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How to Write a Proposal – Getting Started

How to write a proposal?” – Even the question suggests that the first thing you should be doing is getting straight into writing. Not so!

Do you want to build a first class proposal that blows your prospect or client’s socks off? Do you want to do that in the shortest possible time? Of course you do! That being the case then trust me – writing is about two thirds of the way into the proposal process – there’s some initial preparatory work do be done first.

Getting the Writing Started

Before you even think of putting pen to paper for the first time you’ll want to be sure that you have analyzed your client’s requirements well, have built a winning solution, have a winning strategy for your proposal – and so on. You can find practical guidance on all of these key steps here.

Continue reading “How to Write a Proposal – Getting Started” »

Writing Cover Letters for Business Proposals

Proposal Design & Layout

Before attempting to write cover letters for business proposals it is key that you under stand the ‘science’ behind a good proposal letter – and how it should relate to your business proposal.

If you haven’t already done so I’d strongly recommend you read the module entitled The  importance of the business proposal cover letter’ – this module explains the key relationship between your executive summary and your proposal letter.

Then come back here and read this module.

Continue reading “Writing Cover Letters for Business Proposals” »

Business Proposal Presentations

Business Proposal PresentationsGreat business proposal presentations are critical.

Having completed the whole proposal development and production cycle, producing a proposal which offers the client the best of all possible solutions, many proposal writers will put their masterpiece into an envelope and dispatch it by post or courier.

But formal proposal presentations can often be the difference between success and failure – and where possible you should always look to make a formal business proposal presentation.

What if I’m Not Allowed a Business Proposal Presentation?

In some situations you will not be given the opportunity to make a proposal presentation – if that’s your current situation then I’d suggest you skip past this module and go directly to Module 11 ‘Write a Great Proposal Cover Letter’ .

My book, Winning Business Proposals, becomes available in e-book form in Q1 2010. There is an entire section of the book devoted to a step-by-step approach to developing and delivering unbeatable proposal presentations.

If you’d like to be alerted when the book becomes available please send me your contact details using the form at the foot of this page.

Meantime, this is a very much shorter overview of how to create business proposal presentations.

Building Your Business Proposal Presentations

A successful business proposal presentation contain all of the eight elements illustrated in this figure . Each step is discussed in detail below.

Business Proposal Presentation

Part 1: Presentation Opening

As with all interpersonal communications, the first few minutes of business proposal presentations often make or break the presentation – they set the tone for the whole presentation.

  • Introduction. Your initial words in opening your business proposal presentations should be to thank your audience for the opportunity to present your proposal to them.
  • Agreement of Objectives – The ‘Objectives Statement’. The next thing you must do is agree with your audience the objectives which you share for this business proposal presentation. The best way to do this is by summarizing the client’s requirement in a form with which your client will feel comfortable, and agreeing with them that you are there to present and discuss a solution which will meet these requirements. Be sure that your “Objectives Statement” reflects your client’s view of their problem.

In no more than a minute or two, your opening should set the scene for your proposal presentation, reminding your audience as to why you are all there, and leading them smoothly into your suggested agenda for the presentation.

Part 2: “Suggested” Agenda

Introduce your “suggested” agenda, asking your audience to add any topics which they feel should be included.

Getting their approval on your agenda gets them accustomed to working with you to meet common objectives – it can also uncover any issues which you may not have come across up to this point.

In most cases, however, you will find your audience happy to proceed on the basis of your suggested agenda.

Part 3: Company Profile

There are three basic elements you should address in this Company Profile part of your proposal presentation:

  • History of the Company. Your client will want to feel that whomever they give their business to will be around to provide them with ongoing support in the future.
  • Skills and Experience. It is important that you outline some of the previous projects you have undertaken which have provided you with experience that will be valuable in the delivery of this proposed solution.
  • Client References Client references are perhaps the most compelling credibility builder you can put in front of your prospective client.

 Part 4: Client’s Requirements and Objectives

If you have worked through the Winning Proposal Methodology outlined throughout the FREE Business Proposal Course, then you will be able to speak about the client’s business as authoritatively as any of your client audience.

You should now use the ‘Outline Requirements Statement’ that you developed in Module 3 of the FREE Business Proposal Course as the basis of your discussion of your client requirement.

