How to Write a Business Proposal

Creating your first business proposal can feel intimidating. They may seem overly official for your small (growing) business, with too many details and requirements.

Let’s face it: jargon-filled business documentation just isn’t your style. (It’s not ours, either.)

Thankfully, your business proposals don’t need to be complicated to get the job done.

Over the years, I’ve used business proposals for larger deals and developed a template that I could customize for each deal. I can confidently say these proposals helped me win some high-value deals, gave my internal champions a persuasive edge, and built a case to justify the price quote included inside.

Below, you’ll learn what your proposal should include, how to write it, and some proposal best practices to help you win new business. 

What is a Business Proposal, and Why Do You Need One?

A business proposal is a formal document: that outlines a business idea or solution to a problem and presents it to a potential client or investor. It's part persuasive argument and part detailed scope of work. The goal is to convince your audience that your product or service is the right choice for their unique needs.

You’ll want to include some items and exclude others to create a winning proposal. Here’s our take on what a proposal that helps you close the deal will include.

Must-Have Items in Your Business Proposal

  • Title page: Starting with a visually appealing title page that states your company name, who the proposal is for, and the date it was created can set a nice, professional tone. Use your company logo and a well-designed image to start things off. 
  • Executive summary/cover letter: Next, you can add a short description of your company’s background and qualifications, why people in your industry trust you, your mission statement, or whatever you feel is important to include. The goal here is to set the stage in a way that builds trust.
  • A problem statement and solution: Before you jump into the details, sell your potential clients the “why” behind your proposal. Recap all of the problems you’ve previously identified and the solutions that your company has for them. Paint a picture of the future state and expected outcomes you’ll create. 
  • Service and project details: Now that you’ve shown what problems you’ll solve, it’s time to describe how you’ll solve them. Here, you can detail your services and the details of the project. If you’re an accounting firm, you would list things like bookkeeping, tax returns, financial reporting, and payroll. For each service, provide a description of what it entails and the expected results. 
  • Project deliverables timeline: Knowing when they can expect results can help build urgency in your prospects. If you’re selling software, for example, you could add an expected delivery timetable for data migration, implementation, training, and go-live dates. This will make the picture even clearer and help get you closer to the finish line. 
  • Pricing: Proposals are a great place to present your pricing because it’s wrapped in all the benefits that you provide. Rather than just telling them the price information you would see on a menu, you can strategically place the pricing within your proposal. Describe each line item you’ll be charging for from the scope of work and services earlier in your proposal. Make it crystal clear so there are no surprises later. 
  • Social proof: Points like statistics (money and time saved are usually the go-tos), case studies, or testimonials from similar clients help build your case. You can also use things like the number of years you’ve been in business (more years equals more trust) or the number of clients you’ve served (like McDonald's “1 billion served” signs). 

Optional Items to Include in Your Business Proposal

  • Table of contents: A table of contents can be helpful if your proposal includes many different services and important information. However, it isn't necessary if it's a shorter proposal.
  • Package options: Depending on your type of business, it can be helpful to give a few pre-packaged options for different service levels. You have your economy (cheap) option, the standard package, and the premium offering. This can help prospective clients self-select for their own needs and save you time when creating custom pricing and service packages.
  • Contract: Some businesses will need to get a contract with terms and conditions signed before work begins, so your proposal can be a good place to include that. Accounting firms, for example, need to get new clients to sign an engagement letter that details the scope of work, payment terms, when they’ll be billed, etc. If you have that or something similar yourself, include it here.
  • Payment options: You can make proposals part of the purchasing process. If it makes sense for your business, include a section on payment terms, the payment information they’ll need to provide, and a list of payment options they can choose from (typically, this will be ACH, credit card, or check). Including this here can cut the time it takes to close the deal by getting it taken care of early. 
  • Signature line: Again, if you want to make the proposal part of the actual purchasing process, you can include signatures in it. Many service providers, such as real estate agents, will use a software program to send the proposal with e-signature lines everywhere they need the client to sign. E-signature programs like DocuSign or Adobe Sign streamline this.

According to an Adobe study, 65 percent of business proposals containing a signature block close within 24 hours.

What’s the Ideal Visual Format for Your Proposal?

The format you use to deliver your proposal will depend on what you need to include. If you’re just sending a proposal that outlines the work you’ll be doing but doesn’t need e-signatures, using a PDF works great.

You can also use a slide deck or infographic if you want to be more creative and present the proposal live. If you really want to stand out, you can even send it via direct mail (maybe include a nice bottle of scotch, too). 

