When you’re tackling a complex problem, chances are you don’t just wing it – you might brainstorm, come up with a few different solutions, and then pick the best one and plan it out in detail. When you’re taking on a complex project for a client, they want to see that you’ve done the same thing for them. Business proposals are proof that you’ve spent time thinking out a solution to your client’s problem, and that you know how to execute that solution well.
Presenting a stellar proposal will give you an edge over your competition. Done right, it shows you’re prepared, engaged, and can handle the problem your client wants to solve. However, proposals can also be a huge waste of time if you take the wrong approach. You’ll save both yourself and your client time if you take the right steps to make a proposal that’s tailored just for them.
A few things to consider before you begin:
Usually, proposals are documents you send to a client after you’ve introduced yourself but before you’ve signed a contract. Sometimes clients request them; other times, you might offer to send one or present one in order to fully explain the solution you can offer. Before you start putting together a proposal, here are a few things to make sure you’re clear on:
- Determine whether the client has formatting guidelines. In some industries, proposals are requested frequently and must follow strict guidelines. If your client has specified a format for the proposal, make sure to follow their guidelines to the letter.
- Decide on whether your proposal will double as a contract. Proposals often inform the terms of a contract signed later, but sometimes the contract is an addendum added to the proposal, or the proposal doubles as a contract. Doing the latter can save time, but if your proposal doubles as a contract, you’ll want to examine the language of your proposal carefully and include more detailed terms and conditions.
- Talk to your client. Your proposal should ideally be a continuation of the conversations you’ve already had with your client. Talk to at least a few of the people involved in making the decision, so you know exactly what they’re looking for. That way, you’ll be able to tailor your proposal to suit their needs, rather than offering them a one-size-fits all solution (that might not really fit them at all).
- Decide how you’ll present your proposal. If you have the option, it’s best to present it in person, especially if your project will require ongoing in-person meetings with your client. In addition to building trust, this gives you a chance to negotiate the details face to face in the event there’s something your client would like to change.
Proposal structure: an overview
Even clients without specific guidelines will expect your proposal to follow a general pattern. Usually there’s a title page, followed by a summary of your client’s problem and your solution to it. Next, usually there’s a more detailed outline of your solution, including a timeline, pricing, your qualifications, terms, and a brief concluding section. You can switch up the order of these sections if it makes more sense to your presentation, but generally they should all be there. Below is a more detailed breakdown of each section, with some example templates from a fictional branding consultant.
1. Cover page
Your cover page is the first thing your client sees when they look at your proposal—so make it count! Wow them with branded graphics, a catchy project title, and your business name, logo, and date. It’s ideal to include your client’s name too, so they know right off the bat it’s not a generic document. Your cover page should capture your brand and your solution in one elegant design and a few words.
Example of components:
- ABC Company/Logo
- A fresh look: Our Rebranding Strategy for [XYZ Company]
- Client’s name
2. Executive summary
The executive summary is your second chance at a first impression. While you might be tempted to jump right in with background about your business, the best executive summaries focus on the client’s problem and how you’re proposing to solve it. If you’re making a pdf or print version your client can flip through, consider adding a table of contents if your proposal is longer than ten pages.
Your brand identity is vital to your business. Done right, a strong brand identity shines a spotlight on everything you offer. Rebranding takes finesse, time, and the right strategist to help your brand communicate exactly what you want it to.
At ABC Company, we’re here to help you find that sweet spot. Our team of marketing experts have a combined 36 years of experience working with clients like you, and we’re confident we can help you find the solution you’re looking for.
We’ll start by looking at your past and present—your client demographic, company history, and current brand identity. Then we’ll meet with you to discuss where you want to take things from here, and work with you to develop a concept that speaks to the soul of your business.
- The table of contents can also be added to the cover page, depending on your style.
- Keep the executive summary short and to the point; a few paragraphs should be sufficient.
3. Project scope
This section is a deeper dive into how you’ll solve your client’s issue. Explain who will be involved, what you’ll do, and an overview of how long it will take. This not only reassures your client you have a plan, but can help prevent scope creep from the get go by specifying what the project is (and, by extension, what it isn’t). If your client wants to ask for more, you now have an opportunity to negotiate and adjust your deliverables accordingly.
- Research and Development: 1-2 meetings between our marketing manager and the person on your team responsible for marketing. We’ll sit down and discuss where you’ve come from and where you’d like to go.