Revisit those slides, ensuring that they make all of the points you wish to make on your understanding of the requirement.

Summarizing the requirement in this way allows any of the audience who have a different view of any aspect of the requirement to let you know now, before you begin to discuss your proposed solution in detail.

Part 5: The Proposed Solution

The presentation material for your Outline Solution Statement (prepared in Module 4 of the Business Proposal Course) can be used largely as is, with only as much cosmetic work as is necessary to tie it into the ‘look & feel’ of the rest of your business proposal presentation.

Part 6: Benefits of the Proposed Solution

As you present this discussion, be mindful of the analysis you did on your competitors and the Proposal Strategy you adopted (Module 5 of the Business Proposal Course).

If a given benefit is absolutely unique, then go to great pains to position it as an absolute “must have” for any successful solution, proposed by anyone, to meet the client’s requirement.

Part 7: Costs

In any presentation where you present costs, be sure to introduce them only after the “Requirement-Solution-Benefits” part of the proposal presentation – otherwise your costs could simply turn the client off before you get to make the key points in favour of your proposal.

Regardless of how strong your proposed solution no client really wants to have to pay for it!

In general, if your costs are higher than might be expected, or higher than any competitive alternatives, and tend to put you at a competitive disadvantage, then you would be well advised to conduct a detailed Return On Investment (ROI) analysis in advance of the presentation, and be well prepared to demonstrate that the costs are relatively low when compared to the superior bottom line contribution your solution will make to the client.

Part 8: The Close

A successful proposal presentation will move you substantially closer to doing business with your target client and may even allow you to “close” the deal there and then.

  • Ask for the Business. Whether you believe it realistic to expect to close the deal there and then or not, you should always ask for the business.
  • Next Steps. The final thing you will do before you conclude the presentation session is to agree with your client what the next steps are to be.

If you have noted issues or questions, then you will reiterate these to the client, committing as to when and how you intend to address them.

If you haven’t yet secured the business, you will want to find out from the client how they will proceed from that point in making the decision.

After Your Business Proposal Presentations
-Follow Up

As soon as you return to your office, you should write and despatch a letter to all of the attendees by way of follow-up on your presentation. In that note you should:

  • Thank them for the time they took to meet with you to discuss how you might “work together in implementing a successful solution to their requirements”.
  • Summarize the main points raised, and any particularly important conclusions reached or views accepted.
  • Clarify any points which the presentation revealed your client might find unclear in the proposal document itself.
  • Summarize the “next steps” you agreed, noting any time-scales decided upon.
  • Outline as many reasons as you possibly can for maintaining ongoing contact with anyone involved in the assessment cycle.
  • Put yourself “at their disposal” for any problems they have with, or questions they have on, your proposal.

Complete this note on the same day as the presentation, or as soon after as you possibly can. Don’t trust it to the postal service – have it delivered by courier.

In the days and/or weeks that follow the presentation, and until a decision is announced, maintain as close contact as possible with the client decision-makers.

And Now For the Hardest Part . . .

You have given the business your best shot and you are finding as many reasons as possible to stay in contact with the assessors. All you can really do now is wait.

When the decision is announced and you know whether you have been successful or not, Module 12 of the FREE Business Proposal Course (“Win or Lose – Find Out Why”) will prove very useful.

Return from ‘Business Proposal Presentations’ to the previous module (9) of the Business Proposal Course – ‘Design a Compelling Layout’

Continue onto Module 11 of the FREE Business Proposal Course – ‘Writing a Great Proposal Cover Letter’

Proposal Evaluation time – What If We Lose?

What to Do if Your Proposal is Unsuccessful

Get an unsuccessful proposal evaluation? It needn’t be a total loss.

Achieving a consistent 70% hit rate with your business proposals would probably keep you quite happy. Yet a 70% hit rate in the proposal evaluation process means losing half as many sales as you win.

Many people would accept these losses are the price paid for the wins they value so much, and simply write them off. End of story.

The challenge is to turn short-term failures into longer-term successes, to get some return on the investment of time, effort and resources.

Continue reading “Proposal Evaluation time – What If We Lose?” »

Sample Business Proposal Letter

Here’s a sample business proposal letter.

