Guide to writing great proposals
Proposals are a critical part of winning new business for any individual freelancer or group of consultants coming together for a larger project. As a consultant, you will know that a proposal on its own is unlikely to win you an assignment. However, it’s what can get you through the door and pave the way for a personal interaction through a meeting or call.
The structure below ensures that the basics are in place. To differentiate your proposal, it is important you incorporate your own thinking as well as adapt the approach to align with what is needed for the opportunity at hand. If you need some more help, we have provided editable PowerPoint and Word templates for you to use as a starting point!
Characteristics of a good proposal
Make it relevant: the central theme is to ensure that the proposal is bespoke and responds directly to the brief or scope of work provided by the client. Using generic content and templates and not customising your proposal decreases your chances of success significantly. You must give yourself the necessary time; if you can’t then it is better to not provide a proposal at all as a bad submission can impact your brand!
Make it concise: all content, every word or image, included must serve a purpose and contribute to answering the key question, “why are you the right partner?”. The client is likely going to be receiving multiple proposals and have little time to review them all properly. A proposal that is overly verbose is often interpreted as someone just throwing whatever they have into a document in the hope something sticks. It also reflects an inability to articulate ideas and information in a clear and simple way.
Make it comprehensive: ensuring that you only include relevant information allows you to then go into more detail in the right areas. The proposals must have depth in key areas such as how you will approach the project, the plan, the pricing and relevant case studies. If the proposal is too light in these areas the client is unlikely to be able to build the necessary confidence to move forward. This will either lead to more questions and a need for a new proposal which extends the time and cost of business development or to the proposal being rejected entirely.
Make it visually appealing: Content is absolutely ‘King’ or ‘Queen’, but how it is presented is also essential to ensure that it gets read and taken seriously. The proposal must be well-formatted and structured. The visuals, imagery and style need to reflect quality and professionality. No spelling or grammatical mistakes, no formatting errors, no in-consistencies in format, these are the basics. If these are present the proposal ends up in the bin. If you struggle with presentations, get on an online PowerPoint or Word course, it is worth the investment.
Be personal: You may be selling your services to a business client, but at the end of the day they will be investing money in you because of two reasons – one hard, and one softer. Firstly, they will only give you the job if they think you are up to it from a skills perspective. This is why outlining your approach, show relevant case studies, etc., become critical to establish that credibility. However, in many situations, there will be other options in front of the client; other freelancers who have similar skills. That’s where your personality and the likability come into play. We recommend that you use the proposal to try to get some of that through. It can be simple things such as including a warm and friendly picture of yourself, a description of your style of engaging and working with stakeholders to set up projects for success and creating a positive environment at the same time, etc.
Structuring your proposal
- Summarise the problem statement
One page/slide playback the project scope, objectives and what they client is needed. This serves two purposes, demonstrate your understanding of the client’s requirements and ensures there are no misunderstanding or gap in expectations.
- Your one-page pitch
One page/slide summarising why you are the right partner and uniquely placed to deliver value. Highlight the key capabilities, experience, skills and expertise that is tailored to the particular assignment. Include a warm and friendly picture or yourself, but only if you have a high-quality one.
- Background and introduction
Go into a bit more detail about you/your firm, this should focus on highlighting the information that is relevant for the project, this could include content such as:
- Core services you offer
- Geographies you work in
- Type of Client’s you’ve worked with
- Your bio or bio for all Key team members
- Your Approach
- Details of the methodology and approach you will taken to go about delivering the project and associated deliverables
- Phasing and workstreams you envisage being included – this will allow you to breakdown the project scope into manageable and distinct parts
- High level content description of each workstream/phase
- Make it personal by including things about your style of work and interaction, how you like to engage with stakeholders to ensure the project is set up for success
- The detail
- Detail content breakdown of what is included in each phase/workstream
- Detail framework, governance structure and project plan
- Detail of team, who they are, what expertise they bring and how they will be deployed
- Case studies
- Commercials: pricing breakdown by phase, rate card, days allocated, expected expenses etc
- The considerations
- Potential complexities or challenges you have identified and how these will be mitigated
- Assumptions and caveats, this allows you to flag to the client information that may be subject to change if the base understanding was not correct
- Questions and clarifications
- Any thoughts or feedback for the client that may challenge the scope or their approach to solving it
Appendix: any additional content that may support the proposal