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Decent Proposals

It's time to put an offer on the table. But first, you have to write one.

This story appears in the October 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As an entrepreneur who writes proposals all the time, here's the one universal truth I can tell you about them: No two proposals are ever the same. When my literary agency has to write a book proposal, it can run 50 to 60 pages. When putting together a keynote speech, my proposal is a one-pager. For the Diamond Group, the company through which I license products, my proposals go into great detail and are extremely lengthy. So if you were to ask how long a good proposal should be, my answer would be "It depends."

But a proposal's effectiveness is not judged by its weight, or even by what is written on the paper. A proposal's effectiveness is based solely on the value you bring to the table. When you do your initial presentation, that's part of your proposal. When you meet your prospects for the first time, shake hands and talk about their kids, that's part of the proposal. When you start listening and asking questions, that's part of the proposal. Because when it comes down to putting something on paper, no matter which way you do it, all these other elements come into play. What you're proposing is the framework for a relationship. Sometimes, when the relationship is complicated by technical issues, a long proposal is necessary to help the prospect make a decision. Other times, the proposal's purpose is simply to make sure everybody is on the same page.

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