So you’ve found a potential client, you’ve got them interested, and you’re ready to seal the deal. But before you can start cashing those sweet, sweet paychecks, you need to put together a proposal that sells your services to prospective clients. Here are a few tips to get you started.
What is a business proposal?
A business proposal is a document that outlines what you can do for a potential client. The goal is to pitch your services directly to the person who would hire you. It’s different from a business plan, which outlines exactly how your business works and is generally used to get funding.
Types of business proposals
There are three types of business proposals: formally solicited, unsolicited, and informally solicited. A formally solicited business proposal is one that a prospective client asks for via an official request. That ask usually comes after you’ve spoken, like on a discovery call, and decided to move forward with working together.
An unsolicited business proposal is similar to a cold email: you don’t have any previous connection with the potential client, but think that you could potentially help them solve a problem that they’re facing. Unsolicited business proposals are less likely to result in business than solicited business proposals, mainly because there’s no way to know for sure what the client’s needs are.
Informally solicited business proposals are, well, more informal. A potential client is interested in your services and asks for more information, but doesn’t formally request a certain type of business proposal. An informally solicited business proposal might require more pre-work than a formally solicited one.
Components of a business proposal
Not every business proposal is the same and yours might not need all of the sections outlined here. But they’re a good place to start – and we’ll let you know if they’re probably not necessary. With that in mind, here’s what should be included in a business proposal.
1. Title page
Not all business proposals require a title page. However, if you’re going for a really big gig, the company seems like they do things by the book, or you just want to stand out from the crowd, it certainly doesn’t hurt to include one.
Your title page should include your name, contact info, logo (or other related imagery, if you don’t have a logo), your client’s name and contact info, as well as the date and title for the project. Keep it clear, simple, and spend time on things like layout and fonts in order to make a good first impression.
2. Cover letter
A cover letter for a business proposal is not as extensive as a cover letter for a job application. While the latter is generally a full page and tries to cram as much information as possible into it, the former aims to be clear and concise.
Introduce yourself, including whether and how you’ve met before. Then, give a quick sketch of what they can expect from the rest of the proposal, include some info about how great you are, and end with a polite sign off. You can put all of this in the body of the email in which you send your business proposal.
3. Table of contents
You can skip this step if your business proposal is short. But if it’s on the longer side (more than a page or two), it’s worth it to write out the table contents so that the reader knows exactly where to find the information that they need.
An easy way to do this is to use headings in your word processor as you’re writing out your business proposal. You can then copy and paste those headings to the top of your document as an accurate and easy to follow table of contents.
4. Executive summary
An executive summary is a quick rundown of what’s included in the rest of a report or proposal. It’s important because it puts all the important points front and center, helping whomever is reading decide if they want to continue reading.
Think of it as a mini-pitch for your freelance services. Start by giving a brief overview of your skills and experience, then outline the main points of your proposal. Be clear and concise, and make sure to address any potential concerns your client may have in this quick scope of work.
5. Problem statement
The problem statement is one of the most important parts of a freelance business proposal. After all, you're proposing a solution to a problem, so you need to make sure that the problem is clearly stated.
The problem statement should include information about the client's current situation, their goals, and the obstacles that they're facing. It's also important to mention the potential consequences of not solving the problem. With this information in hand, you can craft a compelling case for your proposed solution.
6. Strategy or approach
First, make sure you understand the client's problem and their desired outcome. Then, craft a solution that meets their needs and addresses all of their concerns. Be sure to include plenty of detail, and don't be afraid to get creative. Remember, the goal is to impress the client and demonstrate why you're the best person for the job.
Next, outline your qualifications and explain why you're the ideal candidate for the project. Include examples of similar projects you've worked on in the past, and highlight any relevant skills or experience you have. If you have any unique insights or ideas about how to approach the project, be sure to mention them here as well.
7. Cost and pricing
When it comes to proposals, the pricing section can be a make-or-break moment for many clients. After all, no one wants to be hit with an unexpectedly high bill at the end of a project. As a result, it's important to be thoughtful and transparent when crafting your pricing strategy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Include all relevant costs. This includes things like materials, labor, overhead, and profit margin.
- Be realistic. Don't try to lowball your clients just to get the job - you'll likely end up losing money in the long run.
- Don't be afraid to negotiate. Many clients are open to haggling on price, so don't be afraid to ask for what you're worth.
This is where you introduce yourself and your team, if you have one, to the prospective client. By now they should have a pretty good idea of what your company does, so take a moment to introduce each individual, what they do, their past experiences, and what the client can expect from them.
If you don’t have a team, you can use this section to talk more about your own experiences in order to boost credibility with the client. Illustrate why you’re the one person shop that’s best for the task at hand.
People are more likely to believe the reviews of others like them than they are to believe pretty much any other source. So you can think of the testimonials section as your own little review site. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be specific. Collect testimonials that are specific to the project you're proposing. Generic comments about your great work ethic or how easy you are to work with aren't going to be as convincing as ones that mention the exact type of project you're pitching.
- Tap real clients. Make sure the testimonials are from people who are qualified to speak about your work — ideally, clients or colleagues who have directly worked with you on similar projects.
- Add a personal touch. A little humor and personality can go a long way in making your testimonials more relatable and believable.
Final tips for making a great business proposal
By now you should have a pretty clear idea of all of the elements that are necessary in a business proposal. But we want to send you off with a couple of tips on to really make it great.
1. Be direct
Your potential client doesn't have time to wade through pages of filler text. Get to the point and explain why you're the best person for the job.
2. Use visuals.
A picture is worth a thousand words, so include charts, infographics, and other visual aids to illustrate your points.
3. Data, data, data.
Back up your claims with hard numbers whenever possible. Show your potential clients that you know your stuff.
4. Call to action.
End your proposal with a strong call to action that tells the client what you want them to do next.
A business proposal is essentially a document that pitches your product or service to a potential client. If you want to create a proposal that will stand out and increase your chances of landing the sale, be sure to include the following: an executive summary, problem statement, solution overview, pricing information, testimonials, and finally—a call to action.