If you want to include a contract, terms and conditions, and e-signature, there are numerous programs you can choose from to deliver an interactive digital proposal. DocuSign, PandaDoc, and Adobe Sign are among the most popular options for going beyond a basic format. 

But please, for the love of God, don’t send your proposal as a Word document! PDF is the minimum requirement, but use a program like the ones above to make it more official.

How to Write a Business Proposal in 8 Steps

Writing a business proposal involves gathering all the information you need to form your business case and clearly state your scope of work. Then, you organize that information into a thoughtful proposal format that lays it out step by step for your prospect to digest. 

After you create your first proposal, you can use it as a template for future proposals by taking pieces of it that work for your next new client. You can then keep iterating on your template as you improve your proposals over time. 

Here are the simplest eight steps to start writing your first business proposal:

1. Know Your Audience and Format

Before you start your proposal, you need to know who your audience is and how you’re going to deliver the proposal to them. Your proposal will be different if you’re writing it for potential investors, customers, or business partners. Make sure you deeply understand your audience and what they care about. If you’re in sales, you can use your CRM to pull notes from previous conversations to achieve this. 

Also, how you intend to share it will influence how you write it. If you intend to present it live, maybe a slide deck is the ideal format. If you’re going to email a document that you want shared around the office, a PDF might be better. If you want it signed, maybe an e-signature-enabled PDF is ideal. 

Action items:

  • List your who, what, why, how, and when: Get crystal clear by listing out the details of who this is for, what the goal is, why it matters, how you’re delivering it, and when. 
  • Create an open document: Once you have the format down, just create an open file in the proper format and save it as an "X proposal." This signals to your brain that the work is officially underway. 

2. Create a Simple Outline to Keep You Focused

Writing is always easier when you have an outline. It keeps your brain organized and helps you stay aligned with your end goal. Keep your outline simple, clear, and easy to follow. You can use the ‘who, what, why, how, when’ exercise from step one to inform it, and follow the ‘must haves’ from the above section to help you fill it out. 

Action items:

  • Outline your must haves: This includes your cover letter, problem statement, and solution, service details/scope of work, etc. 
  • List any nice to haves: Once you have the bare minimum outlined, consider what else might be useful to include. For example, do you want to include an e-signature, or is that not a requirement for your sales process? 

3. Craft a Message You Can Deliver Later

Before you start filling out the outline you just created, write a messaging statement guiding your proposal writing. It’s helpful to create a central theme that you can follow and remind yourself of as you’re writing so you don’t get bored, too in the weeds, or focused on non-essentials. 

Consider using the messaging statement as your problem statement and solution in the proposal itself. It’s a helpful first thing to write and orient yourself with.

Also, make sure that this message is something you can actually deliver later. This is in writing, so any unfulfilled promises can easily be pointed out. Protect your reputation and only write down the results you can deliver. 

Action items:

  • Add your proposal messaging statement: Write a few sentences on the core messaging you want your proposal to convey. Is it about saving time and money, doing things better, or something else?
  • Ensure you can deliver: Are the results you’re talking about in your messaging statement feasible? Make sure you only make promises you can keep. 

4. Personalize Your Executive Summary

Your executive summary is your opportunity to introduce yourself and your company to prospective clients and build trust. And what builds more trust than a personalized message? 

Using the same boilerplate executive summary you use for everyone else is obvious and could waste everyone’s time. Instead, add some personalization, like why your experience is relevant, what high-level results you can deliver, or why you are a uniquely good fit. This will help you sell a better vision and make the rest of the proposal more interesting. 

Action items:

  • Find your uniqueness: What makes you or your company uniquely fit? Use that in your executive summary. 
  • Identify what’s in it for them: Make sure you’re clear on why your prospective client is interested, and appeal to that in your executive summary. 

Kyle Porter, Founder and Lead Strategist of Guidepost Marketing, inserts personalization into client proposals to help his company build empathy and trust.

“We leave space in all of our proposals for a customized letter to their team explaining what we heard about the challenges they’re facing, why we’re uniquely qualified to help them solve those problems, and to give relevant examples of companies like them that we’ve helped before.

“Each of our proposals also includes a space for a custom video we record for each prospect walking them through the opportunities we found for them and how we’ll approach their strategy.”

5. Scope Out Your Project Details and Services 

Now that you’ve sufficiently crafted a message and sold the vision in the executive summary and problem/solution statement, it’s time to get down to the details. Use the words you need to explain each deliverable, but don’t overwhelm them with details.

The proposal should have a complete scope of work that you and your prospective client can agree on. This will help them understand and justify the pricing section later on. 

Action items:

  • Scope out your project: List everything you will provide in a bulleted list. 
  • Describe your services: For each line item, describe what the service is and what results it will provide, but don’t get too wordy. Stick to the point. 

