Writing a Business Proposal

Writing a Business Proposal

When you consider writing a business proposal, you need to understand a few basics.

First of all, you may have to respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP). If that is the case, then you must follow all the parameters set forth in that RFP. 

According to Wikipedia, “The RFP process brings structure to the procurement decision and is meant to allow the risks and benefits to be identified clearly up front.”

With that understanding, your proposal would have to be prepared within the guidelines established by the RFP. 

  • You would be writing the formal proposal.
  • The RFP would be quite specific about sections and topics to be included. 
  • With that detail, it would be a matter of putting together your proposal within those guidelines.

The difficulty with a bidding process and the RFP is that the preparation of a detailed and thorough proposal for bid might take a great deal of time and money. 

As someone writing a detailed formal proposal, you may have to think twice about such an investment if it has a chance of not "winning the bid."  Perhaps a conscientious business will provide an up-front stipend for each bidder to ease that financial burden, especially if the project being considered is a very large and costly one.  

However, if you are going to be involved in that kind of proposal writing, you are not likely going to be looking for help in this website.  There is such a thing, however, as an informal proposal.   

Writing a Business Proposal - The informal proposal

When you consider a proposal, you will be considering a change in some current situation - a change to a new, and better, situation. 

If you are the only one right now who considers that a change is necessary, then your first job is to convince your reader that the change is necessary.  If your reader does not feel that there is need for a change, then the proposal will fall upon deaf ears.

Always write for your reader.

It is the same thing if you are trying to convince your friend of something. 

  • Understand your point of view and why you have that point of view. 
  • Consider how your friend or acquaintance could benefit by switching to your point of view. 
  • Obviously, if you are benefiting, then your friend can benefit as well.

You must be sincere, however, in order to do a good job of changing your reader’s mind.

Consider the benefits for your reader. 

Present those benefits initially in the short opening paragraph.  The introduction to the proposal, itself, should have, perhaps, three short paragraphs.  

  • The first will highlight the benefits and the topic of the document.  
  • The second short paragraph will provide briefly a list of the reasons for the change.  
  • The third short paragraph will lead into the main body of the proposal.

The short opening paragraph.  Once you have captured your reader’s interest and attention in that short opening, the document can be read and understood easily.  The reader will approach your proposal with a positive and open frame of mind.  

If the opening sounds too much like a “canned” sales letter, the reader may not ever get past the first paragraph. 

So, try to individualize the letter. 

  • Understand your reader. 
  • Know your reader. 
  • Get right into your reader’s mind. 
  • “Walk a mile in your reader’s shoes.”  

Depending on the type of proposal, you will write either a memo format – for a change you are suggesting within your company – or a letter format – for a change you are proposing to another company. 

  • The memo is the document written within the company.
  • The letter is the document written from one company to another.

Perhaps you want to gain clients for your company.  (Similar in many ways to a sales letter.)  Many young entrepreneurs would be quite successful with personalized and individual proposals sent out to potential clients – or to their current clients for a change.

The Informal proposal from one company to another will be similar in many ways to the sales letter.  It should be a formal letter from your company to the prospective client.  

(a) Writing a Business Proposal from one company to another

Some of the information you’ll need will be the following:

  • Introduction to catch the reader’s interest and attention and lead into the main body of the document
  • Background information
  • The proposed solution to the current problem/situation
  • How you plan to implement the solution
  • A profile of you and your business – perhaps some references from previous clients
  • The cost to the reader
  • And to close the deal – ask for specific action

With my letters and memos, I like to provide a short closing paragraph that is totally separate from the main body of the letter. You'll write a proper letter format for this type of proposal.

The short closing paragraph.  Include two sentences – one to ask for action and the second to provide a closing goodwill comment that highlights benefits to the reader. 

The closing can be much the same for each letter, but will differ only as it must be relevant to the particular situation.

Please contact me at ... if I can assist you with...

(b) Writing a business proposal within the company

If you are proposing a change within your company, you will use a memo format.  Memos are what you write from one department to another within the company.  The letter is written outside the company.

The sections and information will be much the same as for the company-to-company proposal, but of course will be relevant within your company. 

Consider these sections:

  • An Introduction to catch the reader’s interest and attention, and lead into the main body of the document
  • Brief background information – why there is a need for change and what can be accomplished 
  • More detailed information  on the current status, needs and objectives
  • A list of the options (including details)
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendation about which option you like best
  • How you plan to implement this change – so that it is clear that you’ve thought this through thoroughly
  • And a closing that asks for action – still very similar to all the closing paragraphs that I like for my letters and memos.

The difference in the  two proposals – company-to-company OR within-the-company – is what is being presented.  

  • Within the company, you will be writing a business proposal to show that you’ve researched various options and then show which is the best option for your company.
  • From outside the company, you will be writing a business proposal to simply extol the virtues of your own company or product and what you can offer to the reader.  

Format.  Since these documents will contain more than one page, you’ll have to ensure that all pages after the first one have an appropriate header – in case the pages get separated.  The header must be added to all pages after the first one.  It should contain the following information:

  • Name of the report
  • Page number
  • Date in words, not confusing numbers

As with all writing, when you are writing a business proposal, prepare a rough draft, putting down all your ideas.  Consider clearly the benefits to your reader, and highlight those benefits.

Read, reread, revise, and reorder your paragraphs.  Check the order of your sections, and make sure that you have convinced your reader of the benefits.  Change your reader's point of view with your proposal.

Your proposal will be successful if you can convince the reader

  • that something needs to change
  • that you have an appropriate, workable, and practical solution
  • that you are the one (individual or company) who can be trusted to make that change properly  - that you are the well qualified, that you are reliable, and that you have integrity
  • that the reader will benefit considerably from the changes
  • that the reader can afford the changes - or, perhaps even better, the reader cannot afford NOT to make the changes

Sincerity - Professionalism - Simplicity

Focus on success as you are writing a business proposal!

Finally, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the overall look of your presentation a professional and consistent one?
  • Is it easy to read?  Is the language simple enough for your reader?  Are the sentences short?  Are the paragraphs short?  Does it make sense?  Is it complete?
  • Does the "flow" of the proposal work?  Does it make a good argument in favour of your point of view?  Would you be convinced?
  • Is your tone polite? 
  • Have you covered all of the important aspects of your proposal?  Are there any questions that the reader might ask that you have not yet covered?  If so, go back and answer those questions.
  • Have you captured the reader's interest and attention right from the start - at the opening short paragraph?

Getting someone else to review your proposal before you send it out can be helpful.  ...and good luck!

Focus on success!

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