- Brand Strategy Presentation: we’ll welcome you to our office where our design team will discuss their vision to make sure it aligns with yours.
- Brand Materials: from there, we’ll create a series of materials and guidelines for you to use in all your communications, from logo files to business cards and letterhead. Included in this package is one round of revisions to make sure you get exactly what you were looking for.
- If there’s a potential for a lot of revision, specify how much is included in the original scope of the project.
- This section is a birds’ eye view of the next section, but to make things more concise, you could combine it with the deliverables and timeline.
4. Deliverables and timeline
This section is a more specific breakdown of what tangible things they can expect you to do or produce, and when they can expect them. Include the dates of any meetings you expect to have, as well as the delivery dates of other reports, documents, or other products.
- June 23: First meeting with marketing manager
- June 27: Optional second meeting
- July 15: Brand strategy presentation
- August 6: Brand materials package
Brand materials include:
- Business cards
- Brand kit document
- Updated packaging
- Store signage
- Try making your timeline an infographic, or use graphic elements to make each phase stand out.
- If your deliverables are less tangible (like a series of advisory meetings, for example), you could try pointing to anticipated benefits instead (eg “Increase sales revenue by 15% over the next quarter”). However, be conservative if your proposal is doubling as a contract.
Here’s where your company gets the spotlight! How you present your qualifications might vary depending on what your relationship is with the client and the structure of your business. If you plan on having a few team members working on the project, you might consider a general overview of your business followed by the individual headshots and qualifications of your team. If you’re going solo and your client knows who you are, you might consider a few case studies that show how you’ve solved similar problems for other clients in the past. When preparing case studies, remember to ask your former clients for permission, so you’re not accidentally sharing confidential information. If you have testemonials from them, include those as well.
ABC Company has been a leader in branding for the past 30 years. Our marketing experts take pride in their attention to detail and take care in listening to the voices of our clients and their brands. Together, we’ve helped 56 companies sharpen the focus of their brand identity.
Employee A has 13 years of design experience, with a longstanding reputation as our company’s lead designer. Her acheivements include design awards x, y, and z, and she has assisted on 22 different branding projects during her time at ABC Company.
Employee B has 23 years of brand consulting experience, working to collaborate with marketing departments across many different industries. His friendly, methodical approach ensures no stone is left unturned in the discusssion phase in order to deliver stellar results every time.
- If you don’t have professional headshots yet, consider hiring a photographer. One session will give you clear, high-res profile pictures you can use both internally and in marketing materials.
6. Pricing, terms and conditions
Include an overview of your fee structure, payment terms, and any important conditions that you need to mention. If there’s room for flexibility in your proposal, you might want to consider outlining a few different service plans at different price points. That way, you’ll leave some room open to negotiate something that fits your client’s budget.
Full Brand Overhaul
Research and Development $2,000
Brand Strategy Presentation $1,500
Brand Materials Package $10,000
Hourly at $50/hour for Employee A, $40/hour for Employee B
- If your proposal doubles as a contract, include your payment terms, insurance information, and any other necessary legal information. It’s advisable to have a lawyer review the proposal if you’re going this route.
- Terms and conditions don’t often make for exciting reading, so give a brief summary of any fine print in person to make sure your client is aware of what they’re agreeing to.
7. Concluding statement/call to action
Finally, it’s nice to include a short concluding statement and call to action. This should include any contact details your client might need, plus the exact steps necessary to move forward with the proposal. If your proposal will double as a contract, this is a good place to include a spot for signatures as well.
We look forward to perfecting your brand together. If you’re excited to work with us too, reach out to our operations manager [name] at [phone number] to arrange your first meeting. We’ll present your contract and welcome package at our office.
Before you send your proposal:
- In addition to the usual edits, you should make sure your proposal is concise. Most clients prefer proposals of less than five pages, although this length will vary depending on the complexity of the project and function of the proposal.
- Your proposal doesn’t just represent your project; it should also represent your brand. A proposal with visuals that align with your brand colours/identity will leave a stronger impression than one that’s more generic. Visuals can also break up information so it’s easy to understand and digest.
A final thought
However you’re presenting it, do as much as possible to make your proposal something your client will want to read. Giving your client a crisp, personalized proposal is great, but an engaging proposal is even better. Remember: the ultimate goal of your proposal should be to make your client as excited about working with you as you are about working with them!