6. Find the Most Relevant Social Proof

Ideally, you have a library of stats, case studies, and testimonials from previous clients you’ve served that can support your business proposal. If not, you might need to get creative or contact previous clients and ask for a quote or recommendation.

Focus on finding social proof from clients most similar to your proposal audience. It won’t be very effective if it's irrelevant to them. 

Action items:

  • Dig for treasure: Find the most relatable social proof points from similar clients to include in your proposal.
  • Reach out: If you lack great social proof, contact an existing client for a quote or testimonial you can use. If they have numbers to back it up, that’s even better.

Pro Tip: Make collecting feedback part of your process with new customers or clients. Then, you can start to build a repository of relevant social proof from happy customers and organize it by the different segments of your audience.

7. Create Clear Pricing and Timeline Expectations

After reading your proposal, your prospect should know exactly what they will be spending and when they will receive the services they're paying for. If there is ambiguity here, the proposal hasn’t done its job.

Be sure to present your pricing. You can include package options (see the ‘nice to have’ section above) if it applies and make it easier for your client to choose. Also, include a timeline for each deliverable. This can be an estimate since it depends on when they purchase. 

Action items:

  • Build a pricing table: Add an easy-to-read table showing the price for each line item and what’s included. 
  • Set out clear timelines: For each deliverable or service you provide, add an expected date. For ongoing services, just add the start date. These are your best estimates but are not set in stone. 

‎8. Templatize Your Proposal for Future Use

Create once, use forever. You just worked hard writing that proposal, and making a business proposal template from it will save you a ton of time down the road. You can keep iterating and improving on future proposals and update your template as you do. 

Action items:

  • Make a template: Take this proposal and turn it into an easy-to-use template you can pull up for your next proposal. Be sure to mark anywhere that needs to be personalized and what is okay to reuse without changing. 
  • Share templates: If you’re working with a team, it can be helpful to swap templates with your colleagues. You can learn from each other and find ideas to make your proposals better. 

Paul Chow, the CEO and Co-founder of Design Dynamics relies on proposal templates to help win business for his 3D printing service.

“We typically use a template to streamline the process but personalize it for each client. A winning proposal starts with understanding their needs. We include clear descriptions of the project, 3D renderings or prototypes if relevant, a detailed timeline, and our competitive quote. Proposals help us win business! They show clients we're professional, understand their vision, and can deliver a high-quality 3D project.”

Types of Business Proposals (and How to Use Them)

There are many types of proposals, but they aren’t all useful for your unique business. To better understand how to integrate proposals into your business, I’ll show you the various types of business proposals and how they are commonly used. 

Sales Proposal

A sales proposal is used when a salesperson sells their company’s product or service to another company. This is common in high-ticket business-to-business industries like software, medical technology, industrial equipment, or other markets where a salesperson needs to be involved. 

How is this used? 

After qualification, a salesperson can create a proposal summarizing the pain points and solutions uncovered during the sales process. The proposal will clearly show the problems that need solving, the solutions, and why the company is equipped to solve them. Depending on how you want to deliver it, this can be presented live as a slideshow or emailed as a PDF. 

Services Proposal

A services proposal is for companies that provide a regular recurring service. This could be anything from accounting to facilities management. A salesperson may be involved, but often, these proposals are created by the owner/operator of a small business. 

How is this used?

These proposals will include brief information about the company, details about its services, and payment details that include when and how they will be billed. Some of these proposals can also contain a contract with terms and conditions and an e-signature line. The proposal itself can be the binding document that officially starts work. 

Investment Proposal

This type of proposal is used by businesses seeking to raise funds from investors. These proposals can be general proposals that are sent out to all potential investors, or they can be personalized for important investors that you really want to impress. 

How is this used?

Often referred to as an investor pitch deck, this is a proposal that outlines the business plan, the total addressable market (TAM), the company’s long-term vision, and how the investment deal will be structured. For example, they might be seeking a $2M investment for a 15 percent stake in the company (kind of like Shark Tank). 

Partnership Proposal

Certain business models rely on building a network of partners to grow their value. Examples include niche B2B marketplaces, integrated software platforms, or mortgage brokers that partner with specific banks.

How is this used?

When seeking a new partner, a business owner can create a proposal that outlines the value that a new partnership will bring. It will set expectations for the scope of work, benefits, and long-term goals. 

Alister Wood is the founder of an Australian SaaS partner network called VisitUs. It’s a system that integrates with over 2,000 apps and is used by hundreds of companies globally. He uses proposals to close new business partners. 

