Writing a proposal is an art that any freelancer or small business must master. Whether you’re competing for work on sites like ELance or oDesk or submitting a proposal to a client offline, this is your opportunity to shine and set your business and services apart.
It’s not an easy task, but follow these simple steps and you’ll be on your way to delivering a kickass proposal that wins you more business.
No Two Proposals are the Same
This is one of the reasons that proposal generators and templates can go awry. Even if you have a standard approach to proposals, tailor each one to the prospect in question. Never simply re-hash a previous proposal with the same boilerplate, proof points, and so on. Which leads to our next point.
Check Boxes First
If you are responding to an online listing, make sure you adhere its requirements, while still getting across your differentiators. Everyone wants to stand out, but the person at the other end of the proposal request also wants to make sure you check a few fundamental boxes first.
Focus on the Prospect
Try to find out as much as you can about the prospect’s industry and business. Any bidder who can demonstrate an understanding or appreciation of the environment a prospect operates within, can’t go wrong.
We all purchase products and services to satisfy a need, but some needs take priority over others, and those become our key purchasing criteria. Try to find out what your prospect’s immediate needs and hot buttons are and frame your proposal around how you’ll address these (the rest will follow from there). This is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
Focus on Results, not Just Activity
Any business owner can list out what they’re going to do for a client, but a great one ties these activities back to specific and measurable results.
For example, if you’re a writer bidding on a case study project, instead of simply stating in the proposal that you’ll: “Research and develop case study”, try something like: “Assist client achieve repeat business in XYZ market with ABC solution by demonstrating existing end user success using that solution.”.
Offer Proof of Performance
Offer proof that you’re competent by including examples of how you’ve help other clients address similar challenges. Were they able to increase revenues, solve specific problems, or grow their business with your help? Proof of performance is very important.
Use More than Words
Instead of one long wordy monolog, spice up your proposals with relevant images, charts, workflows, and so on. Make it easy for your clients to understand not only what you’re going to do for them, but how. For example, a graphic designer responding to a RFP for website development work could include a time line for the project in chart form outlining key milestones, deliverables, and very importantly – project dependables.
Finally, have a polished template. You can download proposal templates online, but if you find yourself in a position where you’re producing a lot of proposals, consider getting a designer to develop a custom template for you.
But don’t go crazy, because you need to…
…Keep It as Short as Possible
Unless you’re submitting a complex technical proposal, stay clear of overdoing it with pages of copy and appendices. Most of the time the client will gravitate towards your pricing; you can’t avoid that, but do try and keep erroneous information out and stress your value instead. If you’re not sure what’s fluff and what’s not, as a (qualified) friend to take a look.
Summarize it All
Formal business proposals always include an executive summary and yours should too. However, use it correctly. An executive summary is not an overview or list of what’s in the proposal. Rather it’s your opportunity to sum up what you can bring to the table, how, and what the anticipated results will be.
One simple, often overlooked task. Re-read, cut back and check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Are your points communicated succinctly are you being too verbose? Overlook this simple process and your prospect will notice and wonder whether you’re serious about winning the work.
Back it all Up with A Great Image
The best proposal in the world won’t count for anything unless you back it up with your day-to-day sales and marketing efforts. After all, there’s a good chance an interested prospect will check out your profile online or ask around about your reputation. So make sure you have a website, social media presence, and a network established. If you’re working through freelance sites like ELance, etc. have a compelling profile with examples of previous work, before you bid on anything.
About the Author:
Fundbox is a technology company that is fixing the small business economy. Fundbox is helping SMBs, freelancers and home offices grow by managing their cash flow better and by overcoming short term cash flow gaps.