Figures 1 and 2 present the cover letter produced to accompany the proposal written in the module entitled ‘Writing the Proposal Content’ using the principles outlined in the module ’The Importance of the Business Proposal Cover Letter’.  Remember how in ’Writing an Executive Summary’ the entire content of your proposal was telescoped down into a compelling Executive Summary?

Well, this cover letter has telescoped the Executive Summary down even further.

Sample Business Proposal Letter


Notice how the cover letter sets your readers up to read and more easily understand the Executive Summary; the Executive Summary sets them up to want to read your main proposal sections; and your main proposal sections make sense of the more detailed proof material in the Appendices section.

That’s the relationship your cover letters should always have to your proposals. Keep the  ’Winning Proposal Model’ in mind at all times and you’ll maintain this strong thread, this powerful selling dialogue, through all of your proposal correspondence.

Sample Business Proposal Letter


Writing Business Proposals – Should I Invest the Effort?

Before writing business proposals it is critical that you stop, at least briefly, and consider whether the time and energy you’re going to invest in your proposal will get an appropriate return on investment – and if not then don’t waste your resources.

If you want to dramatically increase your proposal success rate then don’t chase business you cannot win – before you invest in writing business proposals make a ‘bid / no bid’ decision. Do it every time – it’s easy!

Why bother with a “bid/no-bid” decision?

Every you go about preparing a business proposal, win or lose, it costs you in a lot of ways – some of which you may not have considered:

  • Financial Costs  These are obvious – all of the costs associated with proposal preparation (man-hours cost, consumables costs etc.) are marketing costs, and are just as real as those associated with advertising, PR, brochure production, mailing and so on. Writing business proposals is expensive. Think of the time you spend before you commit to spending on any of these more obvious marketing expenses – shouldn’t you think carefully before jumping in and getting involved in a bid process that’s going to use up your valuable time and money?
  • Opportunity Cost

What other, more profitable business might you have won and delivered if you weren’t wasting your time on patently unsuitable deal opportunities.

  • Confidence Cost

How does the team feel if it loses deal after deal, even if it because the opportunity wasn’t really suitable? Unnecessary lost deals hurt team morale and drive. Before writing business proposals take all possible steps to avoid unnecessarily lost deals.

  • Profile Cost

How does it look to the market when you are seen to chase multiple opportunities and win only a small percentage? How does it look if you pursue every opportunity that comes your way- what positioning message does it send about the business you’re in?

How Do You Make The “Bid/No-Bid” Decision?

Analyse every opportunity using the straightforward three-step proposal evaluation process illustrated in the figure below before you commit:

Writing Business Proposals


1. Use a “Bid/No-bid Questionnaire” to Qualify

Produce a standard “Bid/No-bid Questionnaire” to help you in qualifying opportunities. Be sure that you are satisfied that every opportunity tests well on every count before even considering investing in pursuing the business. Your questionnaire should include at least the following questions:

  • Where has the opportunity come from?
  • Are we technically capable of doing the work?
  • Will we need extra resources (people or equipment etc.)to complete this work and can we cost to cover this?
  • Is this our kind of work? Does it send the right message to existing and prospective clients?
  • Do we particularly want this work/client, would it help to put our company “on the map”?
  • Who is our competition on this deal and can we beat them?
  • If we do win how will this affect current business commitments?
  • In landing this deal might we lose or upset an existing, valued client or some other prospective business?
  • Could we achieve a better return on our investment of time, effort and cost in preparing this proposal if we focused our energies on other opportunities?
  • Is the opportunity “rigged” for some other supplier – are we just “making up the numbers”?
  • Is this a “decoy” opportunity – an opportunity formulated by the client to get some free research/consultation – will you end up wiritng a business propsoial just to help build a specification for a project to be undertaken in-house?
  • Is there is a definite budget for this project?
  • What is the prospect’s payment/credit record, can we afford to business with them?

The Bottom Line

In the end the bid/no-bid decision making process can be distilled to four basic questions that you should make a standard part of your sales process – using them to test all opportunities:

Writing Business Proposals


Run this proposal evaluation every time you consider writing business proposals and you are taking conscious control of your proposal hit rate.

Return to the Free Business Proposal Course home page.

Return to Step 1 of the proposal course ‘What is a Business Proposal?’

Move ahead to Step 3 of the business proposal course ‘Analyze The Client Requirement’