How to Write Proposals That Get Accepted and Don't Take Forever to Write Learn how to write proposals that get accepted and don't take forever to write.
Time kills deals. So if you've ever struggled to write a business proposal, check out the most recent episode of the Launch Your Business Podcast.
You'll learn how to write proposals that get accepted and don't take forever to write. I've provided a few of the key takeaways below.
But as heads up, this is a rather detailed guide (which includes a sample proposal) so I suggest saving it, blocking off time to read it, and sharing it with another business owner who could use the help.
The three questions you must ask before creating a proposal
The process of writing a proposal actually starts with the sales call and the questions you ask. So, once the prospect indicates a willingness to move forward, here are the three questions you must ask.
"What do you need to see in the proposal?"
Too often we assume the prospect wants a 30 page essay on how you're going to change their life when they really just want an invoice. Asking this question upfront will save you a lot of time and stress.
And, you can go as far to ask if they'd prefer a specific format, details or even an example of a proposal that's been accepted in the past. The more you know, the faster you can move and the more likely you are to have your proposal accepted.
"Who else needs to see this proposal in order for it to be approved?"
You might have a great relationship with the prospect you're chatting with but you never know if there's a spouse or coworker - who you haven't met - that also needs to be involved in the approval process. And since they weren't involved in any other conversations you wouldn't be aware of any stipulations or questions they may have about the engagement.
You can speed up the sales process and avoid a lot of back and forth by understanding whether or not it makes sense to have a call with an additional stakeholder. This additional call would allow you to develop rapport with them and answer any questions they may have before you write the proposal.
"How soon would you like to start?"
You're going to ask this just in case they take forever signing the proposal. So, let's say the state they need to get started by May 29th. If it's May 22nd and they still haven't signed the proposal you can email them and say "Hey, if you want to get started by the 29th the contract needs to be signed this week. I'll need to send you some onboarding materials and it will take me a few days to prep in advance."
This should get you a response since you're referencing the deadline they created. Hopefully it doesn't come to that point but you're prepared just in case it does.
Key elements to include in your proposal
So now that we have all the information we need, it's time to write the proposal. And, my approach is based on the book Million Dollar Consulting proposals by Alan Weiss. I picked it up when I first started my business and was surprised by the fact a proposal didn't have to be a dissertation. In fact, his recommended format is only one and a half pages long. I'll walk you through all the sections now.
The first is the overview. And, this is the part where you explain what you'll do along with the impact it will have on the company or organization. The example you'll find on my website is based on a service provider who helps companies optimize their email marketing campaigns.
The overview is fairly basic. I'll share an excerpt from the sample proposal below.
The goal of this engagement is to provide tactic-level guidance and support as it applies to your optimizing your email marketing strategy. Key outcomes include increasing your list size and revenue generated per subscriber.
Key Performance Indicators
The next section is where you'll indicate how success will be measured. These are the key performance indicators or KPIs. And, I'll share an excerpt from the sample proposal again.
Key Metrics of Success:
- Email list growth
- Email open rate
- Email click rate
- Website purchases
The metrics you mention will obviously be different and you want to agree on these during a conversation with the prospect.
For example, let's say you offer training that helps companies boost their employees morale. And, the goal is to reduce turnover and increase employee satisfaction.
The KPIs might be:
- Reduction in employee turnover
- Increase in employee satisfaction (based on a pre and post training survey)
- Net Promoter Score. (how well did participants rate you and your training)
Your KPIs are important because anyone should be able to quickly scan them and immediately understand the impact of your work. So, be sure to put some thought into these.
We have our overview, and our KPIs, now we're going to list the specific services you'll provide. And, unless requested, you should keep this relatively brief. Stick to bullet points if possible.
Here are the services referenced in our sample.
The Consultant agrees that they shall provide their expertise to the Client for all things pertaining to optimizing their email campaigns including:
- Email list maintenance
- Subject lines optimization
- Email copy best practices
- Increasing revenue per subscriber
Again, this will all be based on the service you offer but you get the point, keep it brief. If you want to provide more details I suggest adding sub bullets as opposed to paragraphs.
