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How to make a business proposal in 6 simple steps
Sending out a business proposal can be an intimidating and even downright scary process. This goes for new freelancers sending out their first business proposal, but also for experienced business owners who are applying for their first gig with a big-name company.
Freelancing is getting increasingly competitive in some fields. According to Forbes, it’s estimated that 50% of the workforce is going to be made up of freelancers by 2027! That means it’s becoming more and more important to figure out how to make a business proposal that stands out if you want to grow your business.
At Bonsai, we want to help freelancers make their lives a little bit easier (after all, you’re juggling all the hats). Creating a winning, convincing proposal will only get easier with time, but the most important thing is to first know the necessary steps. So, without further ado, here are our six steps to writing a winning proposal, each and every time.
First - what is a business proposal?
Before you figure out how to make a business proposal, it’s important to understand what it is and what it’s used for.
A business proposal is a professional document that you send to a potential client. It tells them about the products and services you offer, specifically in relation to a need or problem that they have, and is your chance to explain why you’re the best freelancer for the job. (If you're wondering what actually does make you the best freelancer for the job, maybe a branding questionnaire can help.)
Business proposals are usually solicited, which means they’re being sent in response to a job posting or a proposal request. This is also often called an RFP, or a ‘request for proposal’. However, you might also sometimes send an unsolicited proposal if you identify a problem the recipient might not be aware of; or, if you have a unique solution that would simply make their business operate better.
1. Figure out if it’s the right job for you
Not every job opportunity you come across is going to be deserving of a business proposal. A proposal, when done right, should take you a considerable amount of time, and you don’t want to be wasting that effort on clients that aren’t the right fit for you and your business.
Before you go too in-depth with your proposal process, you’ll want to skim-read the job posting or RFP to identify whether sending a proposal is worth your time. There are three key things you want to identify:
- The budget: Does the project fall within your rates and/or would it be worth your time to take it on?
- The deadline: Do you have the scope and bandwidth to follow the client’s proposed timeline?
- The deliverables: Do you have the skills and experience necessary to deliver what the client needs?
Only after answering these 3 questions should you move on to the next steps for making a business proposal.
2. Gather the information you need
If you have decided this is indeed a job you want to submit a proposal for, now is the time to go through the job posting in more detail. Make sure you look to see if the client has attached any relevant documents that could help you, such as a creative brief if you’re a designer.
Read very carefully and ask yourself some questions. You want to identify the client's underlying problems and issues, not just the deliverables they’re looking for. This approach will help you think outside the box and come up with your own solutions - possibly even solutions your client hasn’t thought of! They’ll appreciate your creativity and ability to make suggestions. Pull from your previous work when thinking of solutions.
This is also the time to make sure you identify what you need on your end and outline the project scope. Would you need to bring on sub contractors? Will you incur any costs for resources? How will you estimate your labor costs? If you need any help figuring out what to charge, Bonsai has freelance rate databases for designers and developers and for marketing consultants.
3. Decide what to include
Now it’s time to figure out what sections you want (or need) to include in your business proposal. You want to cover all your bases and provide all the necessary information, without overwhelming your client. Try to keep your proposal as short as possible, otherwise you may inundate them with too much information (and they’ll pass you over for a less complicated proposal).
According to Business Insider, there are 10 key things you’ll want to include in your business proposal: two testimonials (one in the header, one in the footer); an opening statement; a scope of work statement and detailed description; a description of deliverables; “investment” details (aka pricing); a return on investment statement; a call-to-action statement; and a thank you statement.
While this is great advice, be sure to assess each opportunity individually and alter your business proposal accordingly. Once you have this outline in place, you can save time on your future business proposals by creating templates in the Bonsai freelance proposals tool.
4. Write your proposal
Now that you’ve decided which elements to include, your next step in figuring out how to make a business proposal is to actually write the content you need. Pay particular attention to your cover letter. This is often the first thing your client will read, and it might make the difference as to whether or not they decide to continue reading your proposal.
If you know who will be reading your business proposal, make sure to address them by name and don’t hesitate to make your writing conversational. Finding the right tone of voice is key, as you don’t want to alienate them. Think about how you relate to the client and the situation in which you’re submitting your proposal.
Is this someone you’ve worked with before, or a client operating in a more creative industry? If so, get creative and personable with your tone to keep things light, approachable and casual. If you’re sending a proposal to a government body or industry leader, you may want to be more formal to appear more professional.
Either way, you want your writing to be persuasive and clear and you want to use language that positions you as a leader in your industry: someone who is knowledgeable and able to deliver what the client needs. This article from business author Mike Michalowicz, gives some really good tips on writing a highly persuasive proposal.
5. Design your proposal
Before they start reading what you’ve delivered, the way your proposal looks will make a very important first impression. Even if you’re not a designer or are not operating within a creative industry (like finance or accounting), it’s still really important to consider the design of your proposal.
You’ll want to identify how to make a business proposal that looks professional, clean and easy to read. Here are some great examples you can use as a guide. Make sure your chosen design reflects your brand (like its colours and logo) and uses design elements that are memorable without detracting away from its key content. The Bonsai proposal tool can help you create a professional-looking proposal in seconds, including elements like your logo and a custom background image.
6. Send it off and cross your fingers!
Congrats - now that you know how to make a business proposal, it’s time to pull everything together and send it off. Be sure to give your proposal a once-over before you send it to the client and, whenever possible, send it to someone you trust for a second look.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to follow up! You’re not bugging them, and in fact the client will expect your message. Bonsai includes a read receipt function, so you know for sure that your client has seen your proposal and can follow up at the right time. Check out these great follow-up email templates from HubSpot as a starting point.
Want to use an all-in-one freelancing tool that allows you to write, design and send professional looking proposals in minutes? Try Bonsai today - for free!