How to Write a Winning Business Proposal

After working for a bakery for six years, you decide to quit and create your own brand of bread. As planned, you make your wonder-loaf, try it out on a small test market, and, sure enough, they love it! How happy you must feel to witness your idea flourish in the market! Indeed, Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, "Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door." You made great bread, and the market loved it! How about now going all out, baking your bread in bulk, and creating a baking sensation?

Upon trying your brand in a broader, real market with real consumers, however, it suddenly dawns on you that you did not consider many of the dynamics of real-life marketing. For example, you must sell a minimum number of loaves to break even or make a profit. But if you use up all your savings and bake three thousand loaves, what guarantees do you have that your product will sell out before it goes bad? Who can assure you that your hard-earned income won't go to waste?

This is where a business proposal comes in handy. For instance, you may approach institutional buyers and persuade them to switch to your product. But to do this, you need to craft a moving business proposal. If enough organizations can agree to buy your product in bulk, you stand a chance to survive in the market long enough for your business to turn a profit.

A business proposal is a written offer by which you, the seller of a product or service, are trying to pitch the attributes of a product to a prospective buyer. If, for instance, you make and sell uniforms, your proposal may be directed to a school, a hotel, an airline, or the uniformed services of the government. If you sell pharmaceutical supplies, you may send your proposal to hospitals or school labs.

It is important to distinguish between a business proposal and a business plan. While a business proposal is an attempt by you, the seller, to sell a product to a buyer, a business plan pitches a business and its objectives and strategies to a client, say to help raise capital. Thus while the business plan sells a general plan, the business proposal sells a product (or service). Do not confuse the two.

Two types of business proposals

A business proposal may be either solicited or unsolicited. With a solicited proposal, the buyer expressly puts out what is typically termed a "request for proposals" (RFP). In other words, the buyers ask for (or solicits) proposals. Conversely, unsolicited proposals are sent without a prior request. In theory, a solicited proposal is easy to sell, because the buyer has already indicated that they desire a given product or service. Of course, the competition here is also stiffer because many persons will be responding to the RFP. That said, bear in mind that many persons and organizations have successfully pitched unsolicited business proposals.

Features of a winning business proposal

If your business proposal is to succeed, it must be grounded in the following core attributes: (1). It solves a pressing problem or concern that the client has. (2).It offers a unique selling proposition. (3).It articulates the benefits of your product or service clearly, succinctly, and persuasively. Let us discuss each of these briefly below.

A great business proposal solves a pressing problem: Throughout, remember that your proposal must set out to sell solutions to a problem—not the product itself! You are writing the proposal because you have assessed that the buyer has a problem. Let your proposal be focused on that problem, and let your product (or service) be framed as the solution to that problem.

A winning business proposal offers a unique selling proposition (USP): As you pitch your product or service, bear in mind that this product is not the only one on offer. In fact, numerous other individuals or companies may already be pitching, which means your proposal will likely be part of the stockpile in the recipient's inbox. The way to beat the competition is to think outside the proverbial box. Differentiate your product in a manner that adds value to your buyer.

A winning business proposal articulates the benefits of the product: As you think about the benefits of your product, revisit the two points above: Sell the problem you solve and offer a unique USP. Bearing this in mind, now get down to business, listing as many actual benefits of your products as possible. For instance, if yours is a new brand of bread, you may play around the fact that it takes longer to perish? Or it may have no harmful preservatives. Or it may have a unique vanilla flavor that masks the bland taste of most loaves.

Before you begin to write a business proposal

DO NOT jump to write the business proposal before conducting research on the company. First, understand your buyer and what he or she is looking for. This applies to both solicited and unsolicited proposals. Without this knowledge, the time spent crafting that excellent proposal may be a waste. Consider, for instance, that you spent time writing an award-winning unsolicited business proposal for a company, only to discover the next day that the firm is leaving the country. A little research would have saved you time and energy.

Parts of a business proposal

Solicited or not, a business proposal needs to have four primary sections. These are a statement of the problem that the company is facing (which you seek to solve), your proposed solution, pricing information, and the executive summary. The secondary sections of the proposal include the title page, the table of contents, who you are and your qualifications, turnaround time, and, finally, the pricing and legal issues. We discuss these below.

1. Title page. The very first page should be the title page. This includes your name and the name of your company. Next, have the title of the proposal in bold type. Also include the name of the recipient and date of submission.

2. Table of contents (TOC). If your proposal is relatively long (say ten or more pages), it makes sense to have a TOC, which provides summaries of each section within. To make it easy for the reader to locate key parts quickly, you may, if the proposal is a PDF, convert the lines of the TOC into links that enable the reader to jump to an indicated page.

3. Executive summary. This can be tricky to do. It captures the key points of the proposal clearly and succinctly. For the overview, you may want to borrow from the sections where you discuss the problem, the USP, and the product benefits. Remember: Some readers are too lazy or too busy to read through your entire proposal. They simply scan the executive summary, go through the table of contents and, if persuaded, they may invite you to explain your product or service in person.

4. Statement of problem. In this section, you are answering the question: What problem is my target reader experiencing? The "problem" may not be a crisis as such. Instead, it may only be a concern or something lacking. In writing this section, demonstrate that you have a solid understanding of the problem. This is where you show that you understand your recipient's needs and what they are looking for.

5. A solution to the problem. In this section, you must now sell your solution to the problem the client faces. Throughout, the ability to communicate and paint pictures with words is critical. Be simple enough to understand but not too simplistic that the reader doubts your ability to deliver. Once you write this section, now re-read the executive summary to ensure that the two are appropriately matched.

6. Your qualifications. In this section, you are answering the question that will undoubtedly be posed by the buyer or client: "Why should we consider you and not someone else?" Here, share your qualifications. Show off a little, but be careful not to irritate or alienate your reader. Demonstrate your academic qualifications, industry-specific credentials, professional bodies you may be affiliated with, certifications, etc.

7. Turnaround time (for services). If what you are offering is a service, now is the time to discuss how long you might take to deliver. Do not underestimate the timing, as this may make you sound amateurish. Critically, do not promise what you can't deliver.

8. Cost and payment schedule. Here, discuss how much it will cost for the buyer to obtain the product or service you are selling. Be sure to provide a detailed plan of payment. Different products or services lend themselves to different payment schedules, so tailor this section to the exact specifications of your product. If there are any legal, contractual, or administrative dynamics, discuss them here.

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