For example, I referenced email list maintenance . A sub-bullet could break down exactly what I mean by that.
- Email list maintenance
- Removing people who unsubscribed from the email list
- Labeling subscriber who buy specific products
- Identify individuals who spend more per purchase
I don't want to turn this into an email marketing lesson but you get the point here, provide additional details without getting into the weeds.
After providing information on the services, it's time for the next section, which is your process. What does the client journey look like from start to finish? The more you can help someone visualize the entire engagement, the easier it will be for them to wrap their head around it and say yes. Again, you want to use bullet points here.
So, here's the process based on the email marketing training we've been talking about.
- Client grants access to email marketing platform
- Consultant audits current campaigns
- Consultant delivers summary and optimization roadmap
- Consultant trains team members
- Team members implement new techniques and tools for 30 days
- Consultant audits new campaigns and identifies improvement and ongoing opportunities for optimization
So now it's your turn. Jot down every milestone that takes place from beginning to end, but say it in a concise manner.
Delivery & Communication
The next section describes how you'll provide this service and how you will stay in communication during the project. This one is rather basic as well but it's important. So, here's an example for you.
The Consultant will perform work remotely unless otherwise noted.
In addition to emails and messages, the Consultant will meet with the Client once per week to discuss progress and continue implementation of solutions. The consultant agrees to respond to all client communications within one business day with the goal of answering any questions within 48 hours.
That last part is important since it establishes expectations for how quickly you'll get back to a client. I usually get back to people relatively quickly but this is a great way to establish communication protocols.
Terms of Agreement
The next part is the terms of the agreement. And by terms I'm not referring to a legal contract, this is just a summary of when the engagement will start and end.
This Agreement shall begin on [Begin date] and continue for [Time period]. Either Party may terminate this agreement for any reason with [Days written notice] days written notice to the other Party.
Again, this clearly isn't a legal contract. But if you are looking for help with writing legal contracts I've provided more information on my site at terryrice.co/proposal
The last part is exciting and scary at the same time, compensation. As you may have guessed, this is the part where you state how much it will cost and when you'll get paid.
Here's the copy provided in the sample.
In consideration for the services referenced, the client shall pay the consultant a flat rate of $30,000.
Consultant shall invoice client on the following schedule:
- 33% upon agreement
- 33% at halfway
- 33% upon completion
So, a few things to call out here. Always get paid before you do any work, even if it's just a 20% deposit. And youre doing this in case the client backs out for one reason or another after you've already started working. For larger engagements I like to break these down into phases, especially if it's going to take several months. You can choose to get paid upon completion of each stage of the process.
Putting it all together
So there you have it, an easier approach to writing proposals that don't take forever.
And, if you want to create them even faster, use a template that can be quickly customized. I use a tool called Honeybook for this and you can also use it to send invoices.
As a heads up they have a promotion where you can use the service for just one dollar per month for the first eight months. So it's a great opportunity to try it out for a very low price. You can sign up here. And, I should note, I'm an affiliate partner for HoneyBook and will receive a small commission if you choose to use their service. But like I said, it's my go-to platform, which is why I highly recommend it.
A quick pep talk for you
I know the process of creating proposals can be challenging so my goal here was to help you save time and avoid confusion.
But before we go I want to address a few questions that may be on your mind.
- What happens if something is missing from the proposal?
- What if they want more details?
And those are valid questions. In fact, it happens to me quite often. But fortunately the foundation you've established is so clear, the prospect will ask more pointed questions as opposed to being confused about what the heck you're going to do.
These are buying questions, not "What the heck are you talking about?" questions. So you may just need to make a few adjustments before your prospect is ready to sign and you get paid!
Block off one hour to complete your proposal. But remember, done is better than perfect.
And if you'd like help growing your professional service business consider joining my video course, The Solopreneur's Shortcut. Through a combination of videos, worksheets and templates you'll discover how to package, price and promote your services so you can attract high-paying clients.
To hear the full conversation and get access to additional resources tune in to this week's episode of the Launch Your Business podcast.