“When I'm seeking a business partner, I always include a title page with a title that communicates my objective. It's usually something like "Cooperation to boost revenue in South-West Australia." I also include comments on all data presented and place it into the correct context. The title always needs to state the objective, explicitly and implicitly. 

“I never assume that the recipient knows anything about my business, so I provide quick explainers across the proposal.”

Want Your Business Proposal to Work in the Real World? Follow These Best Practices

Sending a nice-looking proposal isn’t a guarantee that you’ll win a new client. To help your chances, try these best practices that might give your proposal the extra boost it needs. 

Present Your Proposal with a Strong Value Prop

Just like in any form of writing, the goal of the first sentence is to get the audience to read the second sentence. If you start with a strong value statement that builds interest and desire upfront, you’re more likely to succeed in getting your reader to continue reading (or listening). Don’t bury the gold and expect them to dig for it; surface it upfront instead so they’ll want to know more. 

Summarize Your Real-Life Conversations

Especially for sales proposals, it’s helpful to look back at all the notes you have in your CRM from the qualification process. These are your clues for the pain points and benefits to present in your proposal. By the time you write the proposal, you should have already qualified them and uncovered all of the important points, so use the proposal to summarize them logically. 

Michael Nemeroff is the CEO and co-founder of Rush Order Tees, an apparel eCommerce brand that caters to both B2B and B2C customers. When presenting a proposal to his suppliers, he summarizes the important points from his previous conversations. 

“I use business proposals when I want to connect with new raw material suppliers. I run a printing company, which means we need a steady inventory of plain t-shirts and other apparel in various colors and sizes. Our materials come from multiple suppliers, based on their product availability. 

“The goal of my proposals is to summarize discussions I’ve already had with these suppliers. The document is like a transcript of the details we discussed: the type of company we run, our target audience, and the type and quantity of apparel we’d need from that source.”

Personalize Your Proposal Beyond the Template

Having a template is key to making your proposal easy to write, but don’t let it be too easy. You should also craft a personalized message that speaks directly to your audience’s needs. Every proposal should be a little different based on who it’s for. 

Boris Markovich co-founded the New York City-based social media API company Ayrshare. He uses proposals weekly, and while he relies on templates, he also stresses the importance of personalization. 

“Having a template is just standard practice. Typically, a proposal will have fixed sections, but from experience, crafting proposals unique to the client is most effective. I steer away from using proposals that are purely template-based. They won't cover all the bases as each client's unique business needs specific coverage.”

Make it Visually Appealing

Good design conveys professionalism and value. The bad design conveys laziness and amateur status. Design your proposal template to look professional and appealing to build trust with your audience. If you don’t work at a company with designers you can lean on, there are templates on sites like Canva, or you can hire a freelance designer from Fiverr or Upwork to create a template for you. 

Keep Track of Which Proposals You Sent to Who (and When)

If you’re in the game of sales, you’ll probably send many proposals to prospective clients. Using a CRM that lets you track this will help you immensely. Knowing when you sent a proposal and having access to the proposal in your CRM will help you follow up at the right time and have the information you need readily available when you do. 

Pro tip: Close CRM’s new document storage feature enables salespeople to quickly attach proposals and other documents to their Lead page in the CRM. Files can later be searched for, viewed, and downloaded directly from Close. Keep this essential information on hand, and stop digging around your hard drive whenever you want to follow up.



Craft a Follow-Up Message That Encourages Action

Another positive aspect of using a CRM is scheduling follow-ups so you don’t have to keep thinking about it or forget to do it. When you follow up on a proposal, you can craft a message that encourages your audience to take action by reminding them that everything they need is in the proposal. 

Ask them what their boss thinks about the proposal, if they have everything they need to move forward, or if there’s anything in the proposal that needs to be changed. Try to make it a question that leads to the next stage of the sales cycle, which at this point is closing the deal. 

Proposals Don’t Need to be Complicated to Win More Deals

For most salespeople and business owners, a simple proposal is all you need to help you win more deals, so don’t over complicate it. Be sure to include the essentials we listed above and follow some of the best practices, but don’t feel like you’re writing the next great American business book. 

Most of all, focus on what’s in it for your audience and why you uniquely can service their needs. Proposals that always follow this principle will win the most deals. 

Lastly, tracking proposals (and the rest of your sales process) is much less complicated when you have an easy-to-use CRM. Close is the ideal CRM for service businesses and salespeople who rely on proposals to help them win more deals. It allows you to attach proposals alongside all of the other relevant information on your leads so you always have the context you need to follow up effectively. 

Interested in using Close to track proposals and leads? See a demo or try it for free.

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