Effective Proposal Writing: Hints & Tips for Future Prospects
Just like the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Yet most of the time when you submit a proposal, you’re doing just that: making a first impression that will decide whether or not you secure a business agreement with your prospective client.
The process of putting together a proposal is lengthy, but with proper planning and an organized approach, you’ll be able to work with your team and create an effective document. So let’s talk about how.
The main steps involved are initially meeting with the client, assembling a team, organizing your team’s internal workflow, creating a structured outline, developing a draft, then finally assembling, reviewing, proofreading, and finalizing.
Step 1: Meeting with the Client
As a general rule of thumb, there are two kinds of business proposals: unsolicited and solicited.
In the first case, the client will approach you with a certain problem and ask you to propose a solution. By contrast, an unsolicited proposal is where you see an opportunity to pitch your solution to the client and apply without being asked. This article focuses on what to do in case of solicited proposals.
Moreover, in the case of solicited proposals, based on the type of client and industry (e.g. Banking & Finance, Public Health & Insurance, Event Management), the requirements for structure and detail may vary. For the purposes of this article, let’s look at a proposal that has mid-level requirements for its ToR.
Nowadays, it’s very typical for companies to work with clients from all across the globe. This makes meeting them in person less likely. Nonetheless, prior to beginning the process of proposal writing, if possible, it is highly desirable to have a preliminary discussion or call. This will allow you to request the documentation you need and ask important questions. The goal of these meetings is to get as much pertinent information as possible so you can find out what problem the client is trying to address and how your company can provide the solution they need. Some questions that are important to ask:
- Has the client made an attempt in the past to address the problem? Why were these attempts unsuccessful? What were some of the hurdles they encountered?
- What evaluation criteria will be used when reviewing the proposal? (E.g. Is there a certain budget they have in mind? Are there a series of technical specs that are important to them?)
- Does the potential client have any concerns or specific points they want to be addressed in the process?
- What are the client’s/organization’s operating policies? The reason you want to clarify this point is so your proposal is consistent with these policies.
Tips from Flux
When working with our clients, our best practices dictate that we request specifications and host several calls to develop a clear understanding of what is expected. From here we are able to clearly define the problem that the client would like to be addressed and what solution we will propose.
Step 2: Internal Prep Work & Writing
The main task you will have to tackle in this stage is creating an outline of what sections the proposal will have. The purpose of this is so you can be sure no major elements are being missed. Again, if you are working with a client who already has a template or certain sections that they require you to have, make sure to include them. From here, you can move on to workflow and further discussions with your team.
After having spoken with your client, you’ll want to internally discuss the workflow and answer some fundamental questions, which will prove very useful when you sit down to write. Be sure your team is capable of clearly answering these questions:
- Where does your company add value?
- How does the solution you’re proposing contribute to the client’s long-term success?
- Which aspects of your experience or approach confirm your trustworthiness?
- What impact will your solution have on the client’s business?
Tips from Flux
At Flux, our process begins by appointing a designated person who is ultimately in charge of compiling the proposal. In our case, this is a member of the Business Development team. Their main responsibilities include assembling the document and coordinating workflow throughout the firm. The designated person decides which team members are responsible for what.
Assembling a team who will be responsible for compiling the proposal, it’s important to have all the relevant specialists and department heads. This will allow you to designate a portion of the proposal to each person and provide the right expertise where needed.
This team usually consists of:
Step 3: Assembly & Review
In this phase, the designated person should identify sections that need clarification or refining. Often this is a time when follow-up meetings and individual breakout sessions take place so you can hammer out any ambiguities or discrepancies. Once this process is complete, you’ll be able to move toward final revisions.
Recommended Proposal Structure
When thinking about how you want to structure your proposal the most important thing is a clear flow and to address all the points mentioned by the client in your initial meetings. Some clients you work with will already have their own template or format that they would like you to follow. If not, consider the following structure based on Flux’s best practices.
In the email you write where you attach the proposal, it’s a good idea to include a deadline for the prospective client to respond and hire your firm if one had not been set by the terms of reference (ToR) document. Also, don’t forget to follow up two or three weeks after and inquire about the status of the review process. Usually, you should be able to go through the same communication channels you used when originally submitting the document. For example, if you submitted the proposal via email, send an inquiry reply to that same address.
Phew! We know, it’s a lot to take in. Writing a proposal is truly a tedious process and one that must be reconfigured every time for the specific client and problem at hand. Keep these tips in mind the next time another prospective client comes your way and let us know what some of your best practices are in the comments section.