chapters of your proposal. It will make navigating through the document so much easier (much like we did with this piece, your welcome!).
 

Pro Tip

Speaking of electronic versions… Do your best to prevent your prospects from printing out your proposal. A 2020 study found that once someone prints your proposal, your chances of landing the deal shrink by 84% !

 

Sample table of contents:

 

 

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Assessment and Project Overview
  3. Methodology
    • SEO Audit
    • Internal Linking Optimization
    • Digital PR Assets
    • Digital PR Outreach
  4. Qualifications and Testimonials
  5. Pricing
  6. Terms and Conditions
  7. Agreement and Rollout Process

 

 

3. Write a compelling executive summary

 

As the name implies, an executive summary is a section that, well, summarizes the whole document. 

In business proposals, your executive summary should contain the essence of your value proposition: explain why you’re submitting the proposal, what makes your product or services relevant to the client’s specific needs, and how you’re going to tackle their problems.

The key thing to remember? Don’t mistake an executive summary for an introduction. The summary is basically a shortened version of your whole proposal. Its purpose is to provide a busy reader (who could be your prospect’s boss, the titular executive) with an overview of your offer, clear enough for them to not have to read the proposal in full.

If you want to learn more about writing executive summaries, specifically, see our dedicated guide: Executive Summary—Examples and Definition

 

Sample executive summary for a business proposal:

 

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This proposal outlines a detailed plan of action aimed at maximizing the profits of Acme Corp by boosting the inbound organic traffic to your e-commerce store. As your company displays a very high on-site conversion rate and the online traffic you generate is highly monetizable, the best strategy for maximizing your revenue is boosting your SEO performance.

Acme Corp is lagging behind its key competitors in most of the search performance metrics: domain rating, backlink quality, and, as a result, organic traffic. Applying basic SEO maintenance will result in a dramatic increase of relevant monthly visitors to your site, contributing to a substantial increase in revenue.

In the second phase of the project, our team will enhance your online presence and earn high-quality backlinks through a data-driven digital PR campaign, further improving your domain rating and the consequent search engine rankings for the highest-converting keywords and phrases.
 

Pro Tip

While executive summaries come at the beginning of business proposals, write this section last. Create the rest of your proposal beforehand, then “skim the cream:” compile the key bits into the summary.

 

4. Identify the problem and propose a solution

 

Here’s where the big guns come in. If you’ve managed to get them interested enough to reach this part, you’re halfway there. It doesn’t mean it gets easier at this point. Quite the contrary—

This section, usually called “Assessment,” or “Project Overview,” is the meat and potatoes of your proposal. You need to make sure it tastes like Black Angus fillet mignon with gratin dauphinoise.

Here are a few tips for making it powerful and convincing to your prospects:

  1. Focus on the grander scheme of things here. Paint a big picture, plant an idea: it’s not the time to get to the nitty-gritty yet.

  2. B2B buyers can smell generic from miles away. Do your best to customize this part to the exact needs of your customer, never use a copy-pastable template.

  3. Make it about them. Instead of “selling” your product or services, focus on the tangible business result they’ll get out of this. ROI is the most direct, hard-hitting metric after all.

  4. Don’t overuse jargon or highly technical terms. You’re communicating with a human, not an algorithm.

  5. It’s okay to use your sales deck as a point of reference. It’s what got them interested in the first place, so do rely on the same main message.

 

Sample project overview in a business proposal:

 

 

ASSESSMENT AND PROJECT OVERVIEW

Acme Corp is currently looking for ways to bring more inbound traffic to the company website. As an e-commerce business with competitively priced, high-quality performance clothing, any traffic you generate is highly monetizable. Your current traffic sources mostly constitute direct (15%), AdWords (40%), and display ads (18%).

Organic traffic acquisition has been heavily underperforming for your site. At the same time, both your key competitors, DoeSports and GreenWay, bring in twice as much organic traffic as you do through paid sources (via Ahrefs, and SimilarWeb analysis). This shows that SEO efforts can be highly profitable in your industry.

