How to Write an Effective Proposal

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

By Barry Farber

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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

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

It's not easy to write an effective proposal; there are norules that cover every industry and every circumstance. But thereare steps you can take to ensure that your proposal gets the jobdone.

1. Focus on the customer's hot buttons. A proposalshould focus on how your product or service will help prospectsachieve their goals and meet their objectives. Although you mayhave a standard template you usually use, each proposal should beindividualized to meet the particular prospect's needs.

2. Keep it as short as possible. There aretimes--especially when technical statistics and complicatedproducts are involved--when proposals need to be packed with data.Otherwise, you should keep the proposal as short as possible whilestill making sure it contains all the necessary information.Proposals that have gorgeous covers, include press releases and adozen testimonial letters may look good, but the truth is that 99percent of the time, the prospect will flip through all those pagesand go right to the dollars, and you end up selling on priceinstead of value. Focus instead on what the client really wants toknow.

3. Ask the prospect how to write the proposal. Say this:"If you were to get the proposal right now, what would be thethree most important points that would help you make a buyingdecision?" Have the prospect prioritize those points, and thenconstruct your proposal accordingly. If the prospect has formalproposal requirements, ask whether he or she has written guidelinesyou can follow or even a previous proposal you can review to makesure yours fits within the proper parameters.

Think of your proposal as a tool to forge a strong andlong-lasting relationship with this prospect. Focus on what theprospect sells and how you can help him or her achieve those goals.When prospects see that you've put in the time and effort tounderstand their business and objectives, your proposal is sure toend up making the sale.

Barry Farber

Barry Farber is the author of 11 books on sales, management and peak performance. His latest release, "Diamond in the Rough" CD program, is based on his book, radio and television show. Visit him at, or email him at

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