people pinning ideas to a wall

How to write a business proposal

By BBC Maestro

Every business owner wants to find success. Whether it’s by pitching or networking, there are plenty of ways to get yourself and your business out there. And a business proposal is one of the best ways to do it. 

As British entrepreneur Peter Jones says in his BBC Maestro course Toolkit For Business Success it’s all about “motivating, persuading & impressing others to join you”. Read on to discover how to write a business proposal.  

What is a business proposal?

Many confuse business proposals with business plans or business pitches. The terms are often used interchangeably but these are actually three different documents.

Business proposals

A business proposal is usually a written document requesting a specific ask of someone. For example, it may be an ask to buy your product or service, to invest in your business, or to partner with your business. These can be requested by a prospective client or investor or can be sent by the business to these people unsolicited. Many smaller businesses use business proposals, as sending proposals is a great opportunity to grow quickly – whether that be by securing new deals or by getting their company name out there.

There’s nothing better than getting out there.

Peter Jones

Depending on the nature of the business proposal – whether its aim is to secure investment, a new client, or a partnership – the document itself may include different details. A good business proposal will contain general information about the business – what the product/service does and why it’s successful. It will also include the business’ offering – what you can offer them as an investor, client, or partner.

You’ll also find the financial information, delivery promises, and completion dates or timelines included. Usually, business proposals provide finalised details, unlike business estimates which often cover approximate scopes. Business proposals may also include a cover letter if you are reaching out voluntarily, to give some background on why you are contacting them.

Someone writing

Business plans

After you’ve got your winning business idea, it’s a good time to make a business plan. A business plan is usually a long, detailed document outlining everything from your growth strategy to details on your management team. It should cover the basics of your business – what your product or service is, how it stands out in the market and why it will succeed. It will touch on the markets you wish to break into now, and how this will change as your business grows. It will clearly outline the competition in the space and some of the barriers to entry of your business.

A proper business plan will detail financial information – this can include anything from current investment, funding round opportunities and future forecasts. It will also include explanations of your marketing and sales strategy. A business plan is meant to act as a roadmap for how to structure, run and grow your company. It’s intended to be revised periodically as your business grows and adapts to the current climate, so many business owners will review these plans every 1, 3 or 5 years.

Business pitches

business pitch is where the fun begins. It’s usually written as a presentation with the intention to be delivered to prospective clients, investors or even consumers. It’s similar to a business proposal in that a business pitch takes place to win over a new investment or new business. A good business pitch presentation will be visually appealing and easy to read, as it needs to win over the audience who reads or hears it.

a laptop capturing data

How to write a business proposal

Remember, business proposals can be solicited or unsolicited. You may be introducing your business to someone who has never heard of your company, or you may be submitting to someone who has and you’re ready to strike a deal. In any case, it’s important to make sure you strike the right balance of what information you include in your proposal.

Here’s what to include in your business proposal:

1. Title page

To set up, you’ll want to make it obvious which company you’re writing from. Many proposals will present a visually appealing title page. So, include your company logo, your business name, a document title, and the date laid out clearly so readers can get an idea of what the proposal is about at a glance. A good trick is to remember to include your own name and contact details on this document too.

2. Table of contents

Although it may seem menial to include, a clear table of contents can simply help the reader understand what’s to come ahead. This can be a clean bulleted list of what they can expect in the proposal and it’s a good idea to add a sentence beneath each explaining what each section contains.

3. Executive summary

Here’s where you give an overview of why you are reaching out with your proposal and why your offering is the best for this person or business. You don’t want to go into too much detail here, but this is where outlining the overall benefits of your company’s services or products will read well.

A view of buildings

4. State problem or needs

If you can provide a summary of the main business challenges facing your reader, this is the place to do it. It’s a great opportunity to show you know their business and their needs and how your business can help them through it. Here’s where the research kicks in. “It’s really important to do your research,” says Peter Jones. “Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do that research.” Without it, this stage could be rather embarrassing. Look at their competition? How does their offering compare? What more could the company be doing? And how can you help them get there? Lean into the specifics if you can here. It will show them you know your stuff.

5. Propose a solution

And here’s where you state just how your business can help them fix their challenges, hurdles, or problems. Anyone investing in your business – or seeking business with you – will want to know that they’re in good hands and that you can get them from A to B easily. So, show them how you can. “It’s taking action that will separate you from the rest of the pack,” says Peter Jones in his online business course. Again, lean into the specifics. Layout clearly just how you can provide them with a solution and tell them about the ways in which you can do it.

6. Clarify details

Now it’s time to get into the granular details – terms, conditions, deadlines, and costs. These are incredibly useful for your audience to know as they will help them make an informed decision. Break this down clearly so it’s digestible. You can also include any terms and agreements at this stage too.

7. Finales and follow-ups

Depending on your type of proposal, this piece can include a space for final signatures, or it may be enough to share your details to develop the conversation further. Re-read what you’ve created. Does everything make sense? Have you covered all the basic information that your potential investor, client or partner may need? If not, now is the time to weave it in. It may be a nice idea to add FAQs or further contact details here.  

So now you’ve got the basic format, you can get crafting your very own business proposal. As you’re writing, it’s important to see the proposal from the perspective of your reader and make sure it makes sense and isn’t too complex. If so, can this be simplified? Remember you want this to be an easy read for your audience. It’s an exciting time submitting proposals, so enjoy reaching out and making connections and prospects for the future. You never know what will come of it.

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