Your e-commerce store suffers from a few easy-to-fix SEO issues that we will address immediately:

  • Poor-quality backlinks from spam sites, low SEO health score, and irrelevant anchor text in internal links. 
  • Fixing these issues alone will boost your SERP positions by 5–10 places for highest-volume keywords, amounting to 5,000–8,000 more unique visitors per month.
  • Considering your extremely high average conversion rate of 3% and an average conversion value of $75, those efforts will increase monthly revenue by at least $11,250.

Furthermore, in comparison to your competitors, AcmeCorp has a poor domain rating: 49, compared to 66 of DoeSports and 70 of GreenWay, indicating fewer relevant backlinks and weaker referring domains.

Our team will acquire relevant, high-quality backlinks from key industry publications through digital PR and outreach campaigns based on unique data-driven studies. This will result in:

  • A significant boost in your domain rating, directly contributing to all major search engines rankings.
  • A projected boost in traffic to your website of further 12,000 visitors per month.
  • Enhanced brand visibility.
     

Pro Tip

Even at the stage of the deal where you send the proposal, don’t assume your customer understands what they’re buying and why they need it. You still need to get your sales message across: let your prospects understand the value attached to your price tag.

 

5. Explain your methodology

 

If the executive summary of a business proposal is the why, and the project overview, the what, here’s the part where you describe how.

If you’ve nailed the previous sections, your prospect knows that your solutions are relevant to their problems and has a bird’s eye view of expected outcomes. It’s time to explain your methods for achieving what you promise to deliver.

List all the deliverables they can expect from the project or service, together with a timetable detailing the deadlines or frequency of delivering specific items or milestones.

How granular you are in this part largely depends on the duration of collaboration you’re discussing, and many other project-specific details.

 

Example #1:

 

If you’re writing, an event video proposal, you’ll want to explain what the client can expect:

  • Before the event (consulting your needs and ideal outcomes, auditing the venue, setting up lighting, and so on), 
  • During the event (how many videographers on site, exact timetable, total shooting time),
  • After the event (post-production, sound and music, additional editing, total length of video material delivered).

 

Example #2:

 

If, on the other hand, your proposal refers to long-term marketing consulting contract, the description of your methodology will be more general:

  • Month 1: identifying and fixing technical SEO issues (anchor text, internal linking, backlink quality).
  • Month 2: auditing the site content and optimizing existing URLs for search engine performance.
  • Month 3: automating the funnel, running A/B tests on form pages.

And so on…

Let’s have a look at what it might look like in practice.

 

Business proposal sample—methodology:

 

 

METHODOLOGY

SEO Audit

  • Disavowing links from low-reputation websites
  • Fixing critical issues on existing URLs
  • Improving site speed
  • Fixing errors in robots.txt
  • Optimizing meta titles and meta descriptions
  • Fixing errors in HTML tags

Internal Linking Optimization

  • Identifying internal linking opportunities
  • Creating SEO-friendly anchor text combinations
  • Removing links to 404 URLs

Digital PR Assets

  • Running unique surveys via OnePoll
  • Creating data-driven content relevant to the audiences of industry online publications
  • Creating shareable infographics depicting the findings of the study

Digital PR Outreach

  • Identifying key leads in relevant industry websites
  • Email outreach to our database of relevant contacts
  • Passive link building via Google AdWords
     

 

6. Back up your proposal with proof of qualifications

 

Your business proposal might be visionary so far. Still, if it’s not credible, it will get you nowhere. The client might love your ideas. They might be beyond excited to see them come to life. But—

They don’t know you. And remember the old saying: “Trust everybody, but always cut the cards.” (Yes, it’s a euphemism for “Trust no one, ever.”) 

How do you make them trust you?

Show them you’ve done it before and you succeeded. Again, and again. List verifiable, measurable achievements you or your company can boast about and pepper those with social proof. 

See a few examples:

  • Customer case studies,
  • Testimonials,
  • Certifications,
  • Industry awards,
  • Years of experience,
  • Portfolio,
  • Media mentions.

The ideal composition of those will depend on the type of project and the industry: 

If you’re a photographer, your client won’t care too much about the awards you might have gotten or what The New Yorker wrote about your solo show. They’ll want to review your portfolio to see if that’s the vibe they're into and hear from your past clients to check if you’re not a pain to work with.

If, in turn, you’re writing a marketing business proposal, your best bet will be to emphasize examples of your past campaigns together with detailed key metrics you boosted for your clients.

Writing a proposal in an informal tone? You can add a short “About Us” section. Introduce team members who would be working on the project and explain what makes them the best professionals available on the market for solving the particular problem in question.

 

 

7. Outline your pricing options

 

This is where things get rather technical. On the face of it, the pricing section seems fairly obvious. They might be in love with your solutions, but they don’t yet know if they can afford you. 

Pricing is a tricky part on your end, though. You don’t want to scare off your lead with a sky-high estimate; at the same time, you don’t want to undersell yourself.

The best option is to go for an interactive pricing page where every type of service or activity has a separate price tag to it and your clients can easily select a package that suits their needs and meets their budget—ideally, the total price should get automatically calculated.

If you don’t have such an option at hand, create a very specific pricing table that clearly identifies each item or service, as well as the billing period.

Here’s a practical example.

 

Sample pricing for a business proposal:

 

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Remember, your goal is to make them comfortable with the pricing. Make them understand that your offer is not a cost but an investment worth every penny. A great way to achieve this is adding a live ROI calculator. It’s a perfect reminder of why they’re reading the proposal in the first place: to find a solution that will help them increase the revenue.

 

Below, you can see a sample ROI calculator created with our presentation maker tool:

 

Interactive ROI calculator example

 

 

8. Finish with terms and conditions + contractual agreement

 

Here’s a bad dream—

The client loved your proposal, you’re midway through the project, and, all of a sudden, they’re refusing to make a second payment on your account. 

“We agreed on 30% upfront, and a full payment upon completion.” You know that’s not what you agreed on. Or do you?

A proper business proposal comes with a detailed set of terms and conditions, together with contractual agreement at the bottom, helping both parties involved avoid any misunderstandings.

In the terms and conditions, describe the timeline of the project, payment terms and schedule, cancellation policy (if applicable), and possible pre-agreement amendments to the proposal itself.

 

Sample terms and conditions for a business proposal:

 

 

TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Timeline
Start date: June 1, 2021
End date: July 31, 2021

Total payment due: $11,150

40% of the total payment is due upon signing.
100% of the total payment is due upon project completion.

After the final payment, any elements of text, graphics, photos, or other creative work created by ABC Company for Acme Corp are owned by Acme Corp.

ABC Company retains the right to showcase their creative work done for Acme Corp as examples in their portfolio.

Prior to signing the contractual agreement, elements of this proposal might be amended in cooperation with Jane Atkins, ABC Company.
 

 

At the bottom of your document, include a legal agreement clause and a space for signatures. Make it easy for them to make a decision without additional documents. Adding a date and signature space in a business proposal will help you close the deal faster. For maximum convenience, you’ll want electronic signatures enabled.

 

Sample agreement clause for a business proposal:

 

 

If you agree to the terms of this inbound marketing proposal, please sign in the field below. Your signature indicates that you enter into a contractual agreement with ABC Company that commences on the date signed below.

[ date ]
[ signature ]
John Random, Acme Corp
 

 

And that’s a wrap…

 

I hope this step-by-step overview of business proposal writing has straightened out any queries or doubts you might have had. 

For the final word, here are a few extra tips to keep in mind before you hit “send.”

 

Business proposal tips:

  • Start with an outline.
  • Never reuse old proposals.
  • Use hard numbers whenever possible.
  • Don’t shy away from your brand.
  • Make next steps obvious.
  • Re-read, proofread and edit.

Thanks for reading. Keeping my fingers crossed for your proposal!

 

John McTale

Hi, I'm John, Editor-in-chief at Storydoc. As a content marketer and digital writer specializing in B2B SaaS, my main goal is to provide you with up-to-date tips for effective business storytelling and equip you with all the right tools to enable your sales efforts.