I specialize in marketing communications, which is about helping clients reach the right people and convincing those people to buy my clients’ services or products, support their ideas, give them money or attend their events. I use this proposal template when I have to submit a proposal for my company or when I’m preparing a proposal for a client. It forces me to focus on what prospects really care about:
• Results, results, results
• How much it’s going to cost
• How long it’s going to take
• How much inconvenience, downtime and staff disruption they’re going to have to put up with
• Reassurance that my client or my company is the right choice
It’s absolutely crucial to always look at the proposal from the prospect’s point of view. Whenever you recommend something, ask “So what?” i.e. What’s the benefit to the prospect? Why should the prospect care – and pay for it? How does it solve the prospect’s problem? What’s in it for the prospect?
Remember that the proposal is probably going to be reviewed by a few people, many of whom have no idea who you are, what you do, what they need, and why they should pay you. Avoid jargon and business bingo lingo, i.e. drive results, take the company to the next level, best practices, aligned, grow the company, etc. (I’m old enough to remember paradigm shift, granular, space, and end of the day.)
Unless you’re responding to a formal request or proposal or have to use a specific corporate format, keep the proposal SHORT — one to two pages. Three if absolutely necessary. This length works for assignments up to $50,000. I’ve used it successfully for projects with huge budgets and when I had no idea about budget – which is often the case. You can add attachments, such as team profiles, references, whatever. But don’t go crazy.
In defense of brevity — People, especially business people, do not have the time or inclination to wade through pages of information they don’t care about. Get to the point. Also, the longer and more detailed your proposal is, the more people are going to have to review it – and put in their two cents. All that delays getting your proposal signed and your first check deposited.
Resist detailed descriptions of how you’re going to get prospects the results they want. They don’t care about your fabulous processes, methodology or state-of-the-art tools. They just want to be reassured you have good ones and know how to use them.
Here’s my favorite example of too much information: Going into detail about your processes is like explaining how an internal combustion engine works when all someone wants to know is how to start the car.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all template. Every proposal still has to be tailored to each potential client.
However, there is a conventional proposal structure. And some information can be standardized and dropped in and modified as needed or added as attachments.
Layout and tone
Your proposal is a marketing piece and tells the prospect and the people who are going to sign your check a lot about you, how well you understand what they need and how easy it’s going to be to work with you.
• Your proposal needs to be friendly, conversational, professional and SHORT.
• Put the proposal on your letterhead
• Date it
• Use a simple and universally accepted font, such as Arial, Helvetica or Times New Roman, in 11 or 12 point
• Use the business address block format
• Number the pages and put a reminder that this is a proposal from you in the footer
• Use regular 1 inch margins, single space, block paragraphs, white space
• Have someone else proofread
• Keep it short and to the point
• You probably don’t need a table of contents
• Remember there’s only ONE space between sentences, not two. This is not typing class.
Use the person’s first name if your relationship allows it. Think of this as a letter of agreement between colleagues.
Section 1 – Background
Set the stage in one or two SHORT paragraphs. This is your opportunity to show the potential client that you listened closely and understand what results he/she wants/needs and why.
• This is a summary of whatever conversations you have had with the potential client.
• Be as personal and friendly as possible. If you can. start it off with something like “It was so good to meet/talk with you…”
• Let the prospect know you (and your team) are excited to work with him/her/the company.
• Use the potential client’s words.
• Say something about what makes the prospect’s company or organization special.
• Mention what’s going on that’s causing the prospect to seek help at this time, i.e. market or leadership changes, shift in business environment, merger, expansion, event, etc.
• State the results you and the prospect have decided on in a bulleted list.
• “To achieve these results, I/we propose a xx-phase approach.” Use a bulleted list in order of what needs to be done first, second, etc. Do NOT go into detail here. You will describe each phase BRIEFLY as a separate item in the statement of work section.
• You might also have some additional ideas that have come to you as you’ve been working on the proposal. Weave them in here and in the statement of work section.
Section 2 – About me/you/my client
Describe why you are the best choice to help the prospect. This can be a standardized one or two SHORT paragraph statement about who you are, what you do, what makes you special, and where they can get more information, which should be your website. The content could be from your website’s home and about pages, your business plan, etc.
Section 3 – Statement of work
Here’s where you focus on each work phase you mentioned in Section 1. Each phase needs to be self-contained and complete in itself. Ideally, each phase builds on the one before it. This gives clients with limited resources or reluctance to commit fully the opportunity to hire you one phase at a time. It breaks down the entire process into smaller chunks and helps clients see how the different work phases relate to and depend on one another. It also gives you a natural break to be paid. Here’s a typical phase outline:
Phase X: Use the same words you used in Section 1 for the title of each separate work phase
• State the results you will achieve.
• Briefly describe what you (and your team) will do and why. Don’t go into too much detail.
• List any deliverables for each phase. Briefly explain why the prospect needs to pay you for deliverables whose benefits are less obvious, such as a work plan. (Deliverables are tangible items such as products, reports, programs, materials, content, services, etc. you “deliver” (give) to your client by a certain date as a required part of a project.)
Section 4 – Client responsibilities
List and describe what you require from the client. For example:
• Tangible support from leadership
• Introduction by leadership to employees
• Assignment of a reliable point person with regular and emergency contact information
• Approval process
• Timely response and turn around
• Authorization to contact and access to key personnel for interviews, surveys, etc.
• Schedule availability of personnel
• Provide relevant documents
• With the assurance that you will get approval from the client in advance, the client pays the costs and makes arrangements related to meeting facilities, A/V support, meals for training presentations, transportation, etc. Never ever pay for anything like this up-front to be reimbursed.
• With the assurance that you will get approval from the client in advance, the client pays for photography, media buys, wire services, e-newsletter fees, printing, etc. Never ever pay for anything like this up-front to be reimbursed.
Part 5 – Timeline
Make a note in the proposal that this is as estimated timeline for planning purposes only. Actual timing will depend on how well the project stays on schedule.
• Estimate timeline ranges by phase. Note if some phases can be conducted simultaneously.
Part 6 – Pricing and terms
Ideally you should have an idea about budget ahead of time. But in our fast moving, make-a-living world, you often can’t get as much information as you need – especially about budget – and you have to write a proposal anyway. I’ve written, submitted and won proposals without much information.
• I’ve often had to leave out budgets because I had no idea at all what they were. Sometimes I never find out except by accident.
• The concept and expected results captured the potential client’s imagination.
• In many instances, the proposal at least got me started working with the client.
Price by phase
• Mini-maxi with BRIEF explanations
• How payments will be made and when, invoicing, expenses
• If there are outside fees such as photography, e-newsletter fees, wire services, evaluation tools, meeting facilities, transportation, etc., estimate them.
Ideally, you may be able to have the client agree to your terms and conditions. Some clients will have their own that you have to agree to. Read these very carefully. Pay attention to:
• Cancellation/Termination of contract
• Change orders
• Intellectual property
• Late payment penalty
• Assure confidentiality.
Part 7 – Conclusion
Write a warm, friendly conclusion. It should be a recap of sorts. Mention again how much you’re looking forward to working with the prospect. Mention the attachments to the proposal if there are any. Include how to contact you directly if there are any questions. Add that if the proposal is acceptable as is, please sign below.
Part 8 – Signatures
You or your client should sign and date the proposal before you send it. I use this setup.
For Nancy Solomon & Associates Inc./client/you:
For (prospect’s company, name, etc. and, upon signing, the client)