What Is A Proposal?
Is it just a bunch of words on a paper saying, “Hire my business?” Yes…and no. At its core, it is a written, legally binding offer to do some work for another person or business. And it is a lot more. It is very much like the resume of a business, telling a potential client what your company can do, that you have a proven track record for doing it, and here’s what it will cost. And, just like a resume, it must be beyond reproach in content and detail.
Tips for Writing a Good Proposal
Each one you write is going to be a little different because each potential client is asking for something a little different, but in general there are some basic tips and strategies you should keep in mind when writing yours:
- Make sure you have a cover sheet with your company name and the title
- Include an Executive Summary highlighting your contents
- Open with an introduction that states why the proposal is being sent
- Provide a list of your experience
- Detail your services and prices
- Include 2-3 solid references
- Conclude with contact information
- Proofread, checking for errors, omissions, and clarity
The Process for Writing a Good Proposal
While most often written and submitted in response to a request for proposal (RFP), sometimes individuals and businesses will send them out unsolicited. Either way, the process is similar, but let’s use a response to an RFP for an example. You own Jim’s Janitorial Service, a full-service company that cleans office buildings, and you’ve just received an RFP from Anytown who is looking to hire a new service contractor for cleaning the city buildings each evening after work. Using our tips, let’s get to work!
Step 1. Your cover letter should contain your company logo along with the title, such as “Jim’s Janitorial Service Response to Anytown’s RFP for Janitorial Services at City Hall.”
Step 2. Title your “Executive Summary” and then include a brief discussion of the contents. “Jim’s Janitorial Service (JJS) is pleased to present this response to Anytown’s request for custodial services at its city hall buildings. JJS has been serving the Anytown business community for more than 10 years, providing unmatched, quality services that have consistently resulted in an over 95% contract renewal rate. We provide vacuuming, shampooing, dusting, recycling, and trash collection services with flexible 2-, 3-, or 5-night-per-week schedules at competitive rates. We are also insured and bonded, and all employees have passed rigorous background checks. JJS is consistently rated the best custodial service company in Anytown and looks forward to working with the Anytown City Council.” A small table showing rates for the variety of services then follows, then a conclusory paragraph reiterating the name of the company and contact information.
Step 3. This is the meat and potatoes of your document. Each paragraph here should provide details for every aspect discussed in the Executive Summary. Like the Executive Summary, the first section should be your introduction that states what you are responding to (the details of the RFP) and the background and qualifications of your company. If there is something unique or special about your company (woman- or minority-owned business, special certifications, special tools or processes), put it here. Odds are yours is not the only one being submitted, so you have to make yourself stand out.
The following sections of your document should then go through each item of the RFP and answer why your company can do the job and do it better. Using our Jim’s Janitorial example, perhaps the first detailed item goes into personnel. Highlight that you have a full-time staff of 30 professional custodians with nearly 200 years of combined experience. You also have an on-call staff capable of being onsite anywhere within the city limits in under 2 hours for emergency clean-up services. Your rates are among the best in the city and JJS is fully bonded and insured. Then go on to talk about your process for insuring cleanliness, your state-of-the-art vacuuming and shampooing equipment, and on and on.
As an important note, most RFPs have sections and subsections with requirements or seeking information. Your response should match its sections and subsections with those in the RFP. You may have one extra section (such as an introduction) so that perhaps your section 4.1 corresponds to the RFP section 3.1, but as long as there is a parallel that can be followed once you get into the details, you’ll be good.
Step 4. Include your references. Just like on a personal resume, your new client will want to verify you can do what you claim you can do by asking your current or past clients. References should be as similar to the business you’re sending your proposal to. If you can send a reference of a similar size and/or scope, do it. Similar technology or requirements? Include it. And do make sure your references know that you’re including them. Surprises are taboo.
Step 5. Finish with a conclusion on how you’re looking forward to working with this new client for a long and beneficial relationship, and include the company name, contact information (mailing address, phone number, email, website, etc.), and a contact person.
Step 6. Don’t forget to proofread! Before your proposal goes out the door, have at least one other person read through it. Check for spelling errors, missing information, things that are unclear, and general visual attractiveness of the proposal. Are sections and subsections clearly defined and easy to identify? Did you include graphs or tables or charts that are too complex or are they easy to interpret? Did you cover everything that the client asked for? Was there something special or helpful to the client that you missed? After passing your own quality assurance check, send it out.
Your Business, Your Success
Always remember that any document you send out is a reflection of your business and is part of your success. The information your provide, and how you provide it, is part of your potential client’s decision-making process. Are you providing them something that makes them interested in you and your business? There is a general business saying that a good proposal won’t necessarily get you the job, but a bad one will definitely lose it. If you follow these tips and strategies, you’ll definitely win more than